Congratulations, mamas, you have made it to the end! School is officially out in most of the area, and any stragglers are not far behind. For most families, this is the long-awaited and much-needed reprieve from the relentless routine of early morning wake-ups, late nights of homework and extracurricular activities, and endless obligations for class parties, school plays, etc. etc. etc. After nine months of the same-old, same-old every.single.day, parents and kids alike are ready to ditch the schedule and just relax.
I am among those moms who take relaxing a little bit too far, if that’s possible. If you’re like me, summer mostly consists of 10 weeks of utter chaos as kids stay up late, sleep all morning (or, if you’re a parent of littles, wake up at exactly the same time only exponentially more cranky), and days filled with moanings of “Moooooomm, I’m so bored!” Of course those weeks are speckled with fun-filled days of ridiculous, what-was-I-even-thinking chaos, such as overnight trips, zoo days when it’s 95 degrees and humid, swimming all day and expecting the kids to stay up for a bonfire, and visiting family who expect your children to act like well-mannered humans and not the pack of wild dogs you’re pretty sure you’re raising.
Of course not all of us live in this madness. Yes, there are some moms out there who run a tight ship when their little sailors return to the U.S.S. Homebound each summer. They schedule out their days with crafts, educational activities, play dates, and exciting outings. These are the moms who do science experiments, make their own fruit leather from scratch, and they might even BAKE with their children! (Good gracious, they’re superhuman!) Do a quick search on Pinterest for “summer schedule” and you’ll find them out there, simultaneously ensuring their kid is smarter and more well-rounded than mine and giving me an anxiety attack thinking about all the planning they must do. If you’re one of those moms, hats off to you, my friend, I simply cannot.
Where is the middle ground between these two extremes? Although I typically prefer unstructured play for kids, it is clear that with a new baby in the house (he was born the week before school started last fall) we really need to establish a routine for our family. I am very easily overwhelmed by planning and schedules, so the key for me has been finding a balance to create a summer routine I can live with that still keeps our family on track.
Below I’ve compiled some of the best – and most realistic – ideas I’ve found out there (obviously none of them are original; see the second paragraph about my typical summer) to give structure to your days and actually enjoy this season together.
Block Schedule Your Day
This “Just Structured Enough” schedule from The Happiest Home is probably my favorite, and this is one of the brilliant ideas included. Setting aside general blocks of time rather than hours and minutes provides a broad structure with enough flexibility to still work when things take more or less time than you expect.
Block out each day’s activities into sections:
- Morning (wake-up time until roughly 11:00 am)
- Midday (~11:00 am – 2:00 pm)
- Afternoon (~2:00 pm – 5:00 pm)
- Evening (~5:00 pm – bedtime)
You may switch up the timing on these blocks to suit your family’s needs, or add more blocks if you have an early riser or night owl that needs to be occupied more hours of the day. Then work your daily activities into each block as needed.
Make an Order of Operations, Not a Timeline
When I make a schedule, I usually include times for each activity because that makes me feel more in control. The problem is that I almost never stick to those times, which leaves me feeling very out of control, and ultimately I scrap the whole thing. Please don’t laugh, but it totally blew my mind when I saw this daily fridge schedule from Thriving Home. Whether you put it on the fridge or taped to a poster board like me, having the daily routine laid out in order and not tied to a clock gives me freedom to be flexible. Making each piece movable allowed me to feel okay about switching things up when circumstances require such, like when it’s raining during our scheduled outside time, or if the baby falls asleep early and we need to move up our “quiet activities” time.
My family’s schedule looks a lot like this one from Full Plate Living, but you can make yours whatever works for you!
- Cartoons quietly in the living room – The baby usually sleeps later, and none of my kids want to eat right when they get up, so I put this first to work in a quiet start to the day.
- Breakfast – Every schedule I found online had breakfast first, but it’s my routine! I can do what I want!
- Get dressed/Brush teeth/Make beds – My three big kids complete these activities at varying paces, so lumping these together gets them done before moving to the next thing without putting pressure on them to “hurry up” for someone else.
- Free play – This is the (screen-free) unstructured play that makes me happy! And not putting a time on it allows me to change it up, 15 minutes if we have something to do that day, or 2 hours if we don’t!
- Outing – This could be anything from grocery shopping to a play date, to getting Icees at Weigel’s, but it gets us out of the house so no one gets cabin fever.
- Lunch – While I expect most lunches will be at home, this can easily be a picnic or Chick-fil-A if the outing runs into lunch time. See, flexibility!
- Outside – Kids need fresh air, and isn’t summer all about suntans and getting dirty? If our outing is something like the zoo or a park or swimming, outside time gets lumped all in there together.
- Snack – My kids would seriously eat all day if I let them, so having a set snack time is a necessity to keep their habits – and my grocery bill – at bay.
- Quiet time – This is when I anticipate the baby will be napping, so I need the big kids to keep it down. My 4-year-old still could use a nap, but he refuses to take one because he thinks he’s too grown, and really the 6- and 8-year-olds need the down time too. Quiet activities include reading, writing, drawing, coloring, working puzzles, etc. I am also shooting for individual activities so they don’t end up fighting.
- Chores – I have been terrible at involving my kids in housework since they were little, so this is a big deal for us. Each child will get one or two chores per day, such as sweeping or taking out the trash. They have to finish their chores before having screen time, and they are required and expected as a member of our family. However, they can do extra chores to earn cash if they wish… More on that later.
- Free play/Screen time – When the kids were in school, we had a 20 minute per day limit on video games, but I’m not as concerned about it during the summer. Having them wait so late in the day to begin screen time ensures they won’t spend hours melting their brains on a device, but they get to feel like they have more freedom because I’m not setting a timer.
- Dinner – Screen time ends when it’s time for dinner, and we all sit down together as a family to eat. The statistics on positive outcomes from eating together even just a few times a week are astounding, so this is a priority for us!
- Bath/Bed – We are absurdly early bedtime people, because my kids just need a lot of sleep. During the school year they go to bed at 7:30, but we’re still shooting for 8-8:30 during the summer, just because their bodies will be tired from all that playing!
Of course there will be days the schedule goes out the window because we’re going to the mountains or visiting family or taking a day trip, but for the most part, this everyday routine seems to really work for us.
Involve Kids in the Process
Another great idea from The Happiest Home is inviting kids into the process. You can ask them for as much or as little input as you feel they can handle, but even the small decisions help them take ownership and get excited about what is to come. My big kids are 8, 6, and almost 5, but we still have an infant in the house, so I had to hold most of the control in setting our routine for the baby’s sake. However, they helped me brainstorm activities they would like to do this summer for their outings, and each week they will help decide which ones to do. Check out this great list from Caitland for tons of ideas!
Very few things grate on my nerves quite so much as my children complaining about being bored. I am certain I have contributed to their lack of imagination by letting them watch too much TV or something, but this is not a mommy guilt post. Rather than constantly having to tell them what to do – and, of course, them becoming bored with it after exactly 4 1/2 minutes – I finally made a “bored bucket” with ideas for the kids to do. I used this list from Your Own Home Store as a basis for mine, and check out these great ideas from Raven. I wrote each activity on a large wooden craft stick and placed them in a jar for kids to choose one before they are tempted to come at me with the B-word. We also picked up a few of these idea box sets at Rala, and they have been life changing!
If the kids still can’t manage to occupy themselves and complain of boredom, I made another jar of chores they can do to earn some money. We do expect the kids to contribute to the housework as a member of the family, so they don’t get compensated for their regular chores. However, these are extra items and are “priced” anywhere from $0.25 to $1 each. (Thankfully that’s still a lot to my kids, but if you’re dealing with older kids or those who actually have a reasonable grasp on monetary value, you may have to up the ante.) Most of my list is made up of things I don’t regularly get to because I am easily distracted, but the kids can mostly do them on their own with little-to-no supervision. Also, kids who complain or have a bad attitude during the day will have to draw a chore and do it for free. Check out this awesome, age-appropriate list of chores from Money Saving Mom, and these tips from Ashley K. to get your kids to work without being miserable!
We’re only a few days into summer break, and so far this schedule is working well for us. However, I am sure we’ll soon get to a point where everyone wants to scrap it and just watch TV all day. Even if you get sick of the routine, it’s important to set some boundaries for your kids. I love this printable from Your Modern Family to ensure kids do something during the day other than brain-melting screen time.
Make Time for Mom
This might actually be the most important part of creating a routine of any kind, but also the hardest to stick to. As moms, we are used to putting others’ needs ahead of our own – I mean, we learn that lesson even before the baby arrives, when we change our eating, exercise, and recreational habits to care for a little life inside. But in order for us to be the best moms to our kids, it is critically important that we be our best selves as individuals too. For me, this means taking our daily routine and adding an extra category at the beginning: before the kids are up watching cartoons, I’m up hitting the gym and reading the Bible. If you have extra-early risers, you might work your gym time in the middle of the day or go for a run after Daddy gets home. Rather than doing laundry during nap time, sit down and read a book you love. Save up for that sitter so you can have regular date nights with the hubs. Whatever it is you love to do, make time for yourself. As much as your children need routine, you need this too – for you.