School holidays!

A few years ago now when my children were small and at school, I used to love the school holidays. For one it meant I didn’t have to get up early and get half a dozen children ready for school or play group and therefore we began our day at a much less stressed pace. We were also then blessed with moving to the countryside miles from the nearest town, I know, a nightmare to some but we lived on a school campus and during weekends and holidays we had the run of the school grounds, including the swimming pool, woods, playing field and adventure layground. It was an idyllic and safe place to bring up children, including teenagers. The country rules make up themselves and at 12/13 years old my teenagers were working during the weekend in a neighbouring village pub doing the washing up. They progressed to serving salads and waiting tables as they got older and it earned their pocket money which took a great deal of pressure off me. Then there were the pheasant shoots; youngsters wrapped up in waterproofs, wellies and warm gear to go out beating. For those that don’t know about such things, a team of usually young people would walk ahead of the shooters beating the undergrowth to encourage the pheasants to fly. Often it meant we might be lucky enough to have a pheasant or two if the shoot was good, if not the youngsters earned a bit more pocket money anyway and were occupied at the weekend. Being in open country meant they had room to explore and got into less mischief because there were so many places to go. Well, maybe they just didn’t get caught.

We had a mile to walk to school on a country road that had no pavements, which was quite a bind when I then had to go to work after a two mile walk but even that had its good moments when we walked through frosted mornings, noticed cobwebs hung with crystal jewels and diamond studded grass as we listened to the haunting roars of the rutting stags in the distance. Ah the wonderful memories but only because we made it that way. At first the two youngest girls moaned when it was decided we were unable to get on the school bus as the school got bigger. There were 30 pupils when we first moved there, and it was deemed as more needed the bus from further away, we were out of the catchment area. But as we made each walk a nature trail and delved into the realms of imagination to walk with fairies and magic, we felt sad for those huddled up together on the bus and waved to them laughing. They missed so much.

This afternoon I spoke to my sister who was really pleased that her fourteen year old lively daughter was occupied in a dance production at the local theatre, while the younger one was away at a guide camp. As we talked about school holidays we did discover that everywhere there were plenty of places for youngsters to go, be it at a price, but once the children got to around twelve there was nothing. My sister then came up with a plan. Make them work! If they went to work with the council workers when they planted gardens, helped to paint fences, worked for the elderly who would no doubt appreciate someone to share their experience of gardening or their shopping being carried, they would be learning important lessons in behaviour, consideration and respect. After all, we felt sure they wouldn’t be ruining a wall or fence with grafitti if they had just painted it. Then there were the older kids still, why not get the older folks to teach them some of the old games, dominoes, chess, even card games played for sweeties or trump cards or whatever the latest craze is. The idea is to teach them to handle things like socialising without alcohol, respect and how to handle gambling as a social game rather than the means for trying to get something for nothing. They just need a place to go but unfortunately as has happened in so many towns, where places have been provided they have no sooner been trashed by those that have not been taught respect and so the facility has been removed leaving even less for the teenager to do.

There are plenty of electronic games that occupy the kids for hours but what about socialising? Many of these games involve violence and destruction of people and buildings and we wonder why the youngsters are going wrong? We had little money spare with such a large family and so we made up our own activities. Nature trails were a great thing where we would go for a walk in the woods carrying pots of water and plaster of paris to cast the hoof or foot prints of animals that had passed by. These would be taken carefully home and painted and identified. Deer, sheep, horses, foxes, badgers. They are all out there. Another rather unusual thing my children could all do as well as identify animal trails, was the art of scatology…. Sounds great until I tell you they could all identify which animal had passed by by identifying their poop. Actually I had a dog once that was an expert on Fox poop and who frequently came home wearing it as a badge, but that’s another story. We would gather wild berries, rosehips, dig for peppery pig nuts, go chestnutting, so many of the old activities that have long since gone. The trouble is with all the health and safety laws, few people are prepared to put themselves into the postion of taking charge of a group of children unless they are actually running an outward bound course. A lot of country parks and places run exercises of a similar vein but at a price and many families are outpriced. However, I did like my sister’s idea. Young people who are taught to respect and appreciate older people, buildings, parks and areas of beauty are more likely to want to take care of their world, too many children rely on a tv or games console. It is difficult when parents also have to work and their lies another story but if there were more outdoor activities or at least a couple of weeks of compulsory caring in the community work, with a choice of activity, at least the parents would know their youngsters were being useful and keeping out of bother.

It is easy for me to talk, mine are grown but as a family of eight it might be expected that one or two would be a little wayward but no, they all respect nature, animals and plants. Are considerate to the elderly, polite and socialble and know how to amuse themsleves with out trashing places. There is so much out in the world to discover, it is such a pity that society today has given parents a fear of letting them go.

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