Having come to the end of the seemingly endless summer holidays, the pressure to entertain and fill the children’s days with ‘activities’ seemed to dominate school playground conversations. What did you do? Where did you go? How did you fill the days? And off come reams of smugly organised events that their little ones were involved in.
In stark contrast, I found myself considered the poor entertainment relation; mine had a week in Mallorca, a week at Marlborough College summer school, a couple of Pony Club camps and, the rest of the time were at home. They, and I, think they did really well, but the raised eyebrows from their peers parents seemed to suggest I had not met my children’s activity quota by a long chalk.
When we were kids we never went anywhere and just lived outside; Mum used to open the door in the morning, boot us out, and we returned to be fed or at bed time. Our great friends the Grunsteins were our partners in crime, and although our ages ranged by 10 years, the 5 of us all got on and included the toddler in everything we did.
We would make up plays – doing everything from building the sets, making tickets, cooking (revolting) cakes and odd fruit drinks for the interval. If it rained, we painted pictures, wrote more plays, made music and put on (ghastly) concerts. We wrote poems, played endless schools and Mums and Dads, cycled, rode, dressed up the dogs, and were thrust the occasional snack to keep us going.
We had trips to local museums; I remember vividly brass rubbing in a house next to Winchester Cathedral. My kids have now done the same 35 years later; it’s now a museum and you can rub only one brass, but the ghost of my youth still lingers on.
The holidays were like an endless festival for us and we never thought that we were missing out because we didn’t go abroad or to Cornwall or to a ‘camp’. We returned to school freckled and happy, with tales of dare-doing and excitement such as when we re-inacted the Battle of Bosworth using two ponies, a Daschund and a Parson Jack Russell Terrier.
Watching my girls playing endlessly this summer – in the Wendy house, under the table on the terrace, in the fields – I remembered so much of my own holiday fun and it was a joy to see them doing as we did.
Katy and I wrote our first play when were 14, a version of Cinderella in rhyming couplets. (It included the memorable line: ‘Oh buttons, you are so thick, but my, don’t you have an enormous nose’). It was put on by the Am Dram society in our village. Although I didn’t quite make the literary high life, Katy eventually left her senior role in a London law firm and is now a published author.
The pressure parents put themselves under in order to regimentally entertain their kids seems immense, but by letting your children use their imaginations and run wild, literally and literately, you are nurturing the playwrights, explorers and leaders of the future.
My childhood memories are littered with the things we did which were NOT organised; the off the cuff, what shall-we-do-today type of things. We were told you can never be bored, you can always paint a picture or write a poem, no matter what age.
So I see my kids living and loving the same DIY holidays of my youth and know I will maintain this relaxed approach to holidays because childhood is not a competition, it’s an adventure.
By Joanna Jensen, Founder of Childs Farm.