Dr. Kaarin Anderson Ryan, PhD, BCBA. 6.5.19
Summer is here!!!
Many students and parents look forward to the summer break from school and routine. Each family has its own approach to summer planning. Some kids go to camps or programs throughout the summer, maintaining structure and schedules similar to the school year but without all the homework. Other families have very little structure during the summer, allowing for easy days, sleeping in, and making spontaneous plans. Still others may adopt a combination of these, with some weeks in camps or programs and other weeks set aside for relaxation and leisure.
For families who have less structure in the summer, there tends to be a mixed bag of feelings about the summer months. While the increase in leisure time can be relaxing, it can also lead to challenges for kids who thrive on more structure and activity. It can also lead to frustration when kids start to act bored, stop socializing, or become immersed in screen time and video games instead of spending time being active, social and productive. This frustration can become even more pronounced for families who have kids with social challenges, who are not readily able to stay involved socially over the summer.
There are plenty of fun, easy, and even free things kids can do over the summer to stay involved socially. These ideas apply to kids with and without social challenges, so the information here is useful for any parent who struggles with how to make the most of summer days with their kids.
- Make sure you and/or your child have contact information about peers who would be good to see over the summer. For kids with social challenges, anxiety, or autism this may involve asking the teacher for feedback about good peers for your child. Once you have the contact information, you can help set up opportunities for social time together in the summer.
- Look for organized summer activities for kids.
- The local library is a great place to start, where they often have special programs in the summer as well as reading clubs and prizes for kids who stay involved with reading over the summer. Library programs for kids are usually free of charge (some programs require a materials fee).
- Local community park recreation programs often have summer activities, day camps, and classes for kids, teens and adults. These programs tend to have reasonable costs for residents of the area, and in some cases financial assistance or fee waivers are available for families in need.
- Shops and galleries frequently host summer activities for kids and teens, which may include art classes, cooking classes, or other special interest activities. Some larger stores, such as JoAnn Fabrics, hold regular classes for different interest areas and age groups. Look for schedules on the local store websites. Special interest classes are a fantastic way for kids to meet peers with similar likes in an organized setting!
- If your child is athletically inclined, there are many summer programs for athletics, including sports, running clubs and events (themed 5K runs), yoga, karate, and fitness classes for youth. This is another wonderful way to meet peers with similar interests!
- Swimming lessons. This is something that will benefit every child for safety purposes. It may also be a good way to meet friends, especially if you take lessons in a setting that has opportunities for recreational swim time outside of the lessons.
- Volunteer opportunities for youth. Most communities have charity organizations to fill a variety of needs, including soup kitchens, food pantries, animal shelters, and park clean-ups. Helping your child get involved in these activities benefits the community, teaches good skills, and also provides – you guessed it – a way to meet friends over the summer.
- Local museums host special events and activities in the summer. Prices for these will vary by community and type of museum. Activities like this promote interaction and as the other ideas listed above, they usually focus on a certain interest area that will appeal to kids who share this interest.
- Religious groups and camps. For those who are involved in religious organizations, there are usually summer activities including full-week camps, vacation Bible school, missions, youth conventions, and small youth activities such as movie nights or field trips.
- For kids who love to read, consider starting a summer book club with a few friends. This can be a great experience for kids and their parents, and besides taking the time to read the book it can be easy to arrange by meeting at a park with snacks or at a favorite ice cream shop. Book clubs can be great for parents and kids to do together, and can be as simple as having snacks and talking about the book, or can be more involved and include activities for kids to do based on the theme of the book. Whatever you decide to do, a summer (or school year!) book club is a great way for kids to interact, find common interests, and have a semi-structured activity that meets regularly.
- Take care of your own social needs! In doing so, you provide a good model for positive social relationships and interaction for your kids. Equally importantly, you will find that when you maintain positive social relationships and spend time with your own friends, it helps you with your life-work-family-self balance and will help you feel more positively energized to help your kids with their social needs.
Thanks for reading and stay tuned for more posts this month!