by Andrea Danneker, M.A.
Summer – ahh – a time of relaxation, a time to unwind, to breathe out. Schools take a break, days get longer, and the weather gets warmer. The world around us is inviting us to take it easy, giving us a chance to recover from the busyness of the school year and enjoy the summer days when time moves a little more slowly.
Yet nowadays so many of us find our kids' summer breaks packed full of back to back summer camps, swim lessons, play dates, sporting events, and so much more. Gone are the lazy days of summer; making mud pies in the backyard, running through the sprinklers, selling lemonade to the neighbors, and daydreaming under the shade of the old oak tree.
You may be saying, “But my kids love all the summer activities!” Or “I’ve got to keep them busy. I can’t stand them underfoot complaining that there is nothing to do!” Today’s fast paced, competitive world has convinced us that it is our job as parents to stimulate our child’s brain and enrich their learning – even during the summer break. But the truth is that actually letting your child get bored – slowing down and allowing space for a child’s own creativity and imagination are essential for a child’s cognitive and emotional development and will serve them their whole lives. Creative people generate new ideas, are flexible in their thinking, experiment and seek variation, and strive for originality. And maybe even more importantly is that when a child engages in self-created play she is developing self-regulation – an ability to focus her attention and control her behavior. More and more parents and teachers alike are struggling with children who are anxious and have little or no impulse control. Reducing the amount of fixed prearranged summer activities and increasing the amount of unstructured downtime not only gives children the break summer was meant to give, but it teaches them self control!
Kim John Payne, author of the popular book Simplicity Parenting, gives parents a prescription for the summer and all year round. Payne recommends dividing your child’s time in thirds; one third busy, one third creative, and one third downtime. Its balance we’re aiming for here, not a complete shutdown and removal from the world we live in. Consider slowing things down a bit – give your kids the gift of taking it easy. Give them the break that they need and deserve.
But how, you ask?
Do what you can to keep things rhythmic (both daily and weekly) and keep it simple. Try giving each day of the week its own special name, for instance…Monday – beach day, Tuesday – baking day, Wednesday – cleaning day, Thursday – friend or family day, Friday – park day. Be sure that your child has a time every day to play outside, to play inside, to play with someone else, to play alone, to eat, and to rest. And when a special fun filled day is planned, as it will be, consider balancing these active days with a low key, unstructured day before and after. Keep in mind, downtime doesn’t necessarily mean quiet and calm (although it can). Downtime just means a child’s own time – to do with what they want.
Summer can be a great opportunity to do things as a family that you don’t normally have the time to do during the school year. But it doesn’t have to be a full menu of activities. Just remember to keep it simple. Here are a few ideas to get you started.
- Cook outdoors
- Start a chapter book together
- Plant pumpkin seeds for fall and watch them grow
- Ask Grandma to be a pen-pal
- Make time for family stories – young children love to hear stories about when you were a kid
- Camp out in the backyard – eat breakfast out there, too
- Make homemade popsicles
- Eat breakfast for dinner
- Designate a screen free night each week and break out with the board games
So the next time your child says “I’m bored” simply say “Oh. You know, there is something fun to do right around the corner. I wonder what it is?” And then wait. You’ll be amazed at what they come up with!
Andrea Danneker, M.A. has been working with young children and families for over 14 years. Early on in her professional career, Andrea found that sharing her understanding of children and supporting parents as they navigate through their own personal journey with their family was not only well received, but also extremely rewarding. Her hope is to provide the information and support needed to allow parents to become the parent they want to be, have the kind of relationships they want with their children, and bring joy and peace into their homes. Andrea is a skilled educator, practiced parenting coach, and experienced group leader and case manager with additional expertise in working with families who have children with special needs. She is a certified Simplicity Parenting Coach and Group Leader through the Center for Social Sustainability. She has a bachelor's degree in Psychology from Allegheny College and a master's degree in Human Development from Pacific Oaks College. Andrea lives in the Los Angeles area, has been married to her high school sweetheart for 11 years, and has three beautiful children.