During the school year, daily routines are defined by the school day. But once summer comes, that pattern may not be so well defined. If your children are in summer day camp or child care programs, the change may be relatively small: Instead of being dropped off at school, you take them to a day camp or other daycare situation.
But what if you are at home, or have more flexibility in your day? Should you try to keep the kids to a routine similar to what you do in the school year, or let things slide? There’s no one right answer, but here’s how two families handle it.
Lisa Cornish, mother of nine-year-old Rose and seven-year-old Kate, confesses to being part of the “let everything slide” group. She’s a full-time student at the moment, so she is home with her daughters during the summer. “They get up when they want to get up, eat breakfast when they are hungry and, over breakfast, we talk about the day and what we might like to do,” she says. “If it’s raining, maybe we’ll bake or sit around and knit. If it’s nice, we might go to the park, visit friends or go swimming.”
While she’s very flexible in her plans, Cornish does have some must-dos. “We go to the library once a week, and we go for a hike once a week — a different place every week. But if a friend calls us up and wants to do something different on our library day — well, we can go to the library another time,” she says. Another must-do is a sit-down family dinner with husband Matt each evening. Cornish also tries to mix up “home days” and “out days” so that if they’ve had several days in a row when they’ve been doing indoor activities, she’ll encourage an outdoor day to get some variety.
Tyler Archbold, a teacher, is at home with his two sons (Jackson, eight, and Thomas, five) while his wife is at work during the summer. He’s learned that a more structured routine works better. “The first summer I was home with them, it took some getting used to. We had a lot of late nights and very unstructured days, and I didn’t like it. Now I make sure that at least part of the day is structured and we keep to a routine.”
The boys do get to sleep in a bit later than when school is in, but Archbold says he wakes them before 8 a.m. “or you lose half the morning.” Bedtimes are kept consistent too, although special occasions may mean they go to sleep later. After breakfast, the family starts on the activities Archbold has planned for the day.
Archbold says he takes the boys to the local library at least twice a week for storytime, crafts or other library programs (usually free or low cost). Sometimes he borrows books, brings them home and reads to the boys — or has Jackson read to him. On other mornings, they’ll visit local attractions (one of their favourites: an indoor butterfly garden). They may stay home and work on crafts or projects Archbold has planned for them. Last summer, they spent several days putting together a model truck kit. After a family lunch, the children then have some free time to play together, while Archbold takes care of household chores.
“I think it’s too hard for the kids to get back into a routine in September if it’s been two months of getting up whenever and just hanging out doing nothing,” he adds. “Being a teacher has impressed on me the importance of structure in a child’s day, and the need to stick to it.”
He begins preparing the boys for a return to school during the second-last week of August. “We start talking about school starting, and gradually move them back to an earlier bedtime and wake-up time. The last week before school, we pretend school is back in. I need to be at the school anyway to prep, so they go to daycare and are completely back to their normal schedule by the time their classes start.”
In keeping with her more relaxed approach to summer days, Cornish doesn’t spend much time preparing her kids to return to school. “We might start to talk about it a week or so before, just reminding them that school will start soon and they’ll have to get up by 7 a.m. But we don’t do anything other than that. The first day back is kind of a shock to their systems, but they adapt to it pretty well,” she says.
So what’s best for you? “I think it depends on you and your children,” says Cornish. “I have wonderful memories of spending the whole summer at the family cottage when I was a child. Both my parents are teachers, so we’d pack up the day school ended, move to the cottage, spend the entire summer without even looking at a clock, and then get home on Labour Day. To me, a relaxed summer feels right. But I know a very different approach works just fine for other families.”