Friday, August 18, 2017

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StephenVance 540No more pencils, no more books, no more teachers' dirty looks... ahh, the only thing I liked more than the first day of school when I was a kid, was the last day of school, and in the coming days our local students will all be enjoying the last day of the school year, and the beginning of summer vacation. I, like many of us grown ups, envy them.

A question I hear a lot from parents is how to fill your kids' days during the summer break, and one of the things I love about living in the Meaford area is that there is so much for kids to do – though I know that not everyone agrees with me on that. About five years ago I wrote a column entitled 'There's Plenty For Kids to do in Meaford', and in the years since I have had many readers comment about that column, some agreeing, some not so much, and several have asked me if I would publish that column every year.

Here is some of what I wrote back in 2012:

There isn't enough for the kids to do in Meaford.

It is a sentiment I have heard expressed often in the years since I moved to this fine community, and it is one that I have never really understood.

Recently though I have come to realize that perhaps it isn't that there is a lack of activities for our youth in this town, it is more a yearning for what is on the other side of the fence in larger communities.

Kids are really just short versions of us grown ups, and like us, they often want what they don't have, and it can be easy to forget, or take for granted what is right in front of us.

What is interesting is that it has become apparent to me that the kids in those larger communities also have a yearning. While they may have a cornucopia of community centres, shopping malls, sporting opportunities, and a host of other possibilities, what they may lack is a freedom that can only be found in a small town.

Freedom to explore, I think, is one of the biggest opportunities small towns like Meaford have to offer for children. A safe community without the stresses of massive numbers of vehicles clogging the streets means that parents don't need to worry as much if the kids head out to discover their community.

Remember when as kids we used to leave home in the morning and not return home until the street lights came on? Remember the echo of “Car!” and “Game on!” bouncing between homes on a quiet street as kids played road hockey? Those are things that can still take place in a small town, but are perhaps more difficult in a larger centre where safe, quiet streets seem to have become more difficult to find.

My own children think that there is plenty to do in Meaford. They live in a city of more than 150,000 people, and they are surrounded by endless opportunities for fun and entertainment. But when they arrive in Meaford every other weekend, they are chomping at the bit to get out and explore what Meaford has to offer.

In Meaford they can venture off on their own to search for beach glass on the waterfront, hike or ride our many trails, play games in the parks, or simply ride a skateboard along our safe streets.

Sure they are sometimes wishing that we had a mall for shopping, or that we had a movie theatre, but on the whole, they are never lacking things to do here in Meaford.

With the end of the school year approaching, the warm season opportunities for Meaford's youth are actually quite impressive.

Swimming at the Blue Dolphin pool, or in the even bigger pool of Nottawasaga Bay, trips to the library, or tossing a fishing line into the river just scratch the surface of activities for our youth.

We even have a sailing school geared toward youth in Meaford – that isn't something that you can find in most communities.

Granted, there could always be more organized activities, there could be weekly dances at the community centre, or perhaps there could be more day camps geared toward specific interests (note: there are many more day camp opportunities in Meaford today than when I wrote this five years ago). Small communities, though, have a difficult time supporting such activities as the numbers just aren't there to keep them going.

The organizers of the PLAY initiative have also been coming up with outstanding programs to occupy our youth, whether it be utilizing otherwise empty school gymnasiums for floor hockey or taking part in other PLAY sponsored events that will not only entertain, but ensure a level activity among the youth that can easily be lost with too much time immersed in video games.

In this modern time of instant gratification, and constant entertainment, our kids may be losing the art of occupying themselves. There is a line in a movie I love about having to make your own fun in a small town.

Everybody makes their own fun. If you don't make it yourself, it isn't fun. It's entertainment.”

Perhaps it isn't that there is nothing for our kids to do in Meaford, maybe we just need to be reminded of the simple pleasures that make small town living an endless opportunity for discovery. And we need to re-learn how to make our own fun.

Five years later, and with my own kids having grown to the ages of 14 and 18, I (and they) still agree that there is so much in our area for kids to do, and most of it is free, though you might have to replace a pair of shoes after too much tree climbing, or patch a wound here and there, but it's worth it.


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