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Preparing Your Child for Summer Break: Free Play vs Scheduled Activities


Preparing kids for summer break can be a challenge, especially if they struggle with a processing disorder or ADHD. Decisions need to be made soon as to whether to allow unlimited and unstructured summer time play or to pre-schedule summer activities and summer camps. School-aged children have their schedules set for 10 months out of every year, but during the months of summer, their worlds can change from predictable to play-it-by-ear. A departure from the norm can be disruptive to any child, let alone one hampered by delayed self-regulation development. A diagnosis such as ADHD and summer can be a challenging combination. However, regardless of the cognitive profile of the child, a successful school break includes both structure and down time.

Why Structure Is Important

In the absence of a school schedule, it can be tempting for families to abandon daily routines in the name of summer down time. However, during the non-school months daily structure is as important as ever. Not only does it help kids transition back to the classroom after school resumes, it also gives them stability and reduces the anxiety and oppositional behavior that can result from a self-regulation responsibility that exceeds the child’s developmental level.

Scheduled Activities

A visual summer schedule posted in an accessible location not only supports children on summer break, it also helps to organize all members of the household. Pre-planned activities, such as lessons, create the structure to keep kids grounded while maintaining important routines, such as wake time and bed time. Plan-able summer activities for kids could include activities such as swimming, park excursions or trips to the library. A few simple chores each week help to keep kids busy and develop personal responsibility. Daily time outdoors, when weather permits, benefits the entire family.

Summertime Free Play

While mapping out each week has tangible benefits, over-scheduling can result in anxiety and stress, as well as rob kids of important self-regulation learning opportunities. The part of the brain right behind the forehead is the prefrontal cortex, the home of executive functioning. Free play, without rules or unnecessary adult intervention, bolsters the development of this brain region and enables a child to develop important critical thinking skills and self-control. As children interact in an unstructured activity, they engage in brain-building negotiation and problem-solving tasks that prepare them for adult life. Parents can provide beneficial summer free play experiences by scheduling regular play dates that involve peer engagement but without adult micromanagement.

Children benefit from both scheduled activities and unstructured free play during the months of summer. Time outside of the classroom can maintain their school routine readiness while giving them valuable down time to experience spontaneous, self-directed learning opportunities.

Attend The Brain Balance Program®

Summer is the perfect time to help your child connect with success and experience a consistent schedule of both in-center and at-home programming.

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