Do you remember being a kid where the summer stretched out long before you? Every day was more glorious than the last. You played outside all day, went to camp, swam and rode your bike everywhere. Dinners were grilled and you got to stay up past your bedtime, playing outside until the sun set. Those were the days.
It’s not even summer yet and I’m already realizing that as a parent, this season isn’t quite as much fun as it was as a kid.
As much fun as it is being outside more, outdoor time really changes things at home. First of all, the hot sun means kids need to be slathered in sunscreen. As important as sun protection is, that means clothes, skin and hair are far more greasy than normal. Suddenly, you’ll find yourself bathing your kids far more. You’ll also need more changes of clothing than normal, as well as hats for extra sun protection.
All of the changes of clothes means more laundry. It’s only May and I’m already doing far more loads of laundry than normal. Throw bathing suits and towels in there and it seems as if the laundry piles are endless!
The summer should be a time of freedom for kids. However, children also thrive on routine.
I fondly look back at my childhood and recall the evenings where we stayed up watching movies or playing spontaneous wiffle ball games in the backyard. However, for my kids, if I let them stay up later to enjoy beautiful summer evenings, inevitable meltdowns follow.
Recently, we were outside after dinner, playing in the sandbox, when my neighbor called us over. I didn’t see the harm in stopping by for a visit. They love my kids, who are thrilled to run around in the backyard with the dogs. Once we got over, I realized that one of the other neighbors had arrived with their new baby. We were offered drinks and started to relax on the deck.
And then suddenly it was 7:30. My kids are normally in bed by 7. When I made them leave, they both started hysterically crying and whining that they wanted to stay. Bedtime was suddenly 10 times harder than normal.
Having the sun set later tricks parents into wanting to let their kids stay up later, but that often messes things up at bedtime.
As kids, the days seemed amazingly long. For parents, every day seems endless. For a stay at home parent, there’s a scramble to find activities to fill your days. Camp registrations start in February or March and if you don’t sign up by April, you might find yourself shut out of an activity that you were hoping to do.
Are your kids too young for camp? How can you fill their days? Hope for regular playdates? Stalk websites like HulaFrog and MommyPoppins looking for fun activities to keep them entertained until Labor Day Weekend. Join a community pool!
My summer plans are currently on hold until I know my job status for the fall. I have been applying for teaching jobs since January with no luck so far. This is frustrating for me career wise, but also in terms of summer plans. I registered my girls for full time summer camp at their preschool in anticipation of having a job and using that time to plan lessons.
But now, with few prospects for employment, I’m looking at a long summer of very few activities. I don’t want to sign them up for anything else until I know for sure that I’m not working in the fall. I also don’t want to give up their spot at camp until I know what’s happening.
Job hunting is putting a cramp on my summer plans.
So how exactly do I navigate this time for myself and my children?
Stick to a Routine
Don’t get fooled by the later daylight hours. Stick to making sure your kids get the amount of sleep they need. If you want them to stay up later, make sure you are able to let them sleep in later. Don’t jump a full hour past bedtime. If you want their summer sleep schedule to be 8 PM – 8 AM (my kids need their full 12 hours!), try extending bedtime by 5 or 10 minutes and slowly push it from there.
Also, make sure you don’t skip naps if they still need them! Hot weather makes kids sleepier and a nap might also let you push bedtime later anyway.
Find a Balance
Kids crave unstructured playtime. Stay at home parents need to interact with other adults. To find a balance, don’t overload them with activities. I like to go to the gym around 9:30 every morning and then have some activity after. This might mean a playdate until 12:30 or a trip to the park or library story time. Then we go home for a rest and after, the kids can fill the afternoon however they want to. Some of our best times recently have been when I set up a lawn chair after dinner and let the kids play in our yard while I relax. I don’t want to spend my summer rushing from one event to the next.
They need to have the freedom to explore their surroundings and simply play. Last week, my girls spent an hour “gardening.” For my older daughter, that meant playing in dirt with sand toys. For my two year old, that meant carrying buckets of water from our water table to her sister’s dirt pile. They were perfectly happy.
Enjoy Time with Friends
I recently joined a local moms’ group. They organize fun events throughout the week like meetups at the library or a special music class for just group members. I also love their Facebook page where a mom might post “heading to the park at 4. Anyone want to join?” That gives us the opportunity to spontaneously socialize whenever we want to. I’m also looking forward to having more free mornings. Now, between three days of school and two days of leading a Tinkergarten group, we have no time for playdates with friends.
Keep Summer Gear in the Car
Fill a large tote bag with towels, a change of clothes, swimsuits, water shoes, sunscreen and hats. This might seem like a huge pain, but it’s always helpful to be prepared for whatever fun summertime adventures come your way. I keep one for each girl with seasonally appropriate gear in it in case I find myself somewhere I wasn’t expecting to.
Can’t commit to camp or a pool membership? So many places offer free, fun activities for children. Our library has normal storytimes, but also one or two special events every month during the summer, like a puppet show or visit with animals from a local nature center. I always try to get to a few of these over the summer. For older children, many local parks show free movies in the evenings. There are also typically free concerts. Pack a picnic and listen to some music around dinnertime!
Don’t go Crazy
My kids are happiest playing at home. As a parent, it’s tempting to constantly be shuttling them around from activity to activity to prevent boredom, but remember that out of boredom comes creativity. Plan playdates with your fellow parents. Set up an inflatable pool in the backyard or a water table and just let the kids play. Every day does not have to be a huge, grand adventure. I plan to scatter visits to the zoo or a children’s museum here and there, but certainly not every week. Even going to the local splash park is not something to do every day.
Over the summer, anything new and different becomes a treat.
My older daughter loves the idea of eating outside, so I plan to set up their picnic table or take advantage of eating out on the deck regularly on summer evening. I also know they will love splashing around in an inflatable pool. I might not set it up every day, but I love having the option of water play without having to leave our backyard.
Summer definitely comes with challenges. You want to create those wonderful summer memories, but you also need to do what’s best for yourself and your family.
Start thinking about what your summer routine will be, research those fun, free events and keep in mind that these months should be about rest and relaxation before the school year starts again. Find a rhythm that works for you and your family.