Though the calendar says summer won't officially start until June 20, the closing of schools for the summer and the gloriously warm weather we are enjoying means that, while it might not be "officially" summer on the Cumberland Plateau, it's close enough.
I always loved the summer break, with all those free days spent doing whatever I wanted, riding my bike, playing sports, staying with my grandparents, going swimming and a week of summer camp in there somewhere or other.
As I got older, the summers seemed to get shorter. There was the summer I spent all but a few weeks at home, between this camp, that camp and a month at Governor's School. It was great to be always on the run, but those younger days of sleeping late, playing outside, watching "The Price is Right" and "The Young and The Restless," and having no schedule, no agenda, no to-do list, were priceless.
And while I cherish those many memories, I also realize those days were important for my development into adulthood. Play is important. Even playtime that isn't really just some sort of school lesson disguised as playtime is important. In fact, play is the right of every child, according to the United Nations human rights commission. Sure, they were talking about children being exploited in sweat shops or as child soldiers, but still, every child should have the time and place to be a kid.
Play helps kids develop physically, socially, emotionally and intellectually. This sort of imaginative play, where a set of appliance boxes become the Starship Enterprise, or a pirate ship, or any number of things, helps kids learn many of the skills they're going to need as they grow older. Play lets kids explore the world around them and learn everything from physical dexterity to conquering fears. Play builds confidence and helps foster teamwork, decision making and self-advocacy.
What's more, a study published in the American Academy of Pediatrics finds that play helps parents better engage and bond with their children. For those moments, you can see the world through their eyes. That empty plastic tea cup becomes the most delicious tea ever, and that plastic cookie a delicious treat to share with your princess and her friends at high tea.
So what can you do to help your child play this summer? Encourage him or her to play — outside, inside, wherever. Help them play. Find some easy and fun activities, like making soap clouds in the microwave or using tape to make a life-size outdoor game board. Set up a few obstacles for junior and then let him come up with more games and activities to try.
Does your child have an interest in bugs and other creepy crawlies? They have a number of summer programs at Cumberland Mountain State Park that might be just right for her.
The Art Circle Library also offers teen and children's summer reading programs, with a variety of activities, from puppet shows and story time to crafts and science projects, hands-on musical performances and more. Call 484-6790 to learn more about these programs.
No matter what you do this summer, make it a summer to remember. There are about 940 Saturdays to a childhood, and only 18 summers. These days will go by too fast, for both parent and child.
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Heather Mullinix is assistant editor of the Crossville Chronicle. Her column is published on Tuesdays. She may be reached at email@example.com.