The Ultimate Guide to Summer Balance with Kids
I feel guilty for admitting this, but I sorta dread summer. I love the warm weather. I love sleeping in past 5:10 am. I love NOT having to pack lunches/sit in carpool/check math homework/fight with kids to get into bed, get OUT of bed, get down the stairs, get their backpack, get into the car, get OUT of the car…
But I HATE trying to keep kids entertained.
I know that’s not my job. I get that. But tell that to me when it’s 1 pm on July 16th and it’s 97 degrees and 100% humidity outside, and I’ve kicked everyone off screens for the third time because they’ve been lying there for hours (maybe since the night before, I don’t even know), and their brains are melting, and all I want is five minutes of quiet (JUST FIVE MINUTES!). Without warning, the children are writhing on the floor in obvious distress because I’ve unplugged their life source, and they are all “There’s nothing to dooooooooooooooooo!”
Remind me then that it’s not my job to entertain them.
Add to that the fact that none of my three cherubs can drive themselves anywhere yet, so I am their sole method of transportation. Also, we just moved out to the country where our closest neighbor is about three acres away and there is no neighborhood pool.
If I were one of those organized Pinteresty Moms, I would have started my Creative Summer Fun Kit back in January when supplies and other fun things are on clearance. You would have also had this post delivered into your inbox well before June, because I would have created it months ago and scheduled it. It would have had cool pictures of happy kids frolicking and such.
But that is totally not my thing. I’m great at organizing a closet, but I stink at planning fun summer activities with or for my kids. My idea of a perfect summer day involves a hard workout followed by a good book on a lawn chair, and a cup of coffee/glass of ice water/glass of wine. I rarely get bored sitting home alone. I enjoy hours of quiet. I always have something to do or read or cook. I think my kids should be just like me, and I’m confused when they can’t just figure it out. (That’s not entirely true. I don’t want them to be just like me. I just want them to enjoy quiet and figure it out.)
Additionally, what kinds of activities, exactly, can occupy a 16-year-old girl, a 13-year-old boy and an 8-year-old girl, simultaneously? They can’t even agree on a song in the car (“Leave it ON!!!!” “Change it!!!!!!” “STOP SINGING!!!!” “SHUT UP, I CAN’T HEAR IT!!!” “I HATE THIS SONG!!!!”)
When they were little and I could turn on the hose and hand them a box of popsicles, (while I sat on the lawn chair and read a book) I was a rock star. But now that my kids are 16, 13 and 8? Hoses and popsicles don’t cut it.
Here’s another problem. I can’t ever seem to find the right balance between not enough and too much summer structure. In the past, I’ve landed on both ends of the spectrum and regretted them both.
One summer, I scheduled nothing. Truly. Nothing. My big plan was having lazy mornings in PJs and long days at the neighborhood pool. I fully expected my kids to simply go outside and play. That worked for about a week. Then lazy mornings turned into kids watching TV/playing the Wii/surfing the internet—all separated—for hours upon hours. Hours on screens bred discontentment and lack of energy. Extraction from screens was painful. They weren’t motivated to do anything at all and I was absolutely insane.
The next summer, I vowed to plan better, so I scheduled each one for camps and VBS and classes and mission trips. Every week was fully planned with fun, meaningful activities. By mid-summer, I was so tired of getting up and driving them where they needed to go, it felt just like school. They were tired, too.
Somewhere between the two extremes, exists a balanced summer schedule that works for everyone: A little bit of lazy and a little bit of structure. Creativity and productivity.
I’ve already scheduled each child for two weeks each of structured activities (camps, VBS, local mission trip). These are specific to the child’s interests and are things they specifically asked to do. Then, I also scheduled a week of family vacation.
So, now, I’m only dealing with those in-between days where we have nothing scheduled, or where two kids are home while the other is at camp. Rather than trying to schedule and plan everything ahead of time, I’ve compiled a list to pull from. That way, we can decide that day if we’re up for a day trip, or if we’d rather hang out at home.
Thanks to my Facebook friends and the handy-dandy Internets, I didn’t have to come up with all of these on my own (see previous comment that this is not my thing). Some activities the kids can do alone. Some we can do as a family. Some are free. Some cost money (I’ve indicated these with a $.) Some are specific to Louisville, but you will probably have something similar where you live. I have them broken into categories, because my brain is toast in June, and I simply can’t be expected to think organizational-type thoughts.
Required Every Day: I want my kids to lead a well-balanced life. These are four elements that encompass that.
Summer reading: Our kids all have a Summer Reading Program through school. I usually remember this around July 27th, when I panic, and then force my kids to read several hours a day. Not this year. We are starting Summer Reading in June. Plus, I want them to read just for fun. Even the one kid who says he hates it.
Daily Devotional/Bible Study/Prayer: I always have such honorable goals here, but never really follow through. Because my kids attend a Christian school, it’s easy for me to let this one slide because they get Jesus all day long. But I want them to develop their own spiritual disciplines and not depend on teachers (or me!) to structure this for them. This year, they are each getting an age-appropriate devotional and they will need to complete it before they ask for screen time.
Exercise: We have a home gym, and they are all old enough to do something in there. But going out on the trampoline, going for a walk or run, or riding bikes needs to happen daily. My 16-year-old is doing Crossfit, so I’ll mostly leave her alone as long as she sticks with it. If she stick with it, she will also be able to kick my butt.
Chores: Sometimes it just seems easier to do it myself. But I tend to get resentful when I’m running baskets of laundry up and down the stairs, stepping over children doing nothing along the way. During the school year, we fall into a routine of me doing all the housework and them doing all their schoolwork. It seems fair at the time, but it’s not, really. I’m not helping them become independent if I require nothing of them at home. Every child is capable of doing something, even if they tell you otherwise. I intend to be organized about this, but I’m not quite ready to share how, exactly. This will be a future post.
Beyond that, if they come to me saying they are bored, I am armed with the following ideas!
• Memorize a Bible verse
• Write in your journal
• Write out 5 things you are thankful for: We have a family journal I keep for this purpose
• Write a letter to our sponsored child: We sponsor a child through World Vision and another through Compassion.
• Plan a family devotional to do at dinner time: Share with the family something you learned in your private devotional time.
• Practice your instrument: Rebekah plays violin, Elijah plays trumpet.
• Build something with Legos
• Write and perform a play
• Press flowers and frame them or make them into bookmarks
• Make a comic book
• Design a treasure hunt or scavenger hunt (indoor or outdoor)
• Write a song
• Make a movie and we will pop popcorn and watch it as a family
• Listen to music
• Paint your nails
• Work a puzzle
• Play a game
• Play cards
• Make an obstacle course
• Water the flowers
• Ride your bike/skateboard
• Jump on the trampoline
• Draw with sidewalk chalk: We have a 900 foot driveway, so this could go on for days.
• Take a walk and find cool things: We have all kinds of animals and wild flowers on our property.
• Start and keep a wildlife journal. Take pictures of what you find. Research them on the Internet and learn something about them.
• $ Paint flower pots or a birdhouse: This requires me to have said pots/birdhouse on hand
• $ Make homemade ice-cream: We have a machine. It’s time they learn to use it. I’d need to make sure I have ingredients on hand.
• $ Find a recipe and make something new: Again, requires ingredients.
• $ Make birdfeeders: You can do some cool things with pantry items and supplies from home.
• $ Plant something: This will require me to buy seeds, of course.
• $ Have a Lemonade stand: Not possible for me right now, but my kids did this other summers.
Chores I Pay Them For: My kids get a monthly allowance and are expected to help with kitchen clean up and keeping rooms generally picked up. I may alter this and require more to earn their monthly allowance, but for now, this list gives them an opportunity to earn some extra cash while contributing to the household:
• Weed the flower beds
• Mow the lawn
• Wash and vacuum the car
• Deep Clean your room
• Clean your bathroom
• Clean MY bathroom
• Do a load of your laundry
• Organize a closet/drawer/cabinet
Nice Things to Do For Others
• Write a letter/draw a picture to mail to grandparents
• Make cookies and deliver them to the neighbor
• Write a letter to one of your siblings (or your parents!) and tell them why you like them.
• Volunteer as a family: This requires some planning and some time, but it is so worth it for many, many reasons. In our house, our kids usually resist the initial effort it takes to feed the homeless or help someone in need, but they always, without exception, talk about it as the BEST THING EVER when we are finished. I think a lot of people feel like they need to reinvent the wheel here, but so many organizations are already out there doing the hard work and just need some additional hands. Here is a list of places a few places in Louisville where you can volunteer your time . Check with your church for organized efforts where you just need to show up and jump in.
o Pick up Neighborhood trash
o Dare to Care
o Kentucky Harvest
o Life Bridge
o Healing Place
o Salvation Army
o Necole’s Place
o Open Hand Kitchen
o Ronald McDonald House
When We Need to Get Out of the House:
• Go to the Park: Louisville has a number of large, sprawling parks with trails and play-sets and streams and picnic areas. My goal this summer is to pack a picnic, grab a frisbee and visit each and every one.
• $ The Zoo: This is one activity that never seems to get old for my kids, even with their diverse ages. We are zoo members so this is a free thing for us—well, free in that we paid for a membership and can now go as often as we like. Also, our zoo has Friday night movies on the lawn (free to zoo members). The challenge for me is resisting the incessant requests for expensive zoo snacks and gift-shop trinkets.
• $ Go Carts/Putt-Putt: We usually do this on vacation, but it’s a nice alternative when all else fails on a random Tuesday.
• $ Museums: Our kids get bored easily at museums, so this one will not be our first choice. But Louisville is home to the Bat Museum (where Louisville Sluggers are made!) and the Kentucky Derby Museum. Here is a list of free museums in the Louisville area.
• $ Science Center: Most large cities have one. Ours is nice and will keep a least two of my three kids occupied.
• $ Baseball Game: Louisville is home to the Louisville Bats and we try to make at least one game a year. But any baseball team will do. Baseball and summer go hand-in-hand.
• $ Movies: Taking the whole family to the theater is expensive, especially after popcorn and candy. But a lot of theaters offer $1 movies on weekday mornings. They are usually movies your kid has seen 700 times, but if you are desperate for an outing, it’s an option.
• $Farms: This may be a Kentucky thing, but we have nearby farms that offer fun activities for families. You can pick seasonal fruit, go in a corn maize, or pet and feed animals. Plus you get some delicious jams and baked goods at the markets.
• $ Local Pools and Splash Parks: If you aren’t blessed with a backyard pool, neighborhood pool or nearby body of water suitable for swimming, then a local pool or splash park is a great option. Some offer seasonal passes or you can pay as you go. We have several splash parks that are free.
• $ Farmer’s Market: These are free, but you need money to buy stuff. Here is a list of Farmer’s Markets in the Louisville area.
• $ Outdoor concerts: Seriously, what is better than sitting outdoors and listening to music? Doesn’t that just scream SUMMER? I always forget to look for these. This year I’m prepared, though. Here is a schedule of summer concerts in Louisville. Many of them are free!
Here’s wishing you a restful, yet productive, well-balanced and completely sane summer. I’d love to hear how you plan to achieve this. Please chime in with your ideas and links!
Thanks Sandy. This is great. And your list is universally applicable. I can say that with confidence cause everything on it is relevant even to me, all the way up here in CANADA! Yes….we even have summer here lol!
This year I was tempted to plan nothing. I think I’m still tired from hockey season ending…..in March! Sigh. But I decided to plan a few things. A week of morning vbs….in July. A week of all day day camp…in August. And 3 weeks of swimming lessons…..sprinkled in here and there. The swimming lessons are great because they force us to leave the house everyday…..but they only take an hour, so we still have time to do lots of other fun things.
And the week before school starts….we have swimming lessons at 8:30 am. Which will be good practice for getting up for school.
I hope I have a good mix of plans and no plans. Time for us to do nothing, or whatever we want, time for us to go and have an adventure, time to jump on the trampoline and ride bikes, time for the kids to have an activity, and time to wear pjs all day and play video games.
Sounds like you’ve got a great summer planned!
WoW! That sounds like some plan! Sandy, do you have any ideas for winters too? I am struggling to find anything useful to do with them.
Great list, Sandy! I am trying to get into a groove here. Every summer, I’m so motivated at the beginning (chore charts! teach kids how to do laundry and make a couple of simple meals! pick up and organize everyday! work happily alongside kids!) Somewhere along the way, we check out into screens 🙁
But, I’m taking baby steps. Right now, 2 of the 3 are getting ready to run outside. Then we are going to have a few minutes of pick up after they get back, I’m going to have them go through ONE school bag of stuff they brought home – a little progress is better than getting overwhelmed and giving up!
I am taking each day as it comes. If I think too long about the fact that I have to fill up the entire summer, I will die. Each day, I’m just tackling today.
This is really the ultimate guide to summer! You’ve covered almost everything, and it’s amazing! This long list of activities will really keep the kids busy with their summer while being productive as well. The kids are really hyped about trying them out!
I can understand it well. When my wife leave for weekly projects, it become challenge for me make my kids happy and entertained. I try to keep them involved in DIY activities or some time in games.