It may seem a little late to be talking about summer planning only a few weeks before the end of the school year, but I think summer is now looming on every parent’s radar, and the planning I am talking about does not have any registration deadline, fee, or need for transportation. This planning however, does warrant some attention, because it gives kids natural opportunities for development and will help them get the most out of the other activities that are planned for summer.
1) Implement Routine & Structure: Kids of all ages need routines because they offer predictability and familiarity, which is comforting and organizing, and helps kids develop a sense of control. Routines can be as detailed or as minimal as is a good fit for your family. It is important to remember however, that routines do not always need to be rigid or tied to a specific time of day.
- Summer can bring lots of changing schedules given different types of activities that don’t usually happen during the school year, like weeknight back-yard cook outs, lazy days by the pool, summer camps & campfires, and more opportunities for sleeping in late. Some of these things make for great fun but to maximize the fun potential and minimize the melt-down potential, consider following the same “bed-time” or “wake-up” routines that are followed during the school year, regardless of what time they happen. Institute a daily “nap or quiet time”; the length of time can vary with the age of the child or even from day to day, and the time it’s taken each day might vary and sleep may not occur, but it’s a daily opportunity to re-charge, and when implemented consistently as part of the routine, it can help teach kids to self-regulate.
- Consider use of a chalkboard or dry erase board, placed somewhere visible to the whole family, and each day take a minute before the kids wake up to list the activities for the day. In this way, checking the board can become the routine vs. relying on set times to do certain activities, which often leaves parents or care providers stressed and overwhelmed trying to keep different activities for multiple kids consistent.
- Do something kids already do throughout the school year but turn it into a summer “thing”. Consider embellishing their school backpack (if they’re young enough to let you), with ribbons or a bandana, a new decorative key ring or caribeaner so their school backpack becomes a summer pack. In it they can put sunscreen, water bottle, bug repellant, a towel, and a ball cap or sun hat & sunglasses. This becomes their summer supply place and simply builds on a routine that has already been established during the school year. Each night they can empty or re-fill their supplies, depending on what the activities are for the next day. If no activities are planned, they’re ready for an impromptu trip to the pool with a friend or sibling, or an imaginary hike around the neighborhood or park.
2) Schedule Down-time, time for free play, outside play time: Kids are never too old or too young for fresh air, and in the chaos of scheduling summer camps, childcare, family vacations, and summer celebrations, adults can forget that not everything needs to be scheduled, especially in the summer. It may seem like a contradiction to be advocating for down-time, when the above suggestions emphasize the need for routine and structure, but even “scheduling” outside time every day, lends structure without over-scheduling kids and gives them the opportunity to be left to their own devices, which builds confidence, executive functions, and if spending free-play time with peers, the opportunity to develop much needed social skills and problem solving skills they will need throughout life.
- Consider a “no boredom” policy. When kids complain about being bored, have chores ready to delegate and let them know that they can decide what to do or you can decide what they’ll do. I think they’ll learn pretty quickly, their options are much more fun than
- Keep a list of fun activities ready somewhere, so kids can use it to spark their imagination. “Pinterest” is a great resource (per my previous post) for finding inventive and engaging ideas for kids of all ages. This post by a homeschool mom, offers 101 Suggestions for summer things to do. Just like the chalkboard idea, you can make picking an activity for them to do on their own part of the routine, and make it a fun activity in and of itself (One blog I read suggested putting the ideas on popsicle sticks and having the child pick a stick each day). It’s another way to offer structure without scheduling.
3) Encourage healthy eating & drinking of water. This item is pretty self-explanatory but healthy food and lots of water set kids up for success. Fresh fruits and vegetables abound in the summer time and many families make gardening a part of their family routine. One weekly trip to a local farmer’s market or even to the grocery store to plan one weekly meal made entirely of fresh fruits and vegetables, can become not only better for physical health of the whole family, but can become a cherished summer tradition for kids of all ages. Water is needed to make sure kids stay hydrated and is good for brain development and physical health. It is especially important during the hot weather of summer days, when kids are sweating and more likely to lose body moisture through perspiration. Making sure kids have one fruit or vegetable AND a full water bottle, packed in their bag before they go anywhere, sends the message that both are important, regardless of where the kids are going or what activity they are doing.
Summer is a GREAT time to plan for some basic developmental opportunities that will help them grow in many ways, all year long!