Filling our children’s spare time with activities is a modern parental pastime, and there’s a veritable arms race of options available to us – music classes for all ages and stages, coding classes, forest school, art school, science clubs, film making, circus school, you name it.
As parents looking back on our own childhoods, when we didn’t have the same range of choices, it’s easy to wonder what we did with our time. And yet, when I started asking people about childhood memories, it struck me that some of the strongest memories are made through times spent with family members and friends, doing things together and sharing experiences.
I spent a lot of time in my early childhood at my grandparent’s house up the road from us, in my home town of Brisbane, Australia. My Grandad was an avid gardener and we would take a basket around their garden gathering hibiscuses and strawberries, and foraging for mushrooms under the house. I remember one day picking the biggest paw paw (papaya) I had ever seen and then sitting down with Grandad at their kitchen table, eating slice after slice of it until the whole thing was gone. My grandma, Marge, was a fantastic cook, and she shared her famous lemon delicious recipe with me, which I now make for my boys.
My friend Giselle sends her daughter Elodie, aged 6, to visit her grandmother Denise during school holidays. Elodie spends between 4 and 6 weeks a year with her. Giselle explained to me that her mother sticks to her usual schedule when Elodie visits. They walk the dog together every morning and evening (and often at lunch time too). On Mondays they go to the local library “craft day”, on Tuesdays they’re off to adult art class and on Wednesday, they do Nordic walking (a 3 mile brisk walk which takes about an hour). Elodie takes it all in her stride, and particularly enjoys spending time talking with her adult “friends”. By nature a quiet child, she opens up in art classes, observing how the adults do their art, chatting with them about it and joining in.
It seems that skills picked up during these experiences often stick. I am an enthusiastic gardener and cook, and often think of my grandparents while I’m at it. These days, my boys join in too. Tris Crabb grew up in Greece and recalls, “Adults did not play with children when I was little but my aunt, who was a seamstress and my special mama, would let me have scraps of leftover cloth and she would sew with her old Singer the clothes I would cut out for my dolls.” She recalls being taught to make things that her grandparents would make during their day, like sourdough bread, trahana (a sort of “pasta”) to dry for the winter, cheese and yoghurt from their milk. Her grandfather was a cobbler and she picked up the skills of his trade, commenting “If you give me the tools and materials, I can repair a worn-out heel or a hole in your shoe!”.
Even things that seem mundane take on a special significance when ignited with a child’s imagination. Kellie, from Koru Kids recalls, “I remember spending time digging up old bits of china in my grandad’s garden, washing it and storing it all in the shed (and wanting to get it all out every time I visited) – to me it felt like we were digging up buried treasure”.
When given some space and time, without a hectic schedule, children can really let their imaginations run riot. Dorotka Aniszewska recalls that as a child her parents would send her to play with her older cousin. They played a type of hide and seek with their own narration. The developed the whole story, including tasks, quizzes, things to gather and so on – some of them were based on an anime series they were watching on television or on books or video games. They also created their own radio programs with imagined guests, songs and contests, and still have the tapes.
We shouldn’t underestimate the importance of these moments in the development of our children’s confidence as little people as well as essential life skills. Undoubtedly, forming strong bonds with close family and friends is a foundation for all the relationships they will develop through their lives. Learning to listen and express opinions in a safe environment, and to work together are skills we need every day. And, of course, the happy memories of those times and to be cherished time and time again.
Charlotte McMillan is a London based mother of three school aged boys, and the founder of Storychest, an app designed to help parents to capture, share and enjoy family memories. Storychest is available to download for free on the App Store.
Marge’s lemon delicious
1 tablespoon of butter
2 flat table spoons of self-raising flour
¾ (good) cup of sugar
1 cup of milk
Cream butter and sugar.
Beat egg yolks with milk, put aside in small basin.
Do egg whites similarly (beat them stiffly and keep aside in separate basin).
Add flour to creamed butter and sugar, stir in with a wooden spoon.
Add juice of lemons and rind of one.
Add beaten yolks and milk and lightly stir in beaten egg whites.
Put into greased casserole dish and stand in another dish of hot water. Put into a hot oven for ten minutes. Turn down to moderate and cook until it is brown. Takes 40-45 mins to cook – can test with a skewer.