Excerpts from our new book “Summertime Survival Guide for Parents”
by Rebecca Kochenderfer.
5. Goals That Ignite
If we create artificial divisions between school time and vacation time, we subtly send our kids the message that learning is something unpleasant we get to “escape from” in the summer. When families make it a point to pursue learning opportunities enthusiastically throughout the summer, we are telling our kids that we value learning! We’re also teaching them that being open to new experiences, knowledge, and discovery is our family’s way of life. In the summer, it may look different—more sparkly, quirky and colorful than in February, perhaps—but the message remains the same: we are individuals striving to learn, grow, and to try new things.
I’m a strong believer in the power of goal setting. When I fix my mind on a new project or idea, I begin by setting tangible, realistic goals to help get me on track and stay focused. This is a deeply satisfying process. Life is busy and it’s easy to become distracted. Goal setting helps organize my thoughts and has a calming effect that gives me the peace of mind I need to go out and make great things happen.
My kids are nearly grown and are all in college now. When I think back on their early years, I’m quite sure that—in addition to reading to them each evening before bed—the most important time I spent with them was helping them recognize and articulate their dreams. Each year at the beginning of summer vacation, I started off the season by asking each of my children, “What is your number one goal this summer?” Today, I still ask them this question because I see its positive effect. Setting one’s own goals is empowering and provides the sense of control needed to move forward with the wild and beautiful dreaming that makes life so sweet.
Whether she aspires to become a ballerina, paleontologist, actor, or an accountant, respond to your child’s ideas with genuine enthusiasm and words of encouragement. Not be a dream-killer. Be the person she runs toward excitedly to share her most spectacular plans and ideas.
Here’s an idea for you:
One year, I handed my kids thin pieces of plywood and asked them to write their #1 goal on the boards. Then, with one swift karate chop, each child broke his or her board into two pieces. This bold act represented their commitment to putting their dreams out into the world.
Or, if your child finds it useful, he might also benefit from writing his #1 goal down on paper along with four or five concrete action steps to complete over the summer.
But what if your child doesn’t have a #1 goal just yet?
That is ok! Summer learning provides the perfect opportunity to explore a wide range of activities. Repeated exposure to new ideas, experiences, and people will grow your child’s passion and in time, he will be able to identify and articulate clear goals he feels deeply about. At the start of the season, we may feel especially ambitious. Mapping out plans for an extraordinary summer is wonderful fun. Let your child’s excitement fuel discussions concerning how best to spend the summer months. In the early planning stages, it’s best not to put the brakes on any ideas if you can help it. At the same time, it is helpful to remember that summer is a season for rest and rejuvenation and that the goal this season is to grow your family’s curiosity and love of learning. This may require moving at a slower pace than you are accustomed to during the rest of the year.
Of course, if your child’s plans involve other people (such as in the case of volunteer work or summer employment), he must honor these commitments. However, there may be instances in which a child identifies a more personal goal; perhaps she aims to read all of Shakespeare’s works by August. She can be commended for coming up with this admirable plan, but should she find it to be unrealistic or less interesting than she’d expected, encourage her to recalibrate and come up with a new plan that excites her.
By providing our kids the space and freedom to pursue their unique interests with joy now, we are encouraging them to become life learners—the types of individuals who continuously seek out new experiences and ideas and engage deeply with their environment and the people in their lives. These traits will serve them well down the road. Should our children run into financial difficulties, they can learn their way out of them by strategizing a new plan. If their job downsizes or their industry fades out, life learners are better able to adapt and develop a new trade or career path. When health challenges arise, they can do research to determine the best way to manage the problem. For these reasons, inspired learning is a vital part of every child’s education.
Help your children set their summer goals, then stand in awe as their world expands.