The languid, long, lazy days of summer – does this literary cliché really describe many of our summer seasons these days? As international parents, our lives are more often busy, brisk, budgeted. We want to make summer a time for our families, yet we are usually planning around business, travel, and competing agendas to connect with family and friends. Living internationally, our support networks are often smaller where we live, and spread globally. We want to create opportunities for our children to see the world, be challenged to grow and stay connected to family and friends. More often than not we end up planning big trips (fitting in family or ‘world tours’) or figuring out ways to patch times or trips together.
Summer breaks can provide many opportunities; our children can play a key role in making the most of the time they have within the time we have. Make a plan – don’t let summer sneak up on you. Your children most likely have an end of school year calendar of events – extend it beyond celebrations, sports days and exams by putting up a calendar in a central place in your home – who is off when, any booked travel plans, when school is starting again. Whether you are fitting activities around many plans or taking a whole family trip, as you organize with your children, consider the following:
1) Make a list of opportunities. Challenge your children to make this list including when things are open, how much they cost, how to get there. Don’t forget near to home and what kids may be able to do independently (according to their age and your comfort level). For older children, it may be a good time to start visiting universities or applying for internships/jobs.
2) Make a list of friends that will be ‘around’ during the break and when. Children can often make joint plans that do not require all parents to join in. Also plan connections with your family and friends.
3) Plan a trip(s). Kids can take ownership in planning a trip itinerary from a day outing nearby to extended trips. Have them do the research on where to go, how to get there, what to see and timing. This can be a great way for them to see things they have studied and show you first hand what they understand. Consider historic places, art and science museums, performances and shows. The last time we went to Europa Park, our daughters explained in enthusiastic detail their understanding of forces on rides, especially roller coasters.
4) Set goals and tasks. This is a great time for students to take on more responsibility at home – from household chores and food shopping to maintaining a fitness or study plan. Is it time to learn how to cook, clean, garden, do laundry or be fully responsible for a pet?
5) Financial management. Consider setting a budget for the summer or weekly allowances. This may be an opportunity for a child to set up their own bank account. Have them work within a budget as they plan activities for themselves or trips for the family. Can they tell you whether it is a ‘good buy’ to purchase a season pass for the pool or a package of attractions is a better deal than individual entry prices?
6) Language practice. Help kids develop confidence with languages they are learning by visiting places they can practice. Have them check in at hotels, order from menus, translate signs and information. Alternatively, have them watch films and TV in the target language.
7) Camps. There are many excellent offerings for day and boarding camps that are close and far – for a price! But these often offer fantastic opportunities from language immersion and science/tech to adventure and sport.
8)Plan a way to keep track of summer activities. Consider setting a summer project. Keep a journal, start a blog, collect images, materials, notes to create a photo book or webpage – something to share with friends and relatives. Plan ahead and have kids think of projects that could be used as presents – from souvenirs to arts.
In the end, we create our own opportunities. The more we can involve our kids in planning their time, the more buy in they can have and it can help prevent the ‘I don’t know what to do’ or everything happening at once phenomenon. When opportunities are taken, we extend our skills, passions and understanding – learning happens everywhere. Perhaps we need to find a new name for the idea of a ‘school break’.
Tobin S. Bechtel
Assistant Director at the International School of Central Switzerland