It’s here: the end of the school year! The last month of the school year is not unlike the last month of pregnancy. Women are tired, worn out and don’t care anymore about the pain that is coming their way. The goal? Get the baby here! May is that month; it is full of recitals, graduations, end-of-season games and tournaments, award ceremonies and yes, homework. We are just ready for school to let out and summer vacation to start. But, after the first few days of “nothing to do” and prematurely bored children, summer, like a newborn baby, brings challenges and frustrations all its own.
I think it’s important to remember that we are not the entertainment committee for our children. Let them play, let them get bored, let them figure out what to do when they get bored. On the other hand, a little planning made the summer a little more fun for all of us. I learned that although summer doesn’t need to be as structured as the school year, a little structure and planning went a long way. Every year on the first day of summer vacation, the kids and I would sit down and have what we called a “Summer Summit.” Everyone, including me, got to say what they would like to do.
The various ideas were discussed, sometimes modified and written down on the list. Because the kids were part of the planning, I rarely had any pushback and summer (for the most part) was a fun time. Did it get long at the end? Yes. But, that’s just nature’s way of making us all want school to start again! Here are some of the things we did:
1. Library Day: Once a week, we would go to the library. This was fun for the kids of all ages, and we would participate in the library’s summer reading program. If the kids read a certain amount of books each week, they received coupons to Arby’s, Dairy Queen or Pizza Hut. On library day, we would go to the library and then go spend their coupons for lunch. Summer is a good time to work with your non-readers, helping them find the right books to spark their interest and improve their reading skills. It also helped with bedtime. Even though there was not school for them in the morning, MY daily hours did not change and, in fact, summer brought with it an extra amount of busy for me throughout the day. But, it is hard to convince kids it is bedtime when the sun is still in the sky. In what for me was a definite win/win situation, I always had the kids go to bed half an hour early and then gave them 30 minutes of reading time. We did this throughout the year, but in the summer, it gave me a needed ending point to the day. When reading time was through, the sun would be setting and their body clocks would acknowledge that it was time for sleeping.
2. Summer School or other programs: Unless there is an academic reason to do so, I would only enroll my children in fun, try-something-new type classes like art, theater, astronomy, etc. It was a great way to keep their brains working while trying out something creative and new.
The classes usually lasted about six weeks and by the time I got tired of taxing them back and forth, they were done. Check in your community for other fun outreach programs. Our local wilderness society held classes once-a-week in the morning and then the kids could hike around the trails in the afternoon.
3. Stay at home and do-nothing day: Once a week, we just stayed home. We were lucky that the homes we lived in while the kids were young had great backyards. Although the kids all played outside for some portion of almost every day, this day they played outside all day.
There were baseball games with the neighbor kids and our dog Winnie (who played centerfield and fetched all the balls that went long). They built forts, climbed trees, held races, played tag, kicked the can, etc. I would read a book outside while they played or used the day to catch up on laundry, etc. Later in the afternoon or evening, we would watch a movie and have a fun dinner.
4. Field Trips: During our Summer Summits, the kids would express a desire to go different places. We called these “field trips.” Sometimes we would go with another family whose children were friends of my children, but most of the time, we would go alone. Both were fun. The latter was a fun way to build memories and spend some good time just with my kids.
Field trips could include museums, zoos, bookstores, restaurants, new parks or playgrounds, movies, plays, etc. Check your local attractions, many of them have special “kid day” activities you can attend.
5. Summer Projects: Include your children in a project you would like to get done in the summer. This should be a project that allows you to work alongside your children. One year, I decided I wanted to re-do my landscaping.
We pulled, planted, and foraged. (This included giving my children shovels and sending them out to dig up wildflowers growing in fields.) We had treats before, after and during, and everyone pitched in and had a great time. It was also the summer that Billy Ray Cyrus’ song, “Achy Breaky Heart” became popular and was played a zillion (yes, that’s accurate) times a day. We would all sing along at the top of our lungs. Not only did I get a great landscaping job done, we created memories.
Be sure to open yourself to the unexpected. Look for new ideas or an opportunity to do or experience something you hadn’t thought of on that first Summer Summit day. Surprise them in the morning by turning the schedule upside down.
Every once in a while, declare a “Spend the Day in Your PJs Day.” Schedule enough to enjoy some fun and out-of-the-ordinary things, but leave enough time for your kids to play and use their imaginations. It gives them a break from the routine of school and sitting at desks all day. Studies show the many benefits of playing outside in the sunshine and dirt. I always felt like it was a success if, at the end of the day, there was a dirt ring around the bathtub.
Not every summer vacation was my favorite. Some summers were harder than others. I spent some summer vacations either pregnant or with a newborn. Those were hard and I was sure my children would resent it for years. When I worked outside of the home some years, our summers changed quite a bit. But, in an unofficial survey of my children, they all said they don’t really remember those summers specifically as being “not fun.” They remember the Summer Summits and all of the fun that was had over the years. So be easy on yourself. Regardless of the circumstances, I was always glad when the school year ended and glad when it started up again. That’s the mark of a successful summer vacation!