Tag Archives: school’s out

How Should Kids Spend Their Summer Vacation

By Tracey Dowdy

School’s out and those long weeks of summer break are looming large. What to do, what to do?

There are several factors that have no doubt shaped your plans – finances, child care, your child’s specific needs, and how you’d get everybody where they need to be when they need to be there. But, no matter whether your kids will be spending their days at Space Camp or Camp Mom, there are a few things you should consider.

Downtime is Important. Our children live in a busy, sometimes over-scheduled, world, and like us, are distracted by their screens. However, in order for our brains to process the barrage of information it receives every day, it needs unchallenged time, away from distractions and stimulation, and it needs adequate sleep. You may think that “mindless” video games offer enough downtime, but that’s not so. Gaming still requires the brain to anticipate obstacles and respond to the action in the game. Real downtime allows the brain the opportunity to store memories, remember newly acquired skills, and learning to focus.

Let them be bored. There are few phrases more annoying to a parent than the dreaded, “I’m bored.” But next time you hear it, don’t get irritated and don’t solve the problem for them. Children need to develop time management skills and how to solve their own problems. When you rush in with options and entertainment, you rob them of the opportunity to deal with uncomfortable feelings like boredom. Instead, encourage them to think through their options and make a choice. Think about times you’ve been on a long walk or had an aha! moment in the shower. That’s your brain creating neural pathways connecting experiences and memory with new information to create a solution, something that’s impossible without the emotional and cognitive space that downtime offers.

 Help them find their “flow.” Researcher Reed Larson has studied the development of motivation in children and teens, and he’s found that the key is finding that “flow.” When a child is engrossed in an activity that is both challenging and successful without being stressful, dopamine levels spike, which builds the brain’s motivational capacity, something that will come in handy when they face a challenge where they aren’t so successful.

Involve your child in the decision.  Obviously, they won’t necessarily get the deciding vote, but offering your child options while involving them in the process means they’ll be more accountable for their choices. It has the added benefit of teaching them that choices have consequences, good and bad, and that we have to live with the choices we make. It may be as simple as chocolate or vanilla ice cream, or as big as choosing which camp to attend, but either way, it’s a teachable moment.

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.


Easing In to Summer Vacation

Easing In to Summer Vacation

 Many of us hear the words “summer vacation” and immediately think of carefree days with ice cream, lemonade stands, and tire swings, bare feet and picnics, but the reality is, that’s not how those months or weeks play out for most families.

For some, the end of the school year brings significant change to their routine. Not every kid transitions into camps, daycare, or summer school, and for children who crave that structure, the end of the year can be very unsettling as they search for their new “normal.” They miss their friends, the consistency of knowing what each day looks like, or maybe even the familiarity of Taco Tuesdays in the lunchroom.

For these children, the thought of endless days with the freedom to choose how to spend their time can be overwhelming. Use these tips to help your child make the transition from school to summer as smooth as an ice cream cone.

Give them a heads up. My friend Brenda’s son has autism. Brady loves a lot of things – his family, Sprite, ketchup, his iPad, football, and his church. He does not like milk, loud noises, or cats, but what he dislikes are surprises. Brady lives for structure and order and can tell you what’s happening every hour of every day. That’s not to say he can’t handle change, but it’s all in how it’s presented. His mother starts talking through what summer will look like weeks before the last day of school. As a result, when he gets off the bus that last time, he’s ready because he knows what to expect. They follow the same routine at the end of the summer as he transitions back to school.

Celebrate change. Our children pick up our attitudes, and if you’re dreading the end of the school year, your child will likely see that and begin to dread it too. The ability to adapt and change is part of the maturing process, so give your child the tools they’ll use the rest of their lives. One way is to celebrate the transition with a special lunch, trip to the zoo or movies, a picnic in the backyard, or a playdate with the friends they’re worried they won’t see all summer.

Don’t completely give up on your routine. If your child is an early riser and used to being out of bed ready to roll by 8 am, let them stick to that schedule. It may not work every day, but it will also put you in good stead at the end of the summer when you need to get back into your routine. Put a few events on the calendar – day trips to the zoo or the park, play dates or shopping trips, or even something as simple as “Wednesday evening we’re going out for ice cream!” For a child who loves structure, seeing there’s a plan – even a very loose one – can ease much anxiety.

Add a little structure of your own. If your child is a do-er and loves to be busy, the National Education Association has tools like math worksheets, STEM resources, and reading activities, many of which are free. Don’t forget your local library. They often host summer reading challenges, events, and book sales to motivate and inspire young readers.

 Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.