In 1964, Dorothy S. Andersen published a simple song that asks children, “What do you do in the summertime?” This summer, the answers could be quite different than from other years.
Instead of marching in parades, or counting clouds in the sky like Andersen’s song mentions, this year children must wear face masks, social distance and play in small groups. They may not be doing things like going on family trips, to family reunions, and definitely not to Disneyland. They won’t be going to city celebrations or carnivals — they’ve all been canceled.
So what can be done this summer to help Utah County’s children grow and be happy and learn? School teachers, family counselors and organizations like Jeannette Herbert’s Uplift Families weigh in on ideas and resources to help.
School’s out, learning’s not
Lynne Harrington is a fourth grade teacher at Rock Canyon Elementary school in Provo. She has been teaching Utah history, math and spelling remotely for the past three months. She says she’s concerned about her students’ mental and emotional health.
“As teachers, we are always concerned about the mental health and the education of our students,” Harrington said. “During these unprecedented times, we are even more concerned. Many of the usual activities of spring and summer are being denied our students. Add to that their worries about trying to understand their school work and make progress.”
Harrington outlined a few ideas to help children stay academically and mentally well.
“With summer approaching, routine continues to be so important. As part of that routine, it is so crucial that children continue to read every day, to help them keep the growth they have made,” Harrington said. “Reading with your child can be a very precious time as well, even with older children.”
Parents can introduce their children to literature they might otherwise not choose. They are encouraged to read them books at a higher level than what they would be capable of reading by themselves, Harrington said.
Ann Bigelow, a kindergarten teacher at Rock Canyon Elementary, suggests having children get involved with a book club with several of their friends, then having a Zoom meeting once a week, so the friends can discuss the book.
“This encourages them educationally and also provides an opportunity for them to socialize,” Bigelow said.
Bigelow added, “Parents are always the child’s best teacher. Every day interaction, both formal and informal, helps children to keep learning.”
First and foremost, Bigelow says to have fun.
“There are hundreds of online resources for things to do with kids over the summer, but here is one of my favorites,” Bigelow said, sharing the website https://sixsistersstuff.com/50-outdoor-summer-activities-for-kids/. She also added https://preschool.uen.org/ is a “great resource put out by the UEN (Utah Education Network) for young children.”
The UEN is a broadband and digital broadcast network serving public education, higher education, applied technology campuses, libraries and public charter schools throughout the state.
“Find ways to allow children to interact with their friends,” Bigelow said. “They can set up play dates where they visit over Zoom or make Facetime calls and share activities they are doing at home.”
Bigelow adds, “The most important thing parents can do is have a plan so the summer doesn’t get away from them.”
According to Bigelow, this should include: reading every day, writing every day, maths review at least three times a week, and STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, Math) activities at least weekly. These activities should be fun and engaging. For example: families can use sidewalk chalk to draw pictures and write words; they can also go on a nature walk for science. While outdoors, children can put masking tape around their wrists with the sticky side out to collect items from nature — leaves, grass, small rocks, flowers, etc. — and stick them the their “bracelet.”
“With the future so uncertain, parents have a tremendous responsibility to help their child continue to love learning, and to help them still feel a sense of routine,” Harrington said. “As teachers, we hope that by following these guidelines, your child will feel ready academically, socially and emotionally to return to school when that happens.”
Stuart Harper, a licensed clinical social worker and registered play therapist supervisor at the Family Support and Treatment Center, has been busy helping children adjust to the side effects of COVID-19.
Harper is concerned that today’s society is so reliant on scheduled, planned-out and scripted activities that some children and parents have forgotten what it means to play or use one’s imagination.
“Kids are desirous to self-direct play,” Harper said. “Hopefully we have parents who can remember what self-directed activities are.”
Harper said if parents could provide toys that are non-descript action figures or baby dolls, children can make them whatever they want them to be — such as their own super hero.
Haper defines play as, “The free expression of self-originated, undirected thoughts and feelings.”
Videos games are too scripted, Harper said. Parents should allow kids to make mud-pies and play in the dirt and roll in the grass.
Like Harrington and Bigelow, Harper said children should have a routine or schedule that allows for creative play time.
Emily Steele, a counselor at the Family Support and Treatment Center, had numerous ideas for constructive and healthy child play
“Maybe having something each day of the week that kids can look forward to,” Steele said. “For example: Monday is travel day where we all go to somewhere in the world we’ve always wanted to go. Draw pictures of what it might look like and hang it on the wall, learn about that place together, eat a dinner with food from that place, dress up in what you would need to wear if you were going there, etc.”
She continued, “Tuesday is family karaoke, etc. Having a big calendar on a whiteboard where kids can see what they are going to be doing that week. That’s usually helpful, especially for kids with anxiety.”
While kids are spending more time on technology and less time outside, Harper acknowledges it’s a balancing act and there is more to balance these days.
When Gov. Gary Herbert took office nearly 12 years ago, Utah’s First Lady Jeanette Herbert was set on creating her own initiatives. She identified a platform where parents could find resources: Uplift Families.
Now, more than 10 years later, Uplift Families has hundreds of resources for parents and children, from learning how to deal with stress and suicide to having playtime fun, according to Steve James, Uplift Families executive director.
All of the resources are reviewed by professionals in parenting and mental health professions, James said.
Uplift Families holds yearly conferences, has a YouTube channel and a website to help families.
Along with Herbert, the Uplift Families team has created an online Parent Resource Center that serves parents and grandparents of children ages 0-18.
“The first of its kind in Utah history, this unique resource is housed on Mrs. Herbert’s new updated website, UpliftFamilies.org, and features more than 300 quality and vetted sources with over 1000 entry points,” according to James.
Parents can easily search for vital information according to age or area of concern. The issues addressed on the site have come directly from Utah parents through a series of surveys, in addition to feedback and reports from parenting experts.
According to the group’s website, the Uplift Families YouTube Channel features TIPS (Teaching Important Parenting Skills) talks given at Uplift Families Parenting Conferences. Also included are message-based commercials, interviews and other material supporting the mission and scope of Uplift Families.
Whether through Uplift Families, other resources or day-to-day parenting, connecting parents to children — and children to creative playtime and learning opportunities — will help families get through the abnormal summer months ahead, Harper concluded.