The school year is coming to a close and those kids can’t wait for summer. They’re looking forward to staying up late, sleeping in, playing outside and going to the pool. Meanwhile you – and probably their parents, too – are thinking ahead, dreading the transition from the structure-less summer to the structure-filled school year and the inevitable challenges for students once the school year starts. Children often have difficulty adjusting to transitions and some struggle more than others. Luckily, you can reduce this back-to-school stress by helping parents create a summer structure designed to ease the transition back in the fall.
The three keys to a well-structured summer
Creating a structure to a child’s summer doesn’t mean having a rigid schedule. There’s plenty of time for spontaneous fun and relaxation. The CDC identified three key factors to creating a successful structure for kids: consistency, predictability, and follow-through.
Encourage parents to set up a similar schedule every day that includes these three factors. It might help if they think of it as creating a regular rhythm to each day:
- waking up at the same time;
- eating meals around the same time;
- time for guided activities, balanced with time for unstructured play; and
- going to bed at the same time.
A simple schedule like this can do wonders for a child. The CDC even offers templates parents can use with their child to create a summer structure.
Children generally benefit from structure like this because it helps them feel safe and secure. A lack of structure can make children feel overwhelmed by the unpredictability of having endless choices and time. Help your parents understand that when children know what to expect, it minimizes the intensity and frequency of meltdowns, sensory overload, and anxiety related to unpredictability and change. For example, simply having meals at the same time during the summer can help create a sense of safety and predictability for kids.
Balance sleep and play for their bodies … and their brains
A summer structure that includes regular bedtimes and wake-up times is important for any child’s growth and development and also for their emotional regulation. (We’ve all witnessed that child having a meltdown because they are overtired and haven’t gotten enough sleep.) If parents can create a regular sleep schedule now, the transition back to school will be much easier. You also might want to share the research that show kids who don’t get enough sleep are more likely to develop at a slower rate and experience more problems in school than children who are well rested. (If parents are curious about how much sleep their child should be getting, The American Academy of Sleep Medicine has a list of recommendations.)
Structuring a child’s day also ensures they have time to simply play. The American Academy of Pediatrics has found several tangible benefits of play:
- it promotes brain development;
- play encourages development of creativity and imagination;
- it positively influences emotional strength, confidence, and resiliency;
- it promotes decision-making skills; and
- playing with others encourages working in groups, sharing, negotiating, resolving conflicts, and advocating for themselves.
By sharing these resources, you can help parents ensure their child has a fun and creative summer and a successful start to next school year. Once the summer comes to a close, you’ll be able to look forward to a successful start of the new school year rather than dreading it.