The summer vacations are about to start! According to dictionaries, a vacation is when one relaxes and enjoys oneself away from home. Adults use the free time to unwind from work and recharge their batteries. However, children also need vacations to take a rest – and to develop.
Children’s daily routines are stressful, too
In many countries, children up to a certain age do not work regularly. Nevertheless, they also need vacations at regular intervals. Day care and school are work, after all. In both facilities, children must keep appointments, adhere to rules, concentrate, and perform. They have to make compromises during social interactions; sometimes, they have to give in, sometimes assert themselves.
Besides, there is permanent background noise. There is an average sound level of 65 decibels in classrooms – noise pollution is considered to start at 55 decibels. Noise leaves physical and psychological traces even in children with good hearing; their performance decreases with an increasing noise level. Children with hearing loss are even more affected. Not only must they endure the continuous sound, but they also have greater difficulty in filtering out important acoustic information from the hubbub.
Stress over an extended period negatively impacts all children’s health. Some kids complain of stomach aches or headaches, and others have difficulty concentrating or falling asleep. While some suffer from lack of appetite and lack of drive, others react to stress with irritation.
How much vacation does a child need?
Vacations are an integral part of school life worldwide, although the length of summer breaks varies considerably. Some Swiss cantons only grant pupils three weeks, while Italian children look forward to three months off. In Germany and the UK, summer holidays last six to seven weeks, in the United States eight to twelve weeks.
There is no uniform regulation for day care centers in several countries, and the closing times of the facilities differ. If the closing time is only one week, parents may leave their children at home or take them on vacation for a longer time. Many, however, opt for sending them to day care without a break, which can be a disadvantage for the children. With the beginning of each summer, educators, doctors, and education ministers advise parents to afford their kids time off from day care.
Family holidays are an essential part of summer break. Until now, science has not been able to make any definite statements about how long a relaxing break from everyday life should take. A more extended vacation offers more time to switch off. Nevertheless, even a short trip awakens the spirits and reenergizes. Since it is clear that the recovery effect disappears after the first “stress phase”, some researchers recommend planning several short vacations per year.
In 2012, a contribution was published in the Journal of Happiness Studies, which indicates a minimum vacation period. The team led by scientist Dr Jessica de Bloom from the Finnish University of Tampere found that the well-being of vacationers peaked on the eighth day. Although it did not necessarily decrease afterward, it did not increase either. The conclusion could be: A vacation should last at least eight days in order to be regenerative.
Vacations – the best time of the year
What exactly is this magical vacation feeling, and what effect does it have on children? A crucial factor is the seemingly endless amount of time that children can spend with their parents and siblings. In the best case, they will receive undivided attention during a holiday together. The feeling of being noticed and the certainty that the family enjoys spending time together significantly strengthens the child’s self-confidence and the parent-child relationship.
British psychologist Oliver James is concerned with the long-term effects of family vacations. According to him, children on vacation particularly enjoy the opportunity to engage playfully with their family members over an extended period. He emphasizes how much children value shared vacations, not just for the moment, but long afterward. A study by the British Family Holiday Association from 2015 confirms this thesis: 49 percent of the study participants identified the memory of a family vacation as the most beautiful one of their lives. A third of the respondents clearly remembered childhood vacations, and a quarter said they used these memories to help them get through rough patches.
The brain is not on vacation
In addition to spending time with the family, free time during the summer holidays is also crucial for a child’s health, well-being, and development. There is no homework; there are no appointments; kids lose track of time. Maybe they even get bored – hopefully! Nothing offers an equal opportunity for self-determination and creativity like boredom. As German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche put it:
“For the thinker and for all inventive spirits boredom is the unpleasant ‘calm’ of the soul which precedes the happy voyage and the dancing breezes.“Friedrich Nietzsche
Play and seek
Although breaks are essential for children to process what they have learned and to enjoy time off from tasks and chores, vacations do not mean stagnation. The child’s brain develops even during a family vacation, as the British child psychologist Dr Margot Sunderland vividly explains in an article for the British newspaper The Telegraph.
During a family vacation, two systems in the brain’s limbic area are activated: the play system and the seeking system, as identified by Dr Jaak Panksepp. The former reacts to sensual experiences, such as the feeling of sand between one’s toes or the sound of nature. The latter is trained while exploring a new environment. Once these two systems are activated, the brain releases happiness hormones such as oxytocin and dopamine. These substances lower the stress level and promote well-being. The play and seeking systems behave similarly to muscles: the more regularly and intensively trained, the faster the underlying behaviour becomes a habit, and the resulting emotions and skills become an integral part of the personality.
Learning with no pressure to perform
While being on vacation, children automatically learn, provided they have the opportunity to play in an enriched environment and to satisfy their natural curiosity. However, under certain conditions, it can also make sense to reserve time blocks for goal-oriented learning during the summer holidays. Of course, the best reason is if a child wants to work on something of their own free will. There may also be a need to catch up; for example, if children missed relevant subject material during the corona lockdown. There is no reason to keep children from learning during the holidays – but if they do, one should take a more creative approach and not pressure them to perform. In any case, parents should make sure that at least half of the vacation remains free so that the children have enough time to spend with their family and leisure activities.
Do not forget auditory training!
As crucial as relaxation and new experiences during the summer holidays are: Children with a cochlear implant should continue their auditory training during their free time. Only regular exercise helps to increase hearing. While adults need a maximum of twelve months on average, hearing training for babies and toddlers can take up to a few years. A break of several weeks would not only stop progress but also level children down in their hearing development.
However, auditory training does not have to be a chore; it can be great fun! The joy of learning is crucial for successful rehabilitation. That is why MED-EL provides numerous materials that parents can use to teach their children to enjoy listening and speaking. The majority of the exercises is available for download and can be taken on vacation. There is a checklist for traveling with a cochlear implant, too, so one does not have to worry about forgetting anything important. What remains to be said now is only: Have a great holiday!