Many parents (and teachers) fear the “summer slump.” Classes are over, kids are at home, and parents still need to work. It’s easy for children to spend their days glued to the TV or playing games on a tablet or just goofing off on a computer. They worry about children keeping their learning going during the summer, so they assign books to read, find educational apps, have their children do keyboarding practice, do lessons on educational websites, etc.
This can exacerbate the sedentary life of children during the holidays. Kids might wind up sitting and doing screen-based activities …when they also need to get outside and run around, dig in the dirt or a sandbox, play games with other children, etc.
What’s a parent to do? How can we keep our children learning and creating, while also being active and enjoying themselves?
For me, the key word is balance. It’s OK for kids (or adults!) to slob out in front of the TV for a while. It’s OK for kids (or adults!) to spend hours playing games on a tablet or game machine. It’s OK for kids to do any activity that doesn’t actually hurt them. It really only becomes problematical when that’s all that they do.
So let me add my comments to the numerous articles (here’s a very good one) about how to manage your children’s use of technology during the summer time, and offer two basic rules:
Use limits to keep a balance
Talk with your child(ren) about the need for balance. (It’s part of the ICS Learner Profile!) Don’t judge activities, but emphasize that everything needs to be balanced out. Broccoli is good for you, but if that’s all you eat then you won’t get complete nutrition. Reading books is a good activity, but if your children spend their entire summer doing nothing but read books, they would lack physical exercise, social interactions, etc.
Don’t set arbitrary limits, but let your child(ren) help establish how they will keep a balance. Maybe you can set some times as “videogame time.” Maybe they will vary activities by day (Monday=Minecraft. Tuesday=table tennis. Wednesday=water play…). Maybe they can balance hours (“I’ll spend three hours playing on my iPad and then go outside for three hours.”) Let your child(ren) establish the rules and they’ll be more willing to follow them!
Note that if you are traveling, setting such limits when you’re out of your normal routines can be more difficult. Take a look at this article for some tips on how to keep some balance on technology use while traveling. Again, the main idea is balance.
Technology is not evil. Videogames are not bad for children. Playing on iPads is not a waste of time. Smartphones are not causing people to become stupid. In and of themselves, any technology tool is neither good nor bad. (The history of technology-bashing has a long history. Socrates railed against the horrible new technology of writing, saying it would ruin people’s memories!)
Parents who embrace technology help their children use tech well, share in the excitement and enjoyment, and participate in the various activities. Some parents embrace it wholeheartedly, while others merely allow it and enable it.
What can you do? You can use technology to extend your child(ren)’s learning. There are various good guides to apps and learning tools – CommonSenseMedia is a great site for parents that has a lot of great information, including a summer learning guide. (My advice: go for the tools that allow for creativity, not “drill & kill” skill-building apps that function like electronic worksheets.)
You can creatively use the technology itself. I’ve given my daughter the challenge of building an electronic book about our summer travels. She’ll use our iPad to take photos and videos, write descriptions, etc. and put them together into an e-book she can share with family. (It’ll also give her something to do and focus on while visiting castles & museums and help her get focused on what’s around her.)
And you can participate in the technology. Kids on Facebook? Ask them what they’re posting. Show interest and excitement. If they’ve found a funny video, laugh and enjoy the joke. Being part of their lives is a big part of parenting …it also helps when the inevitable conflicts come up. They’ll know that you’re not just about telling them what not to do, but you also appreciate things they do.
Remember: part of the reason that children need a break from school is so that they can play. Play is important for children’s healthy development – whether they are 3 years old or 13 years old!
Playing outside by kicking a ball or digging in the dirt or playing tag with friends is healthy, fun and a valuable learning experience. So is building structures in Minecraft, making movies on a tablet, or even organizing armies in World of Warcraft.
Enjoy your summer break!