Schools everywhere are letting kids out of class and sending them off on summer vacation. Hardworking teachers will get a well-deserved break, and administrators can start planning in earnest for next year. But what about the preschoolers? Are they counting down the days to summer break? If you asked them, they would probably say, a break from what?
It's a fair question. Preschool is generally so much fun for the little ones that it's quite challenging to explain to them why it must go on pause for three months. You mean I won't get to hang out with my friends and play fun games set up by my cool teachers every day? What kind of a vacation is that??
Lest our preschoolers decide that this whole vacation business is but a sham devised to tear them away from what they love best, we've been thinking hard about why summer break really matters for young children. This list may not convince our three-year-olds, but it is certainly helping us think about how to make the most of the summer days ahead with our kids.
1. Summer matters for preschool-age kids' physical development. Kids love being outside in all sorts of weather, but long, warm summer days give them the chance to move and exercise more than any other time of year. Most summer camps focus on physical activities, and free time away from school gives kids plenty of time to run, climb, hop, skip and move in all the wild ways they do. In particular, summer gives kids the chance to practice swimming, biking and similar skills that take lots of repetition to master.
2. The chance to have big chunks of family time is another reason that summer matters for preschoolers. We all know how busy family schedules can get during the school year. A vacation (or "staycation") where young children get to have unfettered and extended time with their parents is a hugely important. Children soak in the attention and affection, and this helps them build the emotional resilience they will need to go back to the usual family routines of school and work. Time spent with extended family over the summer also matters, giving kids a sense of rootedness and connection that can bolster their sense of self.
3. Summer matters because this is the time of year when children tend to have the most contact with nature. Whether they're in the garden or the woods, at the park, by a lake or the sea, young children benefit tremendously from the chance to explore the natural world at their own pace. Observing the tiny changes that happen in natural environments day-to-day teaches kids more than any book ever could. And simply spending time in wild corners gives children physical confidence, and the sense that they too have a place in nature.
4. Summer is often a time when children, even small children, get to have a bit more freedom than usual. Schedules are looser and we're outside more, so kids have the chance to embark on small adventures of their own devising. Nothing to do and nowhere to be means that the little ones get to figure what they like and how to play. Summer freedom is fertile ground for children's imaginations and self-discovery.
5. Lastly, summer break matters to preschoolers because they'll be having summer breaks for roughly the next 15 to 20 years! (Or as long as their educational careers last.) We sometimes take this for granted, but learning to deal with transitions and the rhythms of the school year are a big part of what preschool is all about. Saying goodbye to friends and teachers is hard, but come September, kids learn that they can rekindle their old friendships and quickly establish bonds with new teachers and peers. Just another great life lesson that summer teaches!
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