Summer Break for Toddlers

Summer isn’t just a season, it’s a rite of passage. Summer vacation still reigns supreme among the “breaks” – a multi-week extravaganza of free time. For children, all this unstructured time is thrilling; for parents, it’s complicated. You want your child’s summer to be rich and memorable like your summers were, but most of us can’t step out of the workday routine the way our parents did years ago – not when our daily lives consist of perpetual to-do lists.

Bennett is only 16-months-old, so I have some time to figure this out. There’s no pressure to create lifelong memories yet, so this can just be about spending quality time together. In the spirit of summertime, I’m keeping it simple and unplanned. I want this to be about experiences, not activities.

Fortunately, there are many new experiences to be had right here in our neighborhood. In fact, Bennett and I do most of what I call “experience hunting” right in our own back yard. It’s fenced in, so I give Bennett plenty of room to do as he pleases. He’s used to being herded through the world, so he gets a real thrill the moment he sees that I’ve quit tailing him like law enforcement.

I sort of feel like a wildlife biologist when I’m observing – er, watching – Bennett toddle upon such novelties as sandboxes, sod, downspouts, concrete and fence posts. From time to time, I’ll call out the name of the thing he’s investigating (“brick paver,” for example). Other times, I just let him trample around the yard by his own lights. Either way, this gives him a chance to practice self-guided instruction. Bennett can pursue his curiosity, whatever that may be (who can get into the mind of a toddler anyway?), and I hope to encourage him to be a self-starter, especially when it comes to learning.

That’s what summer is for, after all. It’s an opportunity to go out into the world and experience for yourself what you learned about in school.