For your kids, July may have been jam-packed with ice cream cones, pool parties and trips to the zoo. The dog days of summer are winding down and soon, they’ll be swapping their swimming suits for pencils, binders and books.
To mark the final month before school starts, Global News asked a handful of researchers and experts to share their favourite ways for families to spend the month.
Here are their 12 suggestions on what parents should encourage their kids to do before summer ends.
Spend time in nature: This was, by far, the most popular piece of advice doled out by the half-dozen experts we asked. “Just looking at a natural scene activates parts of the brain associated with stress relief and happiness,” Dr. Shimi Kang, a Vancouver-based psychiatrist and parenting author, told Global News.
Kang refers to a 2010 study: being in nature increases your sense of vitality, positivity and energy, the study found. Being outdoors also encourages kids to climb, jump, run and tumble, promoting muscle fitness and flexibility.
Parenting author Ann Douglas recommends heading to a conservation area, a friend’s cottage or even the neighbourhood park. It’ll help your kids – and you — relax and unwind.
Spend a night under the stars: Camping is expensive, and not all families can afford bikes or enjoy the outdoors. Instead, grab a picnic blanket and, at night, sit under the dark sky to look at the stars.
“Everyone needs that moment of awe when we see the grandeur of the universe – our place in it – the miracle of it all,” parenting author Alyson Schafer told Global News.
Download an app on your phone and document Big Dipper, the Milky Way and learn some summer constellations.
Share a book that you loved as a child: If you had a favourite you couldn’t put down as a kid, grab a copy and give it to your kids, Douglas said. Read it together and talk about why you’ve always loved this book.
“You’ll be helping your child to develop a love of reading and you’ll be creating – or continuing – a tradition in which much-loved stories are passed from one person to another in your family,” she said.
Douglas recalls her grandma reading to her in the summer when she was just nine years old. She had eye surgery and couldn’t read on her own so her grandma made it a priority to head over a few times each week as she recovered.
Take a break from technology…: That could mean a day at the beach, going for a hike, or taking a bike ride, according to Dr. Nicole Letourneau, a University of Calgary professor.
Instead of checking your work emails in their company or handing them iPads, break out the board games, play with a Frisbee or try some water sports.
“Just be together, be curious about your kids. What interests them and why? Ask them and listen to their answers intently. They will feel valued and valuable,” Letourneau said. She’s an author and current Alberta Children’s Hospital Foundation research chair in parent-infant mental health.
…but embrace technology with your kids for an afternoon: While it may sound contradictory, Letourneau’s next tip was to take time with your kids while they play with their Nintendo DS, smart phone or iPad.
Play the game they’re playing. Even feel free to struggle with the game and ask them for help – Letourneau says that’s a huge confidence booster, to boot.
Then get to know their social media habits more: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, certain apps or games. “Listening shows that you value their perspective,” Letourneau said.
Visit family out of town: Not only does this offer your kids a change of scenery for a day or even a weekend, but it lets your kids know just how wide their network of loved ones is.
“Children thrive when they know that a lot of different people care about them,” Douglas said.
One of her most coveted childhood memories is getting together with aunts, uncles and cousins for family birthdays. “It gave me a strong sense of family and feeling safe and loved.”
It also shows your kids the idea of family. Going out of your way to make time for your relatives is a lesson that’ll stick with them for a lifetime, Letourneau says.
“Even families that struggle to get together can show kids the importance of trying under difficult circumstances,” Letourneau said.
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Earn some cash: Your kids can take to helping your neighbours with gardening, cutting the grass or showcasing their entrepreneurial skills by opening a lemonade stand.
Kang’s kids opened a lemonade stand and earned $2 on their first day. The second time around, they rethought their business strategy – the stand was named, added eye-catching artwork and moved to the corner of the street.
With those tweaks, they were bringing in $40 a day. “Summer is a great time for kids to practice their early business and finance skills,” Kang said.
Be a kid: Between summer camp, slumber parties and other activities, your kids could need a break. Let them take the reins for a day.
“Too many parents try to fill up every moment of every day for their kids, so sometimes it’s important for parents to back off a bit and let the kids do what they want or make up their own plans – even if it’s nothing at all,” according to Dr. Oren Amitay, a registered psychologist and Ryerson University instructor.
If they want to run through the sprinklers, build a fort or break out the arts and crafts, let them. Keep in mind, summer is a time for the kids to rest and recharge their batteries.
Get some culture: Sure, your kids go on field trips during the school year but spend a day at the museum, the art gallery or even watching some classic movies.
If you’ve moved to a new province, get to know the ethnic make-up and try local cuisines, Amitay suggests.
“Depending on the cultural make-up of the school the child is going to, maybe the parents could take their child to a cultural centre or some other type of place where the child can learn more about some of the people at school,” Amitay said.
Get the schedule back on track: Your kids may have blown their curfews, ate cake for breakfast or spent the day in their pajamas. That won’t fly come September.
Dr. Linda Pagani, a psychologist at St. Justine Hospital in Montreal, suggests that in the final week before school, families can coordinate their schedules.
There’s breakfast, lunch and dinner, or your kids may need a ride to school or soccer practice. Sleep schedules may also need a reboot, she said.
Scope out the new school: If your kids are starting kindergarten, graduating into junior high or starting high school, parents can try to make a fun day of checking out their new surroundings, Amitay suggests.
You may not be able to explore the indoors, but scope out the neighbourhood so your kids gain some familiarity going into their first day. Then head out for lunch or dinner and get a pulse on how your child is feeling.
“If the child has any anxiety about this transition, they can ease it a bit through getting to see the place and having fun before, during and afterward,” Amitay said.
Plan for the fall: It’s hard to give up the summertime, but Schafer suggests that taking the final days of the season to help your kids adjust with the transition ahead.
“Think about the fall and take the pressure off the back-to-school chores,” she suggested. Now’s a good time to start picking out new clothes, loading up on school supplies and grabbing a new backpack or combination lock.
If you have teens, use this holiday time to set the guidelines on a clothing allowance and start shopping early, Schafer suggests. It’ll change the experience from a “pressure point to a pleasurable bonding experience.”