We all want our kids to have healthy, productive summers, engaging their minds while getting a chance to relax after the busyness of the school year. But remember, parents are not cruise directors, especially as our kids get older and can meet more of their needs on their own. Our job is not to entertain our kids 24/7. Instead, it’s to help them learn to self-direct and make good choices while encouraging meaningful downtime.
More and more, child development experts are realizing the importance of downtime for children. We love the structure and socialization of summer camps and organized activities, but be sure to give them time to be alone with their thoughts. Children don’t have to be constantly entertained. Instead, leave time for reflection and daydreaming. We often find that these are unexpected sources of creativity and inspiration. We also encourage play and exploration outside. When children get older, it’s beneficial to give them some unsupervised outdoor time with friends. When parents are at work, summer camps are a great option, but be sure to give children time to decompress before moving on to the next thing.
Make a Summer Screen Time Plan
One important thing to remember is that downtime should not always mean screen time. Like the American Academy of Pediatrics, we are firm believers in the family screen time plan. But as we all know, things get out of whack when school is out of session. When summer rolls around, it’s time to reevaluate screen time guidelines and set firm limits on daytime use when kids are home. Television and internet are great tools, and a little extra screen time is completely fine over the summer. But screens aren’t babysitters, so try to limit screen time to no more than two hours a day. It’s not always easy to resist the demands, but if you stay firm and offer attractive alternatives, it’s 100 percent doable.
Nutrition is an important and sometimes overlooked way to have a productive summer. Preparing healthy snacks and meals is also a fun activity for children while they are home and have a little more free time. Limiting sugar and food dyes can help keep your kids from bouncing off the walls. Instead, make sure to have a variety of healthy snacks available and accessible. Get your kids involved in meal planning and prep and in fixing their own snacks. Remember you’re not a waiter, and even young children can prepare healthy snacks when given the right materials. This encourages independence and self-reliance.
Adapt As Your Children Grow
As children grow, parents need to lose the habit of meeting their every need as we did when they were small. Summer is an excellent time to foster independence in older elementary students, tweens and teens. This can come in the form of chores and jobs and also in things like letting them earn money and then walk to the store with a buddy (or have a little freedom at the mall) and spend it on a treat. Older children should also get in the habit of fixing their own snacks and helping with meal prep. Without the pressure of school and afterschool activities, there is usually more time to help plan and prepare a family meal at least once a week.
Giving your child meaningful jobs can not only reduce your stress but give them purpose and a sense of accomplishment. From household chores for children of all ages to age-appropriate paid jobs for tweens and teens. This can include yard work, pet sitting, and mother’s helper jobs. Volunteer jobs and community service are also great ways to provide structure and meaning to summer, whether it’s taking an aide shift at the local library or food pantry, volunteering as a camp aide or helping with neighborhood clean-ups.
Stimulate the Brain
When we say keep them thinking, we’re not talking about workbooks or flashcards. There are fun ways to keep learning going throughout the summer without making it a chore. Encourage your child to read by starting a neighborhood book club (with snacks!) for their age group. And, depending on their age, they can lead the club, not you. Delve into puzzles, creative writing and art projects. Remember, it doesn’t have to be Pinterest perfect, and parents don’t always need to call the shots on crafts. Let kids use their imaginations and materials on hand. Set an example by pulling out a book instead of your smartphone at the beach or playground or set up a hammock and read together. The public library is always a great resource with storytimes for younger kids, book suggestions, free online learning tools and free children’s activities for a range of ages.
Take walks, bike rides, or try something new like a ropes course or tubing. We have wonderful resources in the Loudoun and Clarke areas that offer opportunities for inexpensive fun. These are great ways to stay fit together as a family. Let your kids have a say in the outdoor activities you choose. For older kids, it’s also important to them play unsupervised within parameters that you develop together. Try to remember the best parts of your own childhood and incorporate a little of that freedom into your children’s lives while continuing to keep safety in mind.
LPA Resources for Summer Fun
A fun, safe and productive summer is usually a good mix of structure and downtime. It’s important to keep kids active and engaged but also give them plenty of time to decompress and just be kids. A big part of this is making sure that screen time is a fun, thoughtfully chosen activity rather than a default setting or babysitter. If you need strategies for reducing screen time, the AAP has excellent resources available, and our practitioners are also available to talk with you about your concerns.
Happy summer to all!