Summer is just around the corner, and as the school year winds down, many families will be looking at summer care for their kids. Whether you are a two income household, or you’re a stay-at-home parent who needs a day or two a week of focused work/errand time, a large portion of us will be sending our kids to a sitter or daycare for some portion of the summer holiday. This can definitely be an oasis of respite for parents, and a great time to explore and socialize for kids. This can also be nerve-racking for parents though, as we send our young ones out without the structure and oversight we come to expect will help keep our kids engaged and healthy throughout the school year.
Let’s face it, while we are glad that our kids get a break from the rigor of the academic year, we don’t want them vegging out with video games, popsicles, and gummy bears all day, (as some kids may be apt to do, absent the supervision of a parent or teacher). So what’s a parent to do in order to keep their kids engaged, healthy, and active during those long summer days? Check out the tips below to keep kids happy and growing throughout their summer vacation.
Keeping Kids Engaged
In teaching circles, you’ll hear the term “brain-drain” thrown around quite a bit upon returning from summer break. The term refers to a regression in skill level between the end of the previous school year and the beginning of the next. This is a very real phenomenon, and nearly every student will regress between a quarter and half a year academically, in both reading and math, over summer vacation. So, how do we keep our kids engaged, so that they can keep the forward momentum they’ve worked so hard for?
Luckily, there are a number of ways that don’t require an hour of busy work each day. The first option are summer day camps. These are becoming increasingly available and affordable options for parents who are looking to keep kids engaged in academically focused interests over the summer. Camps in science or STEM, literature or writing, and the performing arts are available through school systems, the YMCA, community centers, art centers, and on college campuses. These camps are generally short, (most last one to two weeks), but can help keep a student’s interests stoked throughout the summer, and will help to keep academic skills, such as reading, computation, and problem solving in real-world use over the summer months.
Even if camps aren’t an option for you find ways to engage at home. Start a family bookclub to read and discuss books that peak your kids interest, but keep them reading “on-level”, give your “lego lover” an engineering problem to solve with their friends at day care, or have them build something that requires measurement and following directions, with the sitter. There are one thousand ways, be creative, and while you’re sending them off, don’t forget to send them out with brain fuel, like some organic peanut butter and apples!
Keeping Kids Healthy
Sending kids to a sitter, daycare, or day camp means that many of us put our kid’s nutritional wellbeing in the hands of someone else, and often times leads to lots of calories, carbs, and sugars being added to our little one’s diets. However, this doesn’t have to be the case. In fact, while many daycares, camps, and sitters will provide lunch for your kids, (and you may have to pay for it), they will still allow you to send a lunch with your child. The real trick here, especially with older children, is to keep your kids interested in what you send, instead of the high-calorie parade of hotdogs, applesauce, and popsicles.
Keeping your kids interested isn’t that difficult, (hey, you know what they like), just stick to what you know. There’ something to be said for a good old organic peanut butter and fruit spread sandwich, but be creative. With the advent of great and easy to carry thermal bags, and the fact that most daycares and sitters will be willing to grant your little one a little space in the fridge, hot and cold dishes aren’t out of the question. So don’t be afraid to send something that might not typically “make it” to lunchtime on a school day. Check out our Favorite Recipe section here to find some great healthy meals you can prepare ahead of time for your child to take with them.
Keeping Kids Active
You’re not crazy, and it’s not just because you’re getting older. That perception that your kids don’t get outside as much as you used to, is real. Kids today are bombarded with entertainment choices that require little-to-no effort, little actual engagement, and provide frequent reward. And, while we know that the rewards offered to our little one’s by these options can’t compare with what they’d experience and learn out solving problems and using their imaginations, they’re hard to compete with, especially when our kids are out of our direct supervision.
So, what’s a parent to do? Well, while we can’t make every choice for our kids, we can help steer them a bit by limiting their access to entertainment. This means, (and yes this may lead to a meltdown of your 11-year-old,) that you may have to make the rule that your kids don’t take their device with them to daycare or the sitter’s… for real. I know, I know, this seems like cruel and unusual punishment, but our kids can’t police themselves well when it comes to entertainment time, so the best way to keep screen time at appropriate levels over the summer is to limit it to times when you can control the duration. Also, don’t feel bad for your child, a strange phenomenon happens with kids after about 30 minutes of screen time. If there is another child playing with something around them, they’ll usually put down the device and begin to pay along.
YOU also have the final say on where your child goes during summer days. That means that you may need to do some research, but look for daycares or sitters that have well maintained play equipment outside, stimulating toys for group play inside, and set up some time to watch a class for an hour or so. Are the kids engaged, and are the adults in charge helping to facilitate group play and imagination? If not, then it might be best to seek another option, or at least break up the time spent in care with one of the day camps mentioned above. Oh, and don’t forget to check the menu. Again, it’s easy to help keep your kids well fed, and full of energy with minimal work.
We may not be able to constantly supervise our kids over the summer, but it’s important to remember that we do have control over where they engage, their options for activity and play, and what foods fuel their summer fun! Embrace their Summer Break and help them make the most of it. While they might not always be a fan of some of the things we discussed above, we know that we have their best interests in mind!