Thursday, September 23, 2021

Here’s How Our Family Will Make the Most Out of Summer

This summer, it feels like there is a lot at stake. My son is about to enter high school and my daughter is entering middle school. For most of the past year, my kids participated in distance learning, and we didn’t go to our favorite museums, festivals, or concerts. How do we make the most of this summer? Should we spend more time on formal learning, or prioritize our mental health? We’re trying to have it both ways by looking for activities that help us get out of the house safely, stimulate our minds and build independence. Here are some examples from our region of south-central Texas; we hope you can find things like this in your area, too.

Socializing Outside

One of the first summer events we helped organize was a pool party for the kids who just finished eighth grade. I’m an introvert, and even with a great co-host, planning and running a pool party took a lot out of me, but it was worth it to see the smiles on the kids’ faces. Some of the students had been in distance learning all year and hadn’t seen each other in person for ages, except for a dressed-up promotion ceremony. Overhearing snippets of teenage snark and cracking voices, watching hamburgers disappear from trays—I didn’t realize how much I had missed it. 

To-Do Lists

One of the unexpected benefits of distance learning was that my kids improved their executive function skills. They learned how to set alarms to join Zoom classes on time and finish digital checklists of assignments. Some of their remote education activities were remarkably similar to what my husband and I were doing to work from home for our jobs.

After a year when it felt like I could not give them the independence they craved, I want them to feel like they have some control over their time.

We want our kids to keep their executive function skills sharp. Also, after a year when it felt like I could not give them the independence they craved, I want them to feel like they have some control over their time. Our solution is a daily to-do list with a handful of learning activities and household chores. For learning activities, they might practice typing, use a foreign language app, and spend some time reading a book. For chores, they could take out the trash and recycling, water some plants, and wash the towels. 

Thinking About Dream Jobs

One of the challenges of remote education was that everything they did for school seemed so disconnected from reality and their future lives. (Actually, they were learning a lot, but sometimes it just didn’t feel like it.) This summer, we are helping them find motivation again by asking them to imagine their future and visualize what steps it will take to get there.

Our son talks about STEM careers like computer gaming. We listened to him and enrolled him in a high school that offers pathways in graphic design and information technology. This summer, his new school offers summer camps in cybersecurity and robotics.

We didn’t want to do week-long camps because it felt like everyone needed a mental health break.

We are also taking him and his sister to drop-in coding classes a few hours a week. We didn’t want to do week-long camps because it felt like everyone needed a mental health break. We are enjoying the flexibility. At the times when the kids aren’t at coding class, they might be swimming at the pool, attending a play, or watching an Avengers movie. (We’re watching them in sequence: next up—”Captain America: Civil War.”)

Our daughter is also interested in coding, but what really sparked her imagination is entrepreneurship. Starting a business selling her origami artwork has challenged her in so many ways, from learning new origami patterns to experimenting with marketing. Her motivation to work on origami projects is so much greater than anything else she felt during distance learning.

Family Dinner

One of the features of lockdown was having a much simpler family schedule. Now that the world is reopening, how do we hold on to that simplicity and not get over-scheduled again? We are holding on to family dinners as a priority. It’s a time to put the electronics away and listen to each other. My husband and I can talk about current events and answer our kids’ questions about the news. We can ask our kids to open up about what’s on their minds, talk about what they’re learning, and prompt them to think about their futures. Things are getting busy again, but we are committed to family dinner time.

Now that the world is reopening, how do we hold on to that simplicity and not get over-scheduled again?

This summer feels like a turning point for our family. We are venturing out into the world and re-visiting our favorite libraries, playgrounds, and theaters. Also, our kids are at critical ages, making transitions to new campuses and greater independence. We are still feeling the after-effects of a year of stress, change, and isolation, but we also have a sense of hope. Our goal is to spend our time this summer doing activities that promote learning and mental health. Sometimes, we’ll be splashing at the pool, and at other times, they’ll be behind a computer learning a new coding language. Our hope is that what our kids learn this summer will bring them closer to the better futures they imagine. 

Photos courtesy of the author.
Inga Cotton
Inga Cotton is the mother of Annika, age 10, and Nicholas, age 12 and on the autism spectrum. Inspired by her own search for education options, Inga is founder and executive director of San Antonio Charter Moms, a nonprofit that helps families find schools that are the right fit for their children and become advocates for quality education. 

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