While the solstice is still about a month away, Memorial Day (which falls this weekend, in case you haven’t looked at a calendar for a while) marks the unofficial start to summer, and it’s here. For many of us, we’ll barely notice. In a world where it is challenging to keep track of the day of the week or the date because most days look the same, so, too, does the transition from the school year to summer become challenging to note. But our kids have been looking forward to summer all year, so here are some tips for approaching the season with them:
Don’t fear the summer slide. For decades, educators have talked about overcoming the “summer slide,” or the idea that students lose some of their learning over the summer and slide backwards academically, placing them behind where they should be when fall arrives. Trying to avoid the summer slide has led to summer homework and enrichment programs, but articles such as this suggest that the summer slide is “is based largely on old data and is probably vastly overstated.” For the last two months, parents and educators have been scrambling to try to address the academic needs of kids while they have been home, and what our kids need most is probably a break from that.
Encourage learning naturally. Reading books, building tunnels in a sandbox, creating a tower out of Legos, watching the trajectory of the water coming out of the sprinkler, and playing make-believe in the backyard are just a few examples of where learning falls naturally in the lives of a child. So while math worksheets and writing assignments over the summer aren’t necessary to make sure they stay at grade-level through the summer, taking advantage of kids’ innate curiosity and natural inclination to discover are fun ways to engage kids in a different type of learning.
Allow space for grief. No matter what summer looks like this year, it won’t be a “normal” summer. Camps (both day camps and residential) around the country have cancelled. Outdoor pools and playgrounds have no set opening date. Non-essential travel is not advised. Gatherings are restricted due to social distancing guidelines. Kids feel all of this, and it’s sad for them. All year long, they’ve been looking forward to these summer months, and, instead, it’s bringing more weeks of uncertainty and restrictions and days that just blend from one to another. Let them feel their feelings and to talk through that or process it in their own way. Kids have big feelings sometimes, and they need to feel heard.
Support social-emotional needs. It’s challenging and confusing for adults to keep track of the rules and guidelines and what is safe and what is not, and it’s especially hard for kids. They don’t necessarily understand why they can’t see their friends or why they can’t hug grandpa. They don’t know when their lives will be normal again or even what tomorrow will hold. They don’t want to wear masks and just want to have a birthday party with their friends. All of this is challenging for everyone, but kids don’t have a fully developed sense of time, so it’s especially challenging for them. So be as open and honest with your kids as you can, explaining what you know and what you don’t know. Make sure they feel safe and give them a space to ask any questions they might have. Ultimately, they mostly just need to feel loved and cared for and reassured.
Find ways to have fun. One of the reasons kids like summer so much is that it feels different from the rest of the year. It’s special, so find creative ways to instill that summer-feeling and make the time seem different from the last few weeks. Fill up a kiddie pool in the backyard. Institute snow-cone or popsicle time in the afternoon. Camp in your backyard. Eat dinner outside a few nights each week. Skip bath one night and let the kids run through the sprinklers instead. Have a family movie night with three different kinds of popcorn. Just because the ways we traditionally mark summer aren’t a possibility doesn’t mean that making summer feel like summer can’t happen; it just has to be a bit different.
While all of these tips are meant to support kids over the summer, they’re good for adults too. So make sure to take a few minutes yourself to enjoy a glass of homemade lemonade and dip your toes into the kiddie pool! Fall will be here before we know it (we just might not quite notice).