Summer is a time for family fun, rest, and relaxation, right? Realistically though, more likely for most of us, school gets out; kids are suddenly home hungry and bored, and you are appointed the summer activities director in addition to your other jobs and responsibilities. Sometimes we find ourselves overwhelmed by summer planning and also feeling guilty for not “making the most of it.” Read on for tips on how to plan the summer as a family.
1. Let go of all of those unattainable expectations!
There is no such thing as the “perfect” summer! As if being a parent these days wasn’t stressful enough, the pressure we are under to make every aspect of our kids’ childhood perfect and memorable can be overwhelming! We’re bombarded with insta-worthy summer vacay pics, absurdly time-consuming activity ideas, and constant reminders that you only get 18 summers with your kids, so don’t mess it up! Here’s the thing, sure, that may be true, but kids don’t need much to have a wonderful and memorable summer. All they need is some time outdoors, time to play, time with friends and family, some time to relax, and that is it! Try not to get sucked into the parent guilt or stuck comparing. There is no right way to plan summer for your family and kids!
Tons of activities? Great! Lots of unstructured free play at home? Awesome! Lots of travel? Fantastic. Staying close to home? Sounds perfect! Spending days with the kids as a family? Sure! Sending them off to camps during the day so you can get work done or enjoy yourself? Do it! The bottom line with most things, especially parenting, is that comparison can be the thief of joy. Decide what works best for you and your family, and then go for it!
2. Stock up on summer supplies!
Make sure you have what you need for spontaneous summer adventures. Stock up on sunscreen, sun hats, bug spray, bike helmets, ensure the kids’ swimsuits fit, etc. If camping is on your list, check that the tent is ready to go and no pieces are missing! Things like this can make or break when the fam gets the sudden inspiration to adventure!
3. Make a summer bucket list with the kids.
This is a fun way to ensure you fit in those things you want to do without letting the summer slip by. Want to go on a family camping trip? Build a tree house? Get a few beach trips in? Make a list together, and if applicable, try to set a date for certain activities since summer has a way of flying by, and you don’t want to miss the chance. Getting the kids involved and enthusiastic about upcoming plans is also great. Ask them if they have any goals for the summer. Maybe there is a new skill they want to learn or a project they’d like to try, and you can help them get started.
4. Plan out the summer by week.
If planning the whole summer feels daunting, pull out the calendar and plan some activities each week! Whether it’s swim lessons, camps, or family adventures, it can feel more manageable to look at each week instead of the whole summer.
5. Keep a flexible schedule.
Establish some daily routines, but allow for flexibility! You certainly don’t have to keep up the exact same timetable as during the school year. Getting a little laxer with naps, bedtimes, and morning wakeups is normal. However, kids thrive with a certain amount of consistency, so try to have at least a loose schedule. Keep up with the nap and bedtime routine, even if the timing varies. You can also establish new daily rituals for the summer if it works for your fam, like a walk after dinner or a morning park trip.
6. Don’t fear boredom!
Everyone dreads the “I’m bored” chant all summer. Often we try to plan our family’s summer to avoid it! But the truth is boredom isn’t the enemy. Overplanning kids’ days robs them of the opportunity to direct their play and tap into their creativity. Time to relax and engage in activities of their choosing is a gift. Not only should you not feel bad about not having something planned for them every second of every day, but you’re doing them a favor!
However, they may feel otherwise at times and complain. Instead of immediately coming to their rescue with a plan as activities director, first, try giving them a nudge in the right direction. Say something like, “Being bored can be uncomfortable, but you have excellent ideas! I bet you can come up with something awesome to do! Do you feel like playing outside or inside right now?”
7. Set aside some quick and easy pastimes for days the kids need more direction.
A stash of emergency at-home activities for rainy days or days without planned family outings can also be a great idea! Even if you do your best to prepare, something can throw you for a loop like canceled plans, rainy days, kids home with a cold, etc. Have a stockpile of easy, fun activities that only come out on days the kids are stuck at home or when the “I’m bored” complaint is on repeat. Kids can get excited about simple things when they’re novel, like coloring books or pages, fresh crayons, puzzles, craft kits, bubbles, water balloons, and playdough.
Also, check out local spots that have fun summer drop-in activities for kids. Your public library is a great place to start! And lastly, one positive aspect of the pandemic is a plethora of online resources with activity ideas for kids, online story times, kids yoga, exciting classes, dance lessons, you name it! There are tons to choose form, but some of our favorites are:
8. Get kids outside and moving every day!
Extra screen time in the summer is expected and OK. Most of us have fond memories of leisurely summer mornings watching cartoons before heading out to play for the day. Especially if you’re working from home and the kids are around, screen time can be survival, no guilt! But when you can, take advantage of nicer weather and extra daylight and get those kids outside as much as possible! While you’re at it, get yourself out there too!
There are countless benefits to being outdoors, getting sunlight, and daily physical activity. Not only are we all happier and healthier with more exercise and outdoor time, but with any luck, the kiddos will be tired out and much less likely to drive you nuts at bedtime! Plan some regular summer family outdoor time! Active things like swimming, hiking, or biking are excellent, but keeping it simple with free time, playing in the yard, or walking around the block can also be game-changers. Just remember sun protection every day, and don’t forget to reapply!
9. If you’re short on childcare, don’t be afraid to get creative!
As wonderful as summer family time is, you need time to yourself to keep your sanity. And if you are trying to work from home, it is even more crucial. But full-time childcare is not available or accessible to everyone, which can be challenging. As you are planning summer for the family, you may find yourself cobbling things together and wishing you had more help. The good news is, you are probably not the only one in that boat, so consider reaching out to parent-friends. It can be as simple as swapping play date houses with one other family a few days a week or having a small group of parents that takes turns watching each other’s kids. This can be an excellent way for everyone to get a little “time off.”
Consider relatives or neighbors that might enjoy hanging with the kids for a few hours here and there to lighten your load. It’s tough to ask for help, but you’ll be a better, happier parent for it! In a pinch, get kids involved in things you need to do, like errands, yard work, cleaning, or cooking. It may not be as efficient as when you do them yourself, but believe it or not, if you present it the right way, kids can have fun doing almost anything, and the tasks still get done!
10. Lastly, don’t wait for the last minute for those back-to-school “to-dos.”
Back-to-school can sneak up on us, and it can be stressful to ensure everything is ready for the new year. That stress is magnified when it gets down to the wire! As part of your summer planning, consider what your family needs to get done by fall. At the start of the summer, try making a list of the back-to-school to-dos, checkups, school supplies, sports gear, and paperwork, and adding them to your calendar or setting reminders for before the school year. Better yet, check off as many boxes as early as possible!
In our pediatrics office, without fail, the end of summer rolls around, and we are slammed with frantic parents trying to schedule their kids for their last-minute sports physicals or get forms filled out in time for school! We don’t judge; we know how easy it is to forget until the last minute, but do yourself (and your pediatrician’s office) a favor and get those forms and appointments early!
Now get out and enjoy the summer with your family with less stress; just don’t forget the sunscreen!