With a little advance planning, summer break with the kids at home does not have to be anxiety-filled.
As the school year winds down, so do the hectic days of getting the kids dressed, getting lunches made and rushing out the door to make it before the first bell rings. Summer vacation gives parents and kids a respite from the demanding daily schedule. Oftentimes kids associate the end of the school year with the beginning of a long, lazy summer of sleeping in, swimming and X-Box competitions. As a result, parents may dread the thought of having kids at home 24/7 and not knowing how to best occupy their time.
While it’s important for children of all ages to embrace down time away from the high expectations and heavy workloads of being in school, summer is not necessarily the time to abandon a structured schedule and learning opportunities.
Here are a few tips for families to follow to help make this summer season productive and enjoyable:
Stimulation: Fuel kids’ curiosity by going on adventures such as visiting a farm, touring a museum or exploring tide pools at the beach. Many schools from elementary to high school provide suggested reading lists for students. Visit a local library and have your kids choose three books to read over the break. Consider having them embark on a new adventure like enrolling in a kids’ cooking class or volunteering at a local nonprofit organization one day a week. Day camps and sleep-away camps offer variety of physical and creative activities that keep kids busy and reinforce time-management skills.
Schedule: One of the worst things a parent can do is allow their kids to make up their day as they go along. It is imperative that kids continue to have structure during the summer break. Parents can make visual charts or calendars with their kids and plan out the week, including downtime days with no agenda. Plugging in play dates, family events and trips will help parents and kids feel secure in knowing what to expect and thereby avoid boredom and complaining.
Sleep: Not having to head out the door first thing in the morning generally makes kids think they can stay up later at night and sleep in as late as they want. Sporadic late nights are all right, but it is imperative to adhere as much as possible to the sleep/wake routine kids had during the school year. If the routine is abandoned, it will be much more difficult for everyone to get back on schedule when school resumes.
Socialization: It’s important that kids continue to build healthy relationships over the summer by having regular play dates. Working parents may help each other out by trading off social activities with kids. Build in family play dates and activities such as a beach outing or a backyard barbecue where parents can spend time together while the kids play.
Screen Stoppage: Let’s face it, today’s kids are part of the plugged-in generation. Activities such as texting, video gaming, watching television and social media can occupy their time for hours. It’s important to make sure kids unplug, literally, and enjoy the longer daylight hours and warm weather that summer brings by going outdoors. Limit screen time (mobile phones, tablets, computers and TV) to no more than two hours each day and encourage kids to go swimming, go on a bicycle ride or go on a hike.
Self-Sufficiency: Encourage kids to become more independent, and thus feel more in control as they learn skills during their time off. Make goals for them to master certain tasks – such as tying their shoes, riding a bike or making breakfast – by the end of summer. Parents can also set goals and ask the kids to partner with them for things such as cleaning out the garage or planting a flower garden.
Stephanie Marcy, Ph.D., is a resident child psychology expert at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles.