Summer is here and I must make a confession.
I hate summer.
As a former teacher, it might be blasphemy, but I really do hate summertime. The lack of routine and months of blank calendar give me anxiety. The well-oiled machine of our house comes to a screeching halt.
We are a no-tablet family and limit TV time to one program a day. My kids, 4 and 6-years-old, aren’t old enough to just send off into the neighborhood to find friends to play with until dinnertime. Financially, it isn’t feasible to sign them up for activities all or even most weeks. There are a lot of hours to fill – day after day, week after week…for months.
Summer should be a time for new adventures and to try new things, but a 3-month free-for-all just isn’t going to cut it at our house. However, I also don’t want to overschedule things. I want to embrace the flexibility and spontaneity that summer allows even though it gives me anxiety.
Last year, determined for summer to be different, I made a plan. And it worked.
It was our best summer ever and I think it’s largely because we really found a rhythm that worked for us. A huge part of that was giving them responsibilities/activities that they were expected to complete each day. Not only did it take some things off my plate, but they learned independent skills, self-responsibility, and helping others.
I wanted to embrace that summer is for new adventures in new places, but I desperately needed some structure.
First, we joined a pool. It was a total game changer. It gave a rhythm to the day as most days we arrive when it opened, packed our lunch to eat there, and stayed until naptime. It was the best money we spent all summer. Worth all the pennies.
Second, I made a chart. A brilliant, life-changing chart.
A chart for the kids of their responsibilities that they managed. The last thing I needed was more things for me to nag them to get done or more entertainment for me to dream up.
The logistics –
On the left side of the chart is every single weekday of the summer that we didn’t have a trip or camp. Along the top are activities broken into three categories: things to do for their mind, things to do for their body, things to do for the house/others. Some of the activities include:
Things for their mind – Workbook, drawing, write a note, reading, math sentences, playing cards, science experiment
Things for their body – bike ride, run/walk, swimming, dance party, soccer, swinging
Things for the house/others – windows, weeding, mopping, baseboards, vacuuming, laundry, dishes, “mom’s choice”
Complete an activity = Get a sticker for the chart
The execution –
Before we left the house each morning to do fun things, EACH child had to earn two stickers. Before the TV turned on, each child had to earn two stickers in each category.
Generally, it was up to them as to which activities they picked. They knew the expectations. And many of the activities (and all of the most frequently chosen) they could complete independently. They drove the ship.
The outcome –
At first, the chart was fun because they earned stickers and stickers are a beautiful preschool currency. As the shiny newness of the system wore off, so did some of the excitement. But this mama didn’t waiver. They knew what was expected of them.
It wasn’t my job to micromanage it.
If they wanted to go do the fun stuff, they needed to get their responsibilities done.
One day, we planned to go to ARC park. They were so excited. However, as the morning went on they were more interested in playing with each other than getting their two stickers required to leave the house. Mid-morning, they asked if we were going and I reminded them that we couldn’t yet because they hadn’t gotten their stickers. I didn’t nag them. I didn’t hassle them. I just let it be. Around 11:30, they finally got their responsibilities done but it was too late to go to ARC park as we needed to be home by noon for lunch and naps. Instead, we had to change our plan to go to the park around the corner.
They knew it was their responsibility, not mine, to get things done.
They experienced the natural consequence of their choice. They learned that they were in charge of the outcome.
As the summer went on, they started taking pride in the activities they chose seeing improvement in writing or how much dirt their Swiffer picked up.
They were also required to work as a team.
If one child got his things done but the other didn’t, we couldn’t go. So often they would encourage and partner alongside each other.
This seemingly simple chart transformed our summer. It gave rhythm and structure. It provided activities. But so much more as it taught responsibility, independence, and teamwork.
This summer’s chart is primed and ready.
And me, I’m excited about this summer.
I’m excited about the opportunities for new things and adventure. I’m looking forward to seeing how the kids grow in the things that they want to learn (my youngest is on the cusp of reading and it is so exciting, and my oldest has all sorts of science explorations planned). I treasure seeing them develop the important long-lasting skills of responsibility, self-discipline, and considering others.
I’m confident that the flexible structure the chart creates will cultivate all of these things.
Bring on summertime!