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Summer lessons learned

Put some thought into your time with your children. Photo: LightFieldStudios

It’s hard to believe in just a few short weeks school will be starting again. Summer always seems to come and go like the blink of an eye, and it feels like the older our kids get the quicker the time goes. Each summer brings a few tried-and-true favorites but also new adventures and challenges. At the end of each summer, I find it helpful to take some time to reflect on our activities, places we went, and most important, what worked and what did not. Here’s what worked for me this summer:

ORGANIZE, NOT OVERSCHEDULE

It can be a little daunting to think of having our children home all day for the whole summer; therefore, we may feel the need to plan fun days filled with outings, scheduled activities, and playdates. If you feel this way you are not alone: A recent study of 2,000 parents found that 60 percent of parents feel compelled to plan fun days with an average cost of over $7,000 per kid. This adds up quickly financially as well as in extra pressure and stress for parents.

This summer, I realized that allowing some weeks for camp and some off weeks created a perfect balance. We made a bucket list of things we wanted to do — peach picking, Giants game, and swimming were tops. I also made sure to allot time for some of those lazy summer days that kids need. The school year is all about routine and schedule, so it’s nice for everyone, parents included, to have a leisurely morning in pajamas or to cuddle up with a good book or game for an afternoon.

SET EXPECTATIONS

I am all for a more relaxed schedule in the summer, but it quickly became clear it was time to set some expectations. Unfortunately, the default these days for our children (and even a lot of us) is to reach for a screen first thing in the morning, throughout the day, and before we go to bed. This can quickly add up to a lot of screen time and not a lot of anything else. One easy way I have found to combat this is with a “before screen time list” that the kids help create of everything they need to do before screen time — basic things like getting dressed, brushing teeth, and having breakfast, but it also includes daily reading, math facts, and even a few chores.

Because my children are getting older, this was the summer to help make them a little more self-sufficient, like no more putting dishes in the sink for someone else to do. I took advantage of the extra time to teach them how to do laundry, stack a dishwasher, and clean a bathroom. These extra chores were great motivation to earn some extra screen time, but often I found they got involved in something else and forgot they wanted screen time to begin with.

GET THEM INVOLVED

This summer our family vacation was to Cuba. We were looking for an intense cultural experience as a family, and that is exactly what we got. One of the reasons I believe the trip was so successful was the preparation. I found two age-appropriate books for our 6-year-old to read about Cuba, and for the older ones I created “Cuba Trivia,” 20 questions on anything from the weather and cuisine to the government and its significance. They had to research the questions and come up with the answers together. This was a great way for them to understand some of the basics of the country and to get excited about what they were about to experience. It was a packed itinerary, and with the heat and humidity, I was glad they had a basic understanding of what they were seeing. Having the children do some of their own research and come up with ideas of what they wanted to do while there helped ease the burden of a busy trip. We still had a few moments when they were “over it,” but all in all, I think it was a trip and an experience they won’t soon forget.

I hope these tips come in handy for either the last few weeks of summer, or you may even tuck them away for next year. In the meantime, try to avoid cramming in a summer’s worth of fun in these last few weeks. Start slowly to ease back into a school-time routine — less screen time, earlier bedtime, and maybe fewer sugary snacks. Trust me, you will thank yourself later.

Liz Farrell is the mother of three young children and the founder of TechTalks, a consulting group to help schools and families have productive and healthful conversations around social media and technology. Email: [email protected]

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