Summer Activities

Summer Activities

School is out, now what? Perhaps goals for summer should not be so very different from those year around. They should aim for activities that foster the personal growth of a child or teen and making them a better person. This could include activities that contribute to being well rounded, better educated, more socially responsible, psychologically sound, healthier, and the gaining of skills and competence for an occupation, sports, academic achievement, or a hobby. Keeping children happy and healthy during summer can have long term benefits into their futures. 

Summer should also be a time for fun, relaxation, barbecues, beach trips, and family reunions, but guard against too much waste of time on useless movies, TV, mindless video games and just sitting at home in front of a television or phone screen. Screen time should be limited to less than two hours each day and kids should get at least one hour of physical activity each day. And kids do better when their day is a structured. Helping kids find a regular activity they enjoy, whether it’s summer camp, or routine play dates with other kids is important. 

Obviously, there are an enormous number of options and choosing between them will depend on the age of the child, their community and family setting, and availability of time and financial resources. The most that can be presented here are some ideas. Each child and family will have to decide on what is best for them.

Working parents with young children may need to find day care or a camp or other supervised experience for the hours previously occupied by school and after school activities. Some kids may benefit from summer school, an academic program that kids can attend over their summer break. While day camps usually include activities like swimming, hiking, or playing group games, summer school has dedicated time for reading, writing, and math. It might not be exactly like the school year, though. Some summer programs have fun activities in the afternoons and frequent field trips as well as book learning.

The “summer slide,” otherwise known as “summer learning loss,” is the loss of knowledge acquired during the school year over a student’s lengthy summer break. Summer learning loss disproportionately affects low-income children and has lasting effects on their future. Testing suggests that kids can lose a month’s worth of learning over a summer break.

Some have argued that summer learning loss wouldn’t occur if the U.S. had a longer school year or year-round school. They point to countries like China, where the school year is 245 days, as opposed to the traditional 180-day school year in the U.S. China is ranked first among the top 20 nations in terms of student scores in math, science and reading. The U.S. is ranked 25th out of 77 countries and is several points behind Australia, Switzerland, Norway, and the Czech Republic, which are ranked 21 to 24, respectively.

Parents who are considering summer school for their child might want their child to get extra academic support or they might just want to keep learning going. Summer school can make a big difference for children who are struggling with math or reading so that they enter the next grade or a new school prepared and confident.

Not all children will thrive in a summer school, so summer school is not the best choice for all. They may benefit just as much from taking a break from the school routine to feel refreshed and ready for the new school year. If the summer school is not high-quality, it may not be of value. If social skills are more of a concern than academics, summer camp might be a better fit than summer school.

Some authorities caution that parents considering a summer break focused on academic activities because of summer learning loss may be overdoing it, and not allowing kids to be kids. Whether or not they go away to summer camp or attend summer school, kids need to be around their peers. Beneficial activities other than summer school can also include spending time together as a family and making memories, reading with children, visiting educational places such as museums and teaching children essential life skills. Parents may find it helpful to consult with their teacher or pediatrician if they have questions about what's best for their child.

Here are some summer activity options for younger kids:

Indoor Activities:

  • Learn a new dance
  • Play a game (charades, cards, board games, etc.)
  • Assemble a puzzle
  • Read a book or better yet many books!
  • Draw, paint, or play music
  • Create origami or paper airplanes
  • Start a treasure hunt
  • Visit a museum/aquarium
  • Plan an educational tour
  • Learn to cook

Outdoor Activities:

  • Take a road trip
  • Visit the park/waterpark/skatepark
  • Observe nature (bird watching, walk nature trails, pick flowers, etc.)
  • Grow plants/flowers
  • Collect rocks
  • Go fishing, fly kites, ride bikes
  • Attend a farmer’s market
  • Visit historical landmarks
  • Host a picnic

Older children will have more say in their summer goals and activities and it is important that they consider what they want from life and invest in themselves by doing something productive with their summer. Here are some options, especially for older children and teens.

Learn something. This can include working on academic areas where a student is falling short or getting ahead of their class on a particular topic. This could make the next school year more successful or allow entry into an advanced placement class. There are many online classes and community college classes available. Learning can also include preparing for college entrance exams, learning a language, taking up a new sport, craft, or artistic endeavor, or taking on a challenging non-fiction reading list. Summer activities are included in the Common App activity list, and students may be asked to write supplemental essays about summer experiences.

Earn some money with a part- or full-time job. Even if is just paying your child for household chores a job is a great way to begin learning about responsibility and money management. Summer jobs for grade school and high school students may be hard to find, but if available, they help them learn about independence, work ethic, scheduling, and new responsibilities. Jobs can be great way to network, build a resume, and learn other real-world career skills. Jobs also reinforce those soft skills like time management that are important in college. A job also is a good time for children of all ages to begin learning about managing money and considering decisions about short-term gratification and saving for the future.

Participate in an internship. Internships are often not easy to find, especially if they are paid. If available, they are a great way to get specific career experience and mentorship. They are also a way to strengthen a student’s resume.

Shadow a job. Job shadowing is often an easier to find and more flexible alternative to an internship. Shadowing provides a good sense of the day-to-day activities that professionals do in their careers. Shadowing is a good way to obtain relevant experience and information about potential careers without a lengthy commitment.

Network with informational interviews. If you didn’t land an internship or a shadowing opportunity it is still possible get a feel for different types of jobs by holding informational interviews. Reach out to people you know who have interesting jobs or do some research into the companies or organizations that interest you. You can reach out to people via LinkedIn, or through email, and explain that you are researching career paths and would like to meet.

Volunteer and serve the community. Choose something that’s important to you or that you enjoy doing. This activity can be a learning experience and do something good for the community. Many existing organizations need additional volunteers during the summer when their regular staff often go on vacation. This too is an activity to include in a resume.

Improve your health. Summer can be a time to improve your health habits by getting enough sleep, more exercise, better nutrition and to catch up on neglected trips to the dentist or to get the vaccinations that have been put off. Adopting a healthy lifestyle can help you reach an ideal weight, feel better and look better. A good guide is The Building Blocks of Health––How to Optimize Your Health with a Lifestyle Checklist. It is available in print or e-book at Amazon.com.

Prepare for college. This could include studying for the ACT and/or SAT, getting a head start on the Common App and required essays, visiting prospective schools, and earning college credits. Check in with your high school guidance counselor. For those applying to college, a solid grade in a college-level course will look good on your application and may even help you to get a strong recommendation from the professor.

Find a Mentor. Learning from someone with experience. A good mentor can help you grow by advising you on career direction, making good decisions, establishing long-term goals, and determining actionable steps you should take toward them. Connecting with leaders in your community, your school's alumni or even upperclassmen is a great place to start.

Study abroad. This may be difficult to pull off but often is very rewarding. It takes more research, planning and funding but is an excellent way of experiencing a different place or culture and in more formal programs a way of earning college credits. Start your research with nationally-recognized programs.

Practice a language. You may not be able to study abroad but there are plenty of easy, affordable ways to learn and practice a language. Duolingo and Babbel are two of the most popular apps; both offer short, interactive lessons that you can complete right on your phone, plus more advanced content, like podcasts, for more proficient speakers. Or look for a local language meet up and make some new friends while you practice.

Spend time outside. Being outside for exercise or a nature walk and sun exposure is conducive to better mental and physical health. But remember to use a sunscreen containing a high SPF.  

Declutter. Give away, donate, or sell things you don’t need and will never use.

Go camping with friends. Organizing a camping trip is perfect for exploring the great outdoors. Get together with your friends, pitch a tent or rent a cabin, and get in touch with nature.

What if your child has special needs?
A summer vacation can be especially stressful for parents of children with mental health issues. Children troubled by problems such as anxiety, ADHD, and autism spectrum disorders are especially dependent on the predictability that school provides. Without it, they’re more prone to anxiety or act out with oppositional behavior and tantrums. Parents of children with developmental, emotional, or behavioral problems often feel isolated and lonely. Parents need to find support and take time for themselves. The well-being of parents is critical to caring for their child. Even with the best-laid plans, parents may see some regression and worsening behavior over vacation, so be ready for some tough times.

Here is a summary of some suggestions from the Child Mind Institute about to ensure a good summer for a child challenged by mental health issues.

Maintain schedules. Children with mental issues are less likely to do well when faced with new challenges, and all kids need structure and routine. It may be helpful to maintain the school year’s daily schedule, including meal and bedtimes, even when traveling. Posting a visual or written schedule that describes what will happen throughout the day may help some children. This can include both routine activities and new plans, such as an upcoming play date or trip.

Get outdoors and active. Home may be a safe haven for children with sensory issues or have trouble with social interactions. But no child should spend hours playing video games or in front of a screen. Physical activity is good for both the mind and body. Camp is a great way to provide structure and routine and to get a child outside. It makes sense to try to find something your child enjoys—riding a bike or scooter, playing tag, or splashing at the community pool, or beach.

Maintain—or create—a behavioral system. Especially during a summer break children and teens feel more secure knowing what a parent expects of them and the rewards that result from good behavior. Negative behavior should be ignored, and positive behavior reinforced. A chart with stickers for tasks accomplished can work as positive reinforcement for preschool children.

Identify and address a child’s anxieties. Summer can bring camp, new activities, and different authority figures like new sitters, all which can be stressful. Parents can help identify fears by discussing them and help a child to face them. The goal is to teach that feeling anxious is uncomfortable, but anxiety will ebb if you push through it. A technique called gradual exposure is a good way of relieving a child’s anxiety about a new experience.


The Child Mind Institute. https://childmind.org/

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