written by Liza Bennigson, Associate Director of Marketing and Communications
Remember when childhood summers looked like long, unscripted days of play with whichever neighborhood kids you happened to run into, riding bikes and climbing trees and not coming home until the street lights flickered on? If we were fortunate enough to go to camp, it probably entailed swimming, crafts and capture the flag, not STEM, VR and scratch coding.
I’ll admit, I’ve gotten caught up in the summer camp hype, too, registering in January for a session that sells out in seconds and promises to change my kid’s life in five days in exchange for an exorbitant portion of my paycheck. Camps have become as competitive as colleges. Whatever happened to boredom?
After commiserating over coffee that our kids didn’t get into the LEGO camp of their (our?) dreams (that also teaches policy-making and governance skills), it hit me. “Remember when summer was unplanned?” I asked my friend. “When we had to fill our own days and find our own fun?”
After a year of online learning and another year trying to bounce back, many parents want to “make the most” out of summer by bolstering education to make up for learning loss. “But wait!” mental health professionals plead. “There’s so much more to life than test scores.”
Granted, “the “summer camp dilemma” comes from a place of privilege, as camps are not accessible to many families. Summer does provide the opportunity for kids who have been struggling in school to catch up, while others may benefit more from looking for bugs in the backyard. At the end of the day, there are so many ways to help our children grow, many of which don’t cost a dime.
And so I asked CHC’s mental health and learning experts, “How can we encourage parents to think about summer in a more holistic way, beyond academics?”
Their advice was a combination of practical and philosophical, ideas and inspiration.
“Foster a sense of wonder and curiosity,” says Dr. Vidya Krishnan, Chief Psychiatrist and Medical Director of CHC Clinical Services. “A love of exploration for purposes of personal growth turns kids into young adults who are lifelong learners. Another very useful life skill is to appreciate the true value of boredom, without needing to be scheduled or entertained/engaged all the time, a true gift that improves self-soothing ability and emotional regulation.”
“It’s important to remember that, just as us adults experienced a loss during the pandemic, children experienced a loss of social relationships and ‘regular’ life, with less understanding than the average adult,” adds Winta Gebremichael, LCSW, Classroom Clinician.
“Kids have spent the school year working towards their academic goals to reach their target of a ‘fun’ summer. Allowing youth to spend the summer engaging with peers, participating in extracurricular activities and/or spending time outdoors can be the refresher that they need to start their new year, not to mention all the benefits of sunlight.”
Dr. Pardis Khosravi, Clinical Director and Licensed Psychologist, CHC Clinical Services, encourages parents to meet their child where they are. “Some kids may be burnt out and tired of academics and need a break, while others may be less impacted and ready for more,” she says. “It’s important to consider each child’s unique circumstances.”
Dr. Khosravi adds, “Think about it like the hierarchy of needs. Just as we wouldn’t expect a child struggling with hunger to be able to absorb a math lesson without their basic needs being met first, burnt out, stressed and tired children won’t gain much benefit from academic interventions. Focusing the summer on rest, recovery, social/emotional growth and learning will leave them better prepared in the fall for the upcoming school year.
It is not about ‘learning loss’ or having to make up time due to the pandemic. It’s not your child that is behind. It is every child. So it’s not really about needing to “catch up” and cram two years worth of impacted instruction into 2 months. Instead, think about it like ‘shifting the learning trajectory’ and thinking long-term: plan for the next few years, not months.
Think about what excites your child. What are they passionate about? If they are super into nature or science or sports or sewing, find ways to get them involved in enrichment activities around those interests that will teach them things AND give them opportunities to socialize and play and rest.
There is value to being bored. Kids don’t know how to be bored anymore between how much we overschedule them and technology/devices. Being bored actually helps with creativity, problem-solving and learning how to handle discomfort. For young kids, there is SO much benefit to unstructured playtime.
“There are many learning opportunities to do during the summer that offer a more holistic approach to learning and gaining skills, connecting the real world to the classroom curriculum and applying skills that need a boost,” shares Katherine Krumm, MS, EBC School Teacher. She shares the following ideas:
- Science journal – on hike observation – skills writing, communication
- Cooking – math and safety and reading, writing if you decide to make notes, change a recipe, make a cookbook, etc.
- Earning allowance, saving money, making plans for saving or spending – math
- Home projects – math, group skills, reading
- Learning a new hobby
- Raise butterflies and watch a life cycle unfold – science
- Hone reading skills with maps, signs, price tags, descriptions in a museum or even on a cereal box.
- There are learning opportunities in everything we do: building a fort, gardening, taking the time to do a project and all the research and problem-solving that go into it.
Katherine adds, “In everything we do with our children, there is opportunity. It’s how we communicate and how involved we are that makes a child grow.”
Finally, Shirit Megiddo, MS, CCC-SLP, BCS-CL, Speech-Language Pathologist, CHC Clinical Services, offers some fresh family ideas to help fill those long, light-filled evenings:
- Have a family “read around” where you take turns reading to each other as a family or all sit and read your own books during a shared reading time.
- Play “math scrabble” by using number magnets, foam letters or digits 0-9 you print from online and cut out. Print the operations your child knows (arithmetic or higher) to write formulas and try fitting them together in turns like scrabble or a crossword puzzle.
- Play word or phonics games when you’re out and about, using words you find in the community like street signs, store names, or license plates. Games can include looking for words to create/write from the letters, making rhymes, or segmenting/manipulating the letters into new words (eg., “Safeway” without “safe” = “way.”)
- Spend time with your kids telling them about your or a relative’s family history, especially if a large historical event was involved (while keeping it developmentally appropriate). Then have them think of further questions to ask you and spend time together diving more deeply into the topic(s) by researching together and making a family collage if writing is too hard or stressful.
As a mom, I look forward to summer mornings when we’re not rushing out the door, half-eaten English muffins hanging out of our mouths, papers spilling out of unzipped backpacks and tripping over untied shoelaces. I won’t miss lecturing about missed assignments or forgotten lunches or lost computer chargers. I literally can’t wait for an afternoon where I don’t feel like a time-crunched Uber driver (with a three-star rating).
And that week when my son was supposed to be running for mayor of his own LEGO city? I’m pretty sure we have enough bricks in the garage for at least a small town.
If you have concerns about your child or teen, CHC Care Coordinators can arrange a free 30-minute consultation so you can explore options with an expert. We invite you to call or email us at 650.688.3625 or email@example.com to set up an initial Parent Consultation appointment. CHC teletherapy services are available now.