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School’s Out. Now What?

It's important for kids to be involved in summer activities—here's why.

Roger Mastroianni, used with permission
Cleveland Orchestra Youth Chorus and Youth Orchestra
Source: Roger Mastroianni, used with permission

By now, all children, youth, and young adults have completed the academic year, and, in the U.S., there is a considerable amount of time until they go back to school or college.

As parents, helping them organize this time is one of our biggest challenges. Most students will say that, since it’s their vacation, they want to sleep in, watch TV or Youtube videos, and play videogames. Some may want to go to the pool or the beach with friends.

Most parents regard these as nightmare scenarios, with good reason. We know that months without structure is not good for the developing brain. That said, as much as they may protest against it, having adult supervision is an important component for a successful summer. Camp, classes, and volunteer work all provide adult supervision during the day; these require a great deal of parental planning to arrange. The unifying principle should be people more than devices.

Here are three pillars of summer activities that contribute to long-term success:

(1) Sports: As kids get to middle school and older, camp experiences dwindle, but if they are playing a sport, it is usually possible to find structured activities. Being good at a sport is a skill that helps them engage others, be able to find a peer group, and build self-esteem.

(2) Creative arts: Children can become involved in music from a young age. Summer classes in drama, writing, and fine arts provide the basis for later proficiency. Camps, as youth become adolescents, help strengthen skills. The individual practice required to participate successfully in creative arts helps build work ethic and persistence.

(3) Job/volunteer opportunity: It can be hard to find paying jobs for kids younger than 16, but there are things they can do to accrue volunteer hours for school or personal enrichment. Faith institutions, for example, often have a variety of opportunities for youth. Some sponsor programs need volunteers, such as soup kitchens. Others may organize mission trips to provide aid to communities recovering from natural disasters.

The environments for these activities vary. Many can be pursued in camps, either day or overnight. Some camp programs that are a cross between camp and daycare disappear by the time a child is in middle school, yet middle school and high school are critical times requiring structure, since with increased mobility (bikes, driving) youth have more options to engage in activities with negative peers. A great thing about camps is that, as youth age into middle and high school, there are leadership opportunities for youth who can become counselors.

Finally, encourage reading. School assigned reading needs to be done ahead of time, not left to the last minute. Developing a habit of reading opens up possibilities that last a lifetime.

The goal for parents is to help students use summer time to build skills, to meet new people, and to learn. We do our children a disservice if we allow them to prescribe summer activities that will not serve them well in the long run. Successful adults are self-organized; summer can be a wonderful opportunity to acquire and practice these skills.

Maureen Kishna, used with permission
Source: Maureen Kishna, used with permission

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