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TV-free creativity

07/14/05 12:00AM By Stephanie Montgomery
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(HOST) Commentator Stephanie Montgomery has a few suggestions for ways to make the most of vacation time with small children this summer.


(MONTGOMERY) Summer vacation is underway. For parents and grandparents, these long days with young children require quanti- ties of energy, and sometimes we fear we may run short. That's when we are tempted to take them shopping or to just plunk them down in front of a TV. But, whether your family is at home or tra- veling, this is a great time to try modest entertainments without plastic, without electronics and without television.

Summer days and evenings are perfect for playing board games and cards, for cooking together and licking the spoon, for remem- bering and sharing just how good a lazy afternoon can be.

My two little girls taught me children need very little to be happy and even less to be creative. We once rented a seaside cottage for two weeks and discovered we had forgotten the box of toys.

While I wrung my hands and fretted, my three- and four-year-olds remedied the problem in no time. They drew a village in the sand outside. Shell people walked pebble dogs down tiny roads lined with twigs. Pinecones served as fire trucks, horses and hills. One daughter scolded the other not to cross the street until her shell children had looked both ways.

Without toys our vacation yielded discoveries and much content- ment. We played memory games on our walks. We kept a picture journal. Collections of beach treasures, ferns and feathers accu- mulated. In the evening, the girls played hide-and-seek or acted out single word charades. They drew puppets on their fingertips. We taught them to sing in rounds.

When I was a child, we spent summers with my mother's family in Nebraska. My granddad used to let me help him polish shoes on Saturday mornings. While we rubbed and brushed, he would tell me a story. Gramma occasionally trusted me to pick the straw- berries. She would stir in some sugar and let me taste just one. In the spirit of sharing, I would offer them a sample of my outdoor cooking - usually mudcake with dandelion frosting.

Children love to be trusted. They love your company. They love it when you compliment their cooking.

If you're fortunate enough to have the company of small children this summer, every day can be a grand adventure. You can spend a whole afternoon flying a kite or blowing bubbles or eating warm cake while you watch clouds float by.

Rainy days can be celebrated by pulling old favorites off the shelf to read aloud. Mary Poppins and the stories of King Arthur are still thrilling for children. Kipling and Thurber stories will bring chuckles and lots of questions.

It takes time but almost no money to set up a world in which children can play and daydream without prescribed activities or passive entertainments. A child's developing imagination and in- telligence draw strength from contact with real things - like bare feet and big, muddy puddles.

Children thrive in affectionate relationships that are open to discovery and conversation, like sharing those mysterious, splashy puddles with you.

I'm Stephanie Montgomery of Walpole, NH.

Stephanie Montgomery is the Director of Memoir Cafe, an online writing service for women. She spoke from our studio in Norwich.
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