How to Love Your Child’s Summer Vacation, Pt. 2

In yesterday’s post I proposed the first three of five tips to help you with summer vacation activity ideas. These are meant to ease your mind and equip you with helpful ideas if you’re one of many parents wondering how you’re going to fill the vast expanses of hot days with “bored” kids… retain your sanity… make it fun and nourishing for all… and maybe even stumble upon some calm, confidence and joy in the process. (What a concept!)

I covered:

  • How to avoid one of the most common pitfalls when transitioning to summer vacation
  • Why “boredom” isn’t lethal to your children ~ just the opposite!
  • Ways to use summer as a “refueling zone” ~ nourishing presence & connection

Today, onward!

4) How Vacation Activity Can Build Your Child’s Gray Matter

What I’m about to recommend contradicts a lot of research about the impact of summer vacation on a child’s learning. As the first sentence of one academic paper bluntly puts it, “Summer vacation is bad for children’s academic achievement.” And maybe you’ve seen or heard the fear-mongering commercials for a tutoring company that warns your child will lose something like 30% of his or her learning over the summer.

Love Your Child's Summer Vacation | Marcy Axness, PhDIt turns out that the so-called “summer setback” is a symptom of disadvantages in a child’s non-school environment. In practical (and oversimplified) terms, this refers to children who spend much of the summer parked in front of the television or other screens — snacking — because they don’t have the advantage of myriad forms of true vacation activity enrichment.

By enrichment I’m not talking about a summer crammed with more school, more lessons, more facts, worksheets and skills-drills. I’m talking about the kind of enrichment that comes with the freedom and encouragement to discover; with the time to spend delving into areas of keen interest; with an adult available (at least sometimes) to express interest and delight in shared vacation activity explorations.

If you really want to build your school-age child’s gray matter, consider a “Dive Deep & Slow” vacation activity project. Taking a cue from the neuroscience of what builds true expertise, invite your child to follow his own interests / passion in choosing a subject, skill or instrument around which to devote what author Daniel Coyle calls “deep practice” — doing it slowly and carefully, correcting errors and then doing it again. This leisurely yet rigorous engagement of skill-building can be the main tent-pole of your child’s summer rhythm, outside of which he can then feel free and unencumbered by other “must do”s.

As for all the things your child has already learned, I will go out on a limb and say, if it was meaningful to her, it will stick! When a child feels a connection to and finds meaning in what she’s learning, you needn’t fear a few months respite from it — quite the contrary. I witnessed during my own children’s studies how they were intensively exposed to a subject for several weeks, and then that material was allowed to “sleep” outside of their conscious attention. I saw countless times how when that subject — be it math or botany or whatever — came back around months or even years later, there was greater depth to their appreciation and grasp of the new learning.

5) Practical Summer Vacation Activity Ideas

Keeping in mind Idea #1 of yesterday’s post, here are some vacation activity ideas you might use to weave a leisurely, nourishing, and fun summer rhythm. First, take 2 1/2 minutes to listen to a “secret tip” that will help ensure your summer routine (or any routine, for that matter) will be successful and enjoyable:

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  • Think of the moments during the year when you’ve had to say, If only we had a little more time. Maybe there are some places or recurring events you routinely drive past that intrigue your child (Mom, what IS that, can we go in sometime??). If you live in or near a city where people spend good money to visit as tourists, think of summer as a “Stay-cation” in your own town: decide on a few choice tourist-y things to see and do over the summer months — things there never seems time to do during the rest of the year!
  • Plumb the treasures of your local library — a slowness haven whose abundant resources we so rarely have time to enjoy!
  • Especially if the school-year pace keeps you from preparing home-cooked meals as much as you’d like, use the summer pace to get re-inspired about yummy, wholesome meals and let your child(ren) play a central part. Maybe you let him choose (at the aforementioned library) a cookbook item that looks yummy (and doable!), then grocery shop together for the ingredients, and he can serve as head chef and you be his sous chef. Engaging your children in a positive feel for cooking is a lifelong gift of wellbeing.
  • Karaoke!
  • Sidewalk chalk is one of the great inventions of all-time. Consider a weekly rotation of drawings — done by your child alone or together with you or some combo thereof. Depending on your hardscape access, maybe it becomes a whole summer series — an epic story, perhaps? — a mural that grows each week!
  • You can glean some fun summer vacation activity ideas from the National Day calendar. In June alone you’ll find Rocky Road day, Penpal day, and Go-barefoot day!
  • Ah, those warm summer nights — perfect for pajama walks through your neighborhood. What adventures await, like crickets, bats… and maybe an owl if you’re quite lucky!
  • The story box (or bag or jar or basket or cabinet): simply devise an order of who goes when (Monday is Mama’s day, Tuesday is Tommy’s day, Wednesday is Eva’s day), set guidelines if you choose (between five and 25 words), and begin creating a fanciful saga, as each person adds to the unfolding story.
  • And for a near-infinite goldmine of more ideas, here are some cool links:


If you have discovered or devised ways of rhythmically and restfully embracing the slow gifts of your child’s summer vacation, I’d love to hear about them!


Beach sisters, adwriter Flickr | Creative Commons


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