Isaac and Gillian explore a new town during a summer day trip. Photo: Jennifer Pinarski
"Who can we play with today? Where are we going? What are we doing?"
These questions are asked by my five-year-old daughter Gillian and eight-year-old son Isaac as soon as they wake up in the morning. My strict early bedtimes means my kids are early risers, so I'm often peppered with questions about the day's itinerary before I've even had a chance to enjoy my first sip of coffee.
When school ended in June, I stared at our family calendar and wondered how I'd keep my children happy and entertained over the break. Keeping young kids busy throughout summer holidays isn't a challenge unique to me, or any parent of school-age children. There's just something about those long, hot summer days that encourages families to cram as much fun as possible into their vacation—but not so much fun that their kids are overtired and off-schedule. Despite this past summer marking my fifth as a parent of a school-age child, I still haven't figured out how to properly balance busy times with quiet moments.
Because Isaac and Gillian tend to be happier when kept busy, we've had a jam-packed summer full of day trips and playdates. We've checked off all our bucket list activities, which is wonderful, but we're also tired and grumpy. Now, with 18 days left until school starts (not that I'm counting or anything), I feel like we've hit the summer wall and I'm not quite sure how to fill these remaining days. My instincts say to dial back to the basics, but another part of me wants to make this a summer to remember.
Like I said, I'm not alone in feeling this way. When I asked a few friends for their tips for managing the end-of-summer blues, they had their own ways of finding balance between boredom and over-scheduling:
Ann-Marie Burton isn't about to apologize for her family's screen time after the busy summer they've had. "We have turned on the TV, with little guilt," she says. "We borrowed the first season of Little House on the Prairie from the library and I've convinced myself that its practically homeschooling since pioneers are in the school curriculum!"
I sometimes forget my kids are content with low-tech play. For Sam Kassam-Macfie's five-year-old son Jaxon, water balloon fights, water bead sensory bins, night walks and camping in the backyard are all he needs to be happy. Retail therapy (for her kids) helps Astrid Van Den Broek. "I stash away all the gift cards, etc. the kids get for their birthdays and Christmas and use them all up around this time of year," she says.
Heading to the Canadian National Exhibition (CNE) to start a new family tradition was a popular response when I asked other families how they were going to finish summer vacation. Camping trips are another option if fall fairs aren't your style. Jenn Annis recalls her childhood tradition of making scrapbooks of what she did on her summer vacations. "It helps with the inevitable first week of school question of 'tell the class what you did this summer'," says Annis.
Big road trips were a theme in the answers given by other parents as to how they were going to wrap up summer vacation. From nearby hotels getaways to spectacular day trip adventures, memorable family trips were on the agenda for both Chantal Saville and Jessica Terry. "I'm taking it out with a bang with two nights at Blue Mountain but otherwise, it's tame," says Saville.
"I usually keep one or two trips until the end so they have something to look forward to," says Terry, who plans on taking her kids to the Ontario Science Centre and Ripley's Aquarium in Toronto.
Of course, the most sensible way to end summer vacation is working on getting back into a routine, which all parents admitted is their biggest challenge. Even if you're like me and kept your routine mostly intact, that first morning of school is going to sting. It's a good thing I've already stocked up on coffee.
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