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The large, hand-written number 27 is visible from all the way down the hall. 27 school days left in the year. Tomorrow it will read 26, and the next day 25. The second grade class has created and posted a giant countdown calendar in the hallway for everyone to enjoy.

Well, perhaps not everyone.

While the calendar might be a source of ecstasy for students and teachers, that particular countdown has been known to elicit panic in parents.

(Perhaps you are the type of parent who reacts like this: “Oh, I LOVE every moment of having my kids home all summer, tra la, they never bicker or get bored or get on each other’s nerves.” Maybe you share Leo’s zest for summer. Good for you, I say. You may stop reading now. The rest of you, press on.)

Sure, the onset of summer break does bring relief from the pressures of homework and a certain rigidity of schedule, but it can add a whole host of other issues. For parents who work outside the home, there is the stress of finding care/supervision. For work-at-home parents, their “office” will be invaded by beings who can be more demanding than any coworker or boss. For stay-at-home parents, the regular routine of the school year will disappear and the responsibility of filling those long, summer days will fall to them. Parents with one child will have the pressure of becoming “playmate”, while parents with multiple children must assume the role of “referee”.

Well, don’t despair. There’s still time to put together a foolproof plan for a stress-free summer. Here are some tips to help you put aside the panic so you can greet summer with the same excitement your kids possess:

-Insofar as it is practical and possible, involve your children in summer planning. They will be more invested and excited about what they’ve had a hand in creating.

-Mix it up! Try to space out travel, camps, and (if you aren’t working) regular “at home” weeks so that you aren’t doing too much of the same week-to-week. If you need full-time care for your kids, try to find an organization that offers different kinds of camps so that your kids can try new things each week. If you have a great babysitter, add in a week here and there at home so that your kids don’t get camp fatigue.

-It’s nice to schedule weeks when all of the kids are at camps at the same time, but it can also be great to stagger camps so that you get some nice one-on-one time with each child and can host some play dates that might otherwise feel like “too much” with everyone at home. Plus, staggering the weeks at camp gives your kids more of a break from each other—that can go a LONG way in reducing bickering.

-For those (like me) with homebodies for kids, you might have a lot of weeks without camps or travel planned. You can plan a partial or full day outing to a lake or someplace and maybe a play date of some kind with another family to break up the week. That covers two days, and you can space them out if possible. On other “nothing planned” kinds of days, I like to have a regular rhythm of sorts. (Sure, some days they get involved in building a village out of cardboard in the basement and spend the whole day down there, and that’s great, but it’s nice to have a little structure to fall back on.)

For example, my kids don’t play electronics during the average school week; the same holds true for the summer, EXCEPT: if they want to earn 30 minutes of screen time (and they almost ALWAYS do) they (without arguing) do something for the family (a chore), do something good for their minds (some math review or writing), and do something good for their bodies (some sort of active exercise on their own or as a family). By the time they motivate themselves to accomplish all of that (inevitably interspersed with some leisurely Lego playing, bouncing on the trampoline, and such) and then play their electronics, it is usually lunchtime. After lunch everyone has some quiet time reading in their rooms. Aside from the quiet time, all of the other stuff is optional—that’s the key to making it struggle-free. After quiet time, we usually head out for an errand or something fun like swimming, a trip to the library, or playing at a park. By the time we get home, the kids are happy to play outside while I prepare dinner; the next thing you know, everyone’s in jammies for a round of spoons or a movie.

-Add something easy that can make home feel special! For example, put up a tent in the backyard. Pretend “camping” can keep your kids busy while they are having a ball. Go a step further and roast wieners and s’mores over a fire-pit for dinner. Your kids might even want to sleep in the tent overnight.

-See if any grandparents or relatives want to host your kids for a week. A week of bonding will be fun for all of them while giving you a little peace and quiet at home.

– The “summer slide” is real, people. And I’m not talking about the big shiny thing at the park. As a teacher, I can attest to the fact that when kids return to school in the fall, and they haven’t read or practiced any math facts over the summer, their self-esteem can take a big hit. I encourage reading aloud, independent reading, audio books on road trips, trips to libraries and bookstores, etc. to keep your kids reading regularly throughout the summer. If your kids are resistant to paper and pencil math review, there are lots of fun ways to get the practice in–games like Zeus on the Loose and Uno (with some variations added… such as, before you can play a card, you have to multiply it by the card on the top of the pile), and online programs like IXL Math, for example. Starting a writing journal or a family blog can be great for keeping their writing skills sharp, as well. This might seem too “programmed” to some and not worth the effort, but I have found that “all play and no work” can end up being more of a headache than having some loose structure. Of course, providing your children an easier transition back to school in the fall makes it worthwhile regardless.

If you have any “summer survival” tips to share, we’d love to read them in the comments section on Facebook. With a little planning and some structure, parents can join in the exciting countdown to summer.



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