Summer Smarts

Story and photo by Krystal White
Contributing writer
Luke Pelletier, 7, and Jude Pelletier, 4, ride bikes and scooters at the marina in Meersburg, Bodensee.
Luke Pelletier, 7, and Jude Pelletier, 4, ride bikes and scooters at the marina in Meersburg, Bodensee.

Families cant wait for summer to start, and they can’t wait for it to end. As parents, the biggest problem is one of occupation. Working families scramble to find programs and services for their children to attend that are affordable and engaging. Stay at home parents often struggle to keep their children busy and entertained without going crazy. On top of these concerns lies the feat of ensuring children wont lose all the academic skills they worked hard to develop during the last school year.

How much is too much fun? How much is too much summer school work?

These issues complicate summer enjoyment.

While summer can be one of the most difficult logistical seasons, it can also be one of the most beneficial seasons for family relationships. Reduced work load and more play can bond parents and children and create feelings of warmth and affection. Seasons emphasizing fun are crucial to long term positive connections.

Too many permissive treats, however, can overload children and make them more hyperactive and less well behaved. Parents must maintain moderate standards and expectations for children to maintain, such as healthy routines, including bed and mealtimes, chores and, yes, studying.

But doing so can be a challenge.

Follow these guidelines to keep your children sharp over the summer without taking the holiday out of your summer vacation.

Maintain structure

All children stay sharp and out of trouble when they have some structured activity for each day. Children thrive when they have free play, mixed in with adult led fun, as well as friend time. All children will function better if they know what is coming next. Keep clear guidelines for bedtime, meal times, chores and daily habits of physical and mental exercise.

Limit screen time

Limit screen time to no more than an hour a day. More than this allotment can lead to social isolation, overstimulation, sleep problems, weight problems and irritability (not to mention power
battles!). This is crucial for teenagers or toddlers who might be prone to becoming “screen zombies,” giving them less motivation for other activities. Remove systems from their access until the hours of 4 to 7 p.m., when parents can supervise how much they are watching. Without these go-to entertainment devices (particularly the TV), children will increase their creativity, their motivation to do work and be more physically active.

Throw out formal homework

If your child did well during the school year, resist the temptation to give formal homework. Continue daily habits of reading for pleasure, and incorporate more hands-on learning into a weekly schedule. It’s best to get these school tasks done first thing in the morning (even in PJs!) when your child is most compliant, happy and focused.

Have clear goals

If your child struggled to meet grade-based expectations, or has to “catch up,” consult his or her teacher or reputed web-based programs about a summer curriculum. A parent should have clear goals and not merely give worksheets to develop skills (e.g. The goal of passing a third grade standardized math test). There are plenty of good programs online, and parents should help children spend 30 minutes on these skills each morning (when your child is most fresh, compliant and not already in play mode!). Thirty minutes a day is a good amount of time to keep your child learning, but not overwhelmed or resentful of having to do school work. Make sure, however, that work is completed Monday through Fridays without taking any days off to develop a strong work habit.

Learning is fun

Learning should be fun, and parents should actively attempt to use summer to allow children to be more free and artistic. For example, pick days to learn certain skills. Monday can be cook a new recipe day. Tuesday can be nature walk day. Wednesday can be help a friend out and community service day. Thursday can be world music day (have them look at YouTube videos from around the world). On Friday, children can learn about a new animal.

Strive for more
Strive for each of these every day: physical activity, social activity and mental activity.

Need more ideas? Outside of these guidelines, parents will find the following activities easy to implement. They combine fun and learning to make sure your summer is smart.

Activity ideas:

– Create a box of full-time fun: Toss old clothes, hats and costume jewelry in a box. At a whim, your children can play dress-up or put on a play.

– Give each child an empty egg carton. Each week, try and find things in your adventures (e.g. walks, playground time, cleaning up the house, trips, etc.) to fill the egg carton. This gives children a fun project throughout the week. Take pictures every Sunday, and then start over. To make this activity more educational, create a theme, (this week, find things that are in the red family, this week things that used to be alive or this week, nothing that has the letter “T” in it).

– Plant and care for an herb garden: You can start a garden with some seeds and paper cups, or buy a few plants at the local nursery and plant a garden outdoors or indoors.

– Contribute! Have older children volunteer to babysit or mow grass of neighbors. Have younger children go through their closets and rooms and donate old toys. Make cookies and place them in pairs in baggies and deliver them in the neighborhood or at the hospital or clinics.

– Pick one week to tackle large chores: Clean out the garage, organize the pantry, clean out cars, go through storage or reorganize the playroom.

– Make a fort: Create an indoor tent using large boxes or chairs, with sheets attached by safety pins. Throw in some pillows and blankets and you’ve got a “third space,” a place of ease and relaxation. These spaces make reading, playing cards or coloring feel better.

– Edible Play-Doh is always a hit. Invite other children for a play date and have a contest on who can make the most creative product. Have the children help with the preparation, the coloring of the dough as well as the cleaning up (you can make cookies out of them!). You’ll be the most popular house on the block!

(Dr. Krystal White is a pediatric psychologist at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center who specializes in community assets and developmental disorders.)