We are on official countdown in my house, only 17 more sleeps until the last day of school. As a parent with no instruction manual regarding school break, I enjoy gathering intel on what other families experience on summer vacation. I take what will work for our family and I left swipe the suggestions that won’t. It’s always taken a village to raise kids and lucky (or unlucky) for us the village extends past fences and landscape as our outreach for ideas, recommendations and advice is digitally global. So, after some exploration for guidance on a fun, balanced, memorable, and connected summer for kids, here is what I’ve learned…..
Give your children the time and space to be bored as it allows for the development of their creative abilities and the understanding that they won’t be entertained all the time. But children need routine and structure to understand time and time management, to strengthen habits, and provide predictability in their daily lives. Hmm…
Bedtime, schmedtime. Let your kids stay up a wee bit later and sleep-in during vacation to find their natural resting state, catch-up on the sleep they’ve been deprived of during the school year, reset their body clocks, replenish their energy, and to truly enjoy and experience the lazy days of summer. Of course, getting out of sleep patterns can impact focus and eating habits not to mention making the transition back to school much more difficult. Umm…
Play, play, and play some more! Worry less about the summer slide and more about what you’re missing if you don’t spend quality vacation time together as a family. Give your child’s brain a much needed break from learning one way and allowing them to learn outdoors, in nature, with friends, and pursue what they’re truly interested in. Just be prepared that kids lose an average of two to three months of learning during summer vacation. So, when they return in September without doing any summer work, it might take them until after Thanksgiving to get to where they left-off in June. Huh…
Summer camp is important as it provides a special environment and community for kids to try different adventures. They are meeting new people of all ages and learning new social skills along the way. Keeping in mind, that after a busy year of working hard at school, sports events, and extracurricular activities, summer camp may feel very school-like, structured, and not be enough of ‘doing nothing’ (see paragraph two, sentence one :-/ ). Well…
Stay home and enjoy the simplicity of hiking, swimming in your local pond, reading a good book, getting an ice cream at a new spot each week, and ‘doing nothing’. No crowds, no crazy planning required, and no steep price tag. However, summer vacation gives you the time needed to truly explore uncharted territory, experience long and windy road trips to parts unknown, and satisfy your wanderlust because ‘doing nothing’ is never as romantic or as simple as it sounds after the first week of summer is over. Ooh…
The village has spoken. And I think what they are saying is how beautiful summer can be when you can stay-up late and sleep-in now ‘n again, enjoy an amazing planned experience that feeds your child’s joy, spend afternoons reading a book at the beach or in a park, visit a new library, plant a garden, try Geocaching, take a field trip, cook something new, and whatever else you can think of. Pick one. Or two. Or more.
Whatever your plans, have a wonderful summer vacation doing a lot of something…or nothing.
It’s been an interesting week…. from a glass half-full perspective.
I had the opportunity to pitch the Dinner-x-Change business which always gets my adrenaline pumping, brain churning, and heart palpitating. I know this business, our mission, how important it is, the trajectory change in a child’s life it can make, that we need it everywhere, and need it now. But with each pitch, I ask myself how I can make others aware and as passionate as I am. I get on the stage and share our personal story of how DxC came to be and the many tangible (and intangible) benefits we have received since GAB’bing; I talk about the evidence based research that proves conversation improves a child’s self-confidence, strengthens their executive functions, reinforces family bonds, and decreases at-risk behaviors; I walk through the 2 minute/day process in a classroom that prompts recall and authentic reflection at home of lessons from the day, I confirm that it is a student-managed platform that affords them accountability, empowerment, and story-telling skills, etc. All this in only a 3 minute pitch.
The glass half-full is when educators approach me afterward and ask to implement it in their classrooms. They get how it works and why it’s so important for kids to be using.
The glass half-empty is when I become involved in a discussion that starts with “..this would be nice to have, might be good to have a little chat at home.” My immediate reaction is to see red and turn on my heels. But I quickly realize that this is a silver lining on a nice-to-have cloud. Clearly, I’m not saying what needs to be said in a pitch. Perhaps trying to squeeze to much in at once or I tread lightly on the benefits of conversation. The feedback is heeded.
I start refining my pitch. The impact of parent-child conversation is not a ‘benefit’ — it is fundamental to a child’s health and well being. The conversation itself is not a ‘nice to have’ but is essential to a child’s development. Parent-child conversation significantly improves a child’s self confidence. If this was the only outcome, it’s already validated. However, research also confirms that consistent parent-child conversations increase a child’s curiosity, improve problem solving and communication skills, and enhances logical reasoning. Feed these impacts back into the next school day and watch the effect on school engagement and academics. But wait, there’s more…. Consistent parent-child conversations are proven to decrease (1) drug use, (2) alcohol abuse, (3) depression, (4) teen pregnancy, (5) obesity, and (6) school drop-out rates in children.
Parent-child conversations are fundamental to a child’s development. Neurologically, the development of the brain can be accelerated through the strengthening of neural connections and creation of neural networks. A child’s cognitive development is on a spectrum which can be enhanced as they retrace events, recall, story telling, and ask questions. Emotionally, children gain from the self confidence, empowerment, good decision making, connection, trust, open dialogue, learning, safety, and the security of knowing someone is listening, interested, and invested in them.
The impact is life changing— so I suppose it is nice to have!
Although it’s been ‘official’ for almost two months, it’s starting to feel like spring. Finally. And, by the end of the week, it will feel like summer! With longer hours of daylight, warmer weather, and outdoor activities, we hope you’re GAB’bing about it all.
Over pasta dinner last night (not a kid fave in our house), we heard about horseshoe crabs on the move at this time of year. We now have a plan to start peeking along our shoreline during May, June and July in hopes of witnessing these “living fossils” whose ancestors date back to before the dinosaurs. Our daughter was a little hesitant to share the fact that horseshoe crabs are really not crabs at all (crustaceans) but more closely related to spiders and scorpions (arachnids). She thinks that crabs are much cuter! Either way, they are creatures to treasure.
Our bigger challenge (than divulging crab not-so-secret info) is that, with longer days comes later sports practices, end-of-school band recitals, friends asking to bike ride…..
This is all good. But dinner is rushed more now than ever and time to talk with the kids about their day is squeezed somewhere in between everything else. We remain intentional about it. We know that hearing about our kid’s day, from them, has a boatload of positive, evidence based effects that last a lifetime (we’re talking improved academics, strengthened executive functions, reduced at-risk behaviors in teen years….). We also know that some nights we’ll GAB in the car en route to said sports practice, so it may be a 10 minute check-in. Other nights it will be an icky pasta dinner but with lots of chit-chat about crabs, PARCC testing, and saxophone rehearsal. For me, it’s not just knowing about a specific lesson or event at school, it’s how they tell the story. What is their perspective — did it excite them, confuse them, concern them, inspire them….? Just hearing my son or daughter share a GAB from their day tells me something. Hearing them elaborate on it, share their opinion, and ask questions…that tells me a lot more. And is something else to treasure.
"How was your day?"
"What did you do today?"
This daily exchange between parent and child is heard around the world countless times every day. Yet we know parents genuinely want to hear about their child's day and we believe that children really do want to share it with you. And it's important for so many reasons.
In the New York Times, Jonathon Franzen reviewed the book "Reclaiming Conversation" by Sherry Turkle. He wrote "Through the conversational attention of parents, children acquire a sense of enduring connectedness and a habit of talking about their feelings, rather than simply acting on them." His review is found at https://www.nytimes.com/2015/10/04/books/review/jonathan-franzen-reviews-sherry-turkle-reclaiming-conversation.html?smid=tw-share&_r=0.
Turkle writes about the importance of family conversations to include "the development of trust and self-esteem, the capacity for empathy, friendship and intimacy.” I feel like we are the first parent generation grappling with fingertip-tech with our children. Board games are now apps games. Research projects have transitioned from the library to Google. Playing outside with friends has become a headset in front of an Xbox. A conversation face-to-face is now a snapchat. (And each of these is probably already at a new level that I'm not aware of because I can't keep up.) I am grateful for the ease and speed at which I can access info as needed for absolutely anything. And I am frustrated by it at the same time. I am perplexed by my role as referee of screen time and working to encourage conversation, playing, and other kid stuff "the old fashion way". I persist because I do know (as research in both encyclopedias and Google tells me) that consistent family conversation builds a child's self confidence, increases intellectual curiosity, improves problem solving and communication skills, enhances logical reasoning, and decreases depression, obesity, and at-risk behaviors. Please re-read that last sentence for optimal impact. Conversations between parents and children strengthen family bonds, improve academics, and have direct influence on kids making good choices through their teen years.
Plus, I love to hear my kids' questions, perspective, ideas, worries and laughter. So when there's tech that sparks family conversation, empowers kids to talk, and encourages stories to be shared, I'm embracing it. A father who's son is using Dinner-x-Change said "I heard more detail about his day than ever before. Plus we had a positive supportive, connected feeling as dinner ended." Now that's something to snap-talk about.