Helping your kids make the most of summer

The weather is warming, trees are shedding pear blossoms, and school (and all those busses clogging the streets) will soon come screeching to a halt. While teachers and students are counting down the days to their summer respite, parents are staring at the calendar wondering how the heck they’re going to keep their kids busy.

It’s a good question. Most teens are too young to work but too old for summer camps. Too many will simply get into trouble, especially if left alone all day with nothing to do. Others will sleep and sleep, Netflix binge, then sleep some more. That’s why all the experts recommend having a plan for your kids that yes, includes rest and fun, but also engages the mind and body and keeps kids active during their two-month break from school.

Below are some suggestions to help you get started on a summer break plan that will provide memorable experiences for your kids and peace of mind for you.

  1. Pre-College Summer Programs – In recent years, these “tastes of college” have tripled in number and become quite popular with 9th-12th With a wide range of offerings, universities across the U.S. provide programs for introducing students to careers or delving into an area of interest. It’s an opportunity to meet professors and admissions counselors, live in a dorm, and be around a whole new group of kids that just may become lifelong friends. And it’s a great resume builder!
  2. Community service – Youth who volunteer just one hour or more a week are 50% less likely to abuse alcohol and cigarettes, become pregnant, or engage in other destructive behavior. As if that weren’t a good enough reason, volunteering as a child greatly increases the likelihood of growing into an adult who volunteers. Working with those less fortunate naturally develops gratitude, work ethic, leadership, and an understanding of differences crucial to developing tolerance and erasing judgmental attitudes. Whether local or international, mission work and community service can provide a life-changing summer experience for kids.
  3. Internships – The federal government may not endorse child employment, but there is much to be said for non-paid internships and job shadowing. Middle and early high school kids are just starting to think about interests they may parlay into careers, but their understanding borders on fantasy-level. To give them a grounded, realistic view of what a veterinarian, for example, does every day, let them shadow a vet. Give them an opportunity to ask questions of the very people who are living out their dream. Whether they discover that their dream could become a reality, or they realize that the reality is nothing like they had dreamed, it is a win-win. Before you spend tens of thousands of dollars on a college education, give your kids an opportunity to explore the reality of their future degree.
  4. Academic advancement or catch-up – Summer is the perfect time to take courses outside of the normal class load. These can be reinforcement courses in areas of weakness, electives students wish to “get out of the way,” or next-level classes that help them get a jump on the competition. They may be offered through your local high school, community college, or online – just be sure that the course will transfer to high school or college credit. Summer is also a great time to take an SAT or ACT Prep course, to work on college applications, and to write college essays. Encourage your kids to complete these now, when they are not bogged down with homework and tests.
  5. Reading – I taught for a long time, and I know how kids can balk at the thought of reading. But one thing I discovered is that there is something for everyone. Non-readers just haven’t found their something yet. Or, they’ve been forced to read books they hate, so they’ve been conditioned to hate reading. Work to undo this. Reading can be a lifelong pleasure that opens new worlds, explores new possibilities, and inspires new ways of thinking. Every kid should have a library card. This is their free pass to discover what they like, to “try out” different genres and authors. Once they’ve found their literary sweet spot, they can customize it to their heart’s content. Some will prefer books on tape, others will go the e-reader route, and still others will love the feel of a book in their hands. And keep in mind that reading can take many forms: Maybe they prefer a magazine, Internet articles, or the Sunday paper. No matter what avenue they choose, they should be informed, and they should develop an appreciation for language and what it can convey.

Continuing to grow throughout the summer months is important, but so are fun and relaxation. Try to create a balance for your kids so that summer is neither all work nor all play. You will feel the positive effects in your home, and you won’t be nearly as eager to send them back to school come August.