As camps, swimming pools and simply spending time with friends were cancelled last summer and then followed by a tumultuous school year filled with uncertainty, parents are left to grapple with how to walk the fine line between catching up academically and tending to the overall well-being of their children. Students from preschool to high school might benefit from less focus on summer brain drain and more on brain breaks.
"[Students] are absolutely experiencing exhaustion and burnout from this school year during the pandemic,” said Dianne Galasso, LMSW, a mental health therapist with an online practice. “They have been pushed to their limits. In order to give your child an emotional and mental break, parents could try to lower expectations and really listen to what they are needing.”
Creating that balance requires creativity, said Sonia Pruneda-Hernandez, Director of Early Childhood Education Initiatives at Montgomery College, who suggests enrolling in activities that are designed to offer fun experiences while also adding a subtle element of academics such as summer reading or other programs. “There are activities that families do within the home and outside of it that can be turned into fun, intentional learning experiences at no cost,” said Pruneda-Hernandez. “Allowing a child to help with cooking … [and] grocery shopping while having conversations about what they are doing not only promotes learning but can strengthen the relationship.”
“For older children, an activity like cooking with a simple recipe is a great way to learn fractions. Learning a new musical instrument cultivates creativity and improves memory," said Lisa Turissini, Ed.D., Director of Marymount University's School of Education. “High school students can always start researching colleges and creatively draft those college essays.
“Over the summer, children need time to reconnect with friends and to practice their social skills. Summer programs and camps provide an opportunity for kids to socialize, visit new places, explore and engage in activities that connect to academics. But parents can create these same experiences with their children over the summer by visiting parks, the zoo or other places of interest.”
While underscoring the need to maintain and develop writing skills, parents can do so in a way that is light-hearted and fun, said Brandon C.S. Wallace, Associate Professor, Montgomery College School of Education.
“Children may want to explore writing short stories or scripts for their favorite television show or YouTube influencer, ensuring that whatever is written richly describes main characters, settings as well as uses vocabulary from the character’s typical speech patterns,” Wallace said. Additionally, many museums are opening or, at least, providing virtual tours; that may be an opportunity to either physically or virtually visit museums near and far."
While enjoying unstructured free time children, Wallace warns parents to be mindful of excessive screen time. Developing and maintaining a schedule is one way to create a healthy balance between activities. “Have your child create a comic strip with paper and coloring supplies,” he said. “Think about helping your child write a letter and send it through snail mail to relatives that they may have not been able to see because of the pandemic."
Not all students have academic deficiencies this summer. “Parents know their children best, but I would advise to not overly focus on learning lost," said Turissini “Some students actually excelled academically during the pandemic. Many will quickly pick up what they’ve missed once things resume in the fall.”