Top summer activities for kids: Survey finds what parents want kids to do this summer

Caitlin McCormack
Caitlin McCormack
Shine On

A recent survey by the Ontario Science Centre has revealed that the majority of Canadian parents believe their children should spend their summer holidays balanced between organized activities and free/unstructured play time.

Seventy per cent of parents said this balance was important to them, with only five per cent of parents answering that children should be in organized programs most days during the summer — even though two thirds of them plan to enroll their children in at least one summer program.

With the rise of the helicopter parent and overscheduled kids, experts agree that giving youngsters time to play without any structure is an important part of childhood development.

Overscheduling your child can make them tired and cranky. On the other hand, unstructured learning can help children learn faster and help them become more engaged in the learning process.

"Kids can learn an amazing amount through exploration and problem solving on their own or with their friends," said Lesley Lewis, CEO of the Ontario Science Centre.

Just what do these 'free play' activities look like? Something as simple as reading a book or visiting a museum can be defined as free-choice learning. Essentially, it's learning one wants or chooses to do — and young or old, we all engage in it every day.

[See also: Are you paying too much for a babysitter?]

Asking your child what types of activities they are interested in and what they'd like to do more of are great ways to get your little one involved in free-choice learning.

According to the survey, Canadian parents value their child's input when it comes to planning these summer activities with over half of them saying their child has a significant input in what they do for the summer, and only five per cent saying the did not consider their child's input at all.

The survey found that parents feel team or individual sports (63 per cent), unstructured playtime or learning (59 per cent) and cultural attractions like museums, science centres or galleries (57 per cent) would offer their children the most benefit.

Possibly surprising is that only 25 per cent of parents considered the iconic sleep-away camp as beneficial.

The study also found that Westerners are more in favour of free time than the rest of the country, with 26 per cent saying children should be engaged in unstructured daytime activity for most of the summer, compared to just 13 per cent in Ontario. Ontarians were also the most likely to report 'programming' their children in the summer with 22 percent saying they enroll their child in three of more summer programs, whereas only 12 per cent of parents in the rest of the country say they'd enroll their child in three or more programs.

The bilingual survey was conducted online by public opinion research firm Gandalf Group between May 29 and June 1, 2012. The sample included 450 Canadian parents who had at least one child aged 6-12, with invitations proportionate to region and gender.

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