Holidays for young children: their importance, our advice

It’s summertime! For many of us, it’s time to finally take a holiday, and for children, it’s time to enjoy the “big holidays”. But how do you make the most of them? If the results of the Google search engine are anything to go by, many parents are asking themselves the question: “How can I keep my children occupied during the summer? After all, we’re on holiday, we’ve earned a bit of a break… That’s all very true, but how do we find the right balance so that everyone, including the youngest children, has something to enjoy? What if we changed the way we look at our little ones’ holidays, to make them a truly happy and fulfilling time for us and for them?

“Holidays” don’t have the same meaning for a child

There’s a big difference between the experience of working adults and schoolchildren, on the one hand, and that of toddlers, on the other.

For working adults, holidays are a ‘break’ from the main part of the year devoted to work, school or study. According to Le Robert dictionary, it’s a period of ‘rest’ for mind and body, of ‘cessation of work and ordinary occupations’. Of course, everyone has their own idea of what a holiday is, whether it’s more or less active, but generally speaking, it’s a time for ‘non-work’. We think of naps and lie-ins, the virtual absence of obligations, the freedom to choose to do or not to do things.

But for toddlers, it’s a different story! No ‘break’! Since there’s no longer a nanny, crèche or nursery school, they like to enjoy the presence of their parents. And as their curiosity and capacity for enthusiasm are immense, there’s no question of resting: on the contrary, they want to play, are excited by new things and their energy almost never seems to flag.

So, while holidays are essential for adults to recharge their batteries, children can be real powerhouses who make great demands on their parents… because they need them.

During the holidays, learning continues

Young children do not yet distinguish between times when they are learning (school work with its obligations) and times when they are relaxing (leisure time). They do both: they learn by playing.

Play is the child’s work, pleasure is the driving force behind play, displeasure is the hindrance, the child does not play to learn, but learns because he plays.
Jean EPSTEIN, psychosociologist and early childhood specialist

Play is the child’s job, it’s his job, his life.
Pauline KERGOMARD, founder and inspector general of nursery schools

Through play, children discover and learn. Through their senses, they develop their creativity, play with possibilities, experiment and imagine solutions to the problems they encounter. They also discover their own sensibilities, tastes and choices, all of which help to build their personalities.

During the holidays, which are a particularly good time to play, children don’t stop learning and growing – on the contrary!

New games, new experiences, new learning:

To support your child’s learning, it’s important to give them a variety of sensory experiences throughout the year.

So holidays are not primarily a time for “catching up”, but rather an opportunity to experience things that were impossible or more difficult to do during the rest of the year. Complementarity is important: each period of the year, each season, has its value.

It’s not just a question of “being” on holiday, but of “going” on holiday. It’s an opportunity to “see something else”, to get some fresh air, to change environment, to meet other adults and other children, to vary the games, and therefore to learn more and differently… but always with pleasure!

By going on holiday, children learn to manage their mobility and adapt to a change of scenery and new situations.

Not going on holiday is recognised as a “deprivation of a common comfort” that reinforces inequality of opportunity. It was for this very reason that, at the end of the first lock-in in the summer of 2020, when one child in four was not going on holiday, the government introduced the “learning holiday” scheme, which has since been extended. Admittedly, the situation is improving: while 10.6 of the under-16s did not go on holiday at least one week a year in 2021, the figure was 17.4 in 2009. But for the four million children who stay at home, this deprivation is often synonymous with social exclusion and, for the youngest children, a delay in learning.

Priority to interaction with family and friends:

During the summer, your toddler will finally benefit from the attention of his parents, other relatives (grandparents in particular) and even new acquaintances (friends, cousins). And it’s in the glances, smiles and words exchanged with them that he’ll draw the well-being, emotional security and confidence that will enable him to grow up serenely.

Let’s take advantage of those days when we have fewer things to think about (work, shopping, household chores) to really devote ourselves to our children and interact with them.

It’s important for them, as it is for us. While it’s perfectly understandable and human to want to enjoy ‘your’ holidays, we must remember that they are also an opportunity to enjoy… your children! Watching them grow up, marvelling at them, laughing out loud, enjoying themselves… it’s a wonderful experience for parents, but it’s also a time that goes by quickly!

That’s why we need to continue to be careful with screens. On holiday, it can be very tempting to leave your child (a little more) in front of the television, a smartphone or a tablet. But screens cut children off from the world, from social relationships, and offer images that hypnotise them and lock them into a passive role. There can even be a risk of dependency, leading to irritation (“just a few more minutes!”). Screens can never replace parent-child interaction or outdoor games and activities!

Holidays are an opportunity to be truly and fully together.

A time for sensory discovery:

July and August are synonymous with sunshine and fresh air. All your young child’s senses are awakened!

– Sight, of course, with the sea, mountains and forests offering new landscapes.

– Touch, with the sand and shells on the beach, or the earth and stones in the countryside and mountains.

– Smell and taste, with summer flavours, especially seasonal fruit and vegetables, but also the smells of the environment.

– The sense of hearing, with the sounds (waves, birds and other animals) and music (our summer playlist: an orchestra in a park) typical of holidays. Or simply the silence of a peaceful place. Lend an ear!

What games for summer?

Remember: children are often amused by waht could seem “nothing” in our eyes.

So make the most of what summer has to offer, for example:

Water:

– Let your child splash around or, in a larger pool, swim with your child in your arms, allowing them to learn to get to grips with this environment without being afraid of it.

– Set up a basin of water with spoons, small containers and floating objects: your child will have fun filling, pouring, decanting, fishing… and splashing.

– Tip: the “ice cube activity”! Put a character in an ice cube tray, fill it with water and put it in the freezer. The child can then have fun freeing the little characters trapped in the ice cubes.

– And if you feel like it, have a little water fight!

Sand, pebbles or earth:

– Show him/her, help him/her or let him/her pile them up, dig them out and create shapes.

– As long as it’s safe to do so, just let him/her touch it – then it’s time to wash his/her hands!

Sunshine… or not!

– Show him/her the shadows on the wall or on the floor, as well as your silhouettes.

– Watch the sun set for the first time.

– And if it’s overcast and not too bright… watch the clouds!

Food:

– Suggest they try seasonal fruit and vegetables. New tastes, new smells, new colours.

– Organise a picnic.

– Find a place that welcomes you for a pick-your-own or garden: introduce him/her to different fruits and vegetables and how they grow.

Animals:

– Visit a farm.

– Go to a responsible zoo (with facilities that ensure the well-being of the animals and a commitment to the conservation and protection of endangered species).

And even on the road:

On the road on holiday, journeys can sometimes seem a bit long, both for us and for our children!

– Sing along, listen to new music together, take in the scenery.

– Equip your car with an awakening sun visor.

– Get a musical mobile to rock baby.

– Pack a bag with toys that are easy to carry and suitable for transport.

Of course, artistic activities are always very popular: drawing and colouring, painting, modelling clay, creative workshops with shells, etc

Not going away?

Perhaps this is your chance to discover your town or village as if it were an unknown destination? In addition, many local authorities organise events during this period: concerts, entertainment, children’s activities… find out more on the local website.

Watch out for the sun and the heat:

The sun is essential for children’s growth, but it can also be dangerous, especially at the height of summer.

– Avoid exposure to the sun when it is strongest (11am – 4pm).

– Protect your child with an effective sun cream (> 25), suitable sunglasses (category 3 or higher), a cotton shirt and a wide-brimmed hat.

– Give your child water regularly to keep them hydrated.

– Don’t cover the pushchair with a cloth, as this could create a “furnace effect”.

– Take a spray bottle with you (for example, if you’re travelling by train or car without air conditioning) and, conversely, a jumper and socks if there is air conditioning (especially on the train or plane), especially for the youngest children.

Keep up the pace:

While our rhythm is out of sync in summer, it’s important to respect the basic needs of young children.

So, as far as possible, stick to the daily routine (bath, nap, mealtimes, evening rituals) and bedtime.

The excitement and change of scenery of holidays can be tiring for toddlers: don’t hesitate to practise breathing and relaxation exercises with them.

If, despite everything, your child’s rhythm has been slightly disrupted, nothing to worry about! As the new school year approaches, you can get back into the swing of things a few days before the start of the new school year, by gradually bringing forward bedtime.