Parenting educators share tips for finding fun and structure in our families this summer. By Megan McQueen.
For many families, there is a whole different vibe to parenting in the summer. Our kids want summer to be epic and carefree. We need them to be cared for and occupied to continue our work. Sometimes I feel like a cruise director trying to talk my kids into activities. Day camp options are limited because things filled up before I got my kids signed up, and the costs add up quickly. I don’t remember being in activities all summer as a kid. I had long days stretched before me, full of…nothing. How can I strike a balance for my family? I turned to some of my favorite parenting experts for help.
Young kids will probably benefit from daycare and steady routines when possible. Your family will need to get to work, and, as we all know, it is challenging to work with young kids underfoot. If you have older kids at home, read on to put your mind at ease.
Yes, we need to keep our kids occupied in the summer months, but we have a limited amount of summers with our kids, so let’s make sure we enjoy the moments we have together!
Whitney Fleming writes about balancing our to-do list for our tweens and teens with summer fun activities. I’ve added some of her ideas to our family calendar – biking to the farmer’s market for snacks, canoeing, and stocking our freezer with popsicles. Whitney points out that our kids (and we) have had a pretty stressful few years recently. By playing together, we are building resilience and connections and possibly reducing the anxiety and depression that have multiplied recently. I don’t need any more convincing.
The National Child Traumatic Stress Network created a list of activities to do with kids when we need suggestions. Some of these involve screens (watching live cams of national parks, for example), but most ideas are offline and take little-to-no supplies.Yes, we need to keep our kids occupied in the summer months, but we have a limited amount of summers with our kids, so let’s make sure we enjoy the moments we have together!
Build some structure
We also know that most of us thrive in some routines and structures. After a heavy year at school, my teen wants to “do nothing” this summer. I understand the lure, but I struggle with the thought of dragging them out of bed every morning.
We will have a conversation about balancing our expectations for summer days. I want my teen to have downtime, and I want them to stay active.
I will still expect my kids to contribute to our chores. We will bike and hike together. They will babysit some this summer, and we will work together to create a schedule for volunteer work or other jobs to keep them entertained and moving. I hope to help my tween and teen find opportunities to tutor, help elderly neighbors, or work part-time jobs at camps. Libraries often have summer events to keep kids busy. You might consider how you will manage screen time as well. In the past, I required that my kids were ready for their days (dressed, eat breakfast, brush teeth, etc.) and a chore done before they could hop on a screen. I might also add a timer to the equation so my kids know when to log off.
Think about others
Dr. Lisa Damour recently suggested on her podcast encouraging our kids to learn something new, take some healthy risks, and commit acts of service this summer.
I remember the early-pandemic days when I noticed my kids felt a bit helpless. They were interested in sloths, so we did some quick research, and they decided to donate money to a sanctuary. We brainstormed how they could multiply their donation by fundraising. My kids chose to create watercolor greeting cards they would give in return for donations. We were impressed with how much they could donate through this effort and generosity. More importantly, I noticed my kids seemed empowered by their actions and ability to help.
I try to have a project or two up my sleeve during the summer. It sometimes seems too much during the school year to have serious conversations. But summer months open an opportunity for time. We might have refresher conversations about sexuality, drinking, and drugs. We can dig into racial equity learning and watch some documentaries together. We may focus on boosting resilience. Look to your children’s interests to help guide you.
It is okay – even healthy – for us to be bored occasionally. Creativity thrives at this time. I have a lot of nostalgia for boredom. Do not panic if your kids complain about being bored! You may want to create a jar of fun summer activities together. When boredom strikes, they can pull an idea from the jar – maybe it’s cloud watching, biking to the ice cream shop, or playing a board game. Kate Pocock suggests that we should organize ⅓ of the summer, ⅓ unstructured where teens have to figure out what to do on their own, and ⅓ family time.
I hope you and your family have a summer full of joyful adventures, large and small, sticky fingers from perfectly-ripe peaches, and just enough time to get bored.
Megan McQueen is a warmhearted teacher, coach, consultant, and writer. She grounds her work in empathetic education, imparting a strong sense of community and social skills to those with which she works. Megan prioritizes emotional learning and problem solving skills. When not at work, she is most likely playing with her husband, two children, and pup.
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