Summer Family Time: Leisure and Learning By Annie Fox, M.Ed.

The “blissed out” little girl, was swinging in front of her house. What cool parents to have tied that swing to the tree! Watching her, I smiled recalling the childhood freedom of endless sunny days, with no particular place to go.


Summer is a portal to the land of “Who Knows Where Until You’re There.” It’s also a golden pass from the Scheduling Gods. (Or it should be.) Because, let’s face it, time away from our routine provides the breather we need to step back, relax, try something different, have fun, and then return to “normal life” with renewed interest and energy.

When I was kid, summer was the only time when I got to plan my days and each one radiated possibilities. When summer ended, my new level of self-reliance stayed with me. June, July and August hold that potential for every kid, provided he/she has the freedom and enough time without a whole lot of other stuff to do. But that doesn’t mean we should permit vacationing kids to veg out for days in front of one screen or another. That’s as unhealthy as pressuring them into daily drill and practice. Please don’t do either. But please do encourage learning.

Let’s define terms. Learning is anything that exposes kids to new ideas and information, stretches the mind, promotes new ways of thinking, builds skills and knowledge, and/or encourages creativity

Summer break can be a wonderful time for all sorts of special learning experiences. And because most parents are also “on break” during parts of the summer, families can be learning together.

Here are a few tips to make learning happen this summer:

1.   Call a family meeting. Discuss special projects and activities the family can take on during the summer. Let the kids take the lead but bring some ideas of your own by first checking the Events section of your local newspaper or search for “Summer Activities for Kids and Families (your city name).” Educational/cultural institutions have plenty of program offerings. Find out what’s available, talk it up to your kids and take part.

2.   Be creative. Don’t let the close of school, close the mind. Since many schools have cut out creative arts, summer is a great time to bring back those opportunities. Make arts and crafts. Make music and home videos. Make food and share the delicious goodies with your neighbors. When you do that, you’re also teaching generosity.

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3.   Have an adventure. Gorgeous weather is a terrible thing to waste. Seize the day and tap into a child’s natural desire for adventure. Unfortunately, many kids only satisfy this by playing computer games. But real trails, parks, streams, and shorelines are out there waiting for young adventurers. Google “Hiking (your city name)” and discover nearby natural environments for your family to explore. Print out maps before you go and let the kids help navigate.

4.   Borrow great books from the public library. (We remember books, don’t we?) Ask a librarian for recommendations. Gather the family together each evening for a story or chapter or two. Whatever you’re reading, talk about the use of language, characters, and plot points. Rather tell stories than read them? Here are some storytelling tips from a master.

5.   Watch classic films. Summer themed or otherwise, a great film is a treasure trove of educational possibilities. Share some of your favorite films from childhood and let your kids choose their favorites. Discover new ones, including kid-friendly foreign films. Make popcorn! Snuggle! Critique the films! It’s all learning, as in learning what it feels like to be part of a loving family. (How else will your children be able to re-create this sense of togetherness for their own kids some day?)


Twenty-first century childhoods are different from the ones we had. Yet, summer still has the power to inspire dreaming. Our kids carry a lot on their shoulders and in their psyches. They need down time this summer. You probably do too. When we use vacation time to engage with our kids in creative, thoughtful activities, we strengthen family bonds and instill our kids with the love of learning. A balance of structured and unstructured time is healthy. Kids don’t get much of the latter from September to June, so if not now, when? Why not try taking it a little easier this summer and encourage your kids to do the same? When we slow down, and have no particular place to go, we meet new parts of ourselves.

Have a happy healthy and safe summer from my family to yours.

4 thoughts on “Summer Family Time: Leisure and Learning By Annie Fox, M.Ed.

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