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July 14, 2015

Summer Vacation, Part 2: What Does That Even Look Like?

darondickens-300Summertime can be the perfect respite to balance out a year of hard work and academic achievement. As I mentioned yesterday, when I was a child I thought of school as my job. The summer break, therefore, was my vacation time. But it’s possible to have too much of a good thing. Three whole months of doing nothing but sleeping late and eating badly can lead to a major problem when the school year resumes.

So, the question we must now answer is whether or not there should be any kind of structure to the three months (give or take) of summer.

My answer to that question is very much influenced by what my parents modeled for me all those years ago. We didn’t focus on reading lists, or getting a job, or doing chores, or even playing outside. Instead, we created a structure that incorporated all of these things.

My mother brought creativity into the mix. Rather than telling us that we had to read for three hours, she would take us to the library one or two days a week during the summer. Most libraries have summer reading programs that involve reading aloud. She let us pick out three books to take home. At an early age, this meant just looking at pictures, but it instilled a love for reading and a connection between reading and summer. Summer was the time for going to the library.

Here are a few other suggestions:

  1. Have special fun days during the summer. Go to the zoo or an amusement park. Pick the date and circle it on the calendar. Talk about it more and more as you get closer. You can even set up a system where your children earn money to use on these outings by doing chores and working during the days leading up to the event.
  2. Have days of the week when your kids are not allowed to do anything but lay around and play. Leave all the chores for another day, and just enjoy the moment. This may take a little more work on your part to let it happen, but it will be worth it. The next day, have a chore day where everyone works to set the house in order again. If you start this routine early in their lives, your kids will learn that if they pick up after themselves on their fun day, the chore day is a lot easier.
  3. Give your children incentives to read books on their summer reading list. This is not much different from the bonuses you might receive at work. It might even give them motivation to exceed your expectations.
  4. Read the books they are reading and discuss the content with them. You can even create a special “book club” time where you treat them to Starbucks or some place like that to have these discussions. During these conversations, be honest. If the book bores you to tears, be open about that. As they get older, let them begin to guide the conversations. This can become a great parent/child tradition. Even if the book club idea doesn’t strike a chord with your child, it’s important for you to discuss their work with them. If no one is taking notice of our work, it’s hard to stay motivated enough to complete it. You might even find a chance to discuss your work with them. This will give them an understanding of what work life looks like for a grown up.
  5. With younger children, create jobs around the house for them, and be creative with the payment. For example, you might create a points system for the work they do. Points can be redeemed for things like an extra hour of TV or an extra scoop of ice cream or an hour later bedtime. Think of age-appropriate things that will teach them responsibility as well as give them a little bit of structure.

Remember, when you are planning structure for your kids to think of this time the way you think about your own vacation time. How much do you value your vacation time? How much do you look forward to it and cherish it once it has arrived? How would you feel if, after arriving at your vacation destination, they handed you a cleaning rag and told you they didn’t want you to become lazy? How long would it take for you to lay around your vacation destination before you actually started to feel lazy?

An approach that intentionally incorporates downtime and work time can help your child stay on track for the impending school year while allowing them to feel the sweet relief of summer vacation.

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