The countdown has begun. We’re just weeks away from summer break, and while many parents are excited about days at the pool and a less-scheduled lifestyle, I’m starting to sweat.
I have a hard time seeing those eight weeks as vacation when they feel more like boot camp—survival of the fittest.
Don’t get me wrong: I want these months to be chock full of fun and family memories. But with four boys under age eight, that doesn’t just happen organically. I know we’ll eventually get to the stage where days at the pool are possible, but we’re not there yet.
So how do I do more than just survive summer?
To get out of that just-get-through mentality, I’ve learned I need a plan. Our plan changes a bit each summer (especially since we added two kids in the last two years). But without a plan, I lose my mind and my energy by day three. Here’s how I go about crafting our summer plan.
Create a daily schedule.
Kids need structure. While some need it more than others, routine provides kids comfort and a sense of boundaries. They like knowing what to expect. Each summer, I create a basic structure for our weekday mornings and afternoons. If your kids are in full- or part-time childcare or if you work from home like I do, include work time in your routine. Each schedule will look different, but find a balance between fun, family time, and responsibilities.
Pick a theme.
My boys love having a theme that characterizes our main activity for each day. Here’s how it works for us: Our daily themes include Make-It Monday, Try-Something Tuesday, Water Wednesday, Think Thursday, and Funday Friday. The themes were broad enough that we didn’t necessarily have to go somewhere (for one Water Wednesday, I let each kid take a long bubble bath and we called it “Spa Day”. . .). But we also included a few special trips to the zoo, the splash pad, and so on. If weekdays don’t work for you, theme each weekend in June and July and schedule a family activity around it.
Minimize screen time.
Okay, you’re going to have that moment when you need JUST. ONE. HOUR. of quiet. By all means, turn on Dinotrucks! However, don’t let your TV, tablets, or other devices become regular babysitters. Kids need time and space to use their imaginations and exercise their muscles. Summer is a great opportunity to do just that. To keep screen time from becoming a daily battle, set clear boundaries at the beginning of summer, and stick to it. While saying “no” to the screen is so hard when things get crazy, I promise it’s worth it in the long run.
Do a kid swap.
My boys eventually tire of each other. If you have a friend or family member nearby, swap out a kid or two for the day. For example, my friend Cynthia and I regularly swapped kids last summer. She took the older two; I took the middles; and we’d both keep our own babies. This trade-off was fun for our boys and kept the mamas’ nerves from frying.
Take advantage of local programs.
The more you can piggyback on pre-existing, local programs, the better. My older boys are both readers, and this summer, we plan to take advantage of our library’s summer-reading program. To find out what’s available in your area, Google “kids summer programs” or “kids VBS” and your city’s name, or ask fellow parent friend who’s plugged in.
Make space for memories.
One of my biggest regrets is when I get into survival mode and the summer passes without planning special family activities. Before summer starts, take time to block off some days for family fun, a “staycation,” or maybe even a full-blown getaway.
ABOVE ALL ELSE. . . Keep it simple. Seriously. If you gloss over everything else, remember that the more rigid you make your summer plan, the harder it will be to follow. Don’t set yourself up for failure. Instead, create a plan that works best for you and your family dynamics.
And remember: You’ve got this.