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by Dr. Susan Bartell

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Summer is the opportune time for kids to explore and experience new things. Here, Dr. Susan Bartell offers tips for parents on how they can encourage and make the most of those explorations.


little boy digging in the sand at the beach; young boy playing at the beach   Summer is great when you're a kid. The stressful weeks of school have been left far behind and autumn's cold and dreary days seem like they're still far away. Each sunny moment is an opportunity for something new - an interesting shell on the beach, a new friend at the park, a delicious ice cream flavor. The summer is a time for exploring.

   In addition to being fun, exploring is an important task of childhood. By becoming a detective, a child learns that one must look beyond the obvious "big picture" to see the world as interesting and complex. Developing the ability to explore with an open and inquisitive mind - to analyze situations, objects, and places - is a skill that will carry a child far beyond the fun of the playground and into a successful adult life.

   It is important for parents to provide opportunities for children to explore - and summer is the perfect time. Encourage digging holes on the beach by remembering to bring the shovel. Invite exploration in the playground by leaving ample time to play. Make sure bicycles and their safety equipment are accessible and ready to go. Your enthusiasm and patience (rather than frustration or boredom) will support your child's desire to question and learn. At home, adventures can be found in baking or homegrown scientific experiments with soap, water, clay, and...just ask your young explorer! Summer days are perfect for 'science,' as patios or driveways can be hosed down afterwards.

   Exploring need not be reserved for playful detective work. Trying new foods is a type of exploration - a venturing into unknown and, for many children, scary territory. However, the summer is a great time for developing a child's palate. For one thing, it is less stressful, having left behind "hurry up and eat, we'll be late for school/homework/bed." There are also so many great foods to try - fruits, BBQs, and picnic foods all seem tastier and more fun at this time of year. So, invite your child to explore a rainbow of summer foods - make it tempting by cutting them into interesting shapes or serving them in fun ways. Invite neighbors to a picnic in the backyard - new foods appeal more on colorful paper plates while sitting under a tree, especially when other kids are eating them too - peer pressure can work wonders when it comes to exploring foods.

   Some children are born explorers. For others, the idea of venturing out of their comfort zones doesn't seem like fun; it feels overwhelming. Sometimes a child is left behind by other children who want to explore, especially when the park, pool, and beach are calling out for adventure. A reluctant explorer may need a boost from you to get over fear. Also, ask yourself if you're contributing to your child's anxiety by conveying your own worries about straying too far, getting hurt, or becoming dirty. If so, you'll want to keep this in check so your child can become a more confident explorer - while still being safe, of course! 

   Igniting interest in creative exploration is a gift you can give your child that will burn brightly long into adulthood. So get out your favorite walking shoes, digging stick, and magnifying glass - and go exploring!



Dr. Susan Bartell is a nationally recognized child psychologist, speaker, and award-winning author. Her latest book is The Top 50 Questions Kids Ask. You can learn more about Dr. Bartell at www.drsusanbartell.com.

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