It’s summer, which means kids start to go crazy. At least, that’s what happens in my house and I have a hunch I’m not alone. When kids don’t have the structure that daily school and activities provide, they start to lose it. Sure, they can hang in there for a few weeks, but by the end of June, I think most parents are eager for school to get back in session.

The Why

Wouldn’t it be great to avoid that eagerness for them to leave the house again? What if you had a great time this summer with your kids and really enjoyed your time together? I read an article in the Magnolia Journal Summer 2020 magazine the other day about making memories this summer and it got me thinking…how could I make this summer better for my kids?

As a homeschooling mom, by the time I get to summer break, I’m as done as any traditional school teacher. My desire to be only their mom, not their teacher, makes me long for the days of summer. I absolutely love to play with my kids and the school year doesn’t provide as much time for playing as I want. Sprinkler runs in the backyard, the smell of the grill, card games and puzzles, homemade popsicles on the deck, these are the memories of summer that I anticipate each year.

Each May, I put together a daily summer schedule for them that provides a framework for how things will go. It’s not rigid, but I’ve found that the benefits are huge. Research shows that kids love routines. Even older kids. I think we hear a lot about putting your baby on a routine, or your toddler, but then we sort of forget that all kids enjoy routine and predictability. 

The What

So what can your summer routine look like? Well, that’s up to you and what your household looks like. Do you have younger kids? Older kids? Both? Do you work full-time? Part-time? Are you traveling or have a summer project you’re trying to tackle? Take all these factors into consideration before sitting down with pen and paper.

If you have younger kids in the house, your routine will likely be built around nap time and meals. Think about what activities you like to do in the morning versus the afternoon? Take weather and the behavior characteristics of your little one into consideration when you plan out your day. Maybe they love to ride bikes and since it’s summertime, you plan to have time for that in the morning when it’s cooler.

If you have older kids in the house, maybe the routine for their summer involves a job. Involve them in making their routine and see what they’d like their days to look like. What goals do they have for themselves this summer? By working on this together, you’ll show them how to map out reaching a goal while still having fun and training them for later in life.

Doing the Do

Now that you know why and the what, it’s time to plan out your summer routine. Here’s the steps I take when making ours.

1. Build the framework – put down the known quantities. For me, these are wake, nap, meal, and bed times. When you think about it, a large part of your day is already planned for you. If you don’t give your kids a set bed time in the summer, I strongly suggest it. Their bodies, just like all bodies, need that predicability and routine (see above) and will be better rested, more energized, and happier humans when they are getting reliable, regular sleep.

2. Make a list – Write out all the things you do during a typical week. Granted, during this pandemic, that list is probably a little shorter than it usually is, but put down things like running errands, appointments, exercise, work (if applicable), quiet time, outdoor play, and cleaning the house should be on the list and anything else that your family does on a regular basis.

3. Map it out – With your framework on one side, and your list on the other, start plugging in to parts of your day and week where everything should go. During the summer, it’s not as important to make it time limited. Meaning that you don’t need to put down that from 9:00-10:00 on Tuesdays you play outside. But maybe you put down that you play outside mid-morning.

4. Step back – Now that you’ve done the dirty work, take a look at what you’ve done and see if it makes logical sense. Is your plan realistic? Have you packed too much in to the morning or afternoon? Can you realistically be exercising 30 minutes after you finish breakfast? Do you really want to be running errands after nap time or would it be better earlier in the morning? Analyze and then make adjustments as necessary.

5. Trial and error – Give your new routine a shot for a couple days, maybe three. See how it works. You will either find relief in what you’ve created – if you’ve done it well – or it will stress you out. If it’s the latter, go back and repeat steps 3 & 4 until you find what fits. You’ll know when you’re finished because it will feel right. It will alleviate the constant questions of, “Can I go outside, now?” and “When can I go play with so-and-so?” or the ever popular in the summer, “Can I watch tv?” You’ll have already determined a time of day for those things and can direct them to the summer schedule.

6. Post it for all the world to see – Okay, maybe just for your household to see, but put it up somewhere. It should be on the fridge, or the wall, or wherever you put things that everyone needs to look at. This helps to remind you of your plan, keep you on track, and in turn eliminate any anxiety or summer wackiness that starts to creep up in your children.

7. Reserve the right to adapt – This routine is your routine and you can change it anytime you want. Come July, if your plans change, then change your plan. If you need to swap some things for a period of the summer, then do it. This is meant to work for you, not against you.

Kick out Excuses

I know, I know, you’re making excuses – eh, hem, reasons – why routine doesn’t work for you and your kids. They’re free thinkers. You’re really creative people. Your schedule is just always unpredictable. They’re older and you work so they just “do their own thing” during the day. And the ever popular – it’s summer! You shouldn’t have a schedule in summer!

Well, I’m here to tell you that the entire universe runs on a routine (ever noticed this whole seasons thing that the Earth and all the animals have going on?) and we are no different. We are, after all, part of the animal kingdom. I believe we were created for routine. It’s why we sleep at night and run like crazy all day.

If you work full-time and you have older kids at home all day, they need this more than anyone. A bored teenager is T-R-O-U-B-L-E. Set some goals for them on what they want to achieve this summer. Then chunk it down into weekly goals. Enlist them to help with housework. Maybe they can get grocery shopping done for you (with some coaching and teaching on the front end if this is a new skill). You should think of this time for them as training for adulthood. What can you teach them over the summer about how a house operates?

Your kids will thrive on routine. When given parameters, or limits of time, they’ll get more done. They’ll finish that art project if they have five minutes left. They’ll ride three more times around the cul-de-sac if you say it’s time to come inside. They’ll pick up their room in record time if they know friends are arriving in three minutes. It’s the kid version of working on a deadline. By creating a routine, you’re setting time limits on activities. They’ll be getting more done than if you just let them roam aimlessly, will feel more productive in their days, which feeds back into their overall positive view of self.

Believe it or not, they’ll actually enjoy it. They’ll want the routine.

The other day, when I rolled out our summer routine, my thirteen-year-old actually said how happy she was to hear what the plan was for the summer because she found herself thinking, “It’s summer…now what?” She feels lost without the routine I put in place each summer and likes the framework it provides. Both of my girls check the routine multiple times a day for guidance and direction. In a world of anxiety, it’s one less thing they need to worry about.

My Example

Curious what the finished product can look like? Here’s what our summer schedule is:

6:00 – I wake up, have time to myself, do some self care each day
7:00 – Kids are usually up, BREAKFAST is going
After breakfast – everyone exercises outside
After that – free play outside
11:30 or noon – LUNCH
After lunch – nap time for my little man, rest time for my girls (and me)
2:00 – School review for me and the girls (only 30-45 min a couple of days a week)
Other things we do during this time – chores, house tidy-up, dinner prep
After nap time is done – outdoor play until dinner
5:30 – Dinner prep (my toddler watches a show)
6:00 or 6:30 – DINNER
After dinner – family play time
7:30 – start bedtime routine
8:30 – lights out

You’ll notice I don’t have on there any time for leaving the house. When we have appointments or errands to run, I plug them into those pockets in the morning or afternoon that are flexible. There’s also large chunks of the day when the girls get to make their own choices on what to do. They can decide what to play at that time, but they don’t have to make choices all day long. Making too many choices wears kids out (adults, too) and can cause undue stress. They should be practicing making some choices, however, so it’s a balance that you as a parent get to decide upon.

I hope this structure in your day helps your family have an awesome summer filled with joy and fun activities. Time with your kids doesn’t have to be miserable. If you’re getting what you need, and they are, also, then *hopefully* it will make summer less stressful for everyone. Happy planning (and playing)!

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