Last summer, my daughter was a junior counselor at a day camp next to the preschool she used to attend. As I dropped her off one morning, she noticed several young children also getting dropped off and asked, “Those poor kids have to go to preschool during the summer? Don’t they get a summer vacation?” I laughed and reminded her she used to be one of those “poor kids” who went to preschool year-round (and loved it) because her parents worked year-round. Our conversation made me miss the simplicity of summer during the preschool years and having full-day care in a safe, nurturing environment with drop off and pick up at the same time, same place each day. Once my kids left preschool, their summer schedules became a patchwork quilt of camps and play dates across the county that kept them busy and engaged – and made me relieved once school started again.
Dear Child Parent Institute,
My 7-year old twins are so excited that school is out for the summer. I’m also glad to have a break from the daily school schedule. However, I work full-time, so my kids have to go to day camps or child care. They usually have fun the first few weeks of summer “vacation,” but then they complain about having to go somewhere every day. It’s stressful, but I don’t feel comfortable leaving them home alone, and I don’t have time to arrange a summer full of play dates. What can I do to minimize their complaints and still make summer fun for them?
Great question! Although many people look forward to summer vacation all year long, coordinating children’s summertime schedules can be quite challenging. It can be particularly hard for adults who need full-time, affordable, fun, and safe activities for their children, so they can continue to work. Here are some tips for adding fun and variety to your kids’ summertime schedules:
Adapt your children’s daily routines to reflect the summertime schedule. Maintaining consistency in morning, mealtime and bedtime routines will make it easier to get everyone – including you – where they need to be each day. For instance, having a regular bedtime will help make sure your kids get enough sleep so they are rested and ready for the next day’s activities. At the same time, small changes to your children’s daily routines can make the summertime schedule feel special and different from the school year. Look for opportunities to make minor changes that won’t be too disruptive, like letting them stay up or sleep in later, or picking them up early from camps or child care occasionally.
Take time to reconnect each day. During the school year, homework, schedules, and deadlines often dominate the conversations between parents and children, and it can become stressful. The summer break provides a great chance for everyone to slow down and spend some quality time together, even if it’s for a short amount of time at the end of the day. The simplest ideas are often the best, like having a picnic for dinner, watching the stars come out, playing games, reading books or watching movies together. This will give your kids something to look forward to after being away at camps or child care.
Create a family “bucket list.” Ask your children to think of free or low-cost activities they would like to do as a family. Write down the ideas you’re willing to do or pay for. At the beginning of each week, have your kids pick one activity from the bucket list to do later that week or weekend. Throughout the week, talk with your kids about where, when and how you’ll do the activity. If you have a camera, take photos or videos of yourselves during each activity, then talk about them afterward and relive the memories. Talking together and providing engaging activities are positive parenting strategies that strengthen family relationships and will help focus your kids’ attention on things they’re looking forward to instead of complaints.
Final Thoughts: Summertime is meant to be fun and relaxing, yet patching together safe, engaging activities for the entire summer can become another full-time job. A few positive parenting strategies can make summer a fun experience for kids, while minimizing stress for parents and caregivers.
This article is created by Nicole Young, the mother of two children, ages 14 and 17, who also manages Santa Cruz County's Triple P - Positive Parenting Program. Scientifically proven, Triple P is available locally through the Child Parent Institute. Our classes are listed at calparents.org.
Child Parent Institute