Posted: 12:41 am Monday, June 16th, 2014

What’s the right summer balance of rest, exercise, mental stimulation? 

By Theresa Walsh Giarrusso

We are having a very odd summer, and a hard time finding the right balance of vegging out versus mental stimulation versus exercise.

Last summer we had a week of VBS and then then four weeks of travel intermixed with four weeks of just hanging around the house. We hit the library and played with some friends but everyone seemed pretty happy with this combination.

This summer I didn’t book any camps or even VBS because we truly weren’t sure where we would be.  We thought right after school got out we would either be traveling to Atlanta to visit with my family or moving immediately to New Jersey. We still haven’t sold the house here, and it wasn’t until last Thursday that we finally secured a rental house in New Jersey. We have a move date of July 2, and it doesn’t seem to make financial sense to drive across the country to then come back to move. So here we sit with very little to do other than swim (Let’s review it’s over 100 every day.) and get ready for the move.

Both of my big kids worked so hard at school this year that I thought they would enjoy really just hanging out and relaxing. But Walsh in particular seems like he needs much more mental stimulation. (I think he was really thinking at his school and I think he’s having a hard time without all that stimulation. Our neighbor said the same thing about her daughter who went to the same school.) I thought the kids would enjoy slow mornings and then going to the YMCA to work out and play and then coming home for lunch and then swimming later in the day. But even with the exercise they just seem out of whack. We’ve gone to the library, watched documentaries about World War II, and I keep offering to teach them HTML coding. I think I am going to subscribe to where they can learn computer software like Photoshop and Java Script from video instruction. They seemed better when friends came over to swim and when they went to a neighborhood pool that has slides and high dives.

I am seeing a lot of friends doing science camps, sleep away camps, sports camps. So I wondering how do you find the right balance between letting them rest and relax but still stimulated?






I'm sure it is hard with transition and move. As time allows before move, maybe each kid could choose a fun day.

I do think VBS offers affordable opportunities. We didn't attend church growing up, but neighbor took us to VBS. I can't tell you the denomination or bible verse, but it was fun. Kids of all types just having fun for a few hours for five days...

I balance my daughter's summer with sports camps, a creative camp, trips to aunt/cousins, trips to grandparents and some staycation time such as baseball games, amusement parks, festivals. We try to emphasize healthy eating and exercise since days are longer and produce plentiful. We tend to have more family meals, swims, walks with mom, dad, daughter in summer as schedule is so much easier. On a rainy day, we might just have a stay at home lazy movie day.

Hopefully next year a sleep away camp will work out. I will miss her, but like her to build independence.

I'm lucky to consult and work from home on projects. I try to schedule my best to utilize independence.

AJCmomania moderator

Prime Minister -- I love this idea of the challenge -- and I am going to sit down and set some goals with them. I had them do swimming goals this morning. We went and swam laps and they set how many they wanted to do. I'm telling them it's reading time now and they need to set a daily goal for chapters. 

Last year we camped for two weeks in July and our trip to Atlanta we were playing with friends so that time was already pretty much off line. 

I think once we get moved things will be better. They will be learning a new town and we will be 30 mins from New York City. Walsh cant' wait to return to the Met for a leisurely visit without his sisters!!! 

I really want a beach trip but don't feel like we'll have the money after the move but we were thinking today about beach camping -- Rose seemed very into that idea. So that will help with unplugging and physical activity.


Two words: Summer Challenge!

For the past five years I've given each of my children (15yo girl and 12.5yo boy) a Summer Challenge.  Each challenge includes academic pursuits, fun activities, creative exploration, physical activity and life skills.  They're personalized for each child.  The beauty of the Challenges is that I design them for my children to do them independently!  This requires time management on their parts.  They decide when and for how long they are going to work on their Challenges.  The only rule is that they have to read and work on their challenge for at least 2 hrs before they are allowed to watch TV/plug in (1.5 hr/day max).  

Each child selects a "big" reward at the beginning of the challenge that she/he will get if their respective Challenge is met.  My son has always met his challenge.  My daughter is a different story...Hopefully, she'll make it this year!

I LOVE the Challenges because it keeps their brains from being pickled while keeping them active, creative and engaged.  It also gives them plenty of time for R&R --- if they plan accordingly. ;)  

Btw, we also do a completely TV free and unplugged July...I LOVE It!  My 12yo son is not at all crazy about it, but he survives and lives to tell about it.  


VBS = Vacation Bible School = summer babysitting + religious indoctrination = sounds like a nightmare

I didn't even think Catholics did that, since Catholics are generally kind of the quiet, to-themselves, type of religious folks.  Or, at least they were back in the 80s and 90s when I was growing up Catholic.

The roots of VBS are in the Baptist faith.

My son would run away from home if I told him I was sending him to VBS.  Heck, I might run away from home if I were considering VBS.

There's nothing vacation about going to any kind of school, especially a religious one.

Not to mention the word vacation stems from the word vacate, with the implication you're leaving town.  So, the name VBS doesn't make sense.

Should be SBS - Summer Bible School.

Anyway, to answer the question - we're doing two soccer camps and one IDTech camp (making video games).  On top of that our son has his normal "chores".  My husband came up with his chore list.  Some of these "chores" aren't traditional chores, where they contribute tot he household.  About half of them are for his personal enrichment.  Here are the non-traditional chores (the traditional ones are as you'd expect, like cleaning up his room, or wiping down the baseboard upstairs, or cleaning the upstairs bathroom, etc):

1.  He has to write in his journal 3 days a week.  His journal is basically Google Docs.

2.  He has to read at least 40 minutes a week on a special topic (right now it's the book "Internal Combustion").  

3.  He has to run one mile 3 days a week.

4.  He has to practice juggling his soccer ball for 30 minutes 3 days a week.

5.  He has to do 10 sets of 5-10 reps of pullups, pushups, and jump squats 3 days a week.

6.  He has to come up with a weekly project to finish by the end of the week (example: change the tire on his bike, build a model car, make a list of BMX parks he wants to visit by researching on the internet...just random stuff that he comes up with himself)

7.  Nail a 4 inch nail into a 4x4, one nail per arm - once a week.  This one is so weird but my favorite.

This specific chore list is relaxed during the school year but during the summer it's strict.  It sounds like a lot but he's usually done with all his chores by 10am or noon each day (and he wakes up 8-9am) so it's not as much as it looks like.

And it also sounds a bit militaristic but he likes the physical chores.  I mean, he's not quite 13 and he can nail a 4 inch nail into a block of wood in something like 3-4 hits.  And he's pretty proud that he can do pullups, etc, so easily.  He likes being fit (who doesn't?) and it helps with confidence.

Also, he's a pretty darn good writer after years of short writing assignments.  That's definitely going to help him later.

Like I said, my husband came up with these non-traditional chores.  He's a professor of exercise science so that sort of thing would obviously be something he feels should be prioritized alongside the intellectual development.


I'd suggest having them do some volunteer work.  It is hard when you are getting ready to transition, and are ready in many ways to just GO!  Volunteer work is good for any time.  Young people the ages of your oldest two need to be learning to turn OUTWARD and do things for other people, rather than just be entertained by someone.

I think your emphasis on family activities is good.  

Have you asked THEM to set some goals for themselves on a topic they want to explore?  You would be more a facilitator than the kingpin, and both of them are certainly ready and able to self-initiate/generate some ideas about topics they would find interesting.

I understand weird, transitioning summers.  I had several with my children as part of grad school moves.  Luckily for you, your kids are smart enough and old enough to take the lead.


@iRun And here comes the religion-bashing . . . *yawn*.  My daughter loved VBS -- got to hang with her church friends during the week, so that was a treat, and they always had fun craft projects.  It's VERY active -- no "classroom bible school".  And she enjoyed it enough so that she ended up teaching it for a year or two before she went to college.  And it wasn't babysitting, because I was there volunteering, too.

If you don't want to go, don't.  But why bash it?


@iRun OK.....Now I know....Thanks. When we moved here 40 years ago, one of our neighbors greeted us and stated we(teenagers at the time) could still enroll in their churches bible school. Needless to say, we never got along with them after that.

The reason for the vacation before the bible school is to mask the absurdity of the concept and ensure the indoctrination can continue.

Ironic that these same religious nuts portray Obama as Hitler.


@DBOrig @iRun

I was bashing the name, which is inappropriate.  At least linguistically.

It's true - I'm an atheist and the idea of day long exposure to religious indoctrination sounds like torture.

However, I think the concept of any kind of "school" over summer break would sound like torture to nearly any kid.

You guys should rebrand it as "Summer Bible Camp".  Take the word "school" out of it, ferchrissakes.


VBS name has been around for at least fifty years. Even if it is not your belief or religion it could be a week long activity for a child to learn many things. VBS, soccer camp, swim lessons, culinary camp, and technology camp could allow a child to learn or explore what they want in the future.


@Rory_Bellows @DBOrig @iRun Atheists and their "Look at me.  I'm smarter than you.  You should debate me." dogma.  It's so tired.

My roommate in college was an Atheist.  He used to go on and on about how he was "above" believing in God.  He also failed the Regents writing sample four times; once more and he wouldn't have been allowed to proceed in school.  He was quite enlightened....barely literate...but enlightened.

Not believing in something, doesn't make you smart.

K's Mom
K's Mom

@OMM , I agree about the VBS name.  My mom is nearly 65 and she went to VBS.  May not be what you want to do @iRun, but there is no need to mock others who choose to participate.  And whether or not you believe in a higher power or not does not preclude you from teaching your son about serving others and philanthropy..  Might want to add some volunteer work to his summer schedule, if nothing else it will help his college applications, but he might also learn something about the big world out there.