Summertime is the anthem of childhood. Whether your children are in preschool or high school, they're undoubtedly excited for the upcoming break where backpacks get tossed aside and pool days become the norm.
This lengthy vacation can also be stressful for parents. How do we engage our children and keep some sort of structure while allowing them to decompress after a long, often arduous school year?
In my house, summer means sunshine, sandy beaches, and these seven rules. While I want my kids to have fun, I also expect them to be thinkers and doers, and these rules enable them to be both while still enjoying their freedom. Give them a try with your kids and see what happens. Warning: your kids might develop an awesome hobby or discover a previously unknown talent.
1. Learning doesn't stop when school is out. This rule came out of desperation. My sons loved spending all day playing video games and in a fit of frustration, I packed up their gaming systems for the rest of the summer and told them to find other ways to entertain themselves. What happened next was nothing short of a miracle. Both boys turned to music, spending the summer learning to play the guitar and drums. The following summer, the boys continued their musical pursuits (they were really good by then) and even took up new hobbies such as origami and learning to do magic tricks. For a short period of time, my youngest was obsessed with geocaching, which got him out of the house and exploring. Now they understand that summer means learning new, fun things, and not sitting around all day.
2. For every hour of electronics time, you owe me an hour of outside playtime. Now that the kids are older, thankfully they don't want to spend the entire day parked in front of a TV or computer screen, but they still need a little motivation to get up and get moving. That's why we created this "tit for tat" rule. If they want to sit for an hour, they owe an hour of outside time. This has another benefit, too. Gone are the mood swings that usually arise when they've been staying indoors all day long. Now they get a dose of sunshine and some fresh air throughout the day to help them stay even-keeled.
3. If you tell me you're bored, there will be chores. My kids were notorious for relying on me to find activities for them to do. In an effort to stimulate their imagination, I let them know that from now on the only entertainment I would offer when they were bored was household chores. Guess what? They stopped complaining that there was nothing to do! This helps kids learn self-reliance, too – which is vital to their self-confidence.
4. Reading is a must. I'm obsessed with reading, and I know how important it is to get kids reading early and often so that they too develop a love for literature. That's why every summer we head to the library or book store and the kids must pick one grade-level book to read. Every day we set aside a short amount of time (usually 30 minutes) for reading and then discuss the book together. If your child seems adamantly against the idea, try offering them a reward for their reading. Whether it's a trip to the store, a movie date, or an hour of playtime, your child will be more excited to read if they can earn something they love.
5. Before you ask me for a favor, do a chore. This didn't become a necessity until my sons were both teenagers and needed a ride nearly every day to some friend's house or get-together. While they were slacking a bit on helping out around the house, there was never any hesitation to ask me to help them get to where they needed to go. In an effort to teach them how to balance needs and wants, I told them that if they planned on asking me for a favor, they needed to "pay me" by doing a chore of equal value. If the distance is far, they can do a bigger chore or a few smaller ones. The key here is that they do the chores first without being told, and then they ask for the favor. I still have the option to say "no" when necessary – but I'm much more likely to help them out when they've paid me in kind.
6. There's no sleeping all day or staying up all night. Look, I get it. Part of the fun of being a kid on summer break is not having bedtime. I'm not saying your kid should still go to bed at 8:30 every night, but I am saying there needs to be a cap on this whole structure-free sleep cycle thing. My oldest son would literally stay up until 7 a.m., and then sleep until dinner time. That wasn't working for me, so I capped his late nights at an hour that I felt honored his age (he isn't a baby anymore) but allowed us to see his face in the light of day. The only caveat is that two days before school starts again, my kids are forced to get up as early as they would have to for an actual school day in order to reset their clocks.
7. I'm going to make time for you, so make time for me, too. One of my friends has a tradition that I love, a weekly movie madness night where both her boys and her husband hunker down on the couch with their favorite snacks, and watch a movie together. Summer should be about friends and exploration, but it should also include family time. We make an effort to spend regular quality time with our busy kids. These moments won't last forever and one day our kids will be parents themselves, worrying about how to spend their kids' summer breaks. I'd like to make as many memories as I can before that day arrives.