This is a story about two little girls, a piece of pink flowered cloth and the luxury of time during the long days of summer vacation. It is also a reminder that sometimes the best things we can do for kids is not too much …
The story begins at a neighborhood garage sale, (be careful
crossing the street), involved the combining of allowance coins to
pay the price of the cloth, and included complex negotiations about shared
ownership. (Where would the cloth be at night?)
difficult thing about the cloth however, was deciding what to do with
it. The girls’ first idea, quickly discarded, was to turn it into doll
clothes. These were not doll playing girls, and besides, sewing those
tiny stitches was too hard when the sun was beating down. A trip indoors
for a cooling drink resulted in the discovery of a fat pile of many
colored yarns; some big-eyed needles, two pair of kid-sized scissors,
As the mother of one of the girls, I can attest
that they were busy all day. As the light faded, a stack of neat, pink
flowered, (almost) squares of carefully embroidered and edged cloths sat
on the purple work table under the tree where they worked. That was
just the beginning.
I often write about
how teachers, parents and mentors can encourage relationships and
learning. I suggest ways that they can stimulate creativity and promote productivity in the classroom
and programs for kids. I write from an awareness of the many challenges
that kids, schools and families are facing in these difficult times,
and most of all, I write in the hope that some of the ideas and
information I share will help kids be engaged in their learning and fully involved in
activities that they feel passionate about. But, with summer
vacation just beginning, and many parents and organizations scrambling
for ways (and dollars) to fill kids’ time, I want to change gears a
little and offer this story about the girls and the cloth as a reminder
that, especially in these times when so many kids lead highly scheduled,
busy and complex lives, there is more than one way to fill a summer
day, and as a reminder, that adults are not the only ones who can (or
should) provide kids with fun, diversion and creative opportunities.
So back to the girls:
the following morning, after careful consideration, the now embroidered
pink squares were identified as place-mats. And, it was immediately clear that place-mats this beautiful belonged on a party table. This was the moment when the real
work began and the idea for a grand party began to take shape.
summer’s end, the girls and their younger siblings (who they coerced
into all manner of participation) held a surprise party for their
parents, all of whom just happened to be born in September. The party
was the core of their summer activities. (And need I mention all the
summer learning that came as a result?)
Working together, the
girls planned a ‘great’ dinner, plotted ways to get the food and other
things they needed for the meal (”without anybody knowing”), shopped
with their own money (even collected cans to recycle to earn more), and
requested “cooking lessons” so that the food got cooked, and the cake
It didn’t end there. A play was written and performed (and
later published! - but that’s still another story), and several poems
transformed into lyrics for the songs that were offered as the evening’s
musical-comedy entertainment. No one knows where the rehearsals took
place, but the performance and costumes were memorable. As were the
gifts, each personalized for the recipient and made by hand (more garage
sale finds.) The candles on the (slightly lopsided) cake were dull
compared with the light of pride, delight and imagination that lit the
eyes of the party-givers.
It is truly hard to say who was richer
for the experience, but it is safe to say that a good time was had by
all. And to think it all began with a piece of second hand cloth, and
the unstructured time of long summer days to see it blossom into
whatever it could become.
So, what were the lessons that I learned that summer?
Give children time
- free time - empty as a blank page to be colored by imagination and
filled with the discoveries found in their own world - within and
Give children time - to
dream, experiment, discover creatures in the clouds and ants in the
grass. Give them unstructured time to play, imagine and just be.
Give children time so that their creativity can flourish, friendships can grow and their ideas can come to full growth.
And, as long as you are still reading, a few more tips … give children books
- or better still, let them choose their own at the library. It may not
constitute their idea of free time, but it can’t hurt. After all, they
might find patterns for place-mats, recipes for cakes, ideas for gifts,
or simply the gift of something wonderful to read.
And of course, give them art supplies. Create a portable art kit that fits into a backpack, or big pocket. Mine, which comes with me everywhere, includes a variety of pencils (plain and color), an eraser, thin and thick color markers, and a small sketch book. Put it all together in a zip lock bag. Then, when inspiration strikes, your kids will have the time and the tools to make the most of summer.