Key Ingredients of the Most Blissful Summer Activities

When my three children were little, summer was always a time to take advantage of looser schedules and to plan special outings and activities. Once they entered grade school, the freedom and fluidity of summer days became even more precious. Though we weren’t in a position to take expensive vacations, we’d go to shows, zoos, the beach, water parks, and sometimes travel across the country to visit grandparents and cousins.

But for me (and I believe my family would agree), many of our most enjoyable and memorable experiences were the simplest ones. They involved just being together and took place closer to home. In fact, mostly at home. I shared some of our favorite, more structured play activities in my post Games My Kids Beg to Play, and I described the source for much of our spontaneous play magic in Back to the Sandbox.

If I hadn’t had the good fortune to become acquainted with child specialist Magda Gerber and her do less, enjoy more approach, I doubt very much that I would have had the perspective to appreciate simple, organic, child-led play so completely. I would have undervalued it, perhaps even considering it a fallback, feeling guilty that I wasn’t making the effort to provide my children with something more entertaining and special. I would definitely not have known how to foster organic play in infants and why self-directed play is so crucial to the development of foundational learning skills, creativity, self-confidence, and a strong sense of self. Thanks to Magda, I was able to delight in and savor experiences like the one Emily shares:  key ingredients final

Hi Janet! Thank you for all of the wonderful guidance you share. I am trying hard to integrate the RIE philosophies into my everyday life as a mom of “2 under 2.” However, in true mothering form, I generally second guess if I am doing it “right.” This evening I feel like I got it. After a long day for all of us, instead of rushing the kids up to a bath and bedtime (so I could go to bed early too), we went to the screened porch. I let my 6-week- old lay next me on the sofa as I watched my 20-month-old spend more than 30 minutes playing with a collection of tree nuts she had gathered from our front yard earlier in the day. She moved them one at a time from various containers and surfaces. I was so tempted to guide her in counting them (I’m a math teacher), but I decided instead to enjoy witnessing the magic of her concentration and creativity. Thank you!

Eleanor (my daughter) deserves all the credit for inspiring me to follow the RIE approach…her determination to be independent and my own (very natural) insecurities as a parent are what lead me to order Magda’s book. After reading that and following your page, I have continued to be inspired by my own daughter on a daily basis. Again, thank you.

The most blissful summer play activities are:

Megan Boothe Milanos key ingredients larger

Megan shares:

I just wanted to say thank you for introducing me to RIE and respectful parenting. I always felt like it was my job to entertain and play with my boy all the time. As I’ve gradually given them more spaces, their ability to play independently has blossomed! Here are my 4 and 2-year-old playing by themselves for over an hour this morning while I did laundry. What a relief! Thank you!

Thanks so much to Emily and Megan for allowing me to share your stories and photos!

I share more about fostering blissful play experiences in my book: Elevating Child Care: A Guide to Respectful Parenting.


Please share your comments and questions. I read them all and respond to as many as time will allow.

  1. Thank you and RIE for introducing me to the concept of independent, self-directed play. The first 18 months of my child’s life I too thought it was my responsibility to entertain and show her how to do things. Now at 2.5 years old she’s able to play for bouts of time by herself and I have learned to just observe and not take over when I am there with her. However I think I am still a bit confused about my role when I am with her during play. I wonder if I’ve swung to the opposite end of the pendulum and am too hands off now. I sit and watch and respond or sportscast if she asks or looks at me. But (probably due to my intervention the first 1.5 years) she often tells me “play with this” and hands me a toy (as in “do something with this”). If I do she ends up just watching me. If I don’t then she gets mad (and I feel like I’m not being a good playmate). How much should I interact with her during play? If she hands me a car, for example, and says “play with this” should I make car sounds and drive it around? If I ask “what should the car do”? she gets mad for turning it back to her.

    Thanks for all you do!! x

    1. Thanks for your support, Lenora! Hmm… I think what you’re doing sounds perfect. I think I would just say, “thank you!” if she offers you something to play with. If she seems dissatisfied with that, you could say, “I’m examining this closely, thanks!” Also, it’s certainly not the end of the world if you did a little something more with the toy once in awhile. Or, better yet, you could acknowledge, “Oh, you’re remembering that I used to that car sound thing! Hmm… I don’t feel like doing that right now” (or maybe you do) “but thanks for reminding me!” I would totally “cop” to what you’ve done, because that might very well be what she’s trying to connect with you about. I would perceive all these interactions as opportunities to connect honestly with her, and welcome them. It’s all good!

  2. I admit, sometimes we have to leave kids with their creativity so, that they can explore more. Excellent article.

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