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Sustaining Summer

We're moving from the bright greens of summer to the brilliant colors of fall. Our children are making the transition from summer to school, and from flexible schedules to structure. How, during this time of transition and in the school year beyond, can we maintain a sense of the fun that summer brings? Fun that binds our children to us in a way that nothing else can? When children and parents have fun together: playing, laughing and relaxing, the underlying structure of the relationship is strengthened. And it is that underlying strength that sustains both parents and children through the challenges that are both a part of parenting and of growing up.

According to the "Alliance for Childhood" ( www.allianceforchildhood.net), play helps children develop socially and emotionally. Play encourages the development of fine and gross motor skills in young children, and gives them a sense of mastery over their world. Play also strengthens cognitive skills and lays the foundation for academic success. Further, childhood play is "one of the key factors leading to happiness in adulthood."

Many parents make the assumption that play is a solitary or peer activity, and that its benefits are confined to the toddler and early elementary years. Not so! In fact, play revitalizes and nurtures the spirit of any age person. According to Dr. Charles Schaeffer, a world-renowned therapist and expert on play, "We are never more fully alive, more completely ourselves, or more deeply engrossed in anything than when we are playing."

When play is shared with our toddlers, children and teens, it creates a deep and abiding connection that enriches the relationship. So how do we do this? How do we bring a little bit of summer into our relationship with our children throughout the year, no matter what their age?

Broaden your definition of play. One mother, who lives out of State, told me that her 17-year-old son?s favorite activity was to tinker with, wash and wax his car. For him this was play. So mom took to hanging out in the garage with her son. She would ask him questions about the "tune up" he was doing, and would take a cloth and gently polish the car when he did the waxing. "The light in his eyes, when he sees me touch his car and care for it, is indescribable. It?s the same light I used to see when he was a toddler, and I'd pick him up at preschool - like I was the most joyful thing in his day. I'm so grateful that we can play together again." Maybe your child?s interest is his bicycle, his skateboard, his "Thomas the Tank Engine" trains. You may not be "playing" when he adjusts the chain on his bicycle, replaces the wheel on his skateboard, or builds a new track for "Thomas" but standing, sitting and talking with him when he does so will look like playing in his eyes.

Tune in to your child's interests. You may not understand the attraction of Pokemon or Barbie Dolls. You may play a lousy game