Q: Our family is looking forward to summer, but I'm also a little cautious. I want them to enjoy their time off from school, but I don't want to hear any whining about being bored, and I don't want them to goof off the whole summer either. How can our family find a good balance?
A: Nothing rings sweeter in a child's ears than the coming of summer break! Even as an adult, I still view the calendar year in terms of school happenings (it's that teacher thing, I suppose). Summer is no exception. Everything "feels" different come that last day of school. We tend to be more relaxed and really savor our time as families, even in this famously hot heat!
I am such a stickler for holding our children accountable and truly leading them as they become adults--but the key word is become. While the idea of what I pray my child will "be" as a person by the age of 30 is my driving force, I also very much want my children to experience childhood along the way. We tend to rush this nowadays and totally over expose our children to things that they have an entire lifetime to be concerned with. I want the simple things in life to be exciting, and that happens only when you embrace that less is truly so much more!
So how do you find the balance when presented with a mountain of available (and hopefully non-scheduled) time like summer?
First and foremost: don't get nuts with the bedtime. Absolutely let 'em stay up later than during the school year; that is one of the biggest attributes that makes summer so appealing! Just don't go so far overboard that trying to wrangle them back into a sensible routine becomes a nightmare. Maybe go and extra hour to hour and a half, depending on your child's age. Then, at least one full week prior to the start of school, start back with your regularly scheduled programming. I've know quite a few to wait until literally the night before school begins to try and get back in a routine, and that's always ugly.
The same holds true for getting up each morning. Be willing to go an extra hour to an hour and a half, depending on where everyone needs to be for the day. DO NOT allow your child to stay in the bed until noon or after. No, this is not typical acceptable teenage protocol (who started that garbage anyway???) Get. Them. Up. No excuses! There are things to be done around the home, and if you have an older child at home, summer should be the one season you get a break from all household duty. The miraculous thing about it is when they hop up and hop to it, there is still plenty of daylight to do something fun! Who knew?
While a good many activities and happenings seem to take a break in the summer, your child's responsibilities at home should not be one of them. Chores still need to be completed everyday. In our house, charts and lists work beautifully. Ding and Dong love to have something to check off on a list (they must get that from their father--wink wink!) Just make sure these are still being completed; "responsibilities before pleasures" still applies when school is out.
This past summer was the first EVER I spent with just my own two children. Prior to that, they had always been with me at my childcare center, which was chock full of "things to do" during the summer. I must admit, while I miss all my families, I really don't miss putting together the activity calendars for 3-4 groups. Organizing field trips, guests, activities, and arts and crafts, silly days, fun foods . . . okay, I may have just lied! It was fun, and I did get excited when a new opportunity would surface, but it was a lot of work. Our center also had a ban on all electronic devices with the exception of one day per month. The kids knew the drill and Miss Stacey's disdain for such devices. In turn, we had things like Monopoly marathons and UNO tournaments. It was Old School at its finest, and they LOVED IT! (Don't tell me old-fashioned won't work. Hmph!) But of all the goings on, the two things that really appealed to the parents of all my children were Summer Bridge Books and the Summer Library Reading Program. Sure, the kids grunted a bit, but truth be told, they loved this structured part of the day. They would complete one page front and back, which usually included a language and math component, and then spend an hour reading. It was a great way to complete the assigned summer reading from the schools they attended as well as earn points toward prizes from the library. Being loosy goosy certainly has its place, but not going full-on free spirit really helps children maintain those boundaries and security in knowing what to expect each day. Needless to say, I continued doing this with my own two even at home. I got the Summer Bridge Books, and we checked out or purchased all of their required summer reading books before school got out so that we were ready on day one! They spent time each day completing both of these, and as they reached goals, we'd trot off to the library to get the coveted cookie coupon and the like. The bonus last year was we got to go cash them in right away since I was home with them. I know it sounds cheesy, but THAT was a huge deal to my two who had been so accustomed to waiting for those kinds of moments with Mom. Keeping a schedule for chores, reading, and a little daily academic brush-up is HUGE. I highly recommend all three of these.
One other fun and purposeful way to engage your children is to do a few Acts of Random Kindness. Our Happily Parenting team has created a Pinterest board on this very topic--check it out! Some ideas require a little prep work prior to execution. Why not have your children do this a few days prior to your set delivery date or even throughout the summer? The idea is to continually keep them in a service state of mind, and summer provides more opportunity to really give these kinds of things due attention. Most acts of generosity are high during the holiday season, but there is a real need, especially at food banks, during the summer months.
Bottom line: don't try to pack every single week with a camp or big activity. Make the ones you do plan be special and something to look forward to. By incorporating all of the above, the days fill up pretty quickly. Let 'em play and be adventurous . . . not sit in front of a TV or video game. Make going to the library an outing, and encourage them to take on projects that they can complete on their own. Give them purpose! Understand that your children are capable of entertaining themselves and making their own fun. With some guidance and encouragement, I think you just may find a slower pace and traditional, old-fashioned fun will make for your family's best summer yet!
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