What Color is Your Summer Parachute?
Richard Bolles poses this question in his best-selling book, “What color is your parachute?” as an impetus to help parents and teens reflect on the choices ahead in order to best handle life’s challenges. With spring in the air, I thought it was appropriate to pose a related question to students and parents as summer vacation looms around the corner: What color will your summer parachute be?
Summer is absolutely a time to relax, unwind, and spend time with family. All summer parachutes should be filled with hues that represent memories, friendship, laughter, and quiet time that reinvigorate children and families. However, given the abundance of time that is presented to elementary, middle, and high school students in summer vacation, it is also a unique opportunity to add other hues to your child’s summer parachute.
In addition to the essential rest and relaxation time, summer can be a chance to explore an academic interest or to strengthen a particular skill without the hustle and bustle of life from September through June that entails a constant juggling of schedules involving school, sports, arts, religious commitments, and much more. Given the preponderance of offerings available, before jumping into a summer program for the sake of “keeping up with the Joneses,” it is important to ask the question, “What do I hope for my child to gain?”
If the answer to the previous question is to stoke your child’s academic curiosity and love for learning, the perfect summer opportunity is an enrichment program. While this term is used frequently, I personally see enrichment as an avenue for a child to grow and advance in an area of interest. Enrichment programs allow children to dip their toe in the water of a field in which they are interested without grappling with the fear of judgment. The goal is not to become an expert; rather, the goal is to inspire future exploration. It is cultivating the sentiment of what is known in baseball as “a love of the game.” Without strict outcome standards or standardized tests for accountability measures, quality summer enrichment programs can offer students the chance to focus on areas to which they might have minimal exposure during the school year. In the humanities, this might entail creative writing, debate, or trying on your hat on in a youth leadership program that deals with global issues, while an enrichment program in the sciences might involve dissection or perhaps becoming a novice programmer because you have a fresh idea for the next cool app or video game to hit the market. Lastly, if there is interest in theater, what better time than the summer to become captivated with drama, and the opportunity to dig into scene study or perform under the lights? While a likely outcome of an enrichment program is that your child will walk away more talented in a particular area of study, the main focus should not be the outcome, but rather, the journey.
If the answer to the question is much more practical, skill-based summer academic workshops are the logical choice. High school juniors and seniors with one foot out the door to college might invest time in a college essay writing workshop or SAT preparation. Students entering 6th grade or 9th grade may benefit from focusing on enhancing their skills in writing, reading comprehension, study skills or mathematics. Regardless of your child’s age or the chosen subject for the workshop, perhaps the most important outcome one would hope to achieve from summer programs such as these is enhanced confidence. Although a summer workshop may not guarantee that your son or daughter masters a particular skill, it should provide them with a greater sense of empowerment in that subject discipline.
As the spring flowers continue to bloom, as you see the kaleidoscope of colors on a beautiful spring day, take the time to enjoy this spectacular transition to a new season. However, as you embrace these annual rites of spring, I also encourage you to take time to consider your child’s summer parachute with an ice cream cone in hand.
Mark Facciani is a Middle School faculty member, Varsity Wrestling Coach, and Director of Summer Academics at The Pingry School in Basking Ridge, NJ. He and his wife reside in Madison, NJ, with their five-year-old twin daughters, who spend their summers at day camp and the beach, and learning how to sing and perform like Princess Elsa in “Frozen.”