The 4th of July is past and summer is in full swing. What does this mean for your family?
For your children, does summer mean “pajama day” every day, vegging out in front of a screen from morning till night? Or does it mean weeks full of activities—play dates, swimming lessons, day camp, and every other activity that can possibly get the children out of the house?
I don’t know about you, but I don’t consider either end of the spectrum the healthiest (or happiest) option for our family.
My ideal for summer is a simple but flexible daily routine that engages my children in meaningful activities for building character, skills and relationships in the long run.
While I look forward to the freedom and simplicity of having no school schedule to follow (and children DO need down time to explore and create and “just be kids”) I want something more productive for them than mindless media consumption.
At the same time, while I want my children to be active rather than sedentary, I want summer to be relaxed for them (and me). We all need a break!
Simple Summer Activities to Fit into Any Routine
So while we exhale in the relief of having the strenuous 2020-2021 school year out of the way, I am carefully keeping to a loose but thought-out routine for the summer.
Partly for my sanity and sense of accomplishment; partly for moderating my seven-year-old’s moods and keeping my toddler happy; and partly to make the most of every opportunity to train my children the way they should go; these are the four things I aim to do every day with my school-aged daughter:
Most of these can be done with the whole family, including toddlers!
- 10-30 minutes a day
- Keeps brain active
- Prevents summer slide
- Fills gaps in readiness for next grade
- Utilizes a chart for structure and choice
- Includes a mix of online, worksheet, and hands-on activities, some independent and some to do together
“Summer slide” is real. I first heard this term as a teacher. I knew my students were not on grade level for reading, but I didn’t usually have the same students year after year to notice the gains and losses.
My first-hand experience with summer slide came last fall when I started homeschooling my daughter. Having finished her kindergarten year virtually due to COVID, I knew what she was capable of doing in math and reading. By the time September rolled around and we started into first grade, those skills had vanished into thin air. We had to start again with basic addition and subtraction concepts, kindergarten-level sight words, and decoding simple words.
If possible, I want to help my daughter have a better start to second grade than she did for first. So this summer I’m having my daughter do one learning activity each day. This keeps her brain active while reviewing skills and concepts that were difficult for her.
To make this more palatable, I designed a chart with five skill areas and five activities for each (specific to what she enjoys and what she needs to work on). Each day, my daughter can select an activity from any skill area, complete it, and place a sticker on the completed activity. When she completes a row, she earns a small reward. When she completes the chart (25 learning activities!) she can choose a larger reward.
Games are more motivating than worksheets, so I include activities that seem game-like whenever possible.
I want to engage with my daughter and teach (or reteach) necessary skills. But some days I am busy, and online learning games are just plain fun. Here are some websites we’ve come across that have engaging games targeting specific skills:
Also, Khan Academy has a free app for young children ages 2-8 called Khan Academy Kids. You can set the learning pathway for their age or grade level and it will cycle through engaging activities for math and reading.
- 10-30 minutes a day
- Promote time together
- Model good work habits
- Teach life skills
- Instill family responsibility
During the school year, there is limited time for teaching children how to help around the house (beyond what they already know how to do). Either they’re gone at school all day and then have to attend to homework in the evening. Or after squeezing homeschooling in around crying babies and other distractions all day, the children just need to get out and play.
Summer is a great time to spend time together developing these skills.
Why use summer vacation for work? Well, family responsibility is an important value in our household. I believe learning how to work makes children more appreciative of the work others do for them.
Small toddlers already want to help, so channeling that interest in productive ways will give them a positive experience of working together. If our goal is for our children to leave home as competent adults, then we start building that foundation now as age and ability allow.
Doing chores together accomplishes several important things.
First, it is spending quality time together. (Weeding a patch of garden, folding a mountain of laundry, or washing and drying dishes together is way more enjoyable than doing it alone.) Good conversations may happen when doing life together.
But even if amazing conversations don’t occur, our children are observing our work habits. Modeling (and expecting) cheerfulness, neatness, thoroughness, and perseverance (like hoeing a long row of corn in the hot sun)—will help build solid character qualities that will serve them well in their adult life.
Doing chores together also teaches necessary life skills, so when our children go off to college they won’t be bringing their laundry home for us to do it. Basic cooking, cleaning, laundry, mending, maintenance and yard work are good for all children to learn.
While I don’t advocate making our children our slaves, neither are we their slaves. We care for them, but we don’t serve them. As children grow, they can learn to help out because we are family and we all work together. We all create work for others (by needing food, dirtying dishes when we eat, soiling our clothes, tracking dirt in from outdoors, making messes, spilling or tearing or breaking things), so we all pitch in as we are able and share the load.
Maybe in modern society we are not used to giving children responsibility—we do the “adult” thing and care for them while they play. Play is good, but it has not always been this way.
In the 1800s, children helped. Mary and Laura Ingalls helped wipe the dishes and put them away, or helped sweep the floor before going off to play. Almanzo Wilder, at 10, was already helping in the fields and expected to carry his fair share of the farm work.
Even today, in plain communities where families are large, it is the simply the way of life for children to participate in family work from little on up. So by the time they are teens, children are mature, capable workers.
It is not so bad for us to include our children in some responsibilities now. It may rather be good for them!
It’s not fun to be commanded, “Go fold the laundry.”
It’s much more fun to be invited, “Come, let’s fold laundry together. How about you fold the washcloths and I’ll fold the towels? Let’s see who finishes her pile first!”
Once children are confident and competent in a particular task, then they can be assigned chores independently.
Here are some suggestions for a young school-aged child. You may have even more.
- Folding waschloths, handkerchiefs, or cloth napkins
- Matching and folding socks
- Vacuuming or sweeping one room
- Dusting furniture
- Unloading the dishwasher
- Setting the table for mealtime
- Clearing the table after mealtime
A Note on Toddlers
Toddlers love to “help.” Capitalize on this, training them to help while spending quality time together. (This training may turn mischief into real help and positive interactions.)
For example, my toddler used to dash to the dishwasher every time it was open, climb up on the lid (soaking his clothes in the process) and scatter items (or put them in his mouth). One day I decided to ditch the exasperated “No, no, no!” and turn his intrigue into something useful.
“Do you want to help me?”
His eyes shone as he nodded “yes.” He proceeded to hand me one fork or spoon at a time. I repeated “thank you” each time and slid the utensil into its spot in the drawer. Or I switched it up, naming each item as he handed it to me: “Spoon…spoon…fork…spoon…fork…” (Working together is a great way to develop your toddler’s language skills.) Soon the utensil basket was empty and part of my work was done…and he had gotten to do what he wanted instead of being sent away.
“Chores” toddlers can help with include the following:
- Putting trash in the trashcan
- Taking items to the table (plastic bowl, bottle of ketchup, etc.)
- Putting utensils in the dishwasher
- Helping empty the dishwasher
- Tossing clean laundry in the dryer
- 15-45 minutes a day
- Promotes “together” time
- Exposes children to good stories
- Boosts reading skills
What better time than summer to pause from chores, projects, and hot outdoor play to relax on the couch together and read a chapter out of a good book?
My favorite part of homeschooling last year was read-aloud time; we have continued reading almost daily just for the fun of it. Since we have a baby in the house, it is easy to find a chunk of time to sit and read while feeding baby her bottle. Our current book is one of my childhood favorites, The Secret Garden.
Read-aloud time isn’t only for school-age children. Toddlers benefit, also. Our 20-month-old is learning to talk and wants us to tell him about every picture he points to. Over and over, especially if it’s a “brrrmm brrmm,” or his new interest, bicycles.
The other day he sat on the floor with his favorite book, screeching for my attention until I assured him I would read his book after I finished the chapter I was reading to his sister. Reading to toddlers is good both for language development and for bonding time.
For more reasons to read good books aloud (and a few suggestions), see my recent article on Family Read-Alouds: Building Comprehension and Character.
- 20 minutes to 6+ hours a day
- Boosts happiness and calms nerves
- Builds healthy habits
- Expends energy
- Prompts creative play
- Allows nature discovery
Want happy children? Want them to sleep at night? Send them outside!
The benefits of outdoor play seem endless.
All school year, I regularly witnessed the difference in my daughter between days she spends an hour or more outside and the days she was stuck inside. She’s happier when she gets outside.
Now that she can spend the whole day (or even half the day) outside, she’s a calmer child, too.
Alone outdoors, she soaks in the peace and beauty of nature as she sits in the shade, feeling the breeze, listening to the birds, observing the squirrels, smelling the scent of growing things.
Outdoor play helps my daughter expend some of her boundless energy, and it works up a healthy appetite, too. The trampoline, swing and sandbox provide a good deal of amusement. However, my daughter frequently enjoys herself without any toys or equipment, as she makes forts or digs mud pits or designs art projects out of plant parts.
Outdoor play is good for me, too. When my daughter is playing in the backyard, the house is quieter for me to focus on my duties. When my 20-month-old son begs to go out, it gives me a chance to do yard or garden work while watching him run and play. He, like my daughter, is a happier child when he has multiple opportunities to run outside each day.
Much like doing household chores together, taking children outside to the garden provides them the opportunity to learn how to care for growing things. If nothing else, they can have fun playing in the dirt while I work…or even snack on fresh green beans!
Besides learning activities, household chores, read-alouds, and outdoor play, I hope to also fit in some other fun activities at some point each week.
Based partly on my daughter’s interests and requests, and as time allows, we may also have playdates, take trips to the library, do arts or crafts, or bake together.
These are fun additions, but do not dictate the week.
Further Comments on Our Simple Summer Routines
Notice, our summer routines:
- Are structured but not rigid
- Maintain normal morning and evening routines
- Do not include TV or video games
Structured But Not Rigid
I started off the summer, so proud of my thoroughly-thought-through plan. These four things, plus more, were to be a part of our daily schedule.
Well, a couple weeks in…poof! There went my plans. I realized I needed more flexibility, and so do my children. Structure is good, but so is spontaneous, unstructured time.
No longer is it my goal to march through all four summer activities every day before doing anything else. Instead, it is to touch on one or two but let the needs of the day take precedence.
If it’s a sunny day and I need to get a load of garden work done before it rains—then we’ll let chores and learning activities slide.
If my daughter runs outside first thing in the morning and the neighbor children come over to play, well, then I’ll plug away at my own projects until lunch. Maybe we’ll do a learning activity or a chore in the afternoon—or maybe not.
If it rains all day, we may run through a learning activity, then get a chore done together, and then sit down to read a couple chapters together.
My plans of summer activities for my children need to serve us; we don’t need to live to check off every item on the list.
Maintains Normal Morning and Evening Routines
At this point in our parenting, summer does NOT mean staying up until dark.
Matt and I are both introverts and need down time—quiet time to ourselves—to recharge. Not to mention spending uninterrupted time together. So the children’s bedtime is still 8:00, though our oldest has the option to do something quiet in her room if she’s not ready to sleep. (We’ll make exceptions for special occasions, like Fourth of July fireworks, or occasional childhood treats, like running around in the dark catching fireflies.)
Neither does summer mean sleeping in late every day because there is nowhere to be. And, nope, summer is not “pajama day” every day. We still get up and get dressed and have breakfast like normal so we can get on with our day, whether work or play.
This customizable morning routine chart from whatmomslove.com has made a big difference in reducing morning fights over getting ready. A similar bedtime routine chart can also be downloaded for free from this same website. (We found the velcro a bit too hard to move easily, so if I were doing it over again, I might try magnets instead.)
Do Not Include TV or Video Games
Summer days are not spent in front of the TV or other screen.
Actually, I should clarify.
We occasionally allow our daughter to watch an episode of a children’s (or National Geographic) show, or a movie. Or we sometimes allow her to play educational games (such as from Khan Academy Kids) on her tablet. Screen time is used only occasionally and sparingly, but is not a major (or even regular) part of the day.
But this screen time comes after she has spent meaningful time doing the summer activities I discussed above—a learning activity, helping with chores, reading together, and playing outside. IF she has done all these and has extra time, then, (if she asks) we will allow her some limited screen time.
We find her to be a lot happier and more respectful when screen time comes AFTER she has helped around the house and played outside than when she watches a show and THEN we ask her to do these things. Clear expectations and boundaries significantly reduce conflict.
Simple Activities for a Summer Routine Summary
Why waste the beauty and opportunities of summer by sitting indoors in front of a screen? On the other hand, why rush from one activity to another to just to keep children busy, forfeiting the gift of summer leisure?
Why not, instead, incorporate simple, flexible yet profitable activities into daily summer routines—at least most days? Regular learning activities, household chores, read-aloud time, and outdoor play may help you find a comfortable balance between an active and relaxed, structured and spontaneous, beneficial yet carefree summer experience with your children.
What activities are mainstays of your family’s summer?