How do we turn our “Vacation” into a real “Bein Hazemanim?”
It’s that time of year that has children all over celebrating, and many adults too. Even if you aren’t a teacher, there is something exhilarating about summer vacation, whether it’s the ability to sleep a little bit later, fewer buses to catch, less homework to do or the wider smiles that grace your children’s faces.
Back when I was teaching in a classroom setting, I used to end off the school year with a talk on the value of summer vacation. I contrasted the word vacation with the term bein hazemanim. Vacation is from the word vacate, empty. Even the word break has a negative connotation. What are we breaking? Why are we broken? They both bring to mind a period of time designed to let loose with emptiness, to break free from the confines of discipline, structure and learning. Whereas bein hazemanim holds within its very name the purpose and essence of this time: between the zemanim, a time to prepare for the zeman ahead. Yes, we are “recovering” from the previous year, but we always keep in our sights the future. The purpose is not to let loose, but to invigorate ourselves so that we come back renewed and refreshed for another productive and empowering “zman.”
So how can we make the most of our summer? How can we ensure that our family enjoys a summer that is both fun and productive, exciting and meaningful? Here are ten tried-and-true tips to help you take your summer one notch up.
1. Reflect on the Past – In all of the excitement to get on with the business of having fun, our children tend to be quick to get rid of every last vestige of the previous school year from their hearts, minds and briefcases. And they’ve probably earned the right to do that, with all of the hard work they put in over the year! Before they do, though, take a moment to reflect with them some of the things they learned over the past year. You can do this with children of every age and stage, though how exactly you do so will vary from child to child.
With your preschool and younger elementary children, go through their notebook, whether it’s an alef bais notebook, a writing journal, etc. Take a few moments to cherish the sweetness of accomplishment with them as you marvel at everything they’ve learned.
With the older children, take about what they gained over the year in terms of both knowledge and life lessons, including what they learned about themselves and their abilities. Did they memorize all fifty states and their capitals? Did they discover hidden strengths when they productively worked through a painful bullying situation? Did they develop a greater appreciation for tefillah, thanks to a very special teacher’s powerful be’ur tefillah lessons?
Have them write it down, and maybe even turn it into a game or contest to keep things exciting.
2. First, Do No Harm – The freedom of summer bears great potential for growth beyond the constraints of school, but it is a double-edged sword, with the potential for devastating consequences particularly grave. On so many levels, the freedom of summer can lead, and has led, to danger. On a basic level, summer means kids playing outside for longer hours, often unsupervised. As hard as it may be to keep an eye on your children playing outside, your children’s lives are sacred so make sure they are receiving adequate supervision according to their age and maturity level. Make sure they are practicing safety rules when they play, including bike safety, street safety, pool safety, etc.
The freedom of the summer months has also served as the setting for instances of abuse that have forever scarred precious children. Do your part in keeping them safe from abuse by staying on top of their comings and goings with appropriate supervision, teaching them about stranger danger, inappropriate touch and signs of unhealthy relationships, and by keeping the lines of communication open so that they can approach you comfortably at the first hint of a problem. Call the Summer Family Shmira Line at 641-715-3800, access code 811504# for more information and messages from gedolim and professionals on the topic.
Other safety areas to keep in mind are the importance of wearing sunscreen, eating wholesome and nutritious food and not too much junk, keeping to a healthy schedule, even if it’s more relaxed and bedtime is just a bit later than usual.
3. Set Goals – Summer flies by so fast, and I can’t think of any non-cliche way to put it. Bottom line is, one day you are reading the day camp newsletter that starts off “What a great first week we had!” and what feels like a week later, the newsletter now starts with, “It’s hard to believe this is the last week of camp!”And while you had the best of intentions this summer, somehow the summer homework booklet has half of one page filled in, the Tehillim is untouched on the shelf and the books you took out of the library were returned unread. You can keep the summer from getting away from you by working with your children at the beginning of it to set a goal plan. Using a calendar, write down what you hope to accomplish this summer each day, week, etc. Don’t get too carried away; you still want to enjoy the spontaneity and lack of schedule that makes summer so delightful. Keep it simple, stress-free and flexible. The plan might include how many books the child will read each week, a different family project for each week, how many pages of summer homework each day, etc. And each child gets their own goals, according to their plan for the summer and their needs. You can make an activity out of checking them off each day/week as you go along and giving them that satisfying feeling of accomplishment.
4. Build Skills and Hobbies – Now is a great time to encourage your child’s pursuit of skills and hobbies that don’t always find their place in the busy routine of school life. Not every child shines in school and the summer is a great time for them to find their successes in other areas. And even if they do shine in school, having other hobbies and skills can be important as well. Find out what they are interested in and help them pursue it over the summer, whether it involves lessons, projects, or your hands on supervision. Let them feel successful and accomplished by learning a new skill or creating something special.
5. Work on Friendships – Out of all the skills to learn, social skills are arguably one of the most important ones during these formative years. Keep an eye out for any social issues your child may be having and use the summer as a time to work on them. You may have more time to observe your child interacting with friends as they spend more time at home. Make sure the friendships have healthy dynamics and your child is exhibiting healthy social skills. Diversify your child’s group of friends. Now that they aren’t spending as much time with their school friends, encourage them to make new friends, to get to know some new kids on the block, to reach out to the quieter child who doesn’t have as many friends and to make friends with peers of varying types and stripes. If your child needs actual help with social skills, now would be a great time to seek that out, so that they are better equipped heading into the school year ahead.
6. Keep the Learning Strong – Teachers always lament at the beginning of the year over how much academic regression they see occurring over the summer. Help your children stay on top of their game by encouraging them to keep their learning sharp over the summer. You want to do this wisely, because if it starts infringing too much on their summer fun, it will backfire when they want no part of it. Speak to their teachers to find out where they may need extra help to keep them on track or get them up to par. Focus on those aspects of summer homework. Maintain universal skills like reading by taking books out of the library that will be of interest to them, having kriah or reading contests, etc. Take educational trips to museums, living history farms and attractions and nature preserves. Institute a summer homework contest, start a family journal where they each write in about their day, and learn the parshah together as a family on Shabbos. Make learning a fun, informal and strong part of the day.
7. Do Good – One quote that someone told me when I graduated high school has stayed with me until now: “Go into the world and do well, but more importantly go into the world and do good.” (Minor Myers jr.) While this applies at any time, in my mind it has always been a beautiful quote heading out of a school year and into the summer. Use your summer as an opportunity to make a difference. Encourage your children to volunteer, to visit lonely people, to look for opportunities to give and share. Help them seek out areas to make an impact by serving as a positive role model in this area. Find ways to give of your time and energy and help them do the same. Without the obligations of the school year weighing down on them, they may have some space freed up to help others, and there is no greater way to spend summer vacation than doing just that.
8. Strengthen Family Bonds – If you have one or more children in sleepaway camp over the summer, you may think of the summer as a time of less family togetherness, as you are missing some components of the family for weeks. Absent that scenario, summer can be a great time to increase the family bonds. With less time spent on homework, more time spent at home, and bein hazemanim falling out in between for those with sons away in yeshivah, what better time than now to bring the family, both immediate and extended closer together? In my family, summer is the time our brother living in Eretz Yisroel comes to visit for a couple of weeks, so it lends itself to great opportunities for getting the whole family together for a change. In your family, it might mean something else. But the good news is, you don’t have to splurge on glamorous vacations or elaborate family trips to create lasting memories and forge enduring bonds. For the nuclear family, choose an activity you can all do together over the summer. Some ideas are:
- Planting and tending to a garden
- Doing a large jigsaw puzzle
- Creating a scrapbook of family memories
- Building a treehouse or other structure
- DIY home upgrading – painting, organizing, etc.
The idea is to come up with an activity that can be worked on together by all (or most!) members of the family day after day. As far as connecting with extended family, you can:
- Host a barbeque for all the aunts, uncles, cousins, etc.
- Take a trip to visit the grandparents – they’re not getting any younger!
- Get together at the park
- Invite cousins your kids’ ages to spend a night/week/Shabbos/ month with your family.
9. Have Fun! – At the end of the day, summer vacation is summer vacation and you don’t want to take that away from your children. So make sure you don’t get too serious about goals and learning and all that. Take the time to have fun with your children, so that you can make the most priceless summer memories!
Reprinted with permission from the Lakewood Shopper Family Room.