Peter and I have been camping in the Netherlands this summer. (I’m writing a blog about it. Visit www.ifyouseekadventure.com to find out more about our camping adventures in Europe.) In early July campgrounds began filling up with families, most with small children, so I’ve been observing how Dutch parents and children interact. Of course, all families are different, but I have noticed some interesting behaviors.
What I absolutely love is how involved the parents are with the kids. It’s as if vacations in the Netherlands are more about making sure the children have an amazing experience and less about the parents getting a break from work. It may have to do with the fact that the Netherlands, like many European countries, offers employees very generous vacation packages: 20 paid vacation days. In addition, eight percent of your salary is given as vacation bonus. Dutch employers not only give you about a month off from work (in addition to holidays), they also give you money to use for your vacation. Wow! By the way, this is mandatory, so everyone receives the same benefits.
Camping vacations for Dutch families seem to be completely devoted to family time. We’ve noticed that extended families often camp together, including grandparents. Many camp in affordable multi-room tents, but they bring along all the comforts of home. You never see big fancy RVs—mainly because cars here are smaller so their towing capabilities are reduced. That means campers have to be smaller and lighter. Motor homes are also smaller and lighter, a necessity here where gas ranges from $8-10 per gallon.
The campgrounds are super family friendly. Many areas are car free so kids feel safe running around and riding their bikes. Drivers always drive slowly and take extra caution in campgrounds since kids are everywhere. Many groups of campsites have their own playgrounds, so kids can be close by their campsites and easy to keep an eye on.
A couple days ago a group of friends came to hang out with a camping family next to us. It was a total of four families with about 10 kids, ranging from two up to 10. There are two empty campsites in between theirs and ours, and the kids played there literally for hours. The older kids enjoyed made-up games while the younger ones played with their toy trucks in the sand. The parents kept an eye out, but for the most part, the children kept themselves occupied with old-fashioned play. Here’s the thing: there wasn’t a screen, a smart phone, a tablet of any kind in sight. And these kids had a ball.
My fear is that children today, especially those that have their noses in technology all the time, are in danger of losing their ability to be creative and imaginative. It seems parents here are making a real effort to ensure their kids have a playful childhood. At the same time, by taking a vacation where their kids are the focus, parents are building relationships with their kids that will last a lifetime.
In the remaining weeks of summer, encourage your kids to play. Let them swing and climb and jump in playgrounds, build sandcastles on the beach, ride their bikes, fly a kite, throw a Frisbee, make mud pies. Kids are only young and innocent for a short while. Make those moments last.