As the school year draws to a close, many families kick into a round-robin schedule of day camps, school-age care programs, classes, sports and more. It's transition time for kids and parents as they adjust to new schedules and different experiences.
Alyssa Golob is director of Camp Butwin, a K-8 day camp in Eagan sponsored by the St. Paul Jewish Community Center. Golob brings in a panel of parents during staff training sessions to speak with her counselors about what it feels like to send a young child off to day camp.
"It's very different from sending kids to school, where you have established relationships. You're putting them on a bus that will take them to a new place where they will be spending their days with young adults you don't know," she said.
Golob sends out a mass e-mail to parents on the first day of each camp session to let them know the bus from St. Paul arrived safely, although she still gets a few calls from anxious parents. The kids, however, are typically ready for action by the time they arrive.
"Kids tend to adapt pretty quickly because we do have a lot of structure and routine to the day, which is important for them," she said. "At the same time, kids can 'let go' a little bit at camp. They get to just be themselves in an environment where the rules are different than in school."
Comfort levels vary
Whether your child will be enrolled in one or several activities this summer, the key to successful transition is what developmental psychologist Marti Erickson calls "forecasting."
"Every child has a different comfort level in new situations," said Erickson, co-host and owner of the Mom Enough website and podcast. "Spend time talking about what their days will look like, especially if the activities are new to the child. If possible, connect with another family in the program ahead of time so that kids will have the comfort of knowing someone else there."
Golob always likes to remind parents not to automatically fall into school-year habits, especially during the first few days of day camp.
"Don't rush to the bus. Arrive in plenty of time for your child to be prepared and maybe meet some of the other kids who are waiting," she said.
In some respects, summer is no less busy than the school year, which is why Erickson believes parents should take time before the new routine begins to consider the family's summer options.
"Even if the child is moving from activity to activity, it's important to remember that kids do best if there is an underpinning of stability, which is what they find at home," she said.
Erickson said summer is a good time to promote responsibilities like chores -- keeping their rooms clean, setting the table, even planning a healthy meal on their own for the family -- and focus on outdoor activities while de-emphasizing the tech lifestyle many kids are accustomed to leading at other times of the year.
"Summer is a reset time," she said. "Talk with your kids about how all of you want to use your time together as a family this summer."
What makes a difference
Simple activities, such as a field trip to a local park, an after-dinner walk, family bike ride or picnic in the yard, are the sorts of summer experiences kids tend to remember the most.
Erickson remembered a recent conversation she had with her 7-year-old granddaughter while the two were putting together a puzzle on a blanket in Erickson's yard. They had a similar experience under the same tree when the girl was 3. "I was amazed by how much detail she remembered. We have never had a conversation like that about a TV show we watched," said Erickson. "It's those quiet, beautiful moments that stay with kids."
Julie Pfitzinger is a West St. Paul freelance writer.
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