Making the best of summer vacation can be quite a challenge.
Organized activities vs. free play time might be hard to balance.
How can you mix educational activities into your child's summer without them rebelling?
There are summer reading programs, but how can you get kids to engage in them?
Look for educational, yet fun, opportunities such as museums, nature programs, or learning a new sport.
Basically, the goal is to keep kids mentally engaged while still enjoying summer.
Corinn Cross, MD, discusses summer vacations and how to keep your children mentally sharp with some great educational ideas.
RadioMD Presents: Healthy Children | Original Air Date: April 15, 2015
Host: Melanie Cole, MS
Guest: Corinn Cross, MD
This is Healthy Children brought to you by the American Academy of Pediatrics on RadioMD.com. Here's Melanie Cole, MS.
MELANIE: Well, if your kids are anything like mine, they are counting the seconds and the days and the hours until school is over and it's actually not that long away. So, then you think to yourself, and we're going to talk about camp in another segment, but what are your kids going to do all summer? If you can't travel and you have to work for a living, then your kids are kind of doing what? And, if they're not in camp anymore, what do you do to keep your kids occupied in the summer?
My guest is Dr. Cori Cross, fan favorite and pediatrician, spokesman for the American Academy of Pediatrics.
So, Dr. Cross, summer vacation. We want our kids to have free time. We want them to have fun, sleep late if they want to, but how do we keep them in that school frame of mind or, you know, active, get them up and out. What do we do with our kids in the lazy days of summer?
DR CROSS: That's exactly right. So, we want to have, basically, a balance. So, during the year, most kids are really over-scheduled; they're overworked; they're waking up even if they're tired. They don't really get enough sleep. So, we want to make sure that we're not continuing that during the summer. A lot of people are tempted, particularly if they work, just to continually schedule their kids the same as they would during the year. This is really a mistake because kids need some time—some down time—to do just so many things. To catch up on their sleep, but also to explore some real interests that they have and also to be a little bored and to be out there with nature. I mean, those are things that we just have gotten away from in our, usually weekly, lives during the school year and we need to allow summer to just bring us back to being a kid.
So, I would say that the most important thing that parents should do is make sure that it's not that schools are out, so they let them turn the screens on. So, when we're talking about down time, that we're really clear that we're not talking about vegging in front of the computer, the television, the iPad, the video games. That is not what we're considering down time. That we really do want kids to be exploring their own interests. Maybe a new sport, art, hobbies, all sorts of stuff, or just hanging out playing, but not that they're sitting there in front of the television or the computer. That's just not a productive use of time. So, I would say, set your screen time, set your rules early in the vacation, and then realize that if you have screen free time and over scheduled kids who aren't used to having sort of some free time, you're going to get a little complaining and whining, but, in the end, they're going to be thrilled with how their summer turns out.
MELANIE: I've never...I don't remember ever hearing my kids say, “I'm bored,” because I think in this day and age, like you say, there is no boredom. They don't have to figure out something to do, they just go on to their tablet or their iPhone or their computer and they watch something or they play a video game. So, you know, that's great advice that you said to make sure to point out that screen time right off the bat. Now, this is the first summer my son's not going to be in camp and he's caddying.
DR CROSS: Mmm hmmm.
MELANIE: I don't know how often I'm going to expect him to go. He wants to go almost every day that they're open and he can make so much money. When do we start with jobs? Chores? Is 14 too young? Is 13 too young? When can they sort of take kind of a summer job?
DR CROSS: I think if they're expressing interest in taking it, that's definitely the perfect time. For kids that aren't expressing interest, yes, having some schedule during the summer is great. Like, what you alluded to in the opening, we do not want our kids sleeping until noon every day and then being up until two. So, having a job or having some sort of schedule definitely helps with that. You want to make sure that that's not really all they're doing for the summer unless, of course, it's their last summer and they're trying to save for college. That's a different story. We do want to make sure there's some balance. So, in the case of your son, caddying is a great idea, but, you know, maybe make sure that he takes like one week for himself or that he caddies in the morning and in the afternoons, he has some time. You know? Something like that so there is some time for him to really learn who he is. I think that's the important part about boredom that we forget about. When you're bored, you sort of start to think about, “What is it I want to do?” and you may realize that you have a ton of interests that you never have any time to explore. I think, particularly as your kids get older, getting to know yourself and, ultimately knowing what you enjoy doing, helps you make those better life choices. So, you know, it's not a bad thing for kids to have some free time and say, “Hey, when I have free time, I like to be outside or I like to do things with my hands. I don't like to sit behind a desk.” But, they also learn that from those summer jobs. If they have a summer job where they're doing filing and they're like, “This is really boring, I want to make sure that I do a different type of job.” Then they learn what it is about them and they can make better choices in life. So, I think those summer jobs are a great idea. I mean, personally, 13, 14, sounds like a pretty good age to start having, you know, a little bit of a job. As they get older, they can have a more serious job, but doing something even if it's just babysitting or helping a mom out with a kid for a couple hours every day. Just something to learn responsibility—I think that's an important way to use your summer.
MELANIE: And now, with some communities with their public pools that will allow children like 12 or 13, an option to come there alone, getting a public pool pass. My son's going to be going to the pool every day after caddying, and be able to get himself there. I think that's great and it is a good age. If you know your children, and then you think, “Well, they could be a bus boy at 14, 15, 16, at an outdoor cafe,” doing something fun, as you say. So then, what do we do with the ones that are at that in-between age if maybe camp isn't for them, what do you do to keep them busy?
DR CROSS: Well, that's exactly right and just to touch on the swimming. Swimming is one of those things that we can do in the summer and it's one of the things that it's very important for kids to learn how to do, so taking swim lessons or joining the swim team, that's a great way to really make sure that your kids are water safe. So, once they learn to swim, if they want to become more proficient swimmers, joining the swim team, that's a great way to have a schedule, to have something to do and also to be working on a skill. So, if you have a swim team in your town, I think that's one of the best things you can do during the summer.
Then, there are other things like lots of towns have nature centers. Nature centers will have summer programs. Sometimes, they're drop off programs. That is a great way for kids to get outside. Sometimes, they teach some canoeing or how to tie knots or going fishing. Those are great things that kids can do, usually in their communities. So, I would look into those things in your communities as well. The other thing that I like to do is, I like to make a list of all the fun things I think we could do as a family or maybe just me and the kids or maybe them with their aunts; fun stuff that they can do during the summer if somebody's watching them. So, going to an art museum; going to the Natural History museum; maybe taking a ferry or having a picnic by the lake. Whatever it is—going to the botanical gardens—that strikes your fancy. It could even be like, “I want to go camping in a tent one weekend.” So, make a list of the fun things that you think you could do and then, when you have some time, that's a nice reference. Keep it on the fridge. You can check them off and sometimes, you can say, “Hey, we've got a free weekend. Who wants to pick what we're going to do off the list?” That's really fun. That circles back to, if you're going to the botanical garden, maybe hit the library and take out some books or if you're going to go have a picnic by the lake, maybe you do something. Again, you try to pull that in with a cookbook or maybe you pick out a book about insects and you collect some insects. There's all sorts of things that you can do in the library that really augment what you're doing during your days.
MELANIE: Now, we only have a minute and a half left, Dr. Cross, but you hit my train of thought right away. Summer reading—not something that kids want to think about. “I'm done with school. I don't have to read now. Leave me alone. I don't want to read anything.” How do we get our kids to read in the summer and think about the fact that, “Yes, we do want you to read. This summer, you're going to read Harry Potter or Weathering Heights,” or you know, something else. How do we get our kids reading?
DR CROSS: So, start by getting a reading list, either from your school or your library or make one yourself. Then, you should keep track of what you're reading. Schedule rewards. Let them put a sticker on if they did it if they're young. If they're older, just checking it off sometimes makes you feel good. But, besides reading, and I think reading is really important and, obviously, everybody always talks about reading in the summer. Besides reading, don't stop thinking about math. We always push reading and we don't really push math in this country so much. If your kids are having trouble with those multiplication tables or maybe they're not the strongest math students, this is a great time for them to do a little bit of brush up on that, too. Or, even practicing their sight words. So, what I would say is, for 10 academic games or workbooks or whatever, maybe that's how they gain their screen time. So, maybe they do 10 minutes of work and they get of 20 minutes of screen time. Maybe something like that. But, I really think that balance is key when you're doing your reading, your math, you’re going outside. All of that. It's all about balance.
MELANIE: It certainly is and those are great ways to keep your kids not only active in the summer, but keep their brains active so they don't turn into sludge. Make your screen time rules right off the bat so they understand how it's all going to work. Maybe get them a summer job. Find fun things to do as a family. It's the way to keep everybody together in the summer and, you know, just really have a great time.
This is Melanie Cole for Healthy Children right her on RadioMD. Stay well.