Scheduling for Summer Success
By Ashlea Johnson, LCSW
Summer is upon us and many families that I see are starting to consider summer camp options. In the Orlando area we have a variety of options- full or half day camps, sports and creative pursuits, free play day care camps versus babysitters at home for more “down time” for our children. With so many options how can parents know what is best for their child?
First let’s acknowledge the realities. If you have to work then your kids need to be supervised so surrender to that and let go of the working Mom/Dad guilt about not having lazy days by the pools with endless playdates. I am sure that your kids reap the benefits of the hard work that you put in at your job so there is no reason to feel guilty about not being at home. Instead, focus on the key points that add up to a positive experience for your child. Consider the structure of the camp, the likelihood that they will know other children attending, and whether the topic is something that they will enjoy.
Summer is a time to recharge our energy and for children that should include the much needed and often overlooked importance of using their creative minds and interacting in an unstructured way with peers. Education today is mired with developmentally inappropriate curriculums that hold our kids somewhat hostage without enough physical activity and time to experiment socially to learn crucial social skills. So we came up with some ideas to use as guidelines as you structure your family’s summer programming and at-home time.
1. Get some sunshine. Whether you are a stay-at-home Mom or an executive needing child care for 10 hours a day. Make sure that your child is having down time in the outdoors (with ample sunscreen, shade and water of course). Avoid the peak sun times if you are able to be in charge of the timing. And if not, goodness knows there is a reason Gatorade was created in Florida- reap the benefits of that great invention.
2. Limit technology time. Just because school is out does not mean it is healthy for your child to veg out all day watching 5 hours of tv, playing 2 hours of Nintendo and enjoying another 3 hours of YouTube Kids videos (I don’t care how educational they are). Children that do not have any demands throughout the summer have the hardest time transitioning back into the school year. At Summit we recommend limiting video games to the American Academy of Pediatrics recommendations. See https://www.aap.org/en-us/about-the-aap/aap-press-room/pages/american-academy-of-pediatrics-announces-new-recommendations-for-childrens-media-use.aspx for more information on those recommendations and the research behind them. That research is far more valid than what your child says their best friend is allowed to do at his/her house.
3. Fit in social time with friends. Regardless of the work/life balance that you enjoy, you want to keep in mind that your child is learning to navigate social relationships and that the only way anyone learns ANY new skill is through practice. If you can do playdates during the week, great! Maybe you could offer a working Mom some relief by having a playdate while they are working on a weekday! If you are that working Mom, invite your child’s friend over during the weekend (for a break for the friend’s parents) and tune in to how they are as a host. Model the behaviors that you wish for your child to internalize and watch their social skills bloom in the summertime sun. They will be less anxious returning to school having nurtured friendships over that summer that they look forward to continuing throughout the school year.
4. Maintain some structure. As mentioned earlier, children who have no demands during the summer months have the hardest time returning to the school schedule. So consider your routine and how you are teaching your child that they are a part of your family’s team. Summer is a great time to implement chore charts, clean out closets and donate items, and build family down time into the schedule. Bedtimes are another way to keep some structure in place. Just because they are not catching the bus does not mean that your children do not benefit from a structured bedtime routine and wake time. Not to mention, you as a parent still need down time away from the children and there is no need to feel guilty about that! You cannot fill your children’s lives with love if you are pouring from an empty cup. So keep a bedtime in play to protect their sleep habits for less of a shock to their system when it comes time for those alarm clocks to chime come fall.
Happy Summer from Summit!