LONG, warm summer days can turn into long, boring summer days for children who haven't the fuzziest idea of what they'd really like to do. Helping children, and their parents, avoid such doldrums has become a life's work for Joan Bergstrom. ``Everyone I know goes bonkers if their kids are at home doing nothing all summer,'' she says with a laugh.
Currently head of Wheelock College's department of professional studies in early childhood, Dr. Bergstrom has devoted nearly a decade to interviewing youngsters in ``middle childhood'' (ages 6-12), assessing how they occupy the 80 percent of their lives spent outside a classroom, and devising a whole panorama of ways to nudge them toward more meaningful pursuits.
And that doesn't mean shoehorning children into activities that gratify their elders, like mastering the violin (though that may be a wonderful undertaking for some). No, a lot of what Bergstrom advises comes down to helping kids generate their own ideas about what they're interested in. She has compiled a list of over 200 things children can pursue during the summer -- from aerobics to computers to macram'e to playwriting to whale watching -- with boxes to indicate ``yes, no, or maybe'' responses. The list is huge, but hardly exhaustive.
The point, as Bergstrom would be first to say, is simply to stimulate thinking.
She'll be taking her ideas and near-boundless enthusiasm to the Boston Children's Museum this summer for a series of workshops dubbed ``School's Out -- Now What?'' That's also the title of her 1984 book (published by Ten Speed Press, Berkeley, Calif.), which won acclaim as a practical aid for parents. Workshop participants will bounce from ``TV watching -- What is enough? What is too much?'' to ``No bake/no cook snacks.'' The latter session, incidentally, will be co-hosted by her teen-age son, Craig.
The goal, says Bergstrom, is to get everyone ``tuned in to an interest.'' When they get down to thinking about it, children will often decide, ``I really want to do this!'' she says.
One youngster she knows proclaimed that he didn't want to go to camp again -- and the family deadlocked at that point. Bergstrom asked the parents if the boy had any options. In the exchange that followed it became clear he was quite interested in photography. The family located a class being taught on camera technique, and that, combined with field work and a reading program, resulted in a fruitful summer.
Camp, it should be added, can be a valuable experience for children, and can often be combined with the pursuit of youthful interests -- athletics, handicrafts, even computers. Bergstrom's point, again: Get the thinking rolling within the family, so parents can truly appreciate youngster's evolving interests, or at least help guide them toward possible new interests.
Ideally, a family would identify a ``burning interest for every kid,'' says Bergstrom. And from her work with hundreds of families and children, she's ``convinced everyone can find one.'' While there's no hard evidence linking strong out-of-school interests to a child's performance in school, she adds, the kids with interests ``have a certain kind of excitement to them.'' For one thing, she continues, they've often learned something about ``creative problem-solving.''
As Bergstrom lays out her ideas, she pauses every so often to reemphasize one thing: that she's not recommending that a child's every free moment be booked. Along with most of her colleagues in child development, she views that as destructive. ``Kids are wonderful wanderers and explorers,'' she says, and you want to give them time to seek things out for themselves. She advises three to seven hours a week in organized activities. ``But you don't want a whole summer with nothing laid out,'' she adds. For most children, as for adults, a weekly routine can be both reassuring and constructive.
With this in mind, Bergstrom recommends some kind of formal scheduling of children's time during vacation, perhaps a big calendar or chart with activities filled in -- swimming lessons, piano practice, reading hours, and TV time, for example. It can also include the chores or jobs a child is expected to do.
For a copy of Dr. Bergstrom's ``Yes, no, and maybe'' list of 200-plus things to do during the summer, write: Joan Bergstrom, 200 The Riverway, Boston, Mass. 02215. Children's activities Here are a few items from Joan Bergstrom's list to get kids thinking about possible interests. Archaeology -- go on a dig Basketball Bicycling Break dance Calligraphy Carpentry Ceramics Clown lessons Community newspaper Fencing Finance -- set up your own bank account Garden and horticultural groups Historical societies Horseback riding Jazz dance Making instruments Mime Mountain climbing Oil painting Print making Puppetry Raquetball Sculpting