Summer is on the horizon and with it comes days at the pool, evenings spent playing in the backyard after dinner, and yes, inevitable complaints of "I'm bored!" No matter how much kids beg for more play time during the school year, they still sometimes struggle when facing days upon days of no structure or routine.

Giving your kids freedom—long days with nothing on the schedule—allows them to pursue their own interests, to figure out who they really are, and to learn how to manage their own time. But it can also be sort of a disaster sometimes.

Kids thrive on routine, and sometimes when structured school days are traded in for free-flowing play time, they lose it. Does this mean you have to sign your kids up for camps and classes to occupy every minute of their free time? No! There is a compromise.

Children in Montessori classrooms are given a great deal of freedom. They can move freely about the classroom, can decide what to work on and with whom, and to a large extent, how to spend their time.

There are two things, however, that make this freedom successful: purpose and structure.

But wait. Aren't structure and freedom sort of opposites? Not necessarily.

While Montessori children choose when to work on math, when to practice reading, and when to experiment with science, there is still a predictable routine that shapes their days. There is a long morning work period, time on the playground, lunch, rest time for the younger children, and another long afternoon work period. While the children have a great deal of freedom within this schedule, there is enough of a routine to keep them comfortable. They know what's coming, which make it easier to settle in and focus.

You can use this same strategy at home. You can give kids the freedom to decide how to spend their summer days while still providing the necessary structure for them to be successful. Here's how:

1. Craft a daily routine

You will certainly have days that deviate from the norm—beach days, trips to the zoo, or days when pool time trumps nap time. Still, it can be helpful to think through a routine for the days when you find yourself sticking close to home.

Try to establish a rhythm so that your child knows what to expect each day. That way, they can focus on playing instead of continually asking what comes next.

For example, you might have breakfast and then head outside to the backyard for an hour or two before it gets too hot. Next, you might come inside for a snack, then indoor play time, followed by lunch and nap or quiet time.

A simple routine like this, with designated time for outdoor and indoor play, can help children feel comfortable enough to relax into the new normal of summer. Predictable routines give kids confidence.

2. Create a weekly calendar

This could look something like this: Mondays at home, Tuesdays at the park, Wednesdays at the library, Thursdays a playdate with friends, and Fridays a bigger adventure like visiting a new museum or nearby lake.

A weekly calendar like this allows plenty of full open blocks of time for free play, without leaving both you and your kids wondering what to do each morning. Of course, there's no need to become locked into this calendar. It's only meant to serve you, and each family is comfortable with their own level of structure versus spontaneity, so figure out what works for you, mama!

3. Foster a sense of purpose

It's essential for kids to get a break from the rigid pressures of the school year, but that doesn't mean their summer has to be without purpose.

Try sitting down with your child and brainstorming a few goals for the summer. You can each pick two or three goals to lend some purpose to their days. You might want them to read five new chapter books. They might want to learn the breaststroke or learn to ride a bike without training wheels.

When your child is having a hard time deciding what to do, remind them of these goals. Working toward a goal is highly rewarding and will give your child a great sense of accomplishment.

4. Make an activity bank

Similarly, make a summer bucket list with your child. Ask them what fun things they want to do in the summer months and write each one on a piece of paper. Put the documents in a jar to create an activity bank.

Direct your child to choose a paper every time they claim there's nothing to do. This takes the responsibility off of you to entertain your child while providing them with enough direction to find something fun to do successfully.

Make sure to include plenty of activities your child can do on their own. You can mix in more essential items like having a lemonade stand or making homemade ice cream with simple things like playing with play-doh or writing a letter to Grandma and Grandpa.

In some ways, wide open days with nothing planned are harder than the ones fully booked with guaranteed fun, but this doesn't mean they aren't worthwhile. The days with nothing on the calendar are often the ones when kids get creative when they discover their love of mud pies or their passion for bugs.

So be brave, mama, and leave some time open for exploration this summer. Including a bit of structure and purpose can help make this time meaningful and enjoyable for both you and your kids.

After 4 kids, this is still the best baby gear item I’ve ever purchased

I wouldn't be swooning over the BABYBJÖRN bouncer after eight years and four kids if it didn't work.

I have four kids 8 and under, so you might expect that my house is teeming with baby gear and kid toys.

But it turns out that for me, the more kids I have, the more I simplify our stuff. At this point, I'm down to the absolute essentials, the gear that I can't live without and the toys my kids actually play with. And so when a mama-to-be asks me what things are worth registering for, there are only a few must-haves on my list.

The BABYBJÖRN bouncer seat is on the top of my list—totally worth it and an absolute must-have for any new mama.

In fact, since I first splurged on my first BABYBJÖRN bouncer eight years ago (it definitely felt like a splurge at the time, but the five star reviews were really compelling), the bouncer seat has become the most-used product in our house for baby's first year.

We've actually invested in a second one so that we didn't have to keep moving ours from the bedroom to the living room when we change locations.

BABYBJÖRN bouncer bliss

baby bjorn bouncer

The utility of the seat might seem counterintuitive—it has no mechanical parts, so your baby is instead gently bounced by her own movements. In a world where many baby products are touted for their ability to mechanically rock baby to sleep, I get that many moms might not find the "no-motion" bouncer that compelling. But it turns out that the seat is quite reactive to baby's little kicks, and it has helped my kids to learn how to self-soothe.


Lightweight + compact:

The BABYBJÖRN bouncer is super lightweight, and it also folds flat in a second. Because of those features, we've frequently stored it under the couch, in a suitcase or in the back of the car. It folds completely flat, which I love.

Entertainment zone:

Is the toy bar worth it? The toy bar is totally worth it. Not only is the toy bar adorable, but it's one of the first toys that my babies actually play with once they discover the world beyond my boobs. The toys spin and are close to eye level so they have frequently kept my baby entertained while I cook or take a quick shower.

Great style:

This is not a small detail to me–the BABYBJÖRN bouncer is seriously stylish. I am done with baby gear and toys that make my house look like a theme park. The elegant European design honestly just looks good in my living room and I appreciate that parents can enjoy it as much as baby.

It's adjustable:

With three height settings that let you prop baby up to be entertained, or lay back to rest, we get years of use. And the bouncer can actually be adjusted for bigger kids and used from newborn to toddler age. It's that good.

It just works:

I wouldn't be swooning over the BABYBJÖRN bouncer after eight years and four kids if it didn't work. But I have used the seat as a safe space to put baby while I've worked (I once rocked my baby in it with my foot while I reported on a breaking news story for the Washington Post), and as a cozy spot for my second child to lay while his big brother played nearby. It's held up for almost a decade with almost-constant use.

So for me, looking back on what I thought was a splurge eight years ago, was actually one of the best investments in baby gear I ever made.

We independently select and share the products we love—and may receive a commission if you choose to buy. You've got this.


Every week, we stock the Motherly Shop with innovative and fresh products from brands we feel good about. We want to be certain you don't miss anything, so to keep you in the loop, we're providing a cheat sheet.

So, what's new this week?

Earth Mama: Effective, natural herbal care for mamas and babies

Founded and grown in her own garage in 2002, Earth Mama started as an operation of one, creating salves, tinctures, teas and soaps with homegrown herbs. With a deep desire to bring the healing powers of nature that have been relied on for thousands of years to as many mamas as possible, Melinda Olson's formulas quickly grew into Earth Mama Organics. Since then, the brand has remained committed to manufacturing clean, safe and effective herbal solutions for the entire journey of motherhood, including pregnancy, breastfeeding and baby care, and even the loss of a baby.

Bravado Designs: Soothing sounds for a good night's sleep

With 28 years of serving pregnant and postpartum mamas under their belt, Bravado Designs is a true authority on the needs of changing bodies. It's true that we have them to thank for rescuing us from the uncomfortable and frumpy designs our own moms had to live with. Launched in Canada by two young mamas, they designed the first prototypes with extra leopard print fabric certain that a better bra was possible. Throughout the years they've maintained their commitment to ethical manufacturing while creating long-lasting products that truly work.

The Sill: Instagram-ready potted plants

We've long admired this female-founded brand and the brilliant mind behind it, Eliza Blank. (She even joined Motherly co-founder Liz Tenety on and episode of The Motherly Podcast!) The mission behind the business was simple: To make the process of bringing plants into your home as easy as possible, and as wonderful as the plant themselves. With their in-house, exclusively designed minimalist planters, the end result makes plant parenthood just a few clicks away.

Not sure where to start? Here's what we're adding to our cart:

Keep reading Show less

A few years ago, while my wife's baby bump got bigger and my daddy reading list grew longer, I felt cautiously optimistic that this parenthood thing would, somehow, suddenly click one day. The baby would come, instincts would kick in, and the transition from established couple to a new family would be tiring but not baffling.

Boy was I wrong.

Keep reading Show less