Three ways to harness the power of Summer and make your kids better for it. Or something.

Three ways to harness the power of Summer and make your kids better for it.

The first day of summer break is my finest hour—it’s when I shine. In fact, it is my favorite day of the year. I have daily plans, routines, expectations and research projects for my kids and I am thrilled to have them around me. Tha-rilled!

This is the one day out of the year that I seriously consider homeschooling my children because it is so incredibly easy, rewarding and insanely fun. I tell my husband how MUCH I LOVE OUR CHILDREN AND HOW I’M LOOKING FORWARD TO SPENDING EVERY DAY WITH THEM!

Psychologists refer to this as delusions of grandeur; I call it hopeful viewing of reality.

When they were small and no one was in school, summer was just one more season of changing diapers and digging clothes out of a behemoth pile but now we were just sweaty doing it. My to-do list consisted of:

  1. Feed them
  2. Clothe them
  3. Survive until tomorrow

Once they entered school, summer was a legitimate variation from a pre-formatted schedule. Life really was different.

Three ways to harness the power of Summer and make your kids better for it.

We’ve tried many systems and procedures over the past fifteen years but here are the three ways we make summer livable, lovable and truly deserving of the term grand:

We basically have our time managed in three areas: one third for learning, one third for chores and the last third for self-directed activities—other-wise known as good, old-fashioned play.

To quote my high school music teacher, “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.”

It’s great to be flexible and try new things but most kids thrive on routine. They need to know expectations up front. We have a daily “to do” chart that is taped to their door that includes getting dressed, making beds, one daily chore, practicing instruments, etc. They aren’t allowed to do electronics of any kind until all items are completed.

Three ways to harness the power of Summer and make your kids better for it.

Summer is a great time to do some intensive research on topics they are passionate about.

For a few summers, we would buy the two inch thick workbooks labeled with their upcoming grade but by week two, I felt like an imposter. I looked myself in the mirror and said, “Woman, for the love—you are a teacher! You took six years to get a four year degree! Huck those workbooks and teach them! Engage them!” I felt like my inner-Mrs. Frizzle was set free.

Now, I ask them for some subjects they’d like to learn about and research, questions they’d like to find answers to, or things they’d like to learn how to do. My then six-year-old wanted to learn why puffer fish “puff”. So, at the ripe age of thirty-eight I learned that I can now cross that off my “wonder why” list, too. I love learning along with them.

Three ways to harness the power of Summer and make your kids better for it.

I recently counted up how many summers I had with my oldest before she graduates high school. Go ahead and count yours. I’ll stand here and hold a tissue for you.

How incredibly mind-bending is that? I have mentally created a list of life-skills I feel like she needs to have before leaping from the nest: managing money, cooking Ramen, realizing that leggings are not equal to pants, you know—those sorts of things. And we’ve started working on them.

Children need chores and legitimate responsibilities.

They need to see that we all as a family make a mess so we all as a family get to clean up that mess. When I train them on how to do a chore they watch me, then we do it together, I watch them do it and then they should be completely certified to clean pee off the john. I try not to be too picky but I do expect them to do it well so sometimes I have them go back and do it again. For a more in-depth look at this, read all about it here.

Summer is a great time to train kids how to cook, bake and do basic mending. In our home, even though I kind-of-sort-of know how to sew, it typically makes me break out in hives or lose my religion so we keep that last one to a minimum.

Lastly, I let them be bored.

They are allowed to access electronics once their list is complete but they only have a limited amount of time a week. We have done coupons in a jar or a sheet where they mark off one square for 30 minute increments but either way, it’s been fascinating to watch them binge at first and then realize the next week to ration it better. After a while, they hardly use all ten.

Three ways to harness the power of Summer and make your kids better for it.

I don’t feel it’s my job as a mother to entertain them. We do fun things together, we work together and we learn together. But when it’s their free time, I want them to get bored. I want them to learn how to handle that very real, very frequent emotion and learn how to handle it. I want them to know how to handle free time without having to be glued to a screen. I want them to develop a bug habitat out of sticks, leaves and mud. I love hearing their imaginations blend, ebb and flow as they are ninjas hiding in their secret fort made out of all the sheets in the house.

We don’t have much in the way of possessions to offer our kids. We have one very large, very donated sans cable television that doesn’t get used very much. We don’t have any iPads or tablets.  I hope we give them a clear sense of why we do what we do: that family matters and life is not centered on entertaining and escaping from reality—it is about creating one that is real and engaging. I hope their spouses appreciate that they started learning work, homemaking and life skills before they really needed it.

Three ways to harness the power of Summer and make your kids better for it.

Our family still struggles with basic skills like not litigating siblings. In fact, when the arguing abounds, I sometimes make them walk down the sidewalk beside the car all the way down the street because I literally can’t take the fighting anymore. There are days where we huck all responsibility and go play in a creek or we live in squalor and watch a movie.

We still have a lot to learn and what works for us this year might be a total disaster next year. And what works for our family might be foreign and overwhelming for yours. What matters is that you are intentionally teaching, preparing and guiding your children for their future selves. They might not thank you now (or ever) but you owe it to them (and your future basement that is hopefully not full of dependents who failed to launch) to train them to do just about everything or at least have the initiative to find out just about everything.

Three ways to harness the power of Summer and make your kids better for it.

No pressure, right? If you reflect on it, these three areas are what make up most of our life: work, play, learn. If we do our jobs well as parents, we train them for success and independence in real life and the real world appreciates people who know how to work hard, play hard and learn hard. It might not be easy as pie, but it certainly is worth the effort.

If you want to see my learning/project list for my kiddos this summer, look for the FB post on I usually do one mini-post there a week so feel free to hang out with us!

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