5 essential ideas for transitioning kids to a summer schedule

As they say, hindsight is 20/20 and boy is that true to motherhood! I can remember the excitement around summer for our entire family. The kids loved going to camps and Travis and I looked forward to having mini-breaks throughout the day. The excitement quickly wore off the first year when we learned, the hard way, that you must plan camp months out. And so commenced the first, and last, summer we didn’t plan camps (far) in advance! I started marking my calendar mid to late March for summer camp registrations. I have found that’s the best way to set summer up for success for all!

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It always seems like we are just hitting our groove transitioning from school schedule to summer schedule when it’s time to go back to the school schedule. We got a headstart on moving to a summer schedule this year as stay-at-home felt like a quasi summer vacation already.
Summer (and quarantine) schedule seems to challenge our family due to the lack of structure during the day. Natalie, my 6-year-old, got hit the hardest this year. Developmentally, she thrives in an environment with a set schedule, her friends face-to-face, and a classroom learning setting. All of those things were disrupted at once so we have navigated what is best for her during this time.

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Travis and I knew it was time to put our heads together when we noticed some regression in her behavior. She is generally our happy, easygoing, singing-all-day kid but lately, we noticed an increase in whining and non-compliance. There is a lot of push back during bedtime, learning time, and chores.

For years, I prided myself on being a pro planner of summer activities. When the summer schedule got rolled out in late March, I was on it with the planning! I’d get on my computer, hunt down the ones that were best for each of our girls, book them, and boom, there was my summer schedule! It took a few years to get the system down but once I did, I was pretty good at it.

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Now that the girls are older, they have fewer activities per se and more hang out days at the beach with friends during summer. Poor Natalie. The third child who is only 6 hangs out with her 11 and 14-year-old siblings and friends. Once in a while we arrange  play dates for her, but it seems the older two still dominate our schedules.

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The learning will continue to evolve, but as a seasoned parent and therapist, I wanted to share 5 essential ideas for transitioning your kids to a summer schedule to set your family up for a successful summer together!

1. Family meetings are imperative. Even if you have little kids.

Going to summer mode is easy on the outset! 

Early bedtimes? Bye, Felicia! 

Routine bathtime? BYE! 

Set dinner time? Yeah right! 

Soon enough, parents realize grumpy kids on devices all day and night isn’t helping anyone. Believe it or not, kids actually do enjoy the structure and discipline even if they don’t outwardly recognize that. 

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The first step to transitioning from school to summer? Meet at the dining table and talk. Set expectations with your entire family present about the things that will remain the same, and the things that will change for summer. It leaves no surprises for anyone and will get you all on the same page before day 1 of summer hits. 

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Back in the day when I led parenting groups, we would go through the Positive Discipline workbook. It outlines a great family meeting training plan

 

1.) The Agenda

 

2.) Compliments

 

3.) Brainstorming for Solutions

 

4.) A family fun activity such as a game, cooking, or popcorn and a movie.

 

5.) Calendar for family fun event

Family meetings are easily forgotten. Please do yourself a favor and make it a habit to meet once a week and touch base with everyone. We don’t have half as many excuses as we did before. Travis and I are going to start getting serious about this one this summer. I hope you join us!

2. Regulate sleep schedules.

Even if you allow later bedtimes, a schedule is still important. Plan the schedule to still allow for ample amounts of sleep for happy, healthy kids (and parents)! Your kids are growing so I always recommend that if bedtime gets later, wakeup time should as well. 

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Did you know that lack of sleep can contribute to overeating and gaining weight? The Sleep Foundation Organization says that there are also potential health consequences of skimping on sleep during the summer. These include changes in mood and difficulty paying attention, as well as problems with learning, loss of appetite, overeating, and maintaining weight. In fact, after second grade many children gain weight during the summer months, and it’s thought that changes in their sleep, diet, and activity levels during this time are contributing factors. With the kids having fewer activities outside the home, it is more important than ever to keep them moving. With the fact that nutritious sleep plays into a healthy strong body, it is more reason to get the kids on a bedtime routine! 

 

Tips for  bedtime routines: 

  • Have a consistent bedtime routine where kids do the exact same thing every night before bed. (Ex. Bath -> teeth-brushing -> book -> lights out.) The brain starts to connect this routine with sleep, so when you go through the steps, it sends out chemicals that help kids fall asleep faster and more reliably.
  • Turn off screens one to two hours before bed. Your kids (teens in particular) might put up a fight, but the light from screens (like TVs, smartphones, tablets, and computers) act like artificial sun, confusing the brain into thinking it’s still daytime. Turning off the devices and keeping them out of the bedroom can mean more, and higher-quality, sleep.
  • Stay firm with your expectations and limits. Sometimes when we give our toddlers (even teenagers!) a little change they will still protest so be sure you do not start giving in to every request for “more water” or “another story” or another video game as this often snowballs out of control over a few nights.

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3. Ease into a routine. 

Give yourself the grace to acclimate into a summer cadence. It takes time! Routines are really important to feel secure for both adults and kids so it might mean that the things you have agreed upon to change up for summer need to be phased in. You know your kids best so decided if a phased approach will work or if your family would respond better to jump in all in at once. 

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Try to maintain similar wake-up times and meal times. Start by tweaking your wakeup schedule, then establish set meal times and slowly (every few days or so) fill in the gaps in your routine. By the end of summer, your routine could look something like this:

Sample summer routine:

START TIME

ACTIVITY

8 a.m.

Wake up and get ready for the day

8:30 a.m.

Eat breakfast

9 a.m.

Summer learning or reading (fun flashcards, new books to explore, science experiments in the kitchen like making your own playdough)

10 a.m.

Free play

11 a.m.

Prepare lunch together

11:30 a.m.

Eat lunch

12 p.m.

Clean up/wash dishes

12:30 p.m.

Quiet time (reading or nap)

1 p.m.

Snack/ TV or device break

2:30 p.m.

Take a walk or bike outside

5:30 p.m.

Prepare dinner together

6 p.m.

Eat dinner as a family

6:30 p.m.

Clean up/wash dishes

7 p.m.

Family activities like game night, theme night or movies

8:30 p.m.

Get ready for bed

9:00 p.m.

Lights out

4. Engage in structured activities.

As much as we all love being laissez-faire about summer days, structure helps us feel emotionally contained. Especially during Covid-19, we feel a lack of focus and meaning. Kids and teens feel this too! A schedule and predictable routine are emotionally anchoring for them.

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  Research has shown that structure reduces anxiety by providing predictability and security. The school day is structured with predictable schedules and expectations. When this structure is disrupted, children can experience increased anxiety and associated behaviors, especially during this uncertain time.

 I recommend structured activities during the summer. These help your kids get used to the idea of following instructions, accomplishing specific tasks, and working under the clock — just like they will at school. Knowing when, where, and for how long your kids have these activities allows you to plan some time for yourself. If you know they are always at swim lessons from 11am-12pm, you can plan a workout, or a coffee or something during that time. 

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Structured activities could include academic tasks — like completing a set number of fun workbook pages each day, or reading a set number of pages of a book and earn points towards a book club reward, or counting things in the kitchen to brush up on math (kitchen math is great for real-life application of fractions). 

Get creative! Ask your children to build something like Emily and Natalie’s lemonade play stand. This allowed them to think creatively all the while learning responsibility, collaboration, and encouraged them to do some math. They planned out different play scenarios and also made lemonade from scratch! 

Other structured activities could include: 

  • Creating a specific art project or craft
  • Planning and preparing a meal, snack or dessert
  • Participating in an organized activity, like art or tie-dye shirts
  • Building and going through an obstacle course
  • Making a unique gift for their friends, grandparents,

    5. Recognize that change is hard but we are resilient. 

    If COVID-19 has taught all of us anything, it’s that change is HARD. As human beings, we don’t like discomfort or unexpected change. But in reality, life is hard. That is simply the norm.

     

    What we do with it is up to us. So, instead of feeling disappointed about canceling summer trips and fun camps we anticipated, shifting our mindset to an altered plan can be just as fulfilling!

     

     

     

    I hope these 5 essential ideas truly help you and your family make this summer the most memorable yet!

    XO,

    Anita

     

     

 

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