School holidays: Managing time online and offline
The long summer holidays can mean children and young people spend more time online. The routines of the school day, and after school clubs, offer structure in term time with online activities and social networking usually taking place on an evening or weekend. In the school holidays, without this structure, children and young people may gravitate to devices for entertainment and to fill free time. A balanced approach is needed as children and young people also want to feel connected with their friends; which are often sustained over social online groups.
Here are a few suggestions for balancing children and young people’s online and offline world in the holidays:
Plan a routine – Download a large printable calendar for the 6 weeks and put in on the wall. Fill it in as a family with everything already planned, such as holiday dates, work commitments; day trips, birthdays, appointments etc. Think about what else can be planned in and give children a choice – for example, a weekly swim or trip to the park /shops, or a practical project to decorate or make. Planning visually can help children manage anxiety about the free time ahead, as well as promoting security and belonging.
Find a balance – with everything! Busy time and quiet time; online and offline time. A young person may wish to spend time gaming online with their friends so let them arrange this, just as they may arrange a trip to the park or cinema with friends. Think about activities that can be done as a family as well as activities where the family splits up; Mum and Bob go play football, whilst Dad and Sam go shopping, and grandma and Nic are at the cinema. Balance time with family members for childcare support.
Friendships and staying connected – Children and young people may wish to spend every day of the holidays with their friends; chatting online and meeting up, but equally may need support in maintaining friendships away from school. Speak with your children about their expectations and how this can be supported alongside family time, or how you can support meeting up; for example by arranging play dates for younger children.
Cyberbullying – Young people often stay connected with group chats (of various sizes) via social media. Speak with your young person about how they feel about being part of these chats, or how they may feel if they are disconnected due to holiday for example. Without the routine of school and seeing people face to face the next day, cyberbullying issues can escalate, through both oversharing and being left out. Keep communication open and understand their feelings.
Healthy activities and self-care – Staying active and keeping healthy can support mind and body. There is more time to plan and prepare meals from scratch as well as time to enjoy eating out. Plan some time for yourself in the calendar, even if just for a few hours, where another adult takes over, and vice versa. Family me-time can also be shared and help children regulate just being and entertaining themselves through calming activities.
Communication and observation – spending extra time with children and young people may enable you to get in touch with issues that were off the radar in term-time. Use this time to observe and communicate, encourage expression of emotions whilst listening with empathy. It may not be something that can be solved, but children need space to air their thoughts too. Having 6 unstructured weeks, especially for new children to your family without the safety and routine of school, with possible disruptions to family time with birth family, can be unsettling.
Share their online world – use this extra time to connect online, sit together and play an online game, watch a podcast or find out more about their favourite vlogger. Be curious; show a genuine interest to understand their world. Think about shared activities online, such as researching a day trip and planning a route, finding out prices and opening hours.
Sharenting – Holiday time means holiday snaps, and the perfect opportunity for shared family memories. Check in advance if there are any restrictions before uploading pictures to social media. But some lovely holiday pictures, printed out using the graphic tools that are available to enhance and edit, can be perfect for a child’s memory book – or can be made into a postcard and sent to family members where appropriate.
Have a switch off time – If children are finding it hard to switch off online, and you notice the electronic babysitter creeping in, have a switch off day (ok, maybe half day is more realistic). Turn off all devices and plan an engaging activity:
- Plan a meal/baking, go shopping for the ingredients and come back, prepare it and eat it.
- Build a den in the garden and have a picnic.
- Go for a walk in the park, make a list of what you want to look for in advance and tick off when you find it.
- For more active children play race bingo, where they have to run/jog /bounce a ball (anything active) for that many seconds or minutes on the bingo card.
Prepare to go back to school – Everything comes to an end and so do the summer holidays. Think about preparing children to go back to school, back to routine (or a new one at transition years) and seeing friends again – as well as managing time apart from yourselves as a family. Your local school may hold extra transitions days, especially at end of Y6 and Y11, with time for everyone to reconnect and switch back on.
Thanks for reading and enjoy the holidays.