Summertime puts more free time on your child’s hands and while there may be a multitude of activities and workshops that your child can take part of, it is the perfect time to plan activities that involve the whole family.
Recent studies emphasize the importance of family involvement especially in a child’s early years. An interesting study released in February 2012 by the National Institute for Early Education Research used two waves of data from 1993 and 2007. They found that compared to families of young children in 1993, parents in 2007 indicated greater awareness of several “essential” competencies for children when they enter kindergarten (e.g., knowing letters, using pencils, counting to 20, and taking turns). Meanwhile, parents in 2007 compared with those in 1993, also reported higher levels of child cognitive skills and abilities (e.g., identifying colors, recognizing letters, counting beyond 20, writing their name, reading written words and reading storybooks), but sadly, there was no change in children’s self-regulation.
At the same time, the frequencies of specific family activities that contribute to children’s readiness were lower or unchanged between 1993 and 2007 (although there was an increase in the percentage of parents reading daily to their 4-year-olds and a reduction in hours per day that the children spent watching television).
These findings produce a paradox. Between 1993 and 2007, parent expectations for what skills children need for kindergarten rose dramatically, and parents in 2007 reported greater levels of skills among their 3- and 4-years-olds than did parents in 1993, but there were few changes in the use of family activities to support those skills.
This study suggests that families reinforce and play an important role in supporting their children’s development, not only in cognitive skills but in helping children develop foundational self-regulation skills. The latter, they learn by watching and responding to how adults control their thoughts, feelings, behavior, and emotions. When parents teach self-regulation as part of everyday experiences, they help children become actively engaged learners, laying the foundation for years of future success in school and life.
As Alan Kazdin, Ph.D. wrote, “It is important for families to have at least one activity that they can share together. How expensive the activity is, how far you go or how many souvenirs you purchase are not what’s important. It’s spending time together that counts.”
Kazdin believes, and rightly so, that family activities increase children’s psychological and behavioral well-being by helping them feel more connected to the people in their life. When family members share their unique knowledge and skills through actively engaging in events and activities, they enhance each other’s learning and development.
Kazdin enumerated few ways to reap the benefits from family activities:
Provide a regular structure to your summer days. Establish routines like reading together at a certain time of day, or watching a movie together once a week. Structure offers something predictable for you and especially for your child and lessens stress among family members.
Provide new experiences that could have lasting impressions on your child. These experiences don’t have to be complicated or extravagant. Remember that the most memorable activities are those with an element of fun! When my children were very young, they would spend most of their summers with their cousins up in Baguio. It was always a challenge for my sister in law and I to think of activities to keep them busy. Up to this day, now in their 30’s, my son and daughter and nephews and nieces remember how I taught them how to make “cloud cake”—all I made them do was race around the garden with huge plastic bags, to catch the “clouds” (Baguio mist in the late afternoon!). Once their bags were full, we would rush to the kitchen, pour their “clouds” into bowls, whisk an egg white and some sugar into the bowl, and…. Viola! Right in front of their eyes they could see the “cloud cake” rising from the bowl (Of course, this was all done with much pomp and seriousness!). The education that children get from the home can never be truly duplicated anywhere else!
Allow some downtime in your child’s summer schedule. Stress is so apparent in our society nowadays that our children certainly need a break from time to time. This is what summer provides. So, refrain from creating too complicated a summer program for your child, lest he or she ends up just getting overly stressed. And this certainly applies to adults, too!
And of course (I cannot underscore the importance of this point), remember to read. Make summer reading fun by providing enjoyable reading material in your home: comics, magazines, books. In choosing books, remember: 91 percent of a child’s favorite books are the ones they have picked for themselves!
Summer is time to build lasting memories with Family and Friends, so make your summertime truly family time. Whatever the activity, children can enjoy and appreciate the summer months in ways that are both educational and relaxing for everyone.