Old Fashioned Summer Fun

Children Playing in Sprinkler
Children Playing in Sprinkler

Think back to your childhood summers and chances are that the fondest, stick-in-your-mind highlights didn't involve costly, crowded theme parks, or anything on a screen.

What most of us tend to remember the most are simple days out at the seaside, perhaps crabbing in rock pools or getting buried up to our necks in sand, jaunts with friends across the fields or in parks, and jostling and joking with siblings on car backseats during long drives (no iPads for entertainment back then and there's only so much iSpy a kid can take).

Of course family life was by no means perfect 15, 20, 30 years ago - it wasn't all cloudy lemonade and sun-kissed picnics - so we won't get all rose-tinted specs about it but there was a rather lovely, unstructured simplicity to the six weeks that we seem to have lost amid the activity camps, screen time and pressure to provide a packed schedule of exhilarating trips.

Even back home, our kids' days are rather different now. We're much more likely to be watching over them, and getting involved in and directing their play. It might not be as hectic as term-time but we still seem to be rushing about from 'playdate' to activity more than in the past.

It's not just sentimentality making me think our offspring are missing out with the way summers have become - the unstructured, truly free time we experienced helped us grow in a very different way. We developed independence, an ability to make our own fun (admittedly only after quite a lot of moaning about being bored) and life skills.

So here's an idea: for just one month – and it needn't even be every day – how about we try to get a bit of that traditional simplicity back into their lives? Let's call it Old-fashioned August.

We're not suggesting trying to turn back time to the 1950s in Back to The Future style, and we're certainly not suggesting a month of banning gadgets or kicking the kids out for the day under instruction not to return 'til teatime (both unrealistic in the modern world), but we are talking about a quest to give them a taste of old-fashioned fun, independence and freedom.

This means leaving behind some of the negatives of modern family life – the rushing about, the lack of time to daydream and be creative.

To do this we need to challenge ourselves as parents too, to push our own boundaries about what we let them do. We might be too worried about busy roads or even what other people think to send them packing alone into the woods but we could stay that bit further away whilst they explore, or let them climb a tree without agonising so much about what might happen if they fall.

You'll be amazed by just how much they can learn and grow with a few weeks of summertime freedom. So if you're up for an Old-fashioned August, throughout the month we'll cover a theme per week – from enhancing their independence, to getting them up to speed with life skills and away from those darned screens.

Here are some ideas if you want to make your August just a little bit Old-fashioned:

Don't ban the tech altogether but try a screen break. Gadgets are here to stay - it would be harsh and unrealistic to ban them all the time BUT how about a break and cutting down where you can? Trying a 'screen free Sunday' (make it just the afternoon if a day seems too much) each week for the month can work well to temper that awful addictive feeling our gadgets can leave us with. Turn the telly off and make everyone surrender their tech during the allotted time – yep that's you parents too.

Leave the children to make their own fun as much as possible.They might get bored initially but will learn to entertain themselves more if there isn't a grown up directing their play or making suggestions on what to do. Reduce their reliance on you by flipping any "what should we do now?" questioning back on them with a "well what do you think?" and make sure you leave a few things that fuel creative play around, be it piles of Lego bricks, art materials or basic den making gear.

Hold back on the helicoptering. OK, so your five-year-old playing out in the street all day unsupervised might not feel right nowadays, but our children need to learn to be trusted without us watching over their every move. Push your own boundaries in an appropriate way, whatever age and stage they're at and as best you can for where you live. It might be leaving them to run around in the park whilst you retreat to a bench further away, letting older ones go on ahead on a country path, or allowing a preschooler to explore the playground with a friend, whilst you wait at the side, rather than hovering over them every time they go up as much as a slide step.

Focus on non-academic skills and get them used to mucking in about the house. All the rushing around of modern family life means that sometimes children miss out on building everyday 'life skills' and helping at home. Work on those that you don't get time to do the rest of the year – that could be learning to tie shoe laces, do the washing up (vaguely) properly, fold laundry, ride a bike or make lunch. Summer holidays are the perfect time to invest in teaching this sort of thing.

Skip the over-scheduling. Less is more in the family calendar as it means you can all take the time to chat, to daydream, to walk rather than drive and notice things around you that you might normally zoom past.

Don't feel you have to make up for lost (working) time. Working parents need childcare but look at maximising the unstructured faffing about at home time wherever possible – this is very different to a packed timetable of activities at a club which can be brilliant too but exhausting and leaves little scope for free play and creativity. Don't feel compelled to make up for time you've been working by organising expensive days out on your days off either – your kids probably appreciate just being with you even if you do something simple together.

Fun need not cost a fortune. When you do want to get out and about, try to stick to free/ low cost traditional trips – the beach to build an epic sandcastle will surely appeal enough to drag even the most hardened Minecraft fan away from that screen and will cost a lot less than a theme park.

Get back to nature. If you're in the midst of a city, there's still tons of green space out there. Most council websites list parks, urban woodlands and walking trails.

Each week this month we'll cover a different theme for Old-fashioned August – watch out for more columns on this soon.

Why not tweet us about your #oldfashionedaugust activities to @parentdish_uk and @liathughesjoshi?

Liat Hughes Joshi's book 'New Old-fashioned Parenting' will be published by Summersdale's Vie imprint in February 2015.