Reader Sue asked, “I have a seven year old daughter, can you suggest ways and means to keep her occupied during the summer holidays. I don’t want her to get hooked on to the TV or the hi-tech games.”
I think this is a multi-faceted question, because there are many aspects to managing large amounts of free time for kids. Over the next few articles, I will cover summer camps, limiting (undesirable) activities, and finding activities for kids to do.
During my childhood summers, I stayed at home, playing outside pretty much from early morning until sunset. It was large chunks of unstructured time that I spent with my neighborhood friends, or in hours of delicious reading. It provided me with scope for the imagination, and helped me develop the ability to entertain myself.
When it came time to think about what to do with my daughter this summer, I wondered if giving her that type of experience would be a good one. Even though I work part time, I considered taking a hiatus this summer so that I could be home full time, or hiring someone to be with her during the day. Another option would be to enroll her in a targeted half-day camp while I work, and spend the rest of the time unstructured. The third option would be to enroll her in a full-day camp.
Benefits of Freedom
Today’s children are more heavily scheduled than when I was growing up. Between sports, acting, dance, music and art, their after-school time is filled with activity.
Having large chunks of unstructured time can mean that children learn more about the natural world, have time to imagine and dream, and more importantly, learn to entertain themselves without the help of electronics.
Disadvantages of Freedom
Besides having to deal with the inevitable “I’m bored”, children still need to be supervised during summer freedom. Some activities they cannot do on their own, such as trips to the beach or library, will need adult interaction.
Most parents work these days, and the unstructured sort of summer is rapidly becoming a thing of the past. So some sort of summer camp is desirable for most kids. Even those children who have a parent at home can benefit from some camp experience.
This is the option we eventually settled on for my daughter. There are three main reasons: it allowed me to keep working, which experience has shown is good for my mental state; it allows my daughter to gain new skills and interests; and (as snobbish as this sounds) it keeps my daughter from extended exposure to some neighborhood children [Before you slam me, understand that while I feel for these kids, whose home life is very bad, they manifest the same violent and cruel behavior as their parents].
We are lucky in this region to have a good selection of summer activity camps available. Between the YMCA, the JCC, the city recreation centers and private camps, there is a lot to choose from in terms of one camp for the whole summer. Other organizations offer one- or two-week courses over the summer. We evaluated all of these based on proximity, licensure, activity type and the ages of children involved.
The first promising camp was a local Tae Kwon Do facility. My daughter is interested in learning, and it looking like a nice facility. However…a quick search of the state databases turned up no indication that this facility was licensed for any sort of child care or summer camp.
The second look was at the local YMCA. There is a branch right down the street from where I work, and a bigger facility about two miles away. They offered two programs: one that consisted of daily field trips (to unspecified places), and one that was focused on learning skills. We rejected both of these on the basis that there is no age segregation, and my six year old daughter would be in with children ranging in ages from six to twelve.
The last option we considered was the city recreation facility program. They hold age-specific programs at local schools. The nearest school to us was an age 6-8, and they will be spending the days playing sports and games.
By settling on the solution of the local recreation center, we are giving my daughter the chance to learn new skills, while still allowing for her to be home part time when I am done working. For this summer we have a solution that works, and we will continue to evaluate our options every summer.
Tomorrow I will talk about finding other activities for children to do during the summer.
Photo by woodleywonderworks