Ahhhh…. Summer is almost here. Warm temps. Lazy days. A break from the usual routine.
But for many kids and families, summer can bring new stresses and worries. Will my child make it through camp? How will we deal with our upcoming vacation? Will they lose skills that they gained this year? How will we manage so much unstructured time?
Although planning might seem like the antithesis to the carefree summer vibe your family is hoping to have, a little groundwork will set the stage for the relaxation you’re all craving.
(1) Pull out the calendar
I know, I know. You have everything on a digital calendar already. But there’s something satisfying about being able to actually see how your plans are coming together on paper. AND, a paper calendar can be hung on the fridge (or somewhere else in your home where everyone can see it). I like to print a blank calendar for June, July, and August as a place to start.
Once your calendar is printed, write down all of your important dates. Any vacations, out-of-town visitors, important work dates, doctors’ appointments, holidays, and summer camps should be added now.
(2) Set summer goals
Once all of your important dates are on the calendar, it’s time for a little reflection. What goals does each member of the family have for the summer? Think about individual goals, family goals, and professional goals. Family goals might include taking a long bike ride together, visiting some historical sites, or exploring a new park. Individual goals might include reading a certain number of books, walking a certain number of miles, or learning a new skill (i.e. how to do a cartwheel, learning a new language, or shoe tying). Professional goals might include completing a big project or trying to limit your work hours to X number per week so that you can spend more time with your family.
As you’re brainstorming, do not edit yourself or your child. Create a summer bucket list, and write down every idea (no matter how outlandish or impossible it seems). In order to get your child’s buy-in for a summer plan, they will need to feel as though you are taking them seriously.
(3) Consider your child care needs
Now that you have your summer calendar and your summer goals set, this is a good time to take a look at your child care needs. What weeks will your child be in camp? Are there weeks that they’ll be home and need care? Do you need someone to take your child to camp/pick them up? Is there an “early bird” or “late bird” pick-up option? The earlier you start planning, the more chances you’ll have in finding the right options for your family.
Many parents are fortunate enough to have flexibility in working from home some or most days during the summer. This may seem like the perfect solution to your child care needs. And, for some children, that may work out well. However, for many children, having their parent(s) home but not available is actually more stressful and anxiety-provoking than having a sitter or being in camp. When you’re coming up with your child care plan, think about who your child is: Can they entertain themselves? How will you feel if they’re on screens/devices for extended periods of time? Do you have the sort of job that requires sustained focus, or frequent meetings? It may save your own sanity to hire a sitter (or create a child care swap with other families) to know that you can get your work done without interruptions or distractions.
(4) Create a list of go-to activities
We all know that at some point in the summer, you’re going to hear those dreaded words: “I’m booorrreedd. There’s nothing to dooooo!” For many children, screens/devices are exciting ways to entertain themselves, and there’s very little that can compete with that type of stimulation. And nothing is going to sound fun when you start listing options in the moment.
However, you can plan for this, too. Start with how much screen time is acceptable to your family. Do this with your child. How much screen time do they think they need per day/week? What are their reasons for that number? What are your family values, and where does screen time fit into those values? Negotiate on a time limit that you can both live with, and then talk about what else they can do to fill their time. I like to create a “menu” with kids, including activities that they enjoy. I love this formula.
And be sure to plan time for family time. Time to take a bike ride or a walk together. Or complete a craft. Or play a board game. The number one thing that kids tell me that they wish for is to spend more time with their parents.
As you plan your summer with the kids, go easy on yourself. Leave some room in your schedule for spontaneous activities. Trying to plan every minute of the summer is not only time-consuming and exhausting, but it also can hem you in too much. Part of the beauty of summer is the fact that it's often unstructured and full of possibilities.
So, map out your schedule, get childcare lined up, and plan a few outings, but also allow some room for last-minute decisions. Given the flexibility, your summer with the family can take you in some exciting directions. Plus, you might even develop a few traditions along the way.