Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Do our children need a Summer Camp ?

My morning newspaper with a cup of hot steaming chai is my ‘me’ time, and can’t barter it with anything in the world. If it can be helped, that is.
An article in the newspaper caught my attention this morning, which said schools and child psychologists are of opinion that summer camps and other structured activities are robbing children of their childhood. It is taking away the creative genius that is there in each child by taking away her me time that we all crave for ! “Are they?” – I pause to think. Or is there a bigger culprit that we are overlooking ?
I wandered back to my childhood days in the late seventies and early eighties and tried look for an answer. When I was small, we did not have a television set at home. Summer vacation for me meant visiting my maternal grandparents house in Bardhhaman and spending part of it with my cousin brothers. I used to be bashed up (what with three boys there waiting for a hapless victim to turn up and get beaten up!) but still, those are the memories I cherish, and wish I could relive them.
When we were back to Durgapur after a week or two, I bonded with my friends in the neighbourhood, spending the mornings in each other’s houses playing scrabble, monopoly, Chinese chequers, Chess, Carrom or Ludo, the afternoons in our own houses waiting for it to get over, and meet again in the local park at 4:30 and play till late. Normal school days had a deadline of 7 pm which was missing for the entire duration of summer vacation. There was a Ram mandir in our neighbourhood, and it used to have its aarti at 7 pm throughout the year excepting for the winter months of Nov-Mar, during which the aarti took place at 6:30 pm. Round the year the aarti at Ram Mandir was the alarm for all us children. As soon as the aarti began, we used to leave our game on an as-is-where-is condition and scamper home. The aarti continued for 10 minutes and before the last toll of the bell, we had to have our fingers on the door-bell button. This rule held good for everyone-irrespective of gender. The boys usually put on a pretence of non-chalance, and let the girls scurry first, with a sardonic smile on their faces. But what they really did was, start late, run faster and put their fingers on the door-bell button at precisely the same time-just before the end of the aarti. All were equally scared of the consequences. We never came to know though, what would have happened had we turned in late – we never dared.
Those were the rules for days other than summer vacation. During summer vacations, we could stay out late. So we conveniently finished our games and then strolled to the ram-mandir well past 7 pm, have phuchka (pani-puri)s, alu chaats, or simply chatted, laughed, giggled and did all the meaningless things school-girls did back then. Most days we turned in by around 8pm. During summer vacations I used to have a daily task of about 10 sums, which I usually finished in the afternoons which was bereft of any other activity - we were not allowed to visit a friends house and it was too hot outside. In the evenings, it was checking time. My mom or occasionally dad checked the sums while I stood beside to get over with it.
Then it was my storybook time. Apart from bonding with cousins/friends what I did during the summers was read…a lot, that was my window to a world outside…a world that was a little familiar and a lot different from my experience of life. And I loved it. I loved to be drifted away to a different world each time with a different book. Fairy tales, mysteries, ghosts, romance, science, biology, each had the capacity to keep me enthralled for hours. The subject of interest changed with age, but they all had a similar kind of spell on me.
My mom’s school library allowed teachers to take as many books as they wanted during the summer vacation, as it was closed for the students during this time – and I simply loved her school for that. I was (and still am) an avid reader and my passion for reading dates back to my kindergarten days. I used to read and read till all lights in the neighbourhood went off one by one and ours was the only house that was awake. My mother used to admonish me for this – she had this uncanny urge to put off the lights by 11 pm – yet she was my sole supplier of books for most of my childhood.
During my school summer vacations, I found that while both boys and girls loved to read, and while away a considerable amount of time simply chit-chatting (an activity of utmost importance in that part of the world, known as adda) there were some activities that were gender- specific. While girls loved to spend some of their leisure doing needlework, playing dollhouse, or simply being in the kitchen with their mothers and picking up life-skills(or rather skills that prove to be life-saving later in their lives), boys loved to play outdoor games, especially football or cricket, starting at dawn to avoid the scorch later in the day, and then completely forgetting about it and continuing in the sweltering heat ! Also summer vacation was the time when all pending invention plans like making a top quality speaker from a biscuit tin, telephones from discarded wires and matchboxes, solar heater from cartons and biscuit wrappers turned inside out and many others - saw the daylight! Managerial skills were exercised in ways of organizing stage functions celebrating birth anniversary of Rabindranath Tagore (Rabindra Jayanti), Bengali New Year(Poila Boishakh) for the named ones and numerous other unnamed ones like birthdays of somebody’s pet dog and even someone’s telephone set or someone’s refrigerator. Those were the days !
The point I am trying to make here is that all the activities mentioned above were not done is a structured or a pre-planned way. It all happened as a response to the circumstances. Among other meaningless and useless activities we did squeeze in creative and mentally stimulating ones as a matter of fun. They were neither pre-pondered not consciously structured. And all that happened because we got bored . We were fortunate enough to have the privilege of getting bored. Of having nothing to do. We had time in our hand to pause and think what we wanted to do with this time. Our children today, unfortunately donot have such benefit. There is television, there is mobile games, there is computer. And as if that is not enough, there are gaming stations scattered everywhere even if you manage to take your child out. For them getting bored is they are tired of the same game- they want something new, something fancier.
Research has already comeup with results of how the television and computer games are capable of paralyzing our faculties temporarily during the time of the activity and can do permanent harm should the time of contact be more than half an hour a day. But is there a child who will accept a ration of half an hour of TV during the vacations? Mine certainly would not, I doubt if others would too.
The situation is dreadful. It is getting things out of our hands. So if a parent thinks that sending a child for a summer camp is good for her, I agree completely. If not going to the summer camp means that the child is going to watch TV for four more hours, there’s nothing I would agree more with. Anything to keep a child away from the television/ video games/computer games. If it is summer camp, so be it.
If a child is spending the time on his own doing anything at all, it is fine. But the big question is “Do they ?”.To the champions of free time for children- I would like to ask suggestions on how to keep children away from the menace of TV/computers on their own will.
The bottomline, friends, is that it is not the summer camps that is killing the genius in our child, it is the television and numerous other entertainment gadgets that are. Summer camps actually help us by keeping our children away from the biggest demons of today, albeit for a short period of time. Hope we can come up with interesting ideas that can keep our children busy without electronic aids….wish our children themselves come up with such ideas, I know all parents would be more than happy to provide the ingredients for a summer camp that is worthwhile!


  1. I am a bengali who grew up in mumbai in the early sixties and seventies.Reading your blog post made me very nostalgic.My childhood was a lot similar to yours.Every summer we went to Calcutta and Jalpaiguri for the annual family bonding with our grandparents ,aunts,uncles and cousins.Before we left for W>Bengal we would attend local summer camps organised by the youngsters and not only did we learn a few things we enjoyed ourselves thoroughly.

  2. @ Anonymous, Thanks for sharing your experience...we did have de-gadgetized childhood and I feel that it was in many ways better than today's.We had far less exposure, yet were happier or probably, that was the reason we were happier...

  3. Clap clap for this blog and your post. We are more story from your side.


You may also like