The Summer Balancing Act
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The Summer Balancing Act
by Amanda Nicolson Adams, PhD, BCBA-D
Summer is underway! For most kids, that means no school, water play to escape the heat and lots of free time. Although parents also look forward to vacations and extra time with the kids, some may be anxious about what to do with their children’s wide-open schedules. Fear not. There are many activities available that will leave kids feeling like they can enjoy a well-deserved break, while still stimulating the brain and body.
Kids can focus on things such as improving academic skills, honing athletic moves, developing new interests – all while enjoying a few months off from tests and homework. And with a summer schedule of activities all mapped out, parents can enjoy the extra time with their kids.
During the weeks you’re at home with your kids, consider setting up a kind of “camp” schedule that can help engage your children and offer a gentle structure to their summer days. Kids usually do better with structure and expectations; even the most simple of guidelines can help.
Your family’s summertime days may include the following:
- One chore for the day that can be consistent or rotated (picking up room, taking out trash, caring for pets, assisting with laundry).
- One academic-oriented activity each day. Many fun and easy science projects can be found online or at novelty shops, and it’s always a good idea to continue regular reading (maybe with a sticker chart for summer books read).
- A larger scale project such as a garden, a scrapbook or recycling can be part of the summer routine that delivers a sense of accomplishment at the end.
- Physical activity every day. This can consist of a romp in the park, a game of catch or a mommy and me yoga video. Anything that gets your kids moving and expending some energy. The goal is to create a schedule for three to five days of the week that provides established, yet flexible, time periods for each activity. Kids will know what to expect and you will know what to plan for.
Each family’s schedule will determine how many outside activities are possible for kids in the summer. Several organizations offer swim lessons in addition to dance, martial arts, art, music, drama and more. A summer class offers a chance to focus on developing an interest with fewer competing demands. This may be a great opportunity for a child to take a skill or talent to a higher level. Week-long camps are another method of presenting a chance to really dig into a specific skill. The Fresno area has programs available through the county, Fresno State, various school district programs and local organizations. Here are a few tips to keep in mind when deciding which program is best for your kids.
- How much time will it take out of your child’s and family’s schedule?
- Does your child wish to “try it out” or take a skill in this area to a higher level?
- Are the instructors well trained and invested in the program?
- Does your child need a break from the rigor of the school year, or is he or she ready for another kind of vigorous instruction that a one-track camp could offer?
- Can your child participate in more than one kind of camp or activity in the summer?
Sometimes your children’s ages will determine how you schedule their summer activities. Here’s a breakdown:
Ages 10 years or older: Sit down and discuss summer plans with your child, including the points above and his or her interests and ideas for summer. Friends and peers will play a big role with older kids. Of course, preteens require more parental input than older teens. It’s appropriate to consider preteens’ suggestions – they may or may not be ready to make full decisions about their activities and schedules. Provide options and help them plan a great summer with your guidance and support.
Ages 5 to 10: This is such a fun age because kids are old enough to explore, but usually not old enough to focus on only one thing. This is a great time to choose more than one activity – some time at home, some time at a multi-activity camp. Look for a camp with an energetic staff who bring fun, and skill, to the activities they lead.
Ages 5 years or younger: Even for parents who can be at home, a camp for a week or two may provide some peer opportunities and a break for mom and dad. When choosing an outside class or camp, look for a schedule for younger children that includes two to three structured activities per day with time for snacks, free play and napping. Also look for flexible pickup times and a friendly, child-oriented staff. For younger kids, it’s more important that camp staff have skills working with young children over skills in the particular area or sport.
For siblings, summer programs can be such a great opportunity to participate in activities together, which is rarely possible at school. Your family dynamics and the ages and genders of your children will determine the details of these decisions. Consider finding summer activities that will allow your children to have some time together in a way they don’t normally get to experience during the regular school year. An added bonus is that you may have time to go for a yoga class or cup of coffee yourself, which can also be very therapeutic.
As tempting as it may be to spend every minute of the summer with your children, it might be healthy for everyone to have small breaks from one another. You may be an even better supermom or dad when you recognize and balance your own needs.