Getting the Most out of a Different Summer

by Gina McSheffrey Emmons, PhD

Summer is the time to relax and get together with our family and friends. We look forward all year to this time where we can be outdoors more, go on vacation, head to the beach and pool, attend backyard barbecues, etc. While we can still do a lot of these things, we must be careful, practice social distancing, and take other safety precautions. Although it is a little different this year due to the coronavirus, it doesn’t mean we cannot still enjoy all the magic summer has to offer!

More Time with Our Kids

After spending months cooped up indoors during quarantine, we are all itching to get outside especially now during the summer months. With a lot of camps closed, most of our kids will be home. Some kids may be participating in different camp programs with restrictions in place. If your child is disappointed about the change in plans for the summer, it is important to discuss their feelings, but then try to focus on what options (virtual and/or in-person) are available for them. Maybe this gives them the chance to try something different or new. If you are spending more time with your kids at home this summer, it can be difficult to keep them entertained, but there are a few things we can keep in mind to try and make this summer stress-free, fun, and memorable.

First, it is important to still maintain a sense of structure and routine to the day. If kids know what to expect, this can help to eliminate anxiety and maybe some behavioral issues. However, it is difficult to have something scheduled for every part of every day. To prepare for these “down times,” you can plan to have a list of favorite activities and/or a box of supplies for different activities so children can easily access them to help ward off statements like, “I’m bored.”

Second, allowing for social connections is also important whether they be virtual or socially-distanced interactions. Fostering peer relationships is necessary to help with decreasing feelings of isolation and depression which can develop from months of quarantine.

Third, setting some time to just play and be present with your kids benefits both you and your child. Make a conscious effort to be present with your child by carving out some time to play with them even for just a few minutes, free from your phone and any distractions. Try to clear your mind, follow your child’s lead, and enter into their world. Go into it without placing any of your demands or agenda on the play. Describe what you see and repeat what they say and do. Spending more time like this, fully engaged in their world and letting them be the leader of their imagination strengthens the bond with your child and makes them feel safe and secure, which is needed now more than ever living in such a confusing and uncertain time.

Ideas for Indoor and Outdoor Activities

A break from screens is much needed this summer after months of remote learning. There are plenty of activities to consider both indoors and outdoors! Some outdoor activities such as the community pool, the beach, hiking, bike riding, zoos, etc. can take place with restrictions and the use of safety precautions. More ideas may be needed for spending time at home whether it be inside or in your backyard. Include your kids when trying to come up with some creative activities. Here are just a few ideas for some summer fun!

  • Cooking and baking challenges are good ways to bring out everyone’s inner competitor. Who in your family can best decorate a cupcake or come up with the best smoothie ice pop recipe?
  • Start a book club or reading challenge with family and/or friends to help encourage more reading. It is definitely more motivating when you can share in the same book with others, or if you are competing to read the most in your circle.
  • Go to your public library in-person or virtually. They are now open with restrictions and safety measures in place. Libraries are offering virtual reading programs for kids and adults. Having kids choose their books/reading materials based on their interest is a great way to keep reading skills fresh and embedded into the fabric of their routines. Let them see you read too and learn that reading can be a favorite leisure activity.
  • Come up with some creative art projects such as photographing nature scenes, sketching/drawing objects around the house, or painting rocks including positive messages on them for your yard.
  • Create an obstacle course in your backyard. See who can complete it the fastest.
  • Put on a performance for family and friends. Play a musical instrument, sing, or act out a favorite scene from a children’s movie, story, or fairy tale.
  • Go on a nature scavenger hunt. This will help your children notice more of the world around them.
  • Go camping in your own backyard and include everything from setting up a tent, toasting marshmallows, and telling scary stories.
  • Start a recycling project where you repurpose recyclables for other uses. For example, build a bird feeder out of a plastic water bottle and see all the different types of birds that come to visit.
  • Bring the beach and boardwalk to your own backyard by setting up sand boxes, water play activities, and carnival games and food.

No matter how you choose to spend these summer days with your children, it will be enjoyable because you will be spending quality time together. These activities are not just to pass the time; these are ways to engage with your kids. The activity itself is not always important as your children will more likely remember how they felt just being with you.

Some Important Life Lessons

Spending more time with our kids this summer also allows for the natural opportunity to teach them valuable life lessons. They are learning from us how we handle stress and changes in plans. Our reactions to the changes this summer and even to the re-opening of schools in the fall are important. Our kids learn how to respond to these situations by watching us. Be mindful of your words so as not to induce more fear and anxiety. When our kids come to us about their own anxieties about the summer or the fall, we can validate their feelings, limit their news exposure, explain things to them in ways they can understand, and instead of speculating, wait until we have more concrete information to share about certain topics such as plans to return to school. The focus should be on enjoying our present situations this summer and spending time with the ones we love (in a safe manner).

Another important lesson we are teaching our kids is taking care of one another. One way we are doing that is by practicing good hygiene and taking the necessary safety precautions to keep each other safe and healthy, not just for ourselves but for others around us. Along the same sentiment of looking out for one another, we should also talk to our kids about ways we can help others in our community. Coming up with a list of little things we can do or volunteer projects can help to foster altruistic behaviors and empathy for others. By understanding the struggles of others, helping those in need, and becoming active in our communities, we can teach our children the importance of giving, perspective taking, and acceptance of differences. These are positive messages that are needed especially now in today’s world.

Although this summer is different from what we are used to, we can try to see the positives that this summer has to offer us. Let’s use this time to be present with our children no matter what we are doing with them. Let’s also use this summer to relax, recharge, and reframe our thinking in order to prepare for a better world tomorrow! Happy Summer!