Summer is icumen in, and we have been besieged by emails wanting us to push all sorts of activities and holidays in the Webmag. So the theme of this issue is activities for children and young people – not just because we are caving in to pressure, but because they are a Good Thing. Here are the reasons.
Childhood and adolescence are a time to try out all sorts of things. Even if one only does them once, the experience can inform other aspects of children’s lives. However, trying things out can lead to life-long interests and career opportunities.
There are activities of all sorts, and not all of them involve physical action. A lot of those mentioned in this issue, though, give children and young people the chance to use up calories and get fit, helping development. Better than being slouched in front of the computer.
This can cover skills of all sorts – learning how to do things. Again, these skills may be useful later in life. Who knows when you may need to ride a bike, do first aid or abseil? And there is the satisfaction of achievement for children and young people knowing that they are capable and competent with the new skills.
Learning about risk
This is particularly important as in much of modern life children are cushioned from risk as legislation demands that everything is made safe. We are not against safety, but children and young people do need to learn about dangers of all sorts and how to assess them and cope with them. Activities – especially in new settings – give them the opportunity to learn about risks and how to manage them.
Many activities involve being in groups, and it is an opportunity to learn how to cope socially, being part of a team, taking on a leadership role, enjoying group support and approval, avoiding riling the others, and sharing team success.
This is particularly important in family groups. Families may see more of each other on holiday than at any other time, partly because they may not have their bedrooms as bolt-holes to escape each other. This can, of course, make holidaying stressful and there are frequently rows and tears on holidays, but they can also be really positive chances to bond. For single parents on access days activities provide a shared medium for relating that is better than just sitting and looking at each other, however simple the activity. Rock-climbing entails mutual reliance, but even making a cup of tea enables one person to do something for the other.
In social pedagogy this use of activities is called the ‘common third’. The activity is seen as a medium shared by pedagogue and child, a medium for relating, communicating and building the trust needed if disturbed children are to be helped to overcome the problems they face.
Building up memories
Eighty years from now today’s children will look back on their childhoods – how things were when they were young, the new experiences they had, the happy memories, the challenges, the unpleasant times. It is for adults to help them build up a fund of memories, re-inforced by photos and other records, to help children retrospectively make sense of their lives in later years – not just when they are in their eighties, but when they are bringing up their own children or helping out in looking after grandchildren.
Activities are not just an investment in the future, developing skills and memories. They are also enjoyable and stimulating in the present. Astonishment at seeing the behaviour of animals in wildlife parks, the excitement of the sudden drop in theme park rides, the sense of freedom in walking on the moors, facing the challenge of problem-solving – they can all be rewarding in the present.
This is the bottom line. It is said that the devil makes work for idle hands. If the most stimulating thing that a child is offered is to be plonked in front of the television, then he or she will find something more interesting to do which may well be destructive or antisocial when boredom sets it. Especially during the long summer holidays. It’s better to put energy (and/or money) into doing positive things, with all the benefits listed above, than to suffer the consequences of failing to think and take action about the positive things which your child needs or wants to do.
(We think that this applies not only to individuals and families but also to groups and communities. It is what generates gang behaviour. Gangs offer social belonging to their members, and they need to be channelled into positive behaviours.)
Are nine reasons enough? Whether you are a parent or a child care worker, we hope that you are able to provide your children with an interesting time that they can look back on fondly in years to come.