“There’s nothing to do!”
Moms dread to hear these refrains, especially in the weeks after the school year ends. Between keeping the house running smoothly, and ensuring a good balance of entertainment, education and relaxation, it can be overwhelming. But with preparation and the right tools, you can save your sanity and make it a summer to remember.
Here are a few proven summer-ready tools you can use:
The Job Jar
You know those tasks that always fall to the bottom of the list? Summer can be a great time to have the kids help you complete them. Breaking them into 15-minute jobs and setting up a lottery system for assigning them (where everyone has a chance of drawing a “day off”) can make chores less like work.
Create your own job jar by designating an empty container to fill with slips of paper containing the chores to be done along with some free day slips. Include tasks such as: wiping down kitchen cabinet fronts, dusting slats on wood blinds, and cleaning out the silverware drawer. Make the jobs simpler for younger children or plan on assisting, should they draw a more difficult job. Also, keep duties brief enough to be easily completed in 15 minutes.
You can put an entire summer’s worth of jobs in the jar and have children draw slips daily until the jar is empty. Or, you can fill it weekly with enough chores for children to draw one a piece each day. Then, make note of small tasks around the house as you notice them to be added to the job jar later.
The Reading Wrench
What will your kids be reading this summer or what will you read to them? Whether you live with kids who have an unending appetite for books or have to bribe your child to crack one open, it helps to have a list to work from. Add this tool to your belt now and you'll be able to reach for it all summer long–whether in response to the occasional “I’m bored” or to fill the stretches of time during a long car ride or plane trip.
Don't feel like you have to create a list all on your own (although if you've been meaning to have your kids read some of your favorites, now's your chance). There are plenty of reading lists available for kids of all ages. If your school hands out a summer reading list, start with that.
Some kids enjoy the challenge of reading all the recent award-winners. And occasionally, schools offer rewards for those who complete a list. Book awards include the Caldecott Medal (for picture books), Geisel medal (beginning reader), Newbery (most distinguished children's book), and Coretta Scott King (African American authors and illustrators). Many states also have their own young readers' book awards, in which students can participate by reading a minimum number of books from the list of nominees before voting for their own favorites.
As a parent, you can also create your own reading list to target specific goals you have for your children. Kara Haas requires her two sons to read three different types of books each summer: one Christian biography, one historical fiction, and one fiction. Then, she asks them to answer questions she and her husband have created.
The Fun Friday Blueprint
Every mom should have a master plan for fun. Decide when you’ll have local excursions and where you’ll go. Some moms, like Emily Neal, make the outings a weekly event and invite friends to join them. This makes planning ahead important.
Involve your children in brainstorming destinations. You could include nearby water parks, new-to-you playgrounds, ice cream shops, museums, zoos, and gardens. Don't forget to have both indoor and outdoor options so you can flex with the weather.
Even a trip to the party store to buy zany masks for at-home fun can make a difference, Neal points out. “Sometimes the simplest things are the coolest,” she says.
Having a plan for fun ensures that you won’t be stuck at home wondering what to do. And you won’t finish the summer regretting not visiting places you'd hoped to. “It’s important to be deliberate about it,” says Neal. “It’s fun to look back and have all those memories.”
The Life Skills Drill
School is for learning the three Rs. Home is where our children should be mastering life skills that enable them to navigate the everyday world. Start with the basics such as cleaning a bathroom and then progress in the tween and teen years to such skills as balancing a checkbook and changing the oil in a car.
Haas has made skill development a priority for her boys’ summers. “Every summer since they were 10, they have learned a new skill that will help them when they own their own home or manage their homes. Some years it has been painting, placing sidewalk pavers, basic construction, and even sewing,” she explains. “I’d watch their lives and think, what are they old enough to do now? Or what am I tired of doing for them?”
Choose one or two new skills you'd like to see your child master. Then, create a plan. How often will they practice the new skill–once a week, once a month, or repetitively for a short time during the course of a single longer project? Who will teach them the skill and how will the child demonstrate he has mastered it?
Using these tools, you’ll be keeping your children active mentally and socially. And they’ll be helping you out and developing abilities that will last long after the summer is over. ■