Ah, summer. It can be a time to take a break from the daily grind of school schedules and extracurricular activities. A time to hit the road and make family memories. A season to take a breath, a break from the usual, days a popsicles and nights of fireflies.

And a slow descent into chaos.

It seems like just about the time I’ve finally settled into the school year routine, it’s over and summer is upon us. The kids are home, the calendar gets a little more clear. At first, it feels freeing. The alarm clock doesn’t have to go off as early, the scurry to get all the people all the places abates. But quicker than people fall in love on The Bachelor, madness begins to descend. The kitchen is always in upheaval from never ending hordes of middle schoolers eating with abandon. The resentment rises as I’m scrambling to keep on top of work projects while perfectly able-bodied, young individuals take to sleeping past noon. Craft projects lay abandoned on coffee tables, glue dripping. Discarded wet swimsuits rest in slippery pools on the tile entry, deflated and mildewing. Bikes and scooters and rollerblades and soccer balls confetti the front yard, a veritable sporting goods store explosion.

As the daily temperatures rise, so does my temper.
Please tell me I’m not the only one. You too? Okay, that makes me feel better.

It’s time to go into summer mode. Not the mode I’ve allowed, but a mode that will allow freedom without the lazy frenzy. Here are some tried and true tips for keeping the fun in summer while also keeping some sanity.

It was you who set all the boundaries of the earth; you made both summer and winter.

Psalm 74:17

Set regular wake times and bedtimes

I know, I know, sometimes it’s just easier to let them sleep the day away. But that means they’ll run like gerbils all night. They’ll sneak into the pantry. They’ll paint their nails on the carpet of their bedrooms. They’ll inexplicably slam the bathroom door past midnight. (Do kids understand nothing about surreptitious sneaking around these days? As in make no sound, leave no trace? Apparently not, at least at my house.) Letting the kids sleep later than during the usual school year can be great — after all, our kids need sleep and lots of it, which they don’t often get during the busy days of the school year.

But when sleep schedules go completely off the rails, some of the benefit of extra shut-eye can be lost. Make summer a time when the bedtimes can be later, taking advantage of the extra daylight and cooler temperatures in the twilight. But also agree upon a time at which the bedroom doors will be thrown open and the curtains raised. It will give some structure to the day without being limiting.1

Live in the sunshine, swim the sea, drink the wild air.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Add a sprinkling of extracurricular activities

Note that I said a sprinkling. Not a whole buffet. Not a frenetic dash from one class to another session to a tutoring hour to yet another sports thing. Part of the value of having summer off from school for kids is to have down time, unstructured time. “Recent research suggests that children should experience twice as much unstructured time as structured play experiences,” writes professor of education Dr. Michael Patte. From better social and cognitive skills to higher self esteem, unstructured time offers a myriad of benefits.2 If we schedule our kids’ summer days to be a constantly curated experience, they’ll lose the opportunity for this kind of growth.

However…

Having a planned activity once or twice a week can go a long way in supporting a summer routine while still embracing a more open calendar. It can give you a needed break from your kids and your kids from you. But be particular, and don’t sign up for something that requires high commitment. Summer activities should enhance a more relaxed pace, not sabotage it.

Reading goals

Our local library boasts a summer reading program that has been enthusiastically embraced by my kids. They have fun charts to track their progress and it keeps a library day on the books for us (see what I did there?). Additionally, it helps me instill the goal of more reading over the summer without having to be dictatorial about it; my kids are motivated by the community-nature of the challenge. Check with your local library to see if they have a summer reading program available or check out this great list for online options. And for inspiration on great books and reading aloud to your kids, go to Read Aloud Revival with Sarah Mackenzie.

Eating parameters

Look, I get it. I want to snack all day, too, and when the pantry is readily available, it makes the draw all the stronger. But, heavens. When the kids are having all the lovely unstructured time we talked about a couple of tips ago, they’ll often decide to fortify themselves with sustenance. Over. And over. And over. It leaves the kitchen in a constant state of chaos, to say nothing of what it does for the weekly grocery haul. And for some reason, nothing makes my middle school and high school kids want to experiment with cooking (and subsequently destroy the kitchen) like a lazy summer afternoon.

It doesn’t have to be over-the-top or wildly extensive, but set simple meal and snack times and stick to it. Have a basket in the pantry that has ‘approved’ snacks in reasonable quantities. For your older kids, let them know that the oven and microwave won’t be running all day; they can make sandwiches and grab cold items, but to leave off cooking and heating up and baking for dinner hours.

Chores

Yeah, I said it. Chores. Just threw it out there, not prettied up, not camouflaged to make it sound intriguing or exciting. Because guess what? Chores are chores. They are a part of life, part of being a member of a family and of a community, and it’s best to just get on with them and get them done. Decide at the beginning of the summer which chores you’d like your kids to master over the course of the next few months. And remember, the goal is not perfection. If your kid has never vacuumed before, there is a learning curve. If they are new to the joys of scrubbing a toilet, it’s going to take a bit to get it right. But summer is an excellent time to make sure your kids have some real world skills for when they head out into adulthood. Make the chores specific, with a clear definition on when you’ll finish. Endless chore days only make for dread, and impossible standards are defeating. Put on some dance music, have everyone jump in, and get it done.

Quiet time

If you’ve got kids who are still in need of naps, great. Use that to your full advantage. But if your kids are past that stage, there’s still another option. Have daily quiet time. Make it a time off screens, in their rooms, and reading. It builds a great skill set, to learn how to take a pause mid-day. And it can give you a needed reprieve from all the activity in your house.

Summer afternoon — summer afternoon; to me those have always been the two most beautiful words in the English language.

Henry James

Enjoy summer for all it has to offer while maintaining a semblance of order, and you’ll get to have the best of both worlds, more relaxed days without the chaos. Here’s to sunshine and rest, good books and lots of new memories!


Julie Lyles Carr is a best-selling author, podcaster, and entrepreneur living in Austin, Texas, with her husband Mike Carr. They have eight kids, two unfriendly cats, and an antique dachshund.


1 https://www.healthychildren.org/English/news/Pages/AAP-Supports-Childhood-Sleep-Guidelines.aspx
2 https://thegeniusofplay.org/genius/expert-advice/articles/the-decline-of-unstructured-play.aspx#.YKPlCmZKhb8