ATLANTA — After a busy school year filled with early mornings, homework, soccer practices and the list goes on and on, it's nice to let loose during the summer. Kick back. Sleep in. Be lazy.
And while summer offers much-needed respite from a busy life, experts say it also can be a time of getting things done.
Brainstorm what each family member would like to achieve this summer, individually or together. (Ideas can be everything from reading 20 minutes every day to eating more fruits and vegetables to learning to play tennis.) Not only are goals a good idea for kids, but parents also can come up with a goal for the summer.
Source: Children's Healthcare of Atlanta
In fact, many families see summer as a time of opportunity — to learn a new hobby, try a new sport, volunteer, even get a jump start on geometry.
"We are all for that relaxation time," said Dr. Stephanie Walsh, medical director of child wellness at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta, also mom to three kids between the ages of 8 and 13. "And when you decide you are not going to be on a schedule and you decide, 'This week, we are not going to get up early,' enjoy that break. Don't just talk about the things you want to do, but do it."
But then, after that first week or so, Walsh said, kids crave some level of structure. Parents try to take advantage of the lull in schoolwork and extracurricular activities to give their kids other experiences.
"I don't let my kids become vegetables. . We try to do enrichment and things we can't always do when we've got soccer games and swim team and homework," said Cheryl Hampton Bohm, a Sandy Springs, Ga., mom with two sons. "We recently got a book called 'Gross Science Experiments,' and while our house will probably smell terrible, it's fun to do these hands-on activities they can't always get to during the academic school year."
Walsh said the summertime can be a good time to regroup and set a couple of goals — which could include everything from reviewing math and reading more to working on soccer skills and drinking more water. Walsh suggests parents select one goal for their children, and let their children pick one for themselves, too. Walsh even suggests families make a family contract.
One of the keys to success is not expecting too much too fast. For example, it's not reasonable to expect a child who eats only one fruit or vegetable to suddenly start eating five every day. Instead, start by increasing the consumption by one and gradually build up to five by the time school starts again.
Writing the goals down and placing them somewhere everyone can see, like a bulletin board, can help families stay on track. Families also can sign family contracts. (Go to www.strong4life.com for sample contracts and more ideas for summertime goal setting.) And goals, Walsh said, aren't just for kids. She suggests parents also think about setting a goal of their own for this time of year.
For several years, Ava Roxanne Stritt of McDonough, Ga., insisted her two children focus on three activities during the summer with specific goals in mind. One is related to physical activity, the second is designed to "work the brain," and a third activity is a "giving back" activity. Her older child, Tyler, is graduating from high school, and he heads to college at the end of the summer. He will be working two jobs this summer.
Meanwhile, her daughter, Alexis, who is 14, will attend a volleyball camp to work on her ball skills. She will meet weekly with a math tutor to get a jump start on her honors geometry in the fall. And she will happily volunteer several days this summer, as she has during summers past, at Noah's Ark Animal Sanctuary in Locust Grove, Ga.
Stritt begins planning her children's summertime activities months in advance. Getting a head start on geometry and working on volleyball skills will make her daughter's transition to geometry class in the fall and playing volleyball smoother, and easier.
"Throw in our days on the lake and by the pool, and our summer is filled to the hilt," she said. Bohm, the Sandy Springs mom, aims to ensure her sons, 10-year-old Garrett and 8-year-old Griffin, get an hour of exercise every day, and read at least 30 minutes every day. Both are enrolled in summer reading programs at their local library. And Bohm said while she expects her children to read and get physical activity every day, the summertime offers them a time to be creative - in the ways they move and use their brains.
Bohm, a stay-at-home mom, will begin the summer with her sons with writing a list of special places, such as the High Museum and the Tellus Museum, to go this summer. They will make several trips to the library to take advantage of free activities — everything from seeing a symphony performance to visiting zoo animals.
And remember, Walsh said, summer does mean taking it easy, so getting off track or not quite meeting a summertime goal is not the end of the world. The key, she said, is making our time off from school really count.
"Don't try to change the world between the end of May and August," Walsh said, "but it is an amazing opportunity. The more realistic you are, the more successful you will be."