by Jena Hengstler
With the school year nearing its end, many parents are thinking about how to help their children fill those long summertime hours. Summer can be a magical time of growth, connection and memories.
Teachers are often wary of the summer slide, the term used to describe the academic regression that can sometimes occur during extended breaks from school. When some students don’t have daily reading, writing and math practice, research shows learning loss is common.
To offset that loss, there is often a push for summer reading programs, math review and enrichment programs, or even summer school. While those initiatives have their place and can be beneficial, a healthy balance should be offered since not all learning happens in a school setting.
Children of all ages need time to play, socialize, be creative, move, rest, and enjoy some freedom from structured lessons.
Not all growth can be measured by academic proficiency scales. Skills such as empathy, resilience and patience as well as feelings of joy, confidence and belonging can be lovingly fostered during summer break in ways that will extend into all areas of their life, including the classroom.
Here are three practical ideas the whole family can enjoy to inspire positive connection, healthy movement and character development this summer and every summer.
There is an old adage that advises when children are crabby, just add water. I’ve found this to be true more often than not. Whether it’s a trip to the local pool for swimming lessons, skipping rocks at a nearby pond, or running through the sprinkler on your lawn – water heals.
Cooling, refreshing and mood shifting, even the most listless of days can be quickly turned around with water. Follow it up with rainbow-colored popsicles or a cool slice of watermelon and you will have a winner.
Parent Tip: Join in! Water is not only healing for the kids. Even adults can benefit from adding water to their day. Whether you’re going down the pool slide with a kid on your lap, or taking in the view of a slow moving river, go ahead and give yourself a well-earned moment of rejuvenation.
No matter their age, children are natural creators. Their formative years can be positively affected by their freedom to “form” themselves. Nurturing a child’s creative side can be as easy as spending time with them in the kitchen. During the summer, there may be more time to let children plan a meal and execute their ideas. The skills learned by cooking or baking, such as planning ahead, budgeting, shopping for ingredients, measuring and keeping track of time are applicable to their classroom studies and throughout life. They will also experience pride in helping provide a meal for the family.
Parent Tip: Let the children take the lead with their own ideas. Believing in their vision translates to belief in them. Play the long game on this one. Make sure to also include the kids when cleaning up the kitchen.
A quick internet search offers countless ideas to create art with your children. The art world is your oyster. Explore everything from pouring paint, creating stepping stones, making your own sidewalk chalk, or sculpting flower pots. Creating art of any kind fosters independent thinking, authenticity and self-direction. Another benefit of creating art with your children is that it provides them with keepsakes, which can hold special memories for years to come, or even a way to give a special gift to someone else.
Parent Tip: All art is beautiful. The real thing will probably not turn out like the Pinterest post, so fight the urge to take over and do most of the work. It’s better to have a finished piece that is developmentally appropriate and real, than a masterpiece where your child had very little participation. It’s not about the outcome, as much as it’s about the experience.
Summer will be here and gone before we know it. School will start back again, schedules will fill up and the days will get shorter. If we can leverage our time this summer, there is much to be gained. Children will return to school ready to re-engage in the right emotional space to learn, build friendships and face challenges.
Jena Hengstler is an elementary teacher. She always knew she wanted to work in education and has had a 15 year career charged with just as much learning as teaching. Her teaching journey has been filled with successes, trials, love, heartbreak, celebration and humility – all for the love of children. Jena calls the beautiful state of Wyoming her home. She loves doing life with her husband, Larry and her son, Hudson. When she isn’t at school, she enjoys reading, writing, drinking coffee that is still hot, watching sports, being outside and will always make time to watch the sunset.