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Three Principles to Keep Kids Growing and Learning During the Summer

With Memorial Day behind us and end of the school year events on the horizon, parents and students turn their sights on summer activities. Summer can feel like a bit of a time warp, seeming so vast at its start, yet as it unfolds, weeks fill up quickly and blend together. By August, summer’s fleeting weeks wind down as we welcome the back-to-school norms and wonder how the time flew by so quickly. It’s important that parents understand summer as an opportunity for their children to continue learning and growing, though decidedly less predictably and even less measurably than during the school year. As well known psychologist Jonathan Haidt observes, “A child’s development is best supported by a combination of freedom to explore and structured guidance.” With this, I’ll share four principles that can help your child embrace the freedom of summer while ensuring that learning remains intact.

Prioritize Play and Autonomy

With the extra time that summer affords, children must be liberated into free, unstructured environments where they can explore, interact with peers, and set their own pace with little or no adult intervention. If camp makes the most sense for your family – either due to childcare obligations or family tradition – identify and choose a camp with unstructured play built into its philosophy. Depending on your child’s age, provide opportunities in the backyard, neighborhood, or at a park where he or she can roam and explore, with or without friends without the need to guide or keep track of activities. Hold playdates where screens are scarce, provide your tweens and teens the time and space to connect with friends on their own terms, where they want to be. These unstructured experiences are the foundation for the sense of self, and they create a desire and motivation to continue exploring and become anchors to attach more traditional forms of learning. In short, these experiences hold great meaning and are required for development, growth, and future learning.

Child-centered Enrichment and Structured Activities

For families who wish to take advantage of the myriad of outstanding enrichment opportunities that exist, it’s critical that they are built upon children’s unique interests. Continued enthusiasm for learning outside the traditional school setting rests on a child’s connection to the experience and enthusiasm for participating in it. At times, parents try to use summer programs to coerce children into activities to which they may not naturally gravitate – hoping a reluctant reader may develop a love of books by joining a summer book club at the library, for instance. This almost always backfires and creates resentment towards the subject and strife between parents and children. Summer enrichment activities that honor and nurture individual interests or curiosities ignite a deeper connection, advanced skills and knowledge, and peer relationships based on mutual interest. They frequently lead to a lifelong love for learning and empower children to embrace a diverse range of experiences that shape them into authentically curious, self-directed learners with a thirst for knowledge that knows no bounds.