Summer presents a new transition for both a child and a parent’s mindset. You love your kids, but lets be honest about the fact that the beginning of summer brings with it a huge crash of disorder and chaos. All of a sudden the routine you work nine months to perfect seems to fall apart in an instant.
Can you remember that feeling of freedom you got as a kid when the last school bell rang and you knew you had 3 full care-free months of play and lounging ahead of you, or so you thought? Now as a parent you may have a different viewpoint. Maybe you think, “Great, they can help out a little more around the house or get some yard work done.” Perhaps you have some fun family projects or adventures planned. Regardless of what your expectations were on that last day of school they seem to fall apart when the reality of having the kids home full time, new sibling interaction, differences in summer expectations, and change in the daily routine fuels parental overwhelm.
It’s time to regroup and figure out a way to reconcile your child’s expectation with your own in a way that makes life a little easier for everyone in the family. Not only can your kids have an amazing summer, but so can you.
The formula for an awesome summer with your kids
1 part planning + 1 part spontaneity = Awesome summer!
Planning and spontaneity may seem like two contradictory concepts, but when you take the middle ground, they harmonize beautifully. It’s important to know when to let things fly and when to reel things in and create some order and predictability. A basic rule for finding this balance is to create a general structure including the normal, predictable needs of your family each day, but leave time and emotional room for deviation, discovery, exploration and spontaneous joy. What this means practically, is to set a basic daily routine including major events like waking, meals and bedtime, along with other specific responsibilities, like household chores or other appointments. Schedule in time to do whatever you and they want, but don’t over schedule. Leave the rest of your day open to the spontaneous imagination of you and your children. The following six things are concepts that help to make summer go more smoothly and create a seamless application of routine or planning and spontaneity.
Six elements of a great summer with your kids
- Mornings matter: The morning routine is not something to be left to chance. In order to get each day off on the right foot it’s important to be deliberate about your mornings. It may be helpful to have a fun family night and discuss the plans for your family’s summer mornings. Let the kids know and participate in creating a morning routine that works best for your family and then stick to the plan. Research has shown that people, and yes kids are people too, experience something called “decision fatigue” as they move through their day. What this means is that human beings have a finite brain capacity for making positive, effective decisions and that we wear that capacity down throughout the day. This is one reason why it is often most effective for people to get their most important priorities accomplished in the morning. On top of that, having a scheduled routine allows everyone in the family to know what is expected ahead of time and decreases the need to think about and make hard decisions about what to do with their time and energy.
Example: My wife and children have established daily morning chores that must be completed before breakfast. My children and wife also each have an individual notebook with a small list of specific tasks to be performed that day. For example: weed a row in the garden, practice the piano, fold a basket of laundry, and read 20 min. Once the tasks are done the day is free for the kids to use their imagination or for a spontaneous or planned family activity.
- Set goals: Summer time provides a unique opportunity for kids to experience real, self-directed goal completion. During the summer, your kids get to identify any goal they want to accomplish. An amazing way to encourage this is to set a summer time goal yourself, share it with your child and invite them to join you in accomplishing a goal that they want to do. Another fun activity to do with your children is to create a summer time “bucket list.” This can provide you and your child with fun, uncomplicated ideas of things to do when they are bored and give you motivation to make positive memories this summer.
Example: Our oldest son has shown an interest in waterfowl and birds of prey. We live by the river and often see these birds in their natural habitat. The boys have access to binoculars and bird identification field guide books. We often have family explorations on the kayaks or paddle boards and always point out the wildlife we view.
- Planned activities: A lot of families participate in planned vacations, camps and other summer programs that can give parents a break and kids some amazing experiences. It’s important to not overdo it. Remember that planning specific activities like this is supposed to enhance you and your children’s summer experience rather than unnecessarily tie you down to endless commitments that just stress everyone out.
Example: My wife and I consult our children when planning summer activities. We have learned that they prefer not to participate in organized sports or teams over the summer. They like their summer afternoons free. However, they jump at the chance to plan a family camp-out or outing.
- Free Play: Allow for time to just play and enjoy not having any specific demands. Let the kids play in the dirt or in the water. Let them get a little bit sunburned. Let them scrape a knee or two. In fact, go do it with them. My friend Katie Hurley recently wrote an article about the huge value of free play in the lives of our children and families this summer. (Check it out here) The beauty of the summer season is that the weather beckons to us to come outside. Go have a picnic on the front lawn. Play an impromptu game of soccer in the back yard, ride bikes or just go role down a grassy hill. You will find that this, more than anything else this summer, will be the time you and your child cherish most.
Example: The trampoline and sprinklers provide hours of summer fun at our house even for mom and dad. The kids create at least one or two forts or hideouts each summer.
- Keep Learning: This important element is one that you might need to keep quiet from the kids. Like I said at the beginning of the article, I can remember thinking as a kid that summer meant I was off the hook for learning. I already mentioned that summer can be a great time for self-directed goals, but we can also encourage self learning and education without the kids even knowing they are “learning.” Help them identify subjects they have super interest in and find books they or you can read on the subject. Invite them to propose hypotheses when they do experiments during play. Ask great questions at the dinner table. Invite them on grocery trips and have them add the groceries up. Find inventive and creative ways to keep them learning and growing their minds all through the hot summer months.
Example: Our family loves to utilize the libraries in our communities. We have participated in the summer reading programs they provide for a couple years now. The kids love the activities and incentives they get for reading and learning all through the summer and Mom doesn’t have to nag them to keep learning.
- Bedtime: Summer bedtime can be tough because the days are longer and it’s still light outside. There is still so much to play and do. However, sleep is still just as important during the summer months as it is the rest of the year. The morning and bedtime routines are like bookends on each day. They help our children feel some security and have time to bond and connect regardless of what other crazy experiences life brings each day.
Example: Whether it’s the school year or summer, our family always sticks with the same bedtime routine. Sometimes we are an hour later, but we always try to include our usual reading, scripture study, family prayer and stories or songs in bed each night.
Obviously every family is unique and has certain things that work for them, but these important elements above can be a great starting point for developing a wonderful, memorable summer with your children. These tips can also help you avoid the power struggles and other problems that often come with the transition of having the kids at home full time during the summer months. So remember to take a second and make some plans but look for the spontaneous moments that make all of the planning worthwhile.
What are some of your plans with your kids this summer?