Summer Quality Time with Your Kids

School's out for summer. And you know what that means for kids and parents everywhere: lots of family time, later than usual bed times, and for working parents especially, a mad scramble to cobble together a week-to-week schedule that keeps the kids engaged and safe.

I've heard all the stories. The 13-year-old who tells her mom she's bored, seven hours into summer break. The camp schedule that feels like a high-stakes game of Tetris. The elementary school kid who's signed up for so many activities, he's got no time to just relax.

The key to a great summer is to maintain some semblance of a routine, but also to welcome the pleasures of the season.

Before I get into nitty gritty tips, and this goes for working parents doubly, be mindful of how you transition from a season of more intense family life. In other words, don't be finishing up a call while you walk in the door or sneak into the bathroom just to “send one quick email” four minutes after you get home. Instead, build in a few minutes on the way home to wrap up from the day’s work and get into the right mindset, to ensure that your first encounters with your kids (and your spouse) communicates this message: I’m happy to see you, and I’m happy to be here.

Here are a few ideas of how to find the right rhythm for your family this summer.

Convert homework time to family time: Apart from summer reading, most kids are blissfully without homework all summer long. For three whole months you don’t have to ask, “Did you do your homework?” But instead of frittering away that time to video games or TV, stake a claim on an hour or two each evening as “family time.” Get your kids in on the plan by letting them choose the family’s activities. Maybe Monday nights are for walks around the neighborhood, Tuesday nights you have a family UNO tournament, Wednesdays you read a book or listen to a podcast together, and so on.

Don’t lose your routine entirely: The season with no school, no homework and limited activities can be a way to recharge; it can also be completely disorienting for kids to go from structured days to a free-for-all. Keep some of our regular routine in place, like standard wake up and bed times, meal times, and (if you have younger kids) some quiet time in the late afternoon. Regular chores like making the bed, clearing the table and unloading the dishes shouldn’t go away just because school’s out for summer. Summer can have a slower, lazier feel, but it shouldn’t’ be routine-free. It’ll also make getting back into the regular swing in the fall an easier transition.

Build in downtime: In some parts of the country (I’m looking at you New England), summer represents the only time of year when its warm enough and light enough to spend hours a day outdoors. As a result, some families over schedule activities. First, we’re going to the beach. Then, we’re hosting a cookout. Then, we’re walking to get ice cream. Then, we’re hosting our fireworks display. A few days of that pace can be fun; a summer of it will leave you feeling depleted. Attempting to book fun into every available hour will wind up no fun at all.

Plan family time, beyond vacation: Lots of families will vacation together this summer, but why not also plan a few special outings closer to home? Maybe there’s an “summer movie” night in your area, or an outdoor concert, or a local festival that can break your family out of ho-hum. Seek out those opportunities, decide as a family what sounds fun, then get it on your calendar.