Monday, June 2, 2014

Kids and Summer Activities

The Final Countdown…to Summer Break

We all remember those final days of school, energy flowing through the hallways, the anticipation of summer break and the excitement that came with it. Students become antsy, rambunctious, and slowly lose their focus and motivation in the classrooms and even at home.  It can be a very trying time for not only children, but the school staff and parents as well.

Parents face many challenges as the school year comes to a close including: their child being “burnt out” and exhausted, the anxiety of having them home all summer, and the infamous question of “What am I going to do with the kids home for the next two and a half months?” Many parents talk to us about their conflict between providing structure to their child over the summer versus allowing them their break and free time. We have found there is an important balance between the two.

Providing structure over the summer allows for many benefits including:

  • Less opportunity to become bored (which does not always end well) 

  • The opportunity to experience an organized sport or activity (teaching them responsibility, commitment, teamwork, new skills, etc.)

  • Social time among others their own age

  • A smoother transition into the school year in the fall
On the other hand, allowing for free time provides:

  • Time to relax, unwind from the stress of structured activities and expectations from school (Even though your child may enjoy a certain structured activity, it does not mean that it cannot still be a stressor for them)

  • Opportunities for free play (promoting imagination, development, and opportunity to work through any issues they may be dealing with through their play)

  • Opportunities to spend time with your child (it is amazing what we can learn about them during unstructured play times and through observation!)
There are a few ways to find this balance in the home:
  1. Fight the urge to fill your child’s entire summer with day camps, sports camps, lessons, and overnight camps. A few weeks total could be great for them (and is encouraged), but too much could be overwhelming and not allow for the relaxation and free play they need to rejuvenate for the fall school year.
  2. Provide structure, but in a way that does not necessarily involve set scheduled “appointments” and “lessons”. Going on short little outings with your child such as going to the store, getting some ice cream or taking a walk is a good way to achieve balance of allowing for your time together to evolve naturally without a set play model, but still adding some structure to the day.
  3. Allow time for free play! Giving your child the time and freedom to explore their own imagination is crucial to their development. Being a part of it is even more special. Although it can be tricky to not initiate a game or guide your child through a play activity, you can still play a role by allowing your child to take the lead and going along with it or even just observing. It is essential that children have the opportunity to play freely, either with their parent or without. Setting time aside over the summer to allow for this is healthy for your child. Providing toys, art supplies, or even a simple bed sheet for a fort could easily become an outlet of imagination.
Summer can be a stressful (but fun!) time for parents and children, as the lack of the daily school schedule and structure sets in. But allowing your family those opportunities for structure, socialization, and free play will benefit not only your child but you, the parent, as well.

Post by: Shawna Paplaski, LCPC