It’s that blessed time of year again, where we are thrilled to throw off the burdens of homework, school lunches, and carpool lines; where we happily trade in our school clothes for swimsuits, and early bedtimes for late night family movies. It is also the time of year when we wonder why we were so excited to relinquish the one activity that kept our children occupied eight hours a day.
Let’s face it: it’s a trade-off, and one that has its joys accompanied by frustrations. But at the end of the day, it is a gift of time with our precious children, and we really only get eighteen of these until they move on to new things. Over the years, I have tried to organize our summer in various ways, trying to balance the necessary relaxation of the season with some deliberate and purposeful formation and family time. Here are a few tips that have made a difference for us over the years.
Create a Merit/Reward System: This is actually something we do year-round, but it is especially helpful in the summer. We use “merits.” We track them on a dry-erase board, and they can be turned in for various privileges. They are earned for anything from doing a chore cheerfully, to helping a sibling, to displaying a virtue. For us, it’s the only way they can earn video game time (can you say five sons?), but they can also be turned in for money ($.05 a merit). You can jot them down on a piece of paper, or make a punch card—whatever works for you.
Create a Loose Schedule: Don’t worry, I really mean loose. If schedules stress you out, you can skip to the next paragraph, but it really does help to give some structure to the day if the kids (and you) know what to expect.
A helpful schedule does three main things:
- Establishes a set time to get up and a set time to go to bed – For littles, this usually means not too early to rise, and for teens, not too late. At bedtime we establish a time they have to be in their rooms even if they don’t go to sleep at that time.
- Creates “windows” of time for screens that helps YOU – We like to limit the amount of T.V. and video games, but we do let them have more of it in the summer. I find it is helpful to have set times and days for this because it helps keep me accountable as well. Again, you are in charge, so you can always make an exception if it helps you. The key is to set their expectations so that they find other things to do.
- Has some built-in “down-time” – This was most critical when we still had napping children, but I find that even now, with our oldest living at home being fifteen and our youngest six, that rest time is a gift. I usually separate them as much as possible in various spots around the house with a book, LEGOs, or some other quiet toy. We set a timer and everyone gets a small break from one another. Again, if you miss this because you are doing something fun, no problem. Remember: the key is to keep YOU sane!
Require That They Do Something for Body, Mind, and Soul Each Day:
This is just a fun way to structure the day and answer the age-old complaint, “There is nothing to do!” I ask them to do two things from each group each day. We make a list of acceptable activities in each category and keep it handy. Obviously, little kids need help with this, but I have found siblings as young as five or six will help toddlers with it. Here are a few examples of things on the list:
- Body: swimming; running; jump rope; trampoline; walking; workout video.
- Mind: read a book; pick a topic and study it; write a short paragraph; math facts; handwriting practice.
- Soul: service to others (there are endless opportunities for this right in your home); go to daily Mass (this way everyone checks one off together!); read your Bible; memorize a Scripture verse; pray the Rosary; read about a saint.
These are just a few tips to help you get through the summer. A few other things we do is pick a memory verse we can all work on each week, make a list of movies we want to watch, and focus on a different Fruit of the Spirit each week and celebrate the person who does the best job exemplifying it. The key is to breathe, to show yourself mercy when you just want to run away or pour a glass of wine with lunch. These days really are fleeting, and I am sure we will miss them when they are gone. So hold on tight, breathe in the summer air, and may God be with you!