Advice for parents this summer: relax and give the kids their freedom

05 Jan, 2016


Dr Andrew Gibbons
Dr Andrew Gibbons

Parents struggling under the weight of advice on how to raise smart, engaged kids can take a breather these holidays according to one education researcher. 

Associate Professor Andrew Gibbons, from Auckland University of Technology’s School of Education, says when kids are given the freedom to explore things at their own pace and focus on things they are interested in, the learning will come naturally.

“Just because it is not a formal learning experience doesn’t mean your child isn’t learning. If as an adult you find yourself needing to turn everything into a learning opportunity, that’s pretty exhausting for everybody.”

While there are many great educationally focused holiday ideas and programmes Gibbons suggests seeing educational opportunities as a by-product of having a good time as a family.

“If you have some extra time with the kids this summer, it doesn’t have to be scheduled for planned activities. Holidays are a great time for everyone to enjoy some relaxed times together and a chance to find out what makes your child tick by seeing what they do with their free time.”

Gibbons says communities have long recognised that relationships are an important foundation for children’s learning, so using the holidays as a time to build family and community relationships is a great investment of time.

“Going to the park and just meeting some people from your neighbourhood is great. You don’t have to make it more complicated than that.”

“When you go to the zoo, you don’t have to set an agenda or quiz them on the animals. Kids are naturally inquisitive and if you let them have a bit of freedom you are likely to learn something about what they are interested in.”

“Set them free. It’s a lovely freedom to be spending time with your parents and to be unconstrained.”

Spending time together, talking and catching up with friends and family or in community activities, can encourage communication, confidence and interpersonal skills – skills which Gibbons points out are being given greater focus at all levels of education.

Ultimately though, Gibbons says his advice for these holidays is ‘ignore the advice’ when that advice puts more pressure on the family.

“Holidays are all about kids and parents being who they want to be and having a break – teachers understand the value of a great holiday.” 

Dr Andrew Gibbons is an early childhood teacher educator and Associate Professor at Auckland University of Technology’s School of Education. He has worked in journalism, in the social services in England and in early childhood education in Auckland.

Free for the summer - the anti-advice advice list for parents

Freedom to muck around as a family is a great gift to give your kids this summer – don’t fill the holidays with planned, structured activities

Get out and meet people in your community – help your child build connections with their local community (go to the local park or say ‘hi’ to your neighbours)

Try observing your kids instead of quizzing them – you’ll learn more about what makes them tick

Don’t try to force ‘learning experiences’ – your kids are learning all the time so relax and enjoy your time together

If you are looking for advice, though, on things to do with your children over the holidays, you can email Andrew at Auckland University of Technology or check out great community resources such as    

Last updated: 06-Jan-2016 10.38am

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