Updated: Feb 27
// By Dr. Kimberly Harrison//
Summer can be a time to relax schedules, try new activities, and take a break from the pressure of daily school work. Summer is also a great time to practice new skills. Downtime is necessary for most people, but several months with no structure can impact social, emotional and academic health. Children need a balance of structured activities and relaxation during the summer months. Limiting electronic activity is also important for overall physical and emotional health, and necessary to minimize withdrawal symptoms when school resumes.
Here are some ways parents can ensure a healthy balance of summer activities and skill development for their children.
Practice Planning Skills Since summer schedules often involve non-routine
activities, such as vacations and special programs, it’s a great time to help your child
practice how to stay on track.
Set aside half an hour every Sunday evening to discuss the upcoming week’s activities. Have your child use a paper calendar, preferably one that lists only the next week with an hour-by-hour breakdown for the daytime hours. (You can download free calendars from several online sources, including Microsoft Word).
Make sure to include “wake up” “leave the house by” and “go to sleep by” times on the calendar. Being specific with these items, and putting them in writing, helps children learn how much time they need to prepare for activities, not just the time an activity starts.
If you prefer electronic reminders, set them at your Sunday evening meeting. Make sure to use the paper calendar first, though, because the visual of an entire week is important for understanding how activities fit together, and the planning and/or preparation that is necessary.
After the initial schedule of activities is complete, make a list of required preparation. Make a “materials” list and a “timeline.” For example, the materials list for an upcoming vacation may include finding snorkeling gear in the garage and buying a new bathing suit. Once these are identified, make sure to add them to the week’s calendar. Be specific with times (e.g., Wednesday afternoon at 3:00, I will set aside 15 minutes to find the snorkeling gear).
If you are unable to complete an activity, make sure to reschedule it. Rescheduling teaches your child how to be flexible without disregarding important tasks.
“Limiting electronic activity is also important for overall physical and emotional health, and necessary to minimize withdrawal symptoms when school resumes.”
Practice Reading and Writing Skills Summer is a great time to use innovative ways to hone academic skills. Many children have problems with writing effective essays and with reading comprehension and/or reading for detail. These skills are easier to practice when the topic is of personal interest.
When going on a vacation or starting a new summer activity, have your child read related websites, brochures or travel books. Create a template of information they need to learn (Who, What, When, Where, Why, How, etc.) Then pretend you are a person who does not know this information and see if you learn everything you need to know from reading your child’s information sheet. Ask your child to help fill in the gaps if you are confused.
Create a family website or travel blog and have your child post articles. Require that anything written use the “5 paragraph” form: Introduction, in which you name 3 important facts; (3) Body Paragraphs detailing out these facts; and a Conclusion which summarizes.
While social media posts and snaps are common, and interactive internet conversations are fun, use summer as a time to practice writing skills by incorporating old-fashioned communication tools, too. Set aside a letter writing/email writing time each week for children to tell grandparents, other relatives and friends what they did that week. They can pick someone different to write to each week, or the same person. Require they use the 5-paragraph format for these communiques.
“Summer is a great time to hone reading and writing skills.”
Hone Math Skills Math becomes personal to most people when it relates to items and activities of interest. From family vacations to days at the local splash park, summer provides many activities that are perfect for developing financial management skills. Money management requires use of many basic math skills and can even incorporate advanced skills, such as use of spreadsheets, graphs and charts.
Have your child create a budget for major activities and review it at the Sunday Night planning meeting.
Give your child an allowance that covers part of these expenses and allow them to independently manage this money. For example, if you set aside $3.00 per day for lunch money, have your child decide whether they want to use it to buy fast food or pack a lunch. If they spend less, they get to keep the money. Then, of course, tie their choice into their schedule. For example, if they choose to make their lunch, then require they make it themselves and plan when they will do it.
For vacations, provide an allotment for activities and have your child help decide what to spend it on. For example, if you set aside $50 per day for tourist activities, and you will be traveling for 3 days, give your child the responsibility of planning and budgeting what to do on one of those days.
“Math becomes personal to most people when it relates to items and activities of interest. “
Create a Play Diet Children learn through play. Teens learn through sports, advanced
play, and entry-level jobs (paid or volunteer). Many of our children do not have necessary life skills because of the overuse of electronics as hobbies. During the past ten years there has been a significant decline in social skills, personal independence, maturity as compared to age, emotion regulation skills, and more. Considerable research continues to be conducted, and most points to problems relating to the steady, pervasive increase in electronic use by children and teens.
We live in a technology-based world, and a certain amount of use is appropriate and even helpful. However, overall development can be stunted if leisure time is solely comprised of electronic interaction. It is important for parents to monitor amounts of time for television, computer games (both multi-player and individual), general Internet usage (e.g., YouTube), and social media (Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter, etc.). Avoid over-use of electronics by setting rules in advance for the required balance of physical activity, social interaction, reading and writing, hobbies, and screen time.
Start by determining which leisure activities are required for your children. Common activities include: exercise/sports, playing (in person, without electronics) with friends and/or family, reading/writing, hobbies (e.g., Legos, cooking), and screen time (television, video games, social media, computer, etc.)
Next, decide what percentage of time will be allotted for each non-structured activity, along with a maximum amount of screen time per day. For example, you might say that after doing planned activities (e.g., chores, camps, volunteering, paid job) on weekdays, your child will have about 3 hours of free time. On weekends and/or vacations you might have 12 hours of free time per day. Regardless of the schedule, you could decide 50% must be spent interacting with siblings or friends, 20% on reading, writing, cooking, art, music, etc., with 30% available for screen time. During the week, based on this example, screen time would be about 1 hour. On the weekend, though, the percentage needs a cap. Here are some guidelines:
Children under the age of 12 generally should have no more than
one hour of screen time per day.
Teens might earn up to two hours of screen time per day.
Make sure you have plans for monitoring usage. Several services are available to monitor and control access if you are not home.