For many families, summer marks a prime time to become involved in extra-curricular programming. Often opportunities abound during the summer months, that are not available during the school year, and they can expose children to new experiences and skills.
Search Institute has identified Youth programs as one of the 40 Developmental Assets. Research shows these are characteristics of healthy, caring, resilient kids. The more assets youth have, the more likely they’ll resist risky behaviors in the future.
While there’s clear evidence that youth programming can have a positive influence on children, it’s important to find a balance. Families become involved in youth programming in varying degrees, and what works in your schedule may be very different from what works for your neighbor. Our family participates in only selective youth programming – that which fits with our cabin schedule and our overall commitment to a summer calendar in general. For some families, the mere fact they live in town may make summer programming more realistic, while others may become very active in 4-H fair preparation or farming in the summer, rather than soccer and T-Ball.
The key is to determine the right balance for your family – identifying youth programs that are of interest and beneficial to your kids, while not over-taxing your ability to drive them everywhere. You may feel comfortable running to a different event every afternoon, or that may seem overwhelming to you. It’s a good idea to identify what “balance” might mean for your family, and set goals related to that. In our family, we try to keep most of the youth programming to the school calendar, and leave the summer months for dock-jumping and family bike rides.
A few ideas on keeping the balance:
Look at an annual calendar in addition to the summer one. If it seems like one season is too heavy with programming, maybe there’s a way to balance the load throughout the year. If one season is especially busy for one child, perhaps there’s a way to make that particular part of the year not as busy for the other child.
Consider weekly commitments in addition to week-long ones. Sometimes smaller commitments on a weekly basis are more convenient – like weekly soccer practice, or weekly church group. Other times, a week-long soccer camp or vacation bible school might fit. It’s okay to choose just one or the other, if participating in both would be more than your schedule can handle.
No-commitment opportunities abound. Library story-time is a great example of a way to engage in youth programming without feeling the pressure that you have to attend every week. Similarly, summer festivals and special park days may offer the opportunity for positive youth interaction, without the attendance requirement you’d certainly maintain with swimming lessons or coach-pitch.
Remember the power of service. My daughter and her friend will help facilitate our public library’s weekly story-time this summer – a volunteer program organized by the youth librarian. Ask your local YMCA for ideas, watch the newspaper for “park cleanup” days, or just visit your community’s nursing home or homeless shelter. They usually welcome people who come to visit and play games with residents. Your volunteer efforts might be the most important things your kids experience this summer.
Balance the “giving-back” too. If every parent chaperoned an event OR coached a sport OR baked for the fundraisers, no one person would have to do everything. Pick your balanced contribution and feel good about it.
Summer youth programming can offer an excellent experience for your kids. What’s your balance?
Thanks for joining in to build assets in your kids! I look forward to seeing you again next month for Positively Speaking.
Kelly Curtis is a Wisconsin school counselor and author of Empowering Youth: How to Encourage Young Leaders to Do Great Things. To read more about Kelly, please visit her Weblog, Pass the Torch or follow her on Twitter.