As the school year is quickly coming to a close, and we are looking forward to all the fun and excitement that summer brings, there is one thing that begins to lurk inside the parental mind – “What am I going to DO with these KIDS?!?!??”
This is the time of year that I find conversations with my clients focusing on summer, and, in particular, a need to keep their kids “busy” as a way to keep them occupied and (hopefully!) out of trouble. However, what I would prefer they (and you, dear parent!) would focus on is “structure” versus simply “staying busy.”
These concepts are easily confused. We often think “OMG!!! They’ll be out of school. We’ll need to keep them busy!” But, what will really offer more to your kids - and to you, as well! - is to choose wisely which activities you engage your children and families in and to keep those summer days structured and routine.
By this I mean choosing which activities are meaningful to your kids, offering plenty of down time and free play, while also utilizing routine on a daily basis.
I see many parents who feel a need to “fill up” their kids’ time. They pull out the local Family Magazine and comb the ads for summer camps and summertime special classes. They plan on lots of play dates, matinee movies (because who doesn’t love summer discounts!), art class at the Family Museum on Tuesdays, Lego League at the library, time with grandparents, and of course we have baseball/soccer/basketball practice and games, swimming lessons, gymnastics, volunteering at the food pantry and let’s not forget practicing our reading and math skills! Meanwhile they will eat, sleep, do chores on their downtime, and finally have a chance to communicate with family members and friends when they have a free moment – which would be on the phone, in the car, on the way to their next scheduled event.
But how many of you have asked your kids what THEY want to do over the summer? Actually, how many of you parents have asked yourselves that same question? Instead of seeing summer as an annoying space that has to be filled, try seeing the longer days of summer freedom as an opportunity. An opportunity for your Soccer Star athlete to hone in on her skills, or your Rocker son to have extra practice on his guitar. Perhaps all your kids really want to do is swim. Or maybe they’d like to go see some new (or old) sites. And maybe you, as the parent, want to prioritize relationships, learning, responsibilities and fun. The first stage of Summertime Planning is to ask yourselves and your kids to make a list of what they would like to accomplish over summer break.
Once the lists have been compiled, you (as the parent!) can then decide which activities would best fit the priorities that you want to honor for your family, while keeping one critically important thing in mind – STRUCTURE. Instead of simply filling days with “something to do,” make deliberate choices that not only accomplish your family’s goals, but also work within a structured and consistent daily routine. Maybe for your family a priority is have dinner together every (or most) nights. Perhaps the kids need free-time for play with friends or alone after lunch until it’s time for family activities. Or maybe it’s math and reading for an hour after breakfast. When you make structure and routine the first priority, you can more easily decipher which activities will or won’t work for you as a family, and it will make you more reluctant to add in activities that interfere with your overall routine. Ultimately, using structure and goals would give more pause about what we sign our kids and family up for, because we realize what we would be giving up in order to participate.
It’s tempting to feel like we need to fill their time. And, of course, if you work like I do, day camps/day care is not optional, but are also usually structured around a daily routine. However, if you have more freedom during the summer to dictate how your child will spend their time, it is important to stay focused on providing structure over busy-ness. Creating a predictable schedule of events throughout the day will help kids remember what is expected of them, stay relaxed and limit behavior issues. Structure and routine create calmer and more focused kids, while also creating calmer and more relaxed parents.
Keeping kids “busy” might seem like an easy way to get through summer. But in all of that “busyness,” children are being robbed of the ability to have time to themselves. Take away that “busyness,” and you give your child the independence to control their own agendas and activities, which will help them develop their imagination and creativity, become self-starters by practicing and initiating their own play, and also foster more opportunity for them to connect and build relationships and social skills with siblings, neighbors, and friends through unorganized interactions. There is real value to all of these things that keeping kids busy with an endless list of organized activity would not necessarily offer.
Creating routines and structure in your days is far more valuable than signing them up for a million activities. Teaching them to play on their own, be resourceful with their time, and be comfortable with being bored are life skills that we all need to practice. And by limiting the “busy” it also helps limit the “crazy” in your life too. After all, I’ve never heard anyone exclaim that the best part of their summer was running the kids all over town!