I was with four close friends recently, chatting over coffee, when the conversation moved towards summer holiday plans. All were either ‘staycationing’ for the whole six weeks, or the majority of it – but how they were choosing to fill their kids’ free time varied dramatically.
Simone, mum of three boys, is a great believer in holiday clubs and plans to fill her boys’ every waking hour with organised schemes; science camps, football camps, swimming clubs, cookery classes etc. She scoursed the internet to enrol them in a varied programme that she believes will enrich their minds; ‘I don’t want them to waste their summer’ she says.
Karen doesn’t use any day facilities but rather thinks that the key to holiday success is in playdates; she is the self-professed queen of the playdate. Her two daughters have up to three playdates scheduled each day so that they always have a friend to hang out with throughout the holidays; ‘this is best for their social development’, she believes.
Zoe’s kids, two girls and a boy, rarely see their friends as most tend to be away. Instead she takes her kids on day trips most days, scrutinizing the What’s On guides for special kids activities at the various venues across the North West. She takes them to museums, theme parks, the beach, outdoor theatre, playgrounds, mazes, zoos – every day is a different adventure and, she says, ‘we get to spend quality time together doing fun stuff’.
And finally Danielle, mum of three girls, has a far more relaxed approached to the summer holidays. Her kids are left to their own devices with minimal adult input. They play in the garden, wander to the nearby park, hook up with other kids, watch TV, paint things, cycle, bake, cook, read…anything that takes their fancy. Mealtimes are fluid – when they are hungry, Danielle will either make them a sandwich or they make it themselves. ‘It is important’, she says’, ‘that they get away from the strict routines of school and get a chance to chill and just be’.
Whose approach is best? Do Simone’s kids miss out on the chance to create their own fun? Do Karen’s kids lose out on quality time with mum? Will Danielle’s children lose that educational edge by being left to their own devices? And will Zoe’s three forget how to interact with their peers after six long weeks without them?
The ideal holiday schedule is probably a happy mix between the four approaches. Let’s think about what kids really need during the summer weeks – what is essential for their mental health and development, and what is optional. They probably need time to chill and get away from the pressured and often over-scheduled life that the school week invariably brings. The luxury of being able to explore, follow their own interests for as long as they want and to ignore the clock is what gives that ‘endless summer days’ feel that they will look back on fondly. They also need time to get bored and stimulate their creative juices to make their own fun.
But six weeks of this can be too much; being deliciously laid-back can soon turn into laziness as they rely more and more on passive activities (invariably involving a screen) to fill the time. So, building in some structure is a great idea – alternating structured days with more fluid ones often works well. That structure can take the form of playdates, camps or days out; all have their benefits. Kids are generally social animals so allowing them time with their friends meets those needs as well as allowing them to fine-tune their teamwork, leadership and conflict resolution skills away from the watchful eye of the teacher. Friendships can be forged and strengthened amongst the sand dunes, in the waves or even in precarious dens constructed in the garden.
Time with mum and dad is important to developing minds too and shows them that you enjoy being with them. Too much parent time is usually spent in instructional ways (eat this, put your bags here, do that homework, go to bed etc.) so the summer is a great way to bring the fun back into the relationship.
As for camps; these are a lovely luxury that are certainly great for developing minds (and a boon for working parents). But whilst they can offer superb social and educational opportunities (as well as enormous fun) in a less formal way than school, with effort many of these advantages can be harnessed through other means.
So, my recipe for the best summer ever? Pour in lots of chill out time, a healthy mix of friends and social opportunities with peers, sprinkle in a few family adventures, and maybe add a decadent topping of a day club or two. Stir well and enjoy!