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Health & Safety

How to Have a Fun and Healthy Spring WITHOUT Spring Break

Marybeth Bock, MPH

When we hear the phrase “college spring break,” we tend to think of the stereotypical scenes we’ve watched in movies — huge crowds of drunken kids in bathing suits, dancing and partying to loud music on a beach somewhere in Florida or Mexico.

But for every college student who has spent a “traditional” spring break partying at the beach, there are more than a few who opt to experience an “alternative” spring break. These non-partying types of trips have been growing in popularity since the 1980s and provide opportunities for community service and for gaining leadership skills. In the past, many schools and nonprofit organizations have offered such trips so that students can both travel and engage in various types of experiential learning.

And of course, each year many students simply go home and visit family, or perhaps travel with them during their spring break, or stay at school and work extra hours at their normal job. No matter what students have chosen to do in the past, they’ve normally been afforded a week off from classes and a chance to catch their breath and decompress from the stresses of academics.

Enter 2021 — a year that has us still grappling with COVID, vaccination rollouts and travel restrictions.

Countless colleges across the country preemptively cancelled their 2021 spring breaks last fall, citing health concerns for students, faculty and staff members.

Instead of the normal five consecutive days off for a spring break, many schools are instead giving students several single days off throughout the middle of the semester (often midweek to discourage students from leaving campus), designating them “rest and recovery” days, “well-being breaks” or “reading” days.

While these moves certainly make sense from an infectious disease standpoint, the plans haven’t gone over very well with students.

Even in a normal year, having a spring break is a much-needed mental health boost for college students. Second semester is stressful, with many students trying to land summer internships and jobs on top of their typical academic load and end-of-year projects, papers and presentations. Burnout is real, and with COVID-19 having impacted every aspect of this particular school year, a cancelled spring break week is another significant letdown.

This makes it vital for students to take full advantage of their designated days off this spring semester, and we as parents can encourage and possibly facilitate them in doing so.

Fun and Relaxing Things to Do this Spring

1. Find an event or take a class.

Their first planning stop should always be the college’s website, which will have any school-sponsored activities promoted.

Next up, have your student check out Eventbrite. This website is a treasure trove for all kinds of events, both online and in-person. A user simply inputs their city and chooses a category for events, like Music, Sports & Fitness, Food & Drink, or Charity & Causes. I guarantee your student will find a few events they are interested in, and many of the digital events are free.

Another excellent site to consider is Masterclass. For just $15 a month, anyone can access classes from experts in various fields such as Sports & Gaming, Design & Style, Arts & Entertainment, and Science & Tech. Does your student like basketball? They can learn about shooting and ball handling from NBA champion Steph Curry. Are they interested in the environment? They can sign up for Conservation classes with Dr. Jane Goodall. New classes are added every month and the 10-minute video lessons can be accessed on smartphones as well as TV apps.

2. Spend time outdoors and be active.

Encouraging your student to get outside for a good part of their days off this spring is key. So many of us, especially students, have been spending excessive time indoors this winter, due to both COVID and cold weather. As spring progresses, some students may need a nudge to remind them to get back outside if they’ve been holed up inside in front of screens for several months. Fresh air, sunlight and sustained movement are all crucial for their physical and mental health.

Many colleges have Outdoor Recreation centers where students can rent all types of gear. For example, Kansas State University’s Outdoor Rental Center (open seasonally from March–October) provides canoes, kayaks, life vests, tents, coolers and hammocks, among other items, for students to get away for a day of camping or hiking.

Another option is to investigate local rental businesses and ask about student discounts for sporting gear.

Other prospects for students to get some outdoor exercise is to search community college, city government and local gym websites for fitness class opportunities. Student discounts and free trial memberships are great ways for them to try out a new activity. They should also check out hotels and resorts in their local area that may sell day passes for pool and spa areas.

3. Do good in the community.

Lastly, a wonderful way for your student to spend a designated day off from classes is to do some good in their community. Whether they are on or near their campus, or taking classes from your home, they can go to Volunteer Match for plenty of local opportunities, both in-person and virtual. There is always need at places like food banks, animal rescues and non-profits assisting various underserved populations.

They can also Google "outdoor volunteer opportunities" and the name of their city or state if they'd like to combine a day or two of service with fresh air and that really good tired feeling that comes from spending a few hours or a day on a challenging project like creating an urban garden or repairing a trail.

Take Advantage of the Time Off

Whether they opt to engage their mind with a new topic, exercise their body or give back to their community, your student can still enjoy and benefit greatly from several single days off throughout their spring semester.

And should they decide to take a traditional trip with friends, encourage them to take every safety precaution available to decrease their overall risk of COVID or any other travel-related illness or injury.

Marybeth Bock, MPH, is Mom to two young adult students and one delightful hound dog. She has logged time as a military spouse, childbirth educator, college instructor and freelance writer. Marybeth has a bachelor's degree in psychology from UCLA and a master's in public health from San Jose State University. She lives in Arizona and thoroughly enjoys research and writing. You can find her work on multiple parenting sites and in two books.
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