Ahh! Summer vacation. It will not be long before students in area schools are on vacation for a couple of months. What will they do once school is out?
First, make sure they get books in their hands every day. Reading or being read to for 15 to 20 minutes a day or more will help children maintain their reading skills, and the more reading, the better. If your child doesn’t read, he may experience the dreaded “summer slide,” which means that he will begin the new school year at a lower reading level than he had achieved this spring and a much lower level than peers who do read regularly.
Okay, how else to dodge summer boredom and the “there’s nothing to do” refrain that seems to come much too early in the vacation?
If a child is lucky, she may get a chance to go to scout camp, church camp, or a specialty camp like one emphasizing basketball or horseback riding. However, many parents can’t afford to pay for camp, and even if they can, it’s only for a week or two. What to do?
Well, that’s where astute recreation departments and school systems come to the rescue. Most have already planned summer programming, but here are a few ideas to throw into the mix.
One suggestion is to house summer programs at schools. The recreation department could sponsor a summer playground program at various elementary or secondary schools. The program might use the cafeteria, playground, fields and the gym to have arts and crafts, kickball games and other sports, board games, music activities, theme days (Christmas in July, Wacky Hat Day, etc.) nature studies and all kinds of different fun activities.
If the school system and recreation department work together, there could be a summer feeding program so that all children can have a good lunch over the summer. Children could even use the library or computer lab.
They might also work on different subject or skill areas like creative writing, science, or social studies projects in a fun and interesting way. Why not add in a junior archeology/Native American/colonial program at a park? How about a child-oriented engineering program? What about putting on a play or musical? The sky’s the limit!
If the recreation department uses the school, summer cleaning could be organized around the program by cleaning rooms not being used first and then the rest of the school when the program ends after about six weeks.
Every recreation department should have a swimming program. With so many rivers and lakes around, all children should be safe in the water. If you live in a community like Virginia’s River City— Radford, and you don’t have a pool, you work with a nearby locality like Christiansburg or Pulaski, and the school system could provide buses to take children back and forth for lessons.
Another possible summer program could be providing tennis lessons. Children have the opportunity to participate in youth sports programs like baseball, basketball, football and soccer throughout the year, but it would be great for recreation departments to focus on lifetime sports that don’t need a lot of people to participate like tennis, golf, bowling, fitness, pickleball, badminton, hiking, camping, yoga or others.
It would be wonderful if the recreation department and outdoors groups like Mountain-2-Island could create waterfront activities such as kayaking or canoeing and fishing. How about combining with New River State Park and doing something with horseback riding or hiking/biking/nature studies? Why not include a weekly visit to the library for activities and books? The children, with school division/recreation/other organizations’ help, could take a bus almost anywhere in the New River Valley.
Another idea would be to join forces. Recreation departments in Radford City, Pulaski, Montgomery, Giles and Floyd Counties could specialize in one specific area as part of the program, perhaps for a particular grade level. For example, Radford could include a theater program; Pulaski could have a waterfront program at Claytor Lake; Giles might do something with mountain biking; Floyd might create a music program; Montgomery could do a hands-on engineering program. Children would rotate to different places for a variety of experiences. These are just possible examples; recreation departments could come up with much better ones.
It would be super if high school students could be hired as counselors for summer activities to provide them with a summer job, give them valuable experience in working with children, allow them to work as part of a team, help plan activities, share expertise and much more.
For many children, summer becomes a season filled with television, video/computer games, and, unfortunately, lost time. Yes, as with everything, good programs take money, but putting funds into getting children active, thinking, and having fun is money well-spent, isn’t it?
Steve Frey is a writer and CEO of Ascendant Educational Services based in Radford.