The days of summer are upon us.  For those of us with school-age children it means change.  I always look forward to that time with both excitement and uncertainty.  Just how will we fill our hours and our days?  
 Several years ago I experimented with bringing some structure to our days and our weeks.  I also determined boundaries right from the beginning so they know what is expected.  As we head into summer, here’s some questions you can ask yourself.  Once you’ve answered them, call a family meeting and share them with the kids.  Kids find security in knowing the plan and Moms (and dads) find peace in having a plan. 
What does the day look like?  Yes, summer is a time to rest and relax for the kids, but having some regular responsibilities and activities provides some guidelines for everyone.  At our home we have our “Basics” that have to be done each morning.  They include getting dressed, making the bed, picking up their bedroom, brushing teeth, eating breakfast, and fixing hair.  The kids know that these need to be done by either 10:30am or before we leave to go somewhere, whichever comes first.  This gives them some goals to work toward.  After lunch we have one hour of rest time.  Yes, even though I have teenagers, we still do rest time.  Everyone needs a little bit of “me” time.  They don’t have to “rest” but just have some time away from each other every day.  Austin often plays guitar.  Kolya will read or create something. The kids also have family responsibilities (also known as chores) that they need to accomplish each day. 
What does the week look like? Do your kids ask you a million questions like “Can I have a friend over?”, “When can we go to the pool?”, “Can we go to the park?”, “Why don’t we go to the library some time?”.  Mine do.  So I tried to think through all the activities they enjoy doing in the summer and worked them into a weekly schedule.  That way the kids don’t have to ask me when we’re going to do something, they know when it will happen each week.  I haven’t determined this year’s schedule yet, but this is what last year looked like:
Monday:          Swimming Pool
Tuesday:          Picnic in a park (there are enough parks in many cities to visit one each week during the summer)
Wednesday:    Friend Day (these are for the friends who don’t live in the neighborhood, you know                      the ones you have to drive all over town and pick up!)   
Thursday:        Laundry and Cleaning Day (I use these days to teach the kids how to dust, clean                           bathrooms, and do laundry–skills they will use for a lifetime)
Friday:             Library
Our schedule isn’t in place to hold us to a rigid timetable.  In fact, its very flexible.  We may choose to go to the pool several other days during the week, but the kids can count on it on Monday.  We might picnic in the park on Thursday, too, if another mom calls and asks us if we want to go.  What a weekly schedule does do is answer some of the regular questions that arise.  The kids don’t have to ask “When can I have so and so over?”  They know they can have him/her over on Wednesday, so they can plan accordingly.
What are the guidelines for TV?  We don’t watch much TV around our house, but I find each summer we have to set some guidelines.  The kids need to know how much they can watch and what shows are OK.  Set those guidelines from day one, before bad habits set in.  The same goes for video games.  We require our boys to set the kitchen timer for a pre-determined amount of time before they get on video games.  This keeps them from playing for hours on end.  If I catch them playing without the kitchen timer set, they lose their X-box for the rest of the day.
How will summer affect my needs?  Because I am accustomed to having the boys in school each day, summer presents some changes for me.  I usually sit down with my husband and plan for some time away a couple of evenings a week.  This assures me of some “Jill time” that can refesh me and allow me to get some things accomplished..  When the kids were younger, I have also worked out a switch day with a friend in the summer.  One day she watched my kids all day, another day I watched hers all day.  What a nice break!
One last summer tip...create a drink tray for the kids.  Each morning fill a large thermos with Kool-aid, juice, or water.  Mark cups with kids names (include a few without names for the neighbor kids) and put the tray with cups outside in the shade for the kids.  Refill through the day as needed.  That’s also where they can count on finding a snack mid-morning (sometimes) and mid-afternoon (always!).  This allows me to truly say “the kitchen is closed” for just a few hours a day!
Yes, it does take some time to adjust to the summer activities.  But with a little bit of foresight on our part, it can be a smooth transition.  It is a time that is to be treasured.  When you think about it, once the kids are school-age, we only have 12 summers with them!
What about you?  What summer strategies or tips do you have that you can share with us?

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