Two and a half months of summer vacation - a concept that lights up the eyes of kids everywhere, but can cast worry, fear, frustration, and anticipatory exhaustion on parents. How can we balance work and child-care, and let the kids have a fun summer while maintaining some semblance of structure and rules after the Monday-through-Friday school grind no longer defines the weeks?
We want to help! Throughout our years of seeing kids and parents go through end-of-school-year and beginning-of-school-year changes, we’ve come to see how important summer structure can be. This is especially true for kids with conditions like ADHD and anxiety.
We believe the goal should be to add just enough structure to keep everyone motivated, engaged, energized, and with goals to work toward while having fun rewards and plans for everyone to look forward to. Here are some things to consider:
One tried-and-true approach is camps, camps, camps! These can be costly, and most of them don’t go all summer, but they’re great here and there! One thing that seems to work well is spacing them out. Consider one week of camp each month of summer! It gives kids something to look forward to, and in between, they can spend time ‘earning’ the privilege and proving they can handle going away and behaving well at camp. Some schools, churches, and rec/community centers offer camps of all kinds, ranging from sports to arts and everything in between. Camps can be great for social skills and to pick up healthy hobbies!
Summer is also a good time to get kids involved in tutoring or extra learning, but try to keep this light, and give the kids some control. Maybe they could choose rewards for each academic thing they do, and work towards some bigger reward goal at the end of summer. Kids resist the idea of work on during the summer, so it can help to incentivize. Set a specific routine (e.g. 3 mornings per week for one hour) from June to September so they get used to the same schedule and know what to expect. Collaborate on the schedule, content, and reward setup. This can be a great time to work on a weakness or to expand on a topic the child is interested in, like an independent study! One fun idea is to ask your child to “teach” the family about a topic, chosen by them or by you, depending on the goal. For example, they could be encouraged to learn about space or fossils and to teach the family about it, or they could work on some math skills and teach the other family members to do those skills. It can make kids feel really awesome to get to be the teacher!
Another great way to add structure to summer is to give kids some responsibility. This can be anything from chores, planning events/trips, preparing meals, etc depending on their age. Collaborate on what responsibilities a child is willing to take on for the summer and what the rewards will be. Many kids get really excited to have control over “adult” things like planning a family day or planning and cooking a meal!
Before summer starts (in just a few weeks!) sit down and make a plan with the whole family. Highlight events, camps, adjusted sleep schedules, chores, goals, and a bucket list of fun ideas and rewards. Get ahead of that “oh no, what do I do now that they don’t have school” feeling! But also, try to hang on to the idea that summer should be a fun, relaxing time. Keep in mind that some kids simply need more down time in the summer so they can go back refreshed and ready to learn. Balance is key. Good luck!