Lynn Easton

Lynn Easton

Starting Young: Fitting everything into summer

The municipalities of Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows are getting into the act with programming that takes kids outside to enjoy plenty of outdoor and unstructured play.

The summer has barely begun and I’m already afraid it’s going by too fast.

Will we fit everything we want to do in? Will we get signed up for everything we want to do before it’s too late?

This feels eerily familiar, like the end-of-June dread that goes along with being the parent of a young child as you stare down the empty pages of the summer calendar. Getting up early on a Saturday to sign up for the perfect not-to-be-missed summer camp. Take your pick: soccer, tennis, art, theatre, science. The list goes on.

I am not knocking this tradition. It is still engrained in me and I spent most of this morning filling in the calendar with a practiced determination to fit as much into the summer as possible.

Summer camps were not just a good thing for my daughters to learn to socialize, follow-directions (if the teacher was lucky), and build up those all-important skills known as physical, social and emotional literacy. They were also pretty good for me as I chatted with parents or refresh my own batteries with a good book.

Bless the parks and rec guide is all I can say.

But as I took a break early today to stroll through a park with a toddler friend of mine, and his grandma, I remembered the value of an empty calendar.

I was busy. There were deadlines looming, chores to finish and planning for those now-filled in calendar events. The stress still had a hold of me as my tiny friend waved at me and smiled from behind his cool plastic sunglasses and safari hat.

We headed down to Allco Park where there wasn’t even a set of swings to play on and I wondered what we’d do to keep him busy.

As our walked slowed to his pace, so did my mind and the stress melted away. It didn’t seem to matter what we busied ourselves with any more – and that’s when the world seemed to open up.

First, we had to check out the noisy chain on the rusty entrance gate. Then we discovered buttercups, an old log his imagination transformed into a galloping horse, and, finally, the Alouette River where he dipped his toes into the cold natural waterpark.

The kids from the SD42 outdoor environmental school were there, too, racing around freely under the cedar canopy between class presentations and intense meetings of the mind. Their contented murmurs seemed to embody the perfect mix of structure and freedom I hope they continue to find during their summer break.

Just the night before, I spent the evening at an outdoor concert with my own 20-year-old daughter, who has been attending such events since she was toddler. There were babies everywhere enjoying the free music night. Seniors came by to chat with them, older children held their hands. This was no official summer camp, but those babes were getting plenty of physical and social literacy.

It’s great to watch this subtle, but welcome shift away from the over-scheduled childhood trend with an emphasis on more nature-centred, unhurried approaches to playtime.

Bring on summer, I’m going to try and leave some empty spots on the calendar for long walks by the river and maybe even a little impromptu hula-hooping.

Lynn Easton writes for Ridge Meadows Early Childhood Development Committee.