Kids Need Summer Break!

Good routine, schedule and nutrition are important in the summer

By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant

While no school districts in New York schedule school year-round, numerous districts do nationwide, citing reasons such as decreasing remediation, reducing need for daycare and using school resources throughout the year. 

The districts typically sprinkle their time off throughout the rest of the year, with week-long breaks during each quarter (so much for decreasing daycare!). While parents of children who have a typical summer break may feel that scheduling academic camps and reading lists will keep them ahead scholastically, enjoying summer as a break from rigorous mental activity offers benefits, too.

“Sometimes you feel you have to entertain children. You can cultivate a level of independence and comfort with self by giving opportunities for that,” said. Jodi Mullen, Ph.D., and licensed mental health counselor, registered play therapist and professor in counseling and Oswego’s Psychological Services Department. Mullen wrote the book Raising Freakishly Well Behaved Kids (Amazon, $14.95).

She views summer break as a chance for children to step away from the busy grind of school and engage in opportunities to connect with nature.

“It’s soothing for the soul,” Mullen said.

Free time for play helps children learn how to entertain themselves. It is also good for cultivating a vivid imagination. While lessons may help children learn to take turns and follow rules, playing with other children in a more open-ended fashion offers benefits.

“Go back to basic playing,” said Shawn L. Ward, Ph.D., in developmental psychology and associate professor of psychology at Le Moyne College. “We default to the screen to keep them quiet. There are some classic things we can still use and incorporate into our routine.”

To make sure your children have the right tools for play, assess their playthings. Are their toys outgrown, broken or missing parts? Provide some age-appropriate outdoor play equipment, such as sporting goods, bikes and skates, sidewalk chalk, water squirting toys and swing set and slide. Plan for rainy days with some new coloring books and markers or crayons; craft supplies and kits; modeling clay; Legos and other building kits; dolls, action figures and puppets; and pleasure reading material.

“Do not overload the child with demands,” said Grace Puchalski, licensed clinical social worker and owner of Walk with Grace in Liverpool. “The school year is already demanding. They need time to play in the sand, dig up worms, play in water and create their own play.”

While summer should represent a time of relaxation, it is important to for parents to not leave summertime as a completely blank slate. It is tempting to let all the rules drop during summer, that is not a good idea, since the “non-schedule” is stressful on the body and especially for children, who crave routine for when they sleep, eat and exercise.

“Good routine and schedule and nutrition are important in the summer,” Puchalski said. “The child needs a regular routine of sleep and eating. 

“The routine should not be too much and should still be fun. It’s a time to catch up on rest and recharge their batteries. Be aware and present is so critical. That’s what kids want: simple. It doesn’t have to be a fancy vacation.”

Sticking with a consistent bedtime and a cool, dark bedroom can improve children’s rest, even when the longer daylight hours throwing the body’s circadian rhythm out of whack.