During the children's summer holidays I took my son on a 2 week road trip around Italy, we also enjoyed some cracking days out at the Yorkshire coast and in the Yorkshire national parks. I took him for a number of organised play dates with his school friends. For me, the summer was fabulous, I loved having some extended one on one time with Seth. It was great to reconnect and overall we had great fun, although I did pick up on the fact that Seth felt a bit cheesed off with me planning every outing with military precision and continuously checking on his movements and actions.
God I am cautious! I love to have fun and a laugh but I am always anxious about safety and of what people think of us. There I was perched over his shoulder, "don't walk to the sea alone","don't splash too much in the pool", "please stay where I can see you", "don't kick sand", "please be polite to the little shit in the red striped trunks who keeps pinching your float"!
As I laid on my sun lounger, alternating each closed eye, so that Seth was never out of sight my my mind wondered back to the summers of my childhood, how our family used to holiday and how my childhood experiences were quite different to those of my son. I remember my summers as being long, hot and packed with the type of adventure that was natural and unscripted. My sisters and I would to get up early and spend the whole day outdoors either at our horse stables, playing on our friends farm or playing with a group of friends at a local beauty spot. We'd often ride our ponies through the fields and the woods, creating our own cross country courses or hold show jumping competitions. We were free and spontaneous. We would sit around in the tack room or the paddock each of us reliving the mornings events whilst eating our sandwiches with dirty hands.
Summer meant that we also spent a lot of time with my grandparents, we used to love this as my grandfather was a game keeper and we spent much of the summer tending the birds and living in a log cabin in the woods. My gran would turf us out after breakfast so that she could get on with her chores and apart from quickly swinging by the cabin for a lunchtime buttie we wouldn't be seen again until dusk. I remember playing in the fields with my cousins and with my best friend Jane, we would climb trees, make rope swings to swing from one side of the beck to the other. We would take an inflatable to the Lido, much of the time arguing, falling out and then making friends again, learning dispute resolution ourselves, the organic way.
Think back to your own childhood. Are your fondest memories of playing indoors or are they of being outdoors unsupervised by your parents where you busied yourself with building dens and searching for newts and tadpoles?
My family holidays also gave us tons of opportunity for free play as our accommodation featured no such things as designated play areas, organised activities or children's clubs. After breakfast we would head for the beach where all of the children would get together and play beach rounders or cricket. We entertained ourselves by playing hide and seek in the dunes or challenged our new found friends to surfing competitions.
I have such fond memories of those days yet I deny Seth the opportunity of doing the same. Stranger danger is my biggest fear along with serious injury, especially by a car and, I don't believe that I am the only parent who feels this way.
On the website childrenandnature.org, Richard Louv (Author of Last Child In The Woods) cites a lengthening list of scientific studies indicating that time spent in free play in the natural world – a free-range childhood, perhaps – has a huge impact on health.
As an adult, I have noticed that when I am free to live (albeit briefly) without the constraints of routine that I feel truly invigorated and renewed. It's for this reason that my goal moving forward is to find ways both during the week and at weekends to enable my son to play with his friends unsupervised. I want him to be able, within reason, to take calculated risks and to take a little more responsibility for himself.
And, for our next holiday, I am thinking of going off grid (of course with a touch of luxury thrown in!) I would like to design a trip that would enable him to explore the sand dunes, roam through the forests, climb the trees, explore the rock pools and much more besides. I'd like him to do all of this with new found friends and without his mother looking over his shoulder grimacing at every "potentially disastrous" decision he may make.
I will keep you posted as to where we decide to go and how we decide to go about it.