How to Encourage Good Summer Habits
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Wondering how to tackle some of those not-so-desirable summer habits your kids have developed this past month? Here are a few thoughts from the experts—turning the summer Don’ts into summer Do’s!
Sleeping Late and Staying Up Late
Ari Brown, a Harvard-trained pediatrician in private practice in Austin, Texas, suggests that sleeping in late may sound great in theory (catching up after a busy school year), but in reality it changes a child’s body clock and makes it more difficult to fall asleep at a reasonable hour. “Nothing very good ever happens at 1:00 or 2:00 am,” Brown says. “Parents are usually asleep to get up for work the next day, leaving kids unsupervised—playing video games, texting, surfing the net.”
Staying up too late can impact younger children, too. Playing outside until dark often means that kids don’t fall asleep until after 10:00 pm by the time baths and snacks are finished, and these kids either sleep in too late (starting the cycle all over again) or wake up too early, making for a challenging day.
How can you turn this don’t into a do? Entice children into going to be early by discussing a fun activity that will begin at dawn the next day. Tomorrow we’re getting up early to go FILL IN THE BLANK! Sometimes just breaking cycle is all kids need. A full-day excursion somewhere can entertain and exhaust children and teens to the point where they collapse into bed at a reasonable hour.
Or, for younger kids, it might even be simpler. Tomorrow we’re going to wake up early and pick blueberries! If you get groans in response, try to add an element that will make the activity more exciting. Maybe your child will be tempted by the prospect of baking with the blueberries or bringing a good friend along for the picking festivities.
Nancy Darling, Professor of developmental psychology at Oberlin, says enticement or tempting children is a great way to turn don’ts into dos. And making healthy desserts is sweet temptation for just about anyone! “My son just skyped me and told me he was making homemade ice cream with blackberries he had gone out to pick, a coffee can, sugar, cream, and Epsom salt,” Darling says. “Picking the berries, assembling it all, rolling the can, and freezing it took several hours of chatty fun with a friend.”
Increased Media Use
Many kids are inclined to stay indoors during the heat of the day, especially when there isn’t any homework or formal structure or routine to follow. And being indoors with no structure often means media as entertainment. Brown reminds us that more media can lead to decreased physical activity and, depending on program content, can also expose kids to advertising and violence.
Brown suggests parents help get kids outdoors to do something interesting they haven’t done before. For instance, you might consider playing tourist in your hometown. “Get your kids to research the history of your hometown,” Brown suggests. “Pretend you are on vacation and find hidden places you’ve not visited before. Let your child be the tour guide and you’ll all learn a bit more about your city.”
Darling says when it comes to TV and movies, it’s important for parents to make screen time count—first, literally by putting on a timer. But second, Darling says, not all video is bad. “Eyewitness videos, Bill Nye the Science Guy, Discover, NOVA, Reading Rainbow—these are absolutely wonderful educational tools,” she says. Darling also suggests that parents find books that relate to the topic on a television show or movie and encourage children to read and explore the topic further in the book.
Summer reading is a good habit to get into at any age. Brown says summer presents an opportunity for parents to encourage children to read books they enjoy—books they pick out at the library or school media center. Reading just for the sheer pleasure of reading! “Sometimes required reading at school can be a real turn off,” she says. “I tell my patients I don’t care if it’s the comics section of the newspaper or Sports Illustrated—find something to read and stimulate their brains.”
Another suggestion of Brown’s is to encourage wise use of computer screen time. For example, kids should e-mail and Facebook—with supervision. “The lost art of writing and pen pals has been revived,” she says. “These may seem like a bad idea, but I think it really offers a way to improve a child’s communication skills in the 21st century.” She cautions, however, not to let FB and other social networking sites “suck children in.” The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no more than two hours a day of screen time for kids—including time on the computer, iPad, iPod touch, etc.
Kids (and adults) are often drawn to the refrigerator when hanging out indoors during unstructured hours. Darling suggests parents temp children with healthy snack foods: popcorn balls, rice crispy treats, carrot sticks, nuts and raisins (with a few M&Ms thrown in)—the idea is to keep healthy snack foods around for ready access.
Darling also encourages setting aside time for family baking. Trying out new recipes together, buying the groceries, preparing the food, decorating, etc. Children love to cook, and they feel inspired when they master a new skill in the kitchen.
She also suggests crafts as a way to keep kids entertained. Paint, fake fur, fake colorful feathers, yarn—the possibilities are endless when these kinds of craft materials are involved. “Skulpy and other bakeable clays allow kids to do really awesome projects,” she says. “You skupt, bake, then paint.” Knitting is another good summer project. Even if children do this while watching TV, they’re still learning a good skill!
Practice writing and drawing. Whether children can write full stories, a few sentences, just a few letters, or only draw pictures, writing is an excellent habit to get into on a daily basis. Kids can keep summer journals where they record their thoughts and feelings and experiences from the day—or maybe they draw pictures to represent what they saw or discovered. Some children might also be turned on by comic books. Providing the necessary materials and inspiration for children to create their own comic books can be a great way to spend time indoors or outdoors. “My youngest and his friends have spent months planning out their superhero comics,” Darling says. “Even though they’ve barely drawn anything, it’s been hours of entertainment!”
Trampolines are a summertime backyard favorite. Brown cautions that kids should jump one at a time. Multiple jumpers, she says, is a bad idea. “There is an increased risk of injury when more than one child is jumping,” Brown says.
What can the others doing while one is jumping? Darling reminds us that there are endless outdoor activities that provide excellent opportunities for children to explore their creativity, develop social skills, and get fresh air, sunshine, and exercise. Collecting and painting rocks, playing a round of capture the flag, painting the playhouse, building a new doghouse, or creating a space or robot camp for friends.
And don’t forget about old-fashioned reading and writing outdoors. There’s nothing better than drinking a frozen watermelon slushy while reading or journaling in the shade.
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