Supporting Learning Through Summer Vacation

As summer begins, have you wondered: 

  • How do I keep my kid busy?

  • How many times will my kid tell me he/she is bored?

  • What if he/she loses the momentum we finally started to see at the end of the school year?

If so, you are not alone. Whether you are working full-time, part-time, stay home, or take vacations in the summer, these questions apply. And there's good news and hard news.

The good news first: Children do not need to be constantly entertained (despite what they may be telling you). In fact, a little boredom has been shown to expand the imagination of children and develop a whole new set of cognitive skills! What is meant by this is that children should be encouraged to put down the electronics and venture into new (less immediately rewarding and stimulating) activities at least once per day. For example, one study (Ward, Dunkin, Jarden, & Stuart, 2016) found that time simply spent in the outdoors, as well as time spent engaging in physical exercise (non-scheduled physical movement), were linked to more positive emotional well-being in middle-school aged children. Exercise in this context also reduced risk-taking and sensation seeking behaviours (which we think is great, since summer tends to come with fewer adult eyeballs on our youth ;) 

Theorist, Andreas Elpidorou argues that: 

"...the state of boredom (i.e., the transitory and non-pathological experience of boredom) should be understood to be a regulatory psychological state that has the capacity to promote our well-being by contributing to personal growth and to the construction (or reconstruction) of a meaningful life."  

You can check out his whole article here. It's an interesting perspective! He basically argues that occasions of boredom (and not intense or chronic boredom) can be seen as a functional emotional state --- during which children learn to seek out a more interesting activity or become motivated to make a change. He also argues that boredom should not always be avoided. It seems intuitive to think that if we constantly help our children out of feelings of boredom, that they may learn that all boring activities should and can be avoided somehow. Makes you wonder then how the development of persistence and perseverance would be effected.  

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So, if boredom is acceptable from time-to-time, how can we get these young minds to accept this? One hilarious strategy I recently heard was to respond with a list of chores that should be completed whenever the child expresses boredom (e.g., wash mom's vehicle, put away the dishes, water the plants). Wouldn't that act as a deterrent for some kids ;) 

Another strategy is to prepare in advance some imaginative, but not structure activities that can be pulled out. Create a Summertime Boredom Box. Ideally, this would not be directive at all, but would simply have several ideas that lead to possible directions a child could run with. These should not be clear activities, like board games, but odds and ends that could be used imaginatively.

But the best solution, according to research, is to get that kiddo outside! You could provide some ideas for what to do out there, or just let them roam. 

Now, the hard news - kids do tend to lose a bit of momentum from the gains they made in school, especially our kiddos with learning disabilities or ADHD. SO, we need to work on these things throughout the summer. Not as intensely as a school day would require, but even 30-minutes a day or math or reading or writing can help to continue their progress. This can be tough, considering that children do not often want to sit for homework over the summer. So try to make it fun and engaging. It could be a math game they play on the iPad, or a journal they write or a pen-pal letter they keep up with. Reading is critical though and could easily be incorporated as family reading time, or simply starting bedtime 15-minutes early to give time for reading in bed. 

In general, keep the "tasks" fun and the structure reduced. You will be amazed at how quickly children grow accustomed to these new routines in their day, and you might even be surprised at what they can come up with!