September 30, 2023

Some kids are asking for a “free summer” — no camp, no classes, no schedule. Here’s what parents need to know.

Is it OK for kids not to have summer plans?  Experts weigh the pros and cons of one

Is it OK for kids not to have summer plans? Experts weigh up the pros and cons of a ‘free summer’. (Image: Getty; illustration by Jay Sprogell for Yahoo)

Summer for my 6 and 9 year olds usually consists of a number of summer camps interspersed between camping trips or family visits that spill over into the weekdays. I try to think of a nice variety for them, with a mix of nature, art and sports activities, but for me camping is my best option for childcare. But when catalogs came out at the end of February and I asked my daughter what she wanted to do this year, she threw her head back and moaned, “Mom, can I have a summer off?” She wanted to stay home and “relax,” she said, not camp all week.

Back in the day (the 90’s) kids could spend their summers roaming with neighborhood kids. Millennials and Gen Xers waxed poetic about the trouble they faced as kids during the summers, blowing up GI Joe’s and falling from trees. Now these same people are parents who would never take their eyes off their kids long enough to torture a Ghost Spider action figure, let alone leave their own property without adult supervision. However, as many parents now work from home and free time benefits children, some families are opting for less structured summers.

The appeal of a “free” summer

For starters, camping — either as a form of childcare or coupled with an enriching activity like soccer or pottery — is expensive and out of reach for many families. By comparison, keeping the kids at home costs nothing, but in the absence of a parent, relative, or friend who can supervise or swap childcare, a babysitting fee may be charged.

Experts also believe that leisure time is good for kids for a number of reasons. “Unstructured time for kids can be an opportunity for them to decompress and relax, especially when they have planned and structured activities at other times,” said Eric Nass, a clinical psychologist in the Boston area who works with children, adolescents, and families. works.

“A summer off can be a great way for kids to learn more about themselves, build skills, and practice creative problem solving when they can’t find something they want to do,” adds psychiatrist and parenting coach Dr. Jessica Beachkoffsky. “They can become more confident in themselves and their abilities.”

But it’s not for everyone

However, the lack of structure may worry parents. Some children, especially those who are neurodiverse or who like order, become anxious when there is no clear routine and may struggle to have their days unplanned.

Nass agrees that a complete lack of structure isn’t necessarily the right move. “Children develop interests and skills through exposure to a range of activities and areas of learning. Without the structure that comes with outside activities, kids may be missing out on opportunities to explore and explore new interests and things they enjoy,” he says.

Others may crave more social interactions or planned activities and outings, or lack the ability to entertain themselves. “Some kids may balk at the idea of ​​a ‘free’ summer if they’re used to constant stimulation or enjoy being in groups, such as at summer camps,” Beachkofsky tells Yahoo Life.

“I don’t think they were as eager to stay home last summer as they thought,” said Holly, a mother of two, ages 7 and 9, who asked that her last name not be shared. As a writer who also works remotely for a branding agency, she found that her children became restless when left to their own devices. “It contributed to a detrimental feeling of ‘Mommy would rather work or write than watch us’,” she adds, noting that that feeling is “worse when they’re in the same house and can see me.” This year her children are going on a camping trip with friends.

“I’ve also come to realize that a summer without any structure doesn’t work well for my kids,” agrees Julie Vick, mom of a 9- and 11-year-old. She says that “doing some half day camps here and there helps build some structure and gives me a chance to get other things done.”

Nass agrees that “‘outside activities’ come in many shapes and sizes, ranging from camps and other recreational programs to play dates with friends.” He adds, “If it’s possible to aim for a balance between structured time and unstructured time, that usually works best.”

Age, screen time and other factors to consider

Not all parents will have the option to work from home or access reliable childcare (such as a retired grandparent). For safety reasons, young children need supervision in the form of a babysitter or daycare. But can you leave an older child at home alone? Legally, the age at which children can be left unattended varies from state to state. The language around some child neglect laws can also be vague, often saying something along the lines of parents “should be properly supervised”, without a definition of what might be “right”. But even once a child is “adult,” parents may not consider them ready to be alone or to be in charge of babysitting younger siblings.

With or without a babysitter, there is also concern that children who are allowed to hang out at home all summer will spend the time glued to their electronic devices. If a parent is concerned about too much screen time, Nass suggests establishing “clear rules and expectations” for screen use, which will likely vary depending on the child’s age.

Ultimately, every family will have unique needs. How a child spends the summer is largely determined by finances and access to childcare options, in addition to the child’s temperament and individual needs. Not every child will thrive in a completely unstructured environment, but there is a reason to work in some amount of free time.

“Most types of growth happen gradually over time, so it’s good practice to gradually add new opportunities for independence whenever possible,” says Nass. “You know your child best, so it’s important to trust your own instincts and judgment on how to introduce new opportunities for their growing independence.”

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