Let's ride across the lake on a dragon!
Right before the light turned green I glanced out my window and saw a four-year-old swinging in front of her house. Lucky girl with parents cool enough to tie that swing on the tree. Smiling, I remembered the endless freedom of summer days with no particular place to go. Then the light turned and off I went, back into adulthood.
Summer is a portal to the land of “Who Knows Where Until You’re There.” It’s also a golden pass from the scheduling gods. (Or it should be.) Because, let’s face it, time away from routine provides the breather we all need to step back, relax, try something different, have fun, and then return to “normal life” with renewed interest and energy.
As a kid in summer, I planned my own days, each one radiating endless possibilities. In September, my new level of self-reliance stayed with me, propelling me into a new school year. Summer holds that potential for every kid, provided (s)he has the freedom and time. But that doesn’t mean vacationing kids should veg out for days in front of one screen or another. That’s as unhealthy as corralling them into daily math & reading drills. Please don’t do either. But please do encourage fun and learning.
Let’s define terms. Learning is anything that exposes kids to new ideas, stretches the mind, promotes new ways of thinking, builds skills and knowledge, and/or encourages creativity. Summer can be a wonderful time for all sorts of special learning experiences. And because most parents are also “on break” during parts of the summer, families can learn together. Here are a few tips to make fun and learning part of this summer:
1. Call a family meeting. Discuss special projects and activities the family can take on during the summer. Let kids take the lead but you should also bring some ideas to the table by first checking the Events section of your local newspaper, your town website, or search for “Summer Activities for Kids and Families (your city name).” Educational/cultural institutions have plenty of program offerings. Find out what’s available, talk it up to your kids, and take part.
2. Be creative. Don’t let the close of school close the mind. Since many schools have cut out creative arts, summer is a great time to bring back those opportunities. Make arts and crafts. Make music and home videos. Make food and share the delicious goodies with your neighbors. When you do that, you’re also teaching generosity.
3. Have an adventure. Gorgeous weather is a terrible thing to waste. Seize the day and tap into a child’s natural desire for adventure. Unfortunately, many kids only satisfy this by playing computer games. But real trails, parks, streams, and shorelines are out there waiting for young adventurers. Google “Hiking (your city name)” and discover nearby natural environments for your family to explore. Print out maps before you go and let the kids help navigate.
4. Visit your public library. (We remember books, don’t we?) Ask a librarian for recommendations or better yet, have your children talk to the librarian about the kind of books they enjoy. Gather the family together each evening for a story or chapter or two. (Here are some free classic fairytales to get you and the kids in the mood.) Whatever you’re reading, talk about the use of language, characters, and plot points. Rather tell stories than read them? Here are some storytelling tips from a master.
5. Watch classic films. Summer themed or otherwise, a great film is a treasure trove of educational possibilities. Share some of your favorite films from childhood and let your kids choose their favorites. Discover new ones, including kid-friendly foreign films. Make popcorn! Snuggle! Critique the films! It’s all learning, as in learning what it feels like to be part of a loving family. (How else will your children be able to re-create this sense of “us-together” for their own kids some day?)
Twenty-first century childhoods are different from the ones we had. Yet, summer still has the power to inspire dreaming. During the school year, our kids carry a lot on their shoulders and in their psyches. They need down time. You do too. When we use summer to play with our kids and engage in creative, thoughtful activities, we strengthen family bonds and instill in children the love of learning. If not now, when? Try taking it a little easier this summer and encourage your kids to do the same. When we slow down, and have no particular place to go, we meet new parts of ourselves.
Have a happy healthy and safe summer from my family to yours.