planning for an unstructured summer

We’re deep into summer vacation, my first with a school aged child. And I understand why moms don’t necessarily think of this time off from school as a vacation. Some moms cope by filling their child’s schedule up to the brim and driving them from one activity to another. But I’m of the view that kids need ample time for unstructured play. By unstructured I mean it isn’t led by grown-ups and it doesn’t involve screens or digital devices.

Kids need enough unscheduled time to get bored — so they can figure out how to pass the time themselves. If you have more than one child, this also tends to multiply the opportunities for conflict, another thing that kids need to learn how to deal with themselves. The earlier they learn these lessons, the better. The trick is to maintain our sanity during their learning process. Here are my tips for managing a relatively unstructured summer:

1. Sign up for a summer reading program. It’ll help keep you and your kids on track with summer reading goals. Spend some time each day reading to your kiddos, but change it up by having your kids read to you. Check out some read-along book and CDs from the library. Your kids can to listen to them over and over while you get other things done.

2. Assign chores when the bickering escalates. I often send the older one to his room to fix his bed when he needs some time to cool down. Other tasks to divert their attention include setting the table, sorting socks, or washing the dishes. Today I put them to work in the kitchen. They cleared their clutter off the floor, I swept, and then the older one washed the floor.

3. Create a system by which your child can earn computer time. In early May, when I grew weary of the repeated request to play games on the PBS Kids website, I came up with a list of tasks my son can do to earn stars. Once he has six stars he can redeem them for 15 minutes of computer time. (Chores assigned for disciplinary purposes don’t earn him any stars, however.)  So far, he’s been averaging computer time less than once a week. He knows what he can do if he’d like more, but at this point, he prefers to do other things rather than do household tasks to earn stars.

4. Go outside. It’s the best place to burn off some of that boundless energy. We’ve been gardening, climbing trees, kicking the soccer ball, riding bikes, and just running round.  My boys still need supervision when they’re outdoors, and so I try to delegate this responsibility to their daddy at least half the time.

5. Institute quiet time. With very rare exception, every afternoon from about 1:30 to 3:00 is quiet time around here. We plan our days around it; I need the time to get my writing work done. The 3-year-old usually takes a nap, but even if he doesn’t, he’s in his room. My kindergartner sort of forgot how this works while he was in school, so there’s been a bit of relearning needed whenever he wanders out of his room, but he’s getting the hang of it again. Kids need some time to themselves – and so do moms.

6 thoughts on “planning for an unstructured summer

  1. These are excellent suggestions. I wish I had thought of some of these when my now grown boys were young! You are so right that they need time to conflict solve, to play unstructured, to run, to figure out what to do when they are bored…Thank you so much…I will use this with my grandchildren as they get just a little older!

    • Yes. Can I admit I’m waiting for the day when ‘pick on little brother’ isn’t the first thought that comes to mind when attempting to chase away said boredom?
      There’s a certain amount of redirecting involved. And some days that’s a real energy drain.

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