If you’re anticipating the summer months with a mixture of excitement and apprehension, you’re not alone. Excitement at the prospect of enjoying more time outside with your children (if you can coax them off their electronics!), plus warmer weather, longer daylight hours and barbecue dinners. And apprehension about how you’re going to help keep your children from being too bored over the course of many weeks between one school year and the next.
Unfortunately, left to their own devices (pun intended), some kids revert to their technological gadgets. Most parents, however, prefer that they ramp up their level of physical activity and take advantage of homework-free days by engaging in healthy activities. So, you may feel an even greater need this time of year to plan ahead for recreational time as a family and for time they can spend with peers and be involved in fun activities.
My advice is to keep the first one or two weeks of the summer wide open for kids to be as lazy as their hearts desire. They’ve worked hard all year and so have you. So let them sleep in, watch TV, ride their bikes, eat ice cream and generally enjoy a more relaxed schedule. If possible, slow things down so that kids don’t have to be up and out of the house as early as during the school year, and if they’re signed up for several week-long camp experiences, for example, take breaks in between to spend time as a family or allow for unstructured play time with friends. Even though many parents worry about their children being bored (often because they can’t stand constantly hearing “what can I do now?”), try to allow your children some time that they are required to fill on their own. If you entertain them or keep them busy all the time, they may lose the ability to find creative ways of keeping themselves occupied.
Parents who are working full time may not have the luxury of several weeks off during the summer. If you are able, save your vacation time for when your kids have theirs. There’s nothing quite like bonding as a family when everyone is at their best during a more relaxed time of the year. Even when they’re older, planning some time at home during the summer months with family is invaluable.
If both parents are working, day camps are a fun child care option. Some parents opt to enrol their children in a combination of day camps to help them decide which they like best for later years. This a good idea. As they grow a little older, many children talk to their school peers and want to attend activities with them during the summer months, too. Some children may also show a preference towards one type of camp over another – soccer or gymnastics camp, for example, as opposed to theatre camp. Some prefer a more general camp which offers a bit of everything, often indoor and outdoor activities. When kids are younger, parents usually do all the legwork on choosing a camp, but when they’re older, you can involve them. You may also want to explore attending an overnight camp for one, two, three or even four weeks. Some children love the freedom of being away from a rigorous schedule and family rules, making new friends and learning new skills. For younger children, shorter stints away from home to get used to the idea are a good way to prepare.
Summer activities for your preschooler are typically similar to the rest of the year. If he or she is being cared for at a daycare setting, for example, there is very little distinction between conventional summer break and the rest of the year.
School aged children can’t wait for the break once June rolls around. After 10 months of homework assignments, extra curricular activities and needing to go to bed by a certain time in order to be refreshed the following morning, summer is a welcome change. Try to relax your rules, break the summer into chunks for leisure, being productive and engaging in healthy outdoor activities. Also, try to include your children in the process when choosing summer activities, especially as they grow older.
Teens typically let you know what they’d like to do during the summer months. However, since many might prefer to do nothing much but sleep in and hang out at the mall with friends, you may need to establish some parameters. A certain amount of sleeping in and vegetating might be acceptable, but too much can be detrimental. Some children find a part-time summer job – at a camp or retail outlet, for example. Again, moderation is key. It’s best if a teenager finds a balance between work and leisure so that he or she feels that they’ve had a rest before returning to school.
Sara Dimerman is a psychologist, author and parenting expert in the Greater Toronto Area. Read more at helpmesara.com.
Originally published in ParentsCanada magazine, June 2015.