Remember the days when children entertained themselves?

Published 9:43 am Saturday, June 6, 2015

“I have camp scheduled for the first two weeks, but after that I don’t know what I will do with my boys for the rest of the summer,” one young mother was telling another woman sitting next to her in the waiting room.

“There’s always Bible school,” the other woman told her. “Different churches hold Bible school on different weeks. You could probably keep them busy all summer if you wanted to.”

“That is an idea,” the first woman responded. “I have to keep them occupied. They get into too much mischief if I don’t. But I think they would get bored with the same thing all summer.”

“Kids do have to be entertained,” the second woman agreed.

I couldn’t help but hear their conversation. I felt for this young mother. There was no mistaking the distress in her voice.

So school is out and you have no idea how you are going to entertain your children/grandchildren all summer?

My mother never had that problem. I thought back to the summers when I was a child. Admittedly it was a long time ago, but we were so glad to be home and out of school. We were free!

After breakfast, Mama (who didn’t work outside the home at that time) told us to go outside and play. She didn’t want to hear from us until she called us for lunch. She meant it too.

No fighting and no coming back inside unless we had a mortal injury. We had to make our own play. It was the way things were. Kids entertained themselves.

It never got too hot for us to play outside. With no air conditioners and no fan, it was probably cooler playing out under a big tree than it was inside the house. After a few days of summer, the hot earth didn’t even blister the soles of our feet, hardened from going barefoot. Even walking over “stickers” in the grass was no big deal after going barefoot all summer.

This was before the days of television. Kids had not learned to be entertained. The word “bored” was not in our vocabulary.

There was the radio, of course, but there wasn’t much on during the day for kids. Sometimes we did slip under the open kitchen window and listen to the radio as Mama tuned in to the soap stories. If she caught us, she shooed us back to our play.

We had to call on our own creativity and make our entertainment. We built “roads” through the dirt under the big oak tree in the front yard, and used small empty bottles as cars. A string tied around the lip of the opening made a nice pull vehicle.

We pulled pine straws, stirred a little spit into the dirt, dipped the straw in the mixture and plunged the straw into a doodlebug hole. Catching doodlebugs was great fun.

Some days we made a playhouse in the edge of the woods and played for hours. If we could find a good level stump and a large board, we could make either a fine seesaw or a “flying ginny.”

Sometimes when I had nobody to play with, I created playmates of my own. These imaginary friends were “Ann” and “Sue,” and they were pretty popular around our house.

Mama frequently asked me about them, and I told her of the adventures we had together. My little sister sometimes joined in the play with me. We had a lot of fun together…all imaginary, of course, prefaced with the term “play like” which meant, “let’s pretend.”

On rainy days, we also created our own play. That was the only time Mama allowed us to take the wooden kitchen chairs into the living room, where we turned them upside down and covered them with blankets to make our “camps.”

That was a fun activity that usually lasted all day and was reserved only for rainy or very cold days in the winter.

My own children enjoyed some of these creative activities, as I shared with them the fun I had as a little girl with imaginary friends. Even then, things were starting to become different for children.

Television came along, and with it, children learned to be entertained instead of finding their own creative play. Look how far we have come since then.

Parents and grandparents spend a fortune on sophisticated and expensive games and toys designed to entertain today’s children.

So now, instead of the children calling on their own creativity for play, the parents have to be creative and figure out ways to keep the kids entertained all summer.

It is a big loss for the kids who really need to put their creativity to work. Sooner or later they will learn that the real world isn’t constant entertainment.

By then, they’ll probably be figuring out ways to entertain their own kids.