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Marisa Mackle: Imagination

Oh, no! It's the school holidays! I keep hearing this from distraught parents, wondering how on earth they are going to amuse their offspring for the next two months.

Eh? How about playing in the park, going to the beach, visiting the National Art Gallery or taking out books from the library? Last time I checked, those activities were free. I don't know why parents try so hard to have kids and then, as soon as the schools shut and they have a chance to really bond with them, they're moaning about it.

Okay, so money is tight and many families are struggling but when I was a child, money wasn't in abundance either. There were no summer camps or trips to the cinema for us, but there were daily walks on Dun Laoghaire Pier, afternoons spent feeding bread to the ducks in Herbert Park and hours of fun playing board games en famille. Foreign holidays were just a dream, the reality being a week spent in muddy Tramore caravan park

But was it fun? Yes, I think so. We would play hopscotch on the road, and practise our long jump in the sand. We didn't have TV so we read, and I used to write stories to amuse my grandmother.

I would collect things -- free things such as shells in the summer and conkers in the autumn. I hadn't got a Walkman but I would tape the top 40 from the radio and play it in my dad's car. I became self-employed at the age of nine, rescuing golf balls from streams in the local golf club, drying them on my skirt and selling them back to the members.

When my mother found out, I was made redundant so I started making dolls' clothes from old bits of material and selling them to the neighbours' children. I was never bored. Not even for a minute. Children will always find a way to amuse themselves with or without your help. Let them use their imagination and they will find things to do.

A lady from my tennis club recently introduced me to her daughter (aged 3.5). She has just joined a tennis camp and I swear the racquet is almost as big as her. Straight after tennis, she has French lessons. Mais oui, I kid you not. And in the late afternoons she has piano. I feel sorry for the little one.

My Gary (aged 2.5) will be playing in the garden this summer and not taking any lessons other than potty training. Kids should be kids, and find ordinary things extraordinary. Just before writing this, I found a letter from my recently deceased uncle. He had written it to me when I was pregnant. 'Cherish every moment,' he wrote, 'because they grow up so fast.' It's so true. Don't wish their little lives away. The next thing you know, they'll be asking for the keys of your car.

Marisa is the author of Along Came A Stork