Summer offers a welcome break from the school routine, but time off doesn’t mean putting social learning on hold. Summer vacations can be the perfect time to embrace teachable social moments and can even make your travels more enjoyable. As you plan a trip, hit the road, and visit new places, kids can also build their social and emotional skills.
Here are five tips from my book Make Social Learning Stick! packed with social and emotional learning ideas that are fun and easy to adapt for children of different ages and abilities. These activities help kids learn to navigate their social world and to understand and respond to social clues in our daily lives.
1. Car Games: Activities like Name That Tune provide practice in giving logical clues and making informed guesses. Each person can offer clues like the name of the singer, the style of music, what show or movie it’s from, and the number of notes allowed before guessing. The game of 20 Questions offers similar benefits, and both games provide practice with taking turns and following rules.
2. Be A Social Detective: Games that involve people-watching and making informed guesses or inferences about what people are thinking or doing are perfect in places like airports, hotels, beaches, parks, and pools. Help your child develop observational skills and social understanding by figuring out how people are connected and why. If two children are playing together, might they be brother and sister? Friends? Cousins? What are some of the clues to help figure this out?
3. Tour Guide: While on vacation, ask your child to pick up brochures and maps and help guide the group to various sites. These activities can develop skills in leadership and initiation and give your child a sense of control while in a new setting.
4. Broaden Your Horizons: If you’re visiting a new town, city, or country, help your child learn about the people and culture there. How is it the same or different from your own? Thinking about other lifestyles helps kids to consider the needs and viewpoints of others and lays the groundwork for perspective taking.
5. Shutterbug: Document your trip with photos to provide visual reminders and make it easy to talk about the vacation once you get back. Perhaps your child will relish the role of family photographer. When taking photos, try to catch people displaying a variety of emotions so your child can make guesses about what the person was feeling and why.
Before embarking on a vacation, prepare your child by talking about hidden rules related to travel. For example, if you’ll be taking a plane, train, or bus, discuss the need to keep one’s body to oneself, to use only one armrest, and to speak in a quiet voice. Help your child understand that waiting in lines and coping with transportation delays are often part of the experience, and be ready with music, books, or other activities to do while waiting.
For many children who do not pick up on social and emotional clues or navigate their social world with ease, vacations can be an ideal time to relax and focus on these skills and concepts. Be sure your child is well prepared for the experience, and use the tips above as a starting point. You may also want to ask your child or other family members to jump in on the fun and provide suggestions to promote learning and growth during your summer adventures. For more social learning activities, visit MakeSocialLearningStick.com.
Elizabeth Sautter, M.A. CCC-SLP, is co-director and co-owner of Communication Works, a private practice in Oakland, California, offering speech, language, social, and occupational therapy. She is the co-author of the Whole Body Listening Larry books. Her most recent book is Make Social Learning Stick! How to Guide and Nurture Social Competence Through Everyday Routines and Activities. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her: website; Facebook; Pinterest; Twitter