Happy Summer, everyone! My kids have finished their school year and we have a quick turnaround for camp, which starts tomorrow. I’ve noticed a difference in my own stress levels during the final weeks of school this year and I think a big part of that has to do with our transition to camp and the consistency we’re keeping this year for a large portion of the summer vacation.
To be clear, my children have attended “Mommy camp” for years and I’ll admit I’m not completely cut out for it. I should also add that in the past we have been limited on the natural summer activities you might expect with no public pools and limited playground access (including none at our own home). We’ve been blessed with wonderful, generous friends who’ve invited us to their pools and we’ve traveled, which always helps. But I’ve noticed a trend over the years and I think I’m seeing the correlation to the wild and free summer approach and incongruity of summer stress…at least in moms! You’d think summer=fun, but for Moms especially (wherever they work, whatever they do) the break from school routine can throw progress out the window and cause much more of a home uproar than you might expect.
I wonder if some of that comes from the demand to constantly be with our children as well as to entertain them (not that I subscribe to either completely) but I suppose that would be another blog for another day. Whatever the reason, there is a strange pressure on parents when the school bell rings and the backpacks fly and I believe the answer lies in the inherent lack of structure that summer brings with it.
Let me start by saying that a break in your routine is utterly delightful and I highly recommend it. Taking a break after school is out and having some time where the kids sleep in a bit and you don’t have an agenda can be lovely. That’s why we have vacations. We need a break and to refresh. It’s when it lasts for weeks and weeks that problems can arise.
In my experience, too many weeks of “doing nothing” and “winging it” create an inconsistency that can ultimately require more energy and cause regression.
You would think that having no agenda and allowing children some freedom would be easier, but a lack of schedule and purpose can actually drain you and them. It’s far more likely kids will want to snack constantly (due to boredom) and request electronics as well as continually ask about activities. (The dreaded “I’m bored!” is forbidden in my house, but somehow that whine slips out from time to time!) It’s a constant barrage and you can easily end up more tired than if you’d put in the effort of scheduling in the first place.
Regression is a real issue over the summer and it’s not just an academic concern (though that is something to consider). Habits and chores can drop quickly, despite the considerable amount of effort and time to establish them. Good habits require anchoring, which comes from a schedule; when the schedule goes, often so does the habit. Think about your own habits on vacation. Now multiply that for kids on summer break without structure.
So what to do? The obvious solution for many is summer camp. Camps are the ideal structured fun and create a “school-like schedule”, but they aren’t for everyone, for a variety of reasons, such as budget, allergies, travel, and personal preferences.
Thankfully, there are other ways you can achieve similar structure:
- CONSISTENT BED & WAKE TIMES – This is a challenge with lighter nights and so many events, so the key is more consistency than specific times. We frequently shift the bedtime later but try not to go more than 30 minutes or so. Children still need the same rest they did during the school year – possibly even more since summer can be so much more active. Consistent bedtime and wake times can also help as a habit anchor for continued responsibilities.
- CHORES – Without a reliable schedule, chores can be even more of a fight than usual. Be sure to keep those chores and anchor them to consistent events! If some don’t apply without school, you can adjust to list to be summer-specific chores. There is always something to do and no reason they can’t be helping. Summer chores are a great way to motivate for the fun as well.
- BORROW A SCHEDULE – Do you have local events you like to attend? Our local library was always a great resource for child-friendly activities that also promoted reading and science. We would use their schedule of events to build ours. If Monday mornings were my son’s reading group, then we would do playground Monday afternoons and so forth. If a local zoo offers free family entrance on Wednesdays, then you schedule time at the park another day.
- TIME BLOCKING – This is a favorite technique of mine for adults and kids alike. It involves designating chunks of time to a certain activity so that you ensure you have the time and make the time to do it; however, you have the flexibility in terms how you approach things during that time and you can move the blocks around as needed. I highly suggest blocks of time dedicated to keeping energy balance or in response to heat or other concerns. For example, if outside playtime happens in the morning, then midday from 12:30-2:30 (when sun is highest) is quiet reading time or arts and crafts. You can also create time blocks based on business appointments or calls. (I’ve been known to time block t.v./movie time while I have conference calls. My children are most quite then. Just keeping it real!)
- SCHEDULING SPONTANEITY – How contradictory does that sound? Who thought that one up? A professional organizer?! Ha! Joking aside, there does need to be room for spontaneity during summer break, so consider consolidating it to one day per week. This gives you the balance and the best of both worlds. You could have “Fun Friday” or “Wildcard Wednesday”. You could even change the day of the week you choose depending upon other elements of your schedule. That doesn’t matter as long as you have other days to establish the consistency.
Another important aspect to establishing a great summer schedule is knowing what to put on it! Have you thought about that? Do you want to learn something? See someone? Try something? Travel somewhere?
If not, there is still time to do a Summer Bucket List. This worksheet can help you create one with the kids and use it as a checklist. From there, schedule your dates and times and start making summer work for you!