For my kids it was about age 5 when spending the day with Mum or Dad ceased to be better than a playdate, but even earlier than that you can see kids - even babies - light up in the company of a sibling or friend and they need that.
It's school holidays here and this time round I'm working through most of it, and the kids have been thoroughly prepped on expectations. There will be no Melbourne Show, certainly no 'holiday' away, and lots of time with Mum, Dad or Grandma at home. Booooorrrrrrinnnggg! On the flip side, for the second holidays in a row they won't need to spend any days at a holiday program, which I can categorically confirm they do NOT crave, and they are happy about that.
But we have organised a couple of playdates and there will be other impromptu ones, as the kids get bored and parents, especially non-working ones, need a break.
I happen to love hosting playdates. They force me to get the house clean and tidy (or an illusion thereof, with my bedroom door remaining suspiciously closed throughout and out of bounds for the kids as much as the forbidden room in Bluebeard's castle). I barely have to do anything, as the kids at this age will entertain themselves. The kids get to see that other kids like their house and their mum and it makes them appreciate those things a bit more. If I'm friends with the parents we get to catch up for coffee. But most of all, the kids are happy and they come out of themselves and their "home" personalities, in the company of their friends.
Change the environment - or the company - and change the child.
Neither of my kids is a big outdoor person. Both are a bit squeamish about the messier aspects of outdoor play: dirt, itchiness, prickles, insects. I'm determined they will walk to school at least some days from next year, and I try to impart some of the wonder and discovery of nature in walks and backyards that I loved as a child: blades of grass, the shapes of leaves, caterpillars and roly-poly beetles, snails, clover, the sky, seeds and tree litter on the ground. I've bought my kids magnifying glasses and we've gone hunting for bugs together, and I've tried to suppress my revulsion for spiders and cockroaches. (Since the drought ended we get plenty of bees, butterflies and dragonflies, which is lovely because during that 14-year drought butterflies seemed to disappear and I thought my kids would miss out on that joy as they have missed playing in the sprinkler and being squirted with the hose).
Even 4 weeks in a Greek village playing outside all day didn't squash my kids' fear of creepy-crawlies. "Pedia tis polis (city kids)," I would say to bemused relatives, when my child would screech at a beetle near her feet.
So what did get my kids get into beetle appreciation? Just having a friend over yesterday who suggested looking for bugs in the garden.
What got them wanting to climb the tree in the backyard? Just having a friend over last week who showed them how to do it.
What convinced my daughter M it was safe for her and A to go to the park up the end of our street without me? Just friends visiting last weekend who suggested they all go to the park. A. was overjoyed and even M. couldn't get out of the house fast enough. Watching four kids aged nearly-eight to eleven walk out the front yard and head up to the park 200m away, I was reminded of the great times I had with my cousins as a kid, walking to the shops or the park without grown-ups.
Of course, you can't overdo it. We all know it can turn into Lord of the Flies when kids are unsupervised, and kids running wild in the suburbs of the past encountered their share of horrors.
But it takes the company of other kids to foster growth and change and the shedding of old habits in a kid, as well as the kind of socialisation they just can't get from their parents.
|Children playing under a tree, 1930s |
State Library of Victoria