We all know that kids are really excited to start their vacation the moment school gets out. They’ve worked hard throughout the school year, and now it’s time to let the body and mind unwind and recharge before the start of the next session. Some students are enrolled in summer school through local schools, parks, and community programs. Others have a few months of down-time since parents work and vacations may be shorter or fewer with this economic climate. And many have a combination of the two scenarios. So, how do you set your child up to not drive himself, and you, crazy over the next few months?
The beauty and horror of summer vacation is the lack of a timetable. As a teacher, I love the idea of having time off, but I am a creature of productivity. I choose to teach summer school, but your child may or may not have that opportunity to attend a structured program during the summer months. Therefore, you can help to create a set of expectations with your child that includes his interests. For example, you might want to schedule some television or video-gaming time rather than leave it open-ended. If it’s not scheduled around a beginning and end time it might become the whole day. Also, you can consider buying some workbooks at local educational stores or some education websites that continue to push your child’s thinking through the summer. Schedule some “work time” and make sure that it gets done. A little bit of organization will help your child transition from the full-day structure of the school year to the complete freedom of summertime.
The idea of setting goals is a powerful one for both the child and the parent. First of all, it provides a natural opportunity for a child to self-motivate. Some students are more inclined to do this; still others need external pushes. However, goal statements serve as reminders that the child is capable and that you, as the parent, believe in the child. Talk to your child and find out what he is interested in. Then, set up a series of goals and allow him to choose the ones he wants to work on. For example, if your child is interested in soccer, brainstorm a list of topics and activities he might want to learn about or practice throughout the summer. You can find titles of books online that are linked to soccer and create a reading list. You can calendar practice time in the backyard a couple of times a week and encourage your child to try some new moves. Find a website that lets you stream international games online. Have your child choose an international team and track the wins and losses over the summer months; then he can graph it and present the information to the family one evening. Be creative about the goals and let them be organically designed by your child. After all, he’s the one who has to do the work.
Never underestimate the power of your greater community resources. Museums and libraries are well aware that summer is a natural time of increased visitation. Many institutions offer lower entrance fees for children, and others are totally free. Take advantage of these resources and expand your child’s interest base. Perhaps visiting an art museum isn’t at the top of your third-graders’ to-do list, but do some pre-visit work and find out what exhibits are open right now. Before I take a class to a museum, I visit the education section on the website and see if there are any pre-visit resources that I can offer my students to make the actual visit more meaningful. This is a perfect first step for a parent. Very often, you might learn just as much as your child and create a more meaningful visit for your self as well.
The reality of adult summers is that they don’t exist. Therefore, build in some quality time with your family knowing that both you and your children need it. Working parents are challenged with this issue on a daily basis, but during the summer the children have more time to miss their mom and dad and it may be more obvious. So, be available both emotionally and physically when you are home. Whether or not your child is asking for the time together, offering it sends the message to them that you care and that it’s important to you. My parents used to sit in the backyard after dinner drinking coffee and just watching us play hide-and-seek and chasing each other. We didn’t talk to them or engage them much, except for an occasional “Look at me!” But, we all knew they were right there in case we needed them. We also understood that we were important enough in their eyes and that they wanted to spend time with us. Those are the summer memories that stick in my mind.
While we all might want to escape our daily routines for the summer, appreciate the necessity and comfort of these routines as well. There’s no need to run your own school house, but mirroring some of the norms your child experiences throughout the nine months of school might actually provide some comfort for him. Summer doesn’t have to be all fun and no work. Okay, maybe for a week or two. After that, try to find the right balance of work and play for your child so that your family life stays happy, healthy and harmonious.