School days are entering that warp speed phase right now – the stage where suddenly, if you haven’t thought things through, you’re plunged into the gaping black hole of summer. This whole transition can be a weird time. The end of a school, at least for me, has a bittersweet quality – and while we certainly want our kids to grow and progress, we also find ourselves wistful. And in the midst of all of the end of school commotion, if you haven’t made plans other than the trip to the grandparents (all the way in late July!) your summer days get sucked into a vortex of constant low-grade time wasting. Time-wasting often accompanied by the plaintive wails of “I’m bored!” from the junior members of the household.
Even if you’ve planned camps and other activities, summer break days have a looser, more disjointed quality because the regular structure has necessarily shifted. The out-of-school routine, no matter how much we plan, doesn’t have the same “do or die” quality as the in-school routine: it’s a new normal, and there’s not so much at stake, and you’re seeing kids up close and personal who are different people than they were last August.
When my kids were young, I initially loved those first few days of not having to set an alarm, or rush to make lunches, or stress about matching socks. But then, reality always set in:
- Wow, they want lunch at 10:40!?
- Oh, I sort of forgot to remember that they don’t take naps now (afternoon quiet times became a regularly enforced non-negotiable in my house).
- Why are they following me everywhere? Why are they asking me about everything? I’m really not that interesting…
- Ok, surely it’s bedtime now …isn’t it? Please, God, let it be bedtime.
Good thing they’re cute, right?
I think deep down most of us are creatures who crave regularity and some sort of a framework to hang our days on. If you haven’t already pulled out the calendar and counted the days until the August meet n’ greet, here are some ways to create a structure that gives everyone some peace of mind:
- If you haven’t already, put down every single date that IS taken with an activity or trip – include the kids in the calendar session so that they can start to see how time stretches out over the weeks to come. Put the first day of the next school year on there, too.
- After 2-3 carefree days, reinstate a morning ritual. It doesn’t have to have that same formal school-year assembly line quality, but I like to keep setting alarm clocks and having a set time for breakfast. Ditto for evening rituals with a regular bedtime (even if a little later), reading, etc.
- Have a set of fall-back activities. If someone gets sick and has to miss camp, or it rains on a regular pool day, having a stash of MadLibs, new coloring books, or an as-yet-unseen board game can save the day.
- Set up some chores specific to the season, day of the week, and age-level, for example: weeding the garden, hosing down a porch or deck, washing the car, and/or walking the dog. You can use an app like ChorePad or Home Routines to keep everything on track and everyone accountable (grownups too!).
- Vacations throw schedules and temperaments off track, so when you return encourage everyone to slide back into the regular routines as soon as possible.
- Friday afternoon was always movie time in our house, which I could stretch out with a trip to the video store (yeah, we still had one when our kids were little). Now you could take your time browsing the options on Netflix, pop some popcorn, and settle in. This routine was especially nice when I started working again, and we craved some downtime together (just be sure to rotate who gets to choose the movie!).
- I also personally loved a weekly trip to the library with my kids, which can also be an after-work activity. You might be tired, but hey – it’s a place full of books, it’s air-conditioned, and it’s quiet.
- Remember, too, that over-scheduling and over-committing can easily wear both parents AND kids out. Just like having lots of stuff means having to maintain lots of stuff, having lots of activities means having to prepare for lots of activities. Aim for keeping days on a regular, but even keel.
Taking the time to plan ahead with the kiddos creates freedom from the stress and irritability that comes along with the transition. Think of relaxed summer schedule challenges as opportunity sheep in wolf’s clothing, and there’ll be a lot to love about the weeks ahead.