Four Ways to Inspire Your Child This Summer

Here in Maine we truly value the long, warm days of summer that signal a change of routine from the regular school year. Despite eagerly anticipating summer’s relative freedom, seasoned parents know that the promise of long days with no obligations quickly turns sour when kids aren’t actively engaged. How do parents embrace the promise of summer to make the most of their children’s time away from school? With thoughtful planning, families can find enriching summer experiences that keep children active, inquisitive, and eager to learn when they return to school in the fall.

Meaningful summer programs encourage students to:

1. try new things

Whether it’s new activities, new places, new routines, or new relationships, children benefit from moving outside their comfort zones. Gayle Gregory and Martha Kaufelldt, authors of The Motivated Brain: Improving Student Attention, Engagement, and Perseverance, explain that “engagement happens as the senses explore the environment until something grabs one’s attention.” At Waynflete Flyers Camp, we create programs that inspire kids to jump into a range of different activities. Whether it’s figuring out how to program a robot for the first time, working with a new group to choreograph an ensemble dance, or visiting new places like a tidal pool or construction site, the novelty of these experiences sparks children’s natural curiosity and leads to real engagement, as well as a new sense of confidence. Learning to maneuver on circus stilts at camp can lead to a child’s willingness to stick it out as they face challenges in the classroom.

2. foster social skills

Summer break opens the door to a fresh start with a new peer community. This new group may be fellow campers, children in the next tent at a campsite, or out-of-state cousins. Experimenting with new friendships allows children to build the foundational skills for their adult relationships. Dr. Stuart Brown, author of Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul, is a medical doctor, psychiatrist, and clinical researcher who has found a definitive correlation between play and strong social bonds. He argues that “the ability to play is critical not only to being happy, but also to sustaining social relationships.” Successful summer experiences allow children the time to play with each other, work together as a team, join in a mutually shared interest, or help each other enjoy a summer day. These bonds reinforce the kind of self-esteem and empathy that Waynflete’s Lower School classrooms encourage through daily community meetings and strong peer and adult relationships.

3. build creative problem solving skills

Children also grow up a little more every summer. Much of this maturity comes from opportunities to develop independently through problem solving. Mark Ungar, a family therapist and widely recognized expert on the topic of resilience, explains in an article for Psychology Today entitled Summer Camps Make Kids Resilient that “the best camping experiences offer opportunities for manageable amounts of risk and responsibility.” Beyond the basic skills learned at camp, Ungar believes children experience the “much more complex challenges of getting along with a new group of peers, learning how to ask for help from others, or taking manageable amount of risks without a parent following after you.” Although some experiences don’t work out as expected or planned, learning from these disappointments builds character, grit, and creative problem solving abilities. This form of learning extends into Waynflete’s classrooms where educators support students through both purposeful challenge and inevitable conflict.

4. Be themselves in the great outdoors

Responsive parents listen to their children and trust their own instincts to find a good summer fit. Some children are ready for sleepaway camp at an early age while others prefer to stay close to home for their explorations throughout childhood. Families should be responsive to their own child’s interests and readiness for a variety of opportunities. But any valuable summer experience should get kids outside and moving. Richard Louv, author of The Nature Principle: Reconnecting with Life in a Virtual Age, advocates the restorative promise of time in nature. His research demonstrates the mental and physical benefits of outdoor experience. His work is a perfect invitation for families and children to remember to explore, as part of a structured program or just as a family on a weekend hike.

As educators focused on the year-long development of our children, it’s a pleasure to learn about the variety of summer experiences our children pursue. Each year these diverse adventures weave together when children arrive refreshed, engaged, and ready for another exciting year of classroom learning.