I am not so sure parents like vacations that much.
For that matter, I don’t think children like them either.
My school just closed for term break and the kids left for their homes last weekend, most of them more lost than excited about the holidays. They know their parents have planned camps and activities for them, and all is they want is to do nothing.
For a few parent-child combinations, where the channels of communication are always open, it is indeed an exciting time of sharing, growth and exploration. More than anything, vacations are time to talk, to connect, to fill in the details that parents or children don’t seem to have the time for in schooldays. But for the majority, it is a time of “What to do with my child/parent?”.
I’m a first-time teacher, so naturally, the thought of vacations brought back memories of my childhood – grandma’s stories, pranks with cousins and train trips to strange places my father always picked. I asked my students what their plans were. A handful of them said they would visit their grandparents, fewer sounded excited about it. Most of them said they would be “Chilling at home” and Facebooking or watching television. It made me shudder. I have already received 12 friend requests on Facebook from students and I am not quite sure what to do with them.
“I hope you have given enough holiday homework,” said a parent, when picking up their child. “Homework? I have given them reading lists, if it helps,” I said.
Call me uninitiated, radical, or plain bohemian, but the words holiday and homework have no business to be in the same sentence. But when I asked around, most teachers had given elaborate homework exercises. A Math teacher said, “It’s better to give them homework, else the parents will send them for tuitions and they will come back learning all the wrong things.” Another one said, “I don’t like it, but the parents ask for it.” A third had drawn up an elaborate excel sheet that looked busier than the school time-table.
Actually it’s less about the homework and more about the parental exasperation of what to do with the child. When did holidays become so dreary? When did children become such a baggage on parents?
I recently unearthed a book from my childhood called “365 games to make and play“. No, my parents didn’t buy it for us, neither did they make a single craft from it with us. The book was gifted by my uncle in his single days, and although I didn’t realise it then, I think it was very far-sighted of him to gift something like that to us. The book lasted us most of our childhood. Last I saw, Re was flipping through its pages, asking me if I would make a bus with him.
During our vacations, we played. All the time. With neighborhood kids, sometimes cousins who came over, anyone. When it was too hot, we stayed indoors and made tents with sheets and umbrellas. We listened to the radio. We couldn’t afford a television until much later. We slid down the stairs or banisters on pillows or old mattresses. Our parents were not responsible for scheduling us during our holidays. And I don’t remember getting holiday homework ever.
Times have changed now. Vacations have turned into a grand production. And so has life. Our children are the audience and they keep raising the bar for entertainment. Parents are constantly looking for every sliver of opportunity to outsource their children, make them someone else’s problem. More often than not, they end up outsourcing them to a screen. And then they complain that the children don’t talk, or tell them anything, or make friends.
Our childhood vacations was about allowing boredom to happen to you. My mother was a teacher, so would be home for the holidays, but she was industrious enough to pack it with things she wanted to learn . Sometimes it was baking, sometimes sewing, sometimes patchwork, sometimes etching. Whenever we said we had nothing to do, my mother would be prompt in handing us a chore. “Here, cut these flower shapes out for my patchwork,” she would say. Or better still, “Want to twist a murukku?” Or the scary, “How about cleaning the cobwebs?”
I look back on those times and smile. I can still recall what it felt like to have carefree fun. But very few parents actually believe in allowing kids to play freely – and allowing them to be bored and figure out what to do with that boredom. Are we creating a generation of children who cannot find beauty in the mundane? Joy in the ordinary? I think there is something to be said for balancing the knowledge children acquire 8-9 months of the year with some downtime to help their minds relax and function better. To that end, holiday homework is counter-productive.
So this vacation, try not to fill your child’s life with ‘things to do’. Be there for them – even if it’s for a few hours a day, in a manner that involves not jumping to check that ping on your Whatsapp. Allow them some old-fashioned boredom. You never know where it will take them.
(This post first appeared as my column in Pune Mirror on 20th Oct, 2014)