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Using the Summer Productively: Social, Emotional, and Life Skill Development for K-12 Students

Summer can be a great time to reinforce the social emotional learning lessons worked on throughout the school year.

SchooLinks Staff
SchooLinks Staff

May 29, 2022

During the school year, counselors across the K-12 spectrum spend a great deal of time, energy, and focus on helping students develop skills for managing one’s emotions, interacting with others, and independently navigating real-world situations and challenges. These lessons underpin academic learning throughout a student’s educational career and are critical for lifelong success and fulfillment. 

As the academic calendar draws to a close, it is important to remind students and families that this kind of learning and growth should be a priority and continue over the summer months. And, the time away from structured schooling during the summer often lends itself to organic experiences that help build these vital skills. 

In addition to reminding students and parents to continue the academic practice and reading over the summer, counselors and teachers might encourage families to intentionally and thoughtfully find opportunities for their child to interact with peers, cultivate independent life skills, and reflect on various challenges or successes. Consider sharing the tips below to help support students and families over the summer.  


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Elementary Students and Families

  1. Relationship-Building: It is productive when parents find opportunities for their child to play with others, whether it be through an organized sport, play dates at a local park, or a swimming pool get-together. Encourage parents to allow children to work through decisions or disagreements, only intervening when necessary. Afterwards, it can be helpful for parents to talk and reflect with children about the various interactions, discussing what went well and what they might have handled differently.
  2. Perseverance: When families find ways to acknowledge and honor a child working hard or sticking with something that feels challenging, it helps a child shift from a focus on outcomes to a focus on effort and growth. Childhood is ripe with opportunities for these lessons–from a child learning to tie their shoes, to trying out a new sport or game, to playing a new instrument. Growth often comes more from a struggle than when something comes easily, and working through a challenge is a vital life skill.
  3. Responsibility and Independence: Even young children can help and contribute to a household or community in meaningful ways. Finding ways for children to help around the house or share in chores builds important life skills and habits and nurtures a sense of self-accomplishment and pride. Encourage families to think about how their child can take on some developmentally-appropriate tasks and responsibilities and find ways to complement their child’s efforts and assistance.
  4. Mindfulness: A core component of social and emotional development is an awareness of one’s emotions and the ability to constructively respond. If there are certain strategies or resources that students are using at school for breathing, movement, or practicing mindfulness, share those with families. Remind families to have their children take time to regularly check in on themselves and pause and breathe, add movement, or even just dance as needed throughout the summer. These subtle practices can have a big impact on feelings and emotions. 

Secondary Students and Families

  1. Collaboration: Over the summer, middle and high school students have more time to seek out opportunities to volunteer or explore interests and passions. They might offer their help at an animal rescue center, a summer camp, or other local community organization. Share with families that these opportunities help students earn community service hours and give students a wider diversity of experiences and foster their ability to work with others. During these learning opportunities, students often must coordinate efforts as a team and collectively solve problems–building skills that are fundamental requisites for work and engagement in a global economy.
  2. Self-Advocacy: As students begin to do more independently, it is critical that they feel empowered to use their voice to articulate their needs, share their opinions, and speak up for themselves–all in a respectful or appropriate manner. Adolescents need opportunities to practice these skills in real-world settings in order to be prepared for adulthood. Encourage families to seek out safe opportunities with their child to cultivate these skills. Adolescents might apply for a job on their own, advocate for a change in the community or neighborhood by writing a letter or speaking at a meeting, or take ownership of resolving issues with lost or broken personal items.
  3. Mental Health & Wellness: The middle and high school years are filled with transitions, strong emotions, and busy schedules. Because of this, adolescence is often associated with a great deal of stress and anxiety. Learning to manage stress and find ways to process feelings of anxiety in a healthy, productive way is critical to short- and long-term wellbeing. Help families to better understand this developmental stage and validate, rather than disregard, these intense feelings and emotions. Share with families that it is important to listen and not always jump to a solution-focused response and offer tips and strategies that can help children work through stress. If adolescents can learn to pay attention to the way they feel and develop tools to work through hard emotions, they will have a strong base to cope with stress into adulthood.

Maintaining the momentum will help reduce the summer melt that many graduating seniors experiences. The tips above gives students readiness tips and support throughout the summer on their career and college readiness plans post-graduation.

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