How to Make the Transition from the School Schedule to Summer Mode
While the summer can be fun and a highly anticipated season, it can also create a new level of stress for working parents as they try to figure out how to balance setting up child care, creating a summer schedule, and making sure there are plenty of opportunities for fun. Making summer memories can be some of the most special times of childhood, but leaving the summer plan completely up to chance is not actually stress-free for parents or for children. Fortunately, having a schedule and creating opportunities for fun are not mutually exclusive.
More: A Parent's To-Do List for the Summer Before Your Teen Heads Off to College
Schedules and routines are important both for children and for parents’ sanity. If your child is of school age, she just spent almost ten months of the year following a specific schedule. If your child is not yet of school age, she most likely had more of a schedule than you may have even realized centered around meals, naps, and bedtime. Predictable routine provides children with comfort and security.
No matter how old your children are, you have probably experienced the effects of an off-schedule time with your child. Children’s feelings of being unmoored can manifest as what looks like crankiness and frustration, but these behaviors are actually a child’s way of grappling with the anxiety that children feel when they don’t know what is happening next. Elements of surprise have their place, but predictability is what children crave. It also provides parents with the peace of mind and structure needed to take care of their non-parenting responsibilities without flying by the seat of their pants.
How do you create a summer schedule for kids?
Involve your Kids in the Schedule Planning
Although you may be making the biggest decisions about the summer schedule, there is always a way to involve the kids. In the initial process, you can work with them to create a bucket list of special activities that they would like to do before the summer ends. You can also ask them to choose smaller special activities that can be incorporated into the schedule on a once a week basis. Think items like going out for ice cream, creating an art project, or going for a swim. Being able to anticipate special outings and activities is exciting for children.
Also, working on the summer calendar together allows them a concrete way to preview the summer season which helps to lessen anxiety and provide comfort. Taking time at the start of each week to work on the specific schedule for that week is another way to keep up that much needed predictability for kids. It also helps them to feel like they have a say in their summer which is important after following schedules that were simply created for them without their input all year both in school and with sports and extracurricular activities.
Choose a Calendar that is Accessible to Children
There are so many options for calendars and schedules, and choosing an age-appropriate one is key for successfully involving your kids. You can use a large hanging wall calendar like this magnetic weekly dry erase calendar on which you and your child can write in your plans for the week. If your child prefers drawing or is not writing yet, she can illustrate pictures of the activities or color in a simple drawing or symbol that you create.
For younger children, felt and velcro calendars with basic words and symbols can be a really fun morning or nighttime ritual which will keep little ones familiarized with their day and what to expect. If you’d like to kick off the summer season with a creative project, you and your child could create a calendar together using a white board or oak tag. No matter which one you choose, as long as your child feels part of the process, it will help her feel both responsible and comfortable with your family’s plan.
Decide on the Fixed and Moving Parts of your Summer Schedule
It’s always easiest to begin filling in your summer schedule with the fixed parts. These are the events that happen regularly in your days and weeks that don’t vary much when it comes to timing. Examples of fixed parts might be eating dinner as a family, the time your child will wake in the morning, and the time you leave for work (or begin your work at home).
Moving parts might include a morning and afternoon activity. It also includes a very important part of the schedule that is often forgotten for everyone in the household—free time! Everyone needs down time, and children should never be so overscheduled that they go without this. Down time allows for children to be creative, use their imaginations, and work on the very important skill of how to occupy themselves in the face of boredom. Parents need their down time too.
Including a time on the weekly schedule for one of the summer bucket list items is important too. Summer is supposed to be fun, and we want our children to feel heard when they’ve made some special requests. Of course, all requests don’t need to be granted, but having those special times scheduled into the calendar will help everyone in the family feel like they have something to look forward to, both for the bonding time and the novelty of it.
The lack of schedule during the summer can feel daunting at first, but with some planning, the right tools, and the involvement of the entire family, you may find that the transition from the school schedule to summer schedule is easier than you think. It’s also never too late to start!
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Charise Rohm Nulsen is a writer, social media influencer, activist, and perpetual volunteer.