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Thursday, August 26, 2021

Why We Shouldn't Focus So Much on Structure and Education During Summer Break

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Let's face it: We all live busy lives, and that includes our children. Between school, home, extracurriculars, sports, and playdates, my kids' calendars are often just as overbooked as my own. But then, there's summer! Back when I was a kid, summer meant playing in the backyard, spending time at my grandparents' house with my cousins, reading any book I wanted, swimming, and an annual week-long vacation with my parents. But now, just like during the school year, there's pressure to use the summer break to optimize our children's potential. Specialized day camps, enrichment activities, and extra classes are now as common as chasing fireflies and lying on the grass with a novel.

Modern kids can sometimes feel like a different species, but the truth is that they still need the things we craved as kids. They need unstructured free time to engage in imaginative, child-centered play, and they need downtime to decompress. Take a moment to consider how a lazy summer might reap more long-term benefits for your child than a summer stuffed with enrichment activities.

Free Time Develops Independence

One thing unstructured summer days provide kids is the chance to develop independence. In most households, both parents work, and no one can devote themselves to entertaining their kids all day. That's a good thing! From learning how to fix a simple lunch to completing daily chores or just figuring out how to occupy themselves, kids can learn valuable skills and develop their independence when there's nothing on their schedule. Also, simply choosing what and how they play is an important milestone for kids that often gets overlooked with overscheduled families.

Friends and Social Skills Matter, Too

Summer is a great time to cultivate friendships and develop social skills. The freedom of unscheduled days makes sleepovers and long days playing with friends possible. Spending time with similar-aged peers with adequate but minimal supervision teaches children how to develop strong relationships with their friends. It also gives them a safe space to learn how to negotiate about how they will spend their time together and even navigate through disagreements and hurt feelings.

Summer Relieves Stress

Research has shown that the healthy development of children is harmed by excessive or prolonged stress. This sort of toxic stress damages a child's ability to learn and regulate their behavior and can have a lifelong impact on a child's physical and mental health. An unrelenting schedule and the expectation to excel at high-level academics without a break create stress, and for many children, it's far too much stress for their little minds and coping strategies to deal with effectively. In fact, some research has been done about the stress that intensive summer programs can cause children. But a summer spent outdoors is great for reducing kids' stress levels.

What About Learning Loss?

For the past 25 years or so, the media has consistently reported stories about the dangers of summer learning loss. Kids, especially elementary-aged children, can forget vital skills over the summer. But recent research has shown that these claims are overblown: The vast majority of students don't see any learning loss over the course of summer. If it still worries you, including family reading time and trips to the library in your summer plans can help combat the loss of reading skills, and including math in your kid's life can be as easy as doing some baking projects, counting money with them, and finding other real-life situations where math skills are used.

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

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