Engaging Kids’ Minds Without Losing Yours This Summer
With the academic clock winding down for the school year, you’re now faced with several months of potentially lazy summer days stretching before your tweens, teens and home-for-the-summer college kids. This poses several sticky situations for parents: Should you let your kids sleep in or wake them up? Should you make them “be productive” or let them just chill out? Should you have the same expectations for tweens, teens and home-for-the-summer college kids?
Let’s Start with Sleep
According to the National Sleep Foundation, school-age kids (6-13) need 9-11 hours of sleep each night and teens need 8-10 hours of sleep. Ideally, you want your kids to get into a consistent sleep routine, going to bed and waking up about the same time every day. But, since they’re probably staying up later on summer nights, their normal routines are off-kilter. Even though it might rattle parents to watch summer mornings slip away while teens snooze until noon (or later), should parents let them sleep in a bit?
“It’s best for teens to have a consistent sleep schedule during the summer,” according to Lisa J. Meltzer, Ph.D., CBSM, Associate Professor of Pediatrics at National Jewish Health and a National Sleep Foundation Education Scholar. “For many teens, that will mean staying up late and sleeping in late. However, some teens have a summer job or summer school that may prevent them from sleeping in too late.”
So what’s a sleepy teen to do? Meltzer advises keeping to a consistent sleep schedule as much as possible. For example, if teens need to wake by 8:00 a.m. on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, then on the other days they should sleep no later than 9:00 a.m.
Strike a Balance
Once you and your kids agree to a reasonable wake time in the summer, then what? Before your kids start binge-watching movies on Netflix, set up some ground rules on the expectations you’ve got for their free time. Whether you put a limit on screen time or adopt a “work-first, play-later” mentality (to ensure they take care of their responsibilities), make sure everyone’s on the same page about how summer will play out.
Once everyone agrees on the need to strike a balance between chilling out and staying engaged this summer, what can you do to help your kids find this balance—and keep yourself sane in the process?
Middle School Kids
As parents, you can help bridge the gap between the end of one school year and the beginning of the next without imposing a “summer school” mentality.
For starters, look into your local YMCA and public library to see what summer programs and enrichment opportunities that kids can explore, advises Rob Lundien, a spokesperson for the American School Counselor Association. For example, teens can be a lifeguard by taking training through the Y early in the spring and then working as lifeguards throughout the summer.
Need a few more ideas to keep your middle schoolers engaged this summer? Start here:
Work on life skills. In just a few more years, your kids will be heading off to college. Will they know how to cook a meal, wash their clothes, clean the toilet, vacuum, and budget their money? These all take lots of practice, so why not let your kids bone up on life skills this summer? Teach them what they don’t know how to do (like a load of laundry), then ask them to practice this skill regularly (like changing and washing their bed sheets every weekend). Age-appropriate skills they can tackle now include babysitting, menu planning, cooking, minor household repairs, doing the laundry, gardening, and saving money toward a short-term goal (like purchasing a new app for their phone).
Read. Take a trip to your local library and give your kids free reign to pick out a few good books that pique their interest. Then ask them to read a set amount each day, such as one chapter, 10 pages or 15 minutes. If they’re reluctant, you could make reading a prerequisite for earning screen time. But the key is to let them pick books they want to read.
“Our society is so fast paced anymore that a lot of people forget just taking the time to relax and enjoy a good book,” says Lundien. “I had one student who spent the whole summer just reading. He never really had time during the school year to read for enjoyment because he was busy doing homework, working on projects, and keeping up with all the other academic requirements. But he felt more prepared for the next school year because he had that daily reading practice all summer long.”
Foster a hobby. Do you have a budding photographer, inventor, computer programmer, interior designer, chef, musician or woodworker? Get the resources your kids need to pursue their passions. Borrow books from the library, invest in some basic equipment, sign them up for a specialty summer camp or watch YouTube tutorials together. Summer offers a perfect time to explore hobbies and pursue passions.
Tackle a fun project. Maybe your kids have been begging to update the look of their bedrooms now that they’re almost teenagers. Let them say good-bye to their “Hello, Kitty”-themed room and plan a fresh update. They can pick out new paint colors, help refurbish a piece of furniture, learn how to recover a throw pillow or play around with digital photo-editing tools to create a poster-sized collage they can print and hang. Besides getting a bedroom-makeover, kids get hands-on opportunities to learn how to paint a room, sew a fabric pillow cover, sand down furniture or use digital photo-editing software.
Get a jump on summer assignments. Lots of schools assign summer projects, so don’t let this fall off your kids’ radar until the week before school starts. It might be as simple as reading a book and being prepared to discuss it the first week of school. Or, it might involve writing a book report, keeping a learning log or writing an essay on a summer travel experience. Doing just a little bit of work on these projects every week will ease the back-to-school stress of trying to get it done at the last minute.
High School Teens
High school kids have four summers to prepare themselves for life after graduation. While they might look at summers like their “last hurrah” before adulthood, they shouldn’t spend their days parked in front of their video game console or hanging out with friends all the time.
How can high schoolers make the most of their summers?
“Families might want to connect first with their students’ school counselors in the spring to see what summer opportunities and resources have crossed their desks,” Lundien points out. For example, he receives information on programs such as job fairs, summer internships, and SAT-prep courses.
In addition to programs offered by local schools and communities, high schoolers can try some of these ideas:
Get a job. Working, even on a part-time basis, racks up the skills your teens will need in their future careers. Besides putting extra cash in your teens’ pockets, part-time jobs can teach them responsibility, accountability to someone besides mom and dad, a good work ethic, time management, teamwork, assertiveness, interpersonal communication, and a host of other life skills. Plus, when it comes time to ask someone to write a letter of recommendation for a college application or scholarship, they’ve already got a built-in reference.
Volunteer. “Doing good” not only feels good, but it helps teens get outside of themselves. At a time when they’re often wrapped up in their own teen angst, looking at their community from the perspective of “How can I help?” shifts teens’ mindset and helps them see the bigger picture. Volunteering also offers a great way to start networking, which could open the door for career exploration, job shadowing, and part-time jobs. Many colleges and scholarship committees look for well-rounded teens who serve their community, so volunteering will help them stand out when they’re ready to apply.
“Giving back to the community is great experience for teens,” explains Lundien. “I’ve had many students tell me that they volunteered with a dentist or a veterinarian. It may not be a ton of hours, but any hours they can get working with another professional or seeing what they do on a day-to-day basis is a great learning experience.”
In fact, sometimes it’s a quick way to gauge whether or not they want to continue down a certain career path.
“I’ve had students who have volunteered in a local hospital and realized very quickly after seeing some of the things that go on that it wasn’t for them,” cites Lundien. “And it was good that they found it out now before they went off to college.”
Prepare for college. Although the last thing teens might want to think about during the summer is preparing for high-stakes testing or writing a college scholarship essay, summer might actually be thebest time to tackle these time-consuming tasks. During the school year, students manage quite a heavy schedule between classes, homework, club meetings, sports practice, volunteering, part-time jobs, and other after-school activities. By taking a summer prep course for the SAT or working on scholarship applications in July or August, students can lighten the workload they face during the pressure-filled school year.
Visit colleges. With time for extended trips, summer offers up a great opportunity to visit college campuses as a family. Let your middle schoolers tag along as their older siblings check out a potential college.
“In the summer, college admissions offices are open and they schedule campus tours,” Lundien point out. “Any of the ‘homework’ that families can do early on will take off a lot of that pressure down the road when the student is a senior.”
Regardless of your kids’ ages, what can you do to forge those family connections, make memories, and enjoy the slower pace of summer together?
Get outside. Summer ushers in the perfect opportunity to build more outdoor activity into your lives. During the week, create a new tradition of after-dinner family walks, bike rides or late-night swims. On the weekend, head to the ocean, lake or river for the day to swim, canoe, fish or go boating or jet-skiing.
Take on a fitness challenge together. Go for a family hike in a state park. Sign up for a local charity walk. Join a cycling club in your community. Train for your first 5K race together. Find ways to get fit in a fun way as a family, keeping in mind various ages and fitness levels.
Vacation together. Trying to get everyone’s schedule to mesh is often a challenge, but if you can, go on an adventure together, whether it’s a day trip, a long weekend road trip or a week-long vacation. Travelling exposes kids to different cultures and lifestyles and provides an incredibly rich learning opportunity in a fun way. Plus, experiencing it together creates those wonderful family memories that will connect your family for years to come.
To up the learning factor, Lundien suggest putting your teen in charge of researching your vacation destination to find local places to visit and discover some of the area’s history.
“It makes vacations more educational and gives students a task to do, making it more interactive,” says Lundien. “Plus, it gives them some ownership into the planning.”
Keep in mind that many of these suggestions overlap for different age groups, especially the high school and college-age kids. But implementing even a few of these ideas will keep your kids engaged this summer, giving them the balance they need and the peace of mind you need.
Lisa Beach is a freelance journalist, content marketing specialist, and copywriter for hire. Check out her writer’s website at www.LisaBeachWrites.com