Kids have had a jam-packed year by the time the summer holidays roll around, finished off with a busy final term. While you’d love the house to be an oasis of relaxing, restful regeneration through the school holidays, with the children catching up on much-needed sleep and playing happily at their favourite pastimes, the reality is usually a little more chaotic!
Perhaps the leap they take from busy school days to the cavern of free time that is the summer break for many children is a little like getting too much of a good thing all at once? But maybe, with a little more structure around their holidays, parents and caregivers could achieve that golden dream: Actively engaged kids who are content with making the most of their leisure time.
Make a plan
As the holidays approach, get the family together to set some summertime goals and make a plan for how the time will be structured. This way you can schedule any trips, outings or visits around quieter days at home, and note who will be in charge of the children and where they will spend their time, so everyone knows what to anticipate. As it more closely mirrors their experience during the school year, setting this kind of structure may help children stay motivated to make the most of their time off.
Get the kids involved
Research shows children respond well when they have a sense of ownership over their activities. Allowing them to nominate the types of things they’d like to do during the holidays is a great way to give them this autonomy, and combining their choices into a structured plan helps them have something to look forward to.
Encourage kids to help around the house and teach them valuable lessons in money management at the same time with this two-birds-with-one-stone approach. It involves your children setting a goal and working towards it with your help. Each child chooses a reward, which could be anything from a meal out or a movie, a beach visit, or picnic at the park, to a playdate with a friend or some other treat of their choice that has your approval. Together, you decide on some tasks they can complete to earn money towards their reward. Depending on the age of your child, this could be simple chores like making their bed or helping with the dishes, to more rewarding (and helpful!) tasks like mowing the lawn or spring-cleaning the cupboards. Keep a progress chart they can check off as they move towards their savings target.
It is important to keep an eye on the amount of time your kids spend in front of TV or computers, and to encourage them whenever possible to get outside and enjoy some fresh air and sunshine. But if youngsters have an action-packed schedule during the holidays, they are bound to want to flop in front of the box or "switch off" with some gaming. Remember, this is their way of relaxing (just as it likely is one of yours!), so don’t beat yourself up about a bit more screen time in the holidays. Try to plan for screen time when the kids are bound to need a bit of downtime, and take it as an opportunity to get some things done that you need to do. Or perhaps enjoy a family movie together, pausing occasionally to talk about what you are viewing. This helps continue to develop those comprehension and critical analysis skills they learn during the school year.
More ideas to keep everyone happy
Bust the boredom without breaking the bank by accessing any free or low-cost summer holiday activities in your area. Local libraries and community organisations often run sessions or events specifically for kids on holiday. At home, you could set a treasure hunt around the house or in the garden, or camp out in the backyard (or the living room!). Get the kids involved in the kitchen – perhaps preserving some summer fruit, cooking up some freezer meals for the cooler months ahead, or filling the tins with some good old-fashioned Kiwi baking.
It’s important to balance a little sensible UV exposure with total sun avoidance. Remember to slip, slop, slap, and wrap, and protect your skin and eyes from the sun's damaging rays (UV radiation).
Water activities like boating, swimming, and playing at the beach are all part of the quintessential Kiwi summer experience. However, every year in NZ, people drown or are injured in or around the water, and most of these incidences are preventable. It’s important to be safe around the water at all times, and to keep children at arm’s length around water.
The Water Safety Code recommends you:
- Be prepared. Learn water safety skills. Set rules for safe play in the water. Always use safe and correct equipment and know the weather and water conditions before you get in.
- Watch out for yourself and others. Always pay close attention to children you are supervising when in or near the water. Swim with others and in areas where lifeguards are present.
- Be aware of dangers. Enter shallow and unknown water feet first and obey all safety signs and warning flags.
- Know your limits. Challenge yourself within your physical limits and experience. For more advice about safety in and around the water, visit watersafety.org.nz.
Reduce summer brain drain
“Summer brain drain” refers to the tendency for children to forget their school learning over the holidays, but it may be subverted with a little attention to detail. Look for ways to encourage kids to apply the knowledge they’ve learned. Younger children can practise basic literacy and maths skills during the supermarket trip, while older kids’ information stores could be reignited by trips to museums, galleries, or places of interest. Look for online games and workbooks that reinforce or extend the skills they’ve acquired during the year. Encourage them to walk through the year’s learning with you, and set them a challenge to continue or extend this learning during the holidays with an extra-curricular project of their choice. They may choose to study some topic of science or history, to write a book or stage a play. Projects that require a bit of teamwork between siblings can be an ideal way to keep them occupied, and setting a small reward for completion could help if their motivation lags.