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In some ways, summer still means what it's always meant: warmer weather, extra family time and a more relaxed schedule than the rest of the year. But this year is undeniably unlike any other summer before.

For many families, summer usually means 8-10 weeks of time spent at home or at camp, but this year many camps are closed and most families have just survived 12 weeks of togetherness due to school closures. How on earth can you keep kids busy and engaged all summer when you've already used up all your fun ideas trying to get through the past few months? How can you possibly help kids fill the next few months in a way that isn't overrun with boredom and complaints?

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The trick to surviving summer is helping kids find meaning in their days.


What gives a day meaning can vary from family to family, but in general the idea is to have a shared sense of working towards something. When kids are able to see themselves reaching a goal, bit by bit, it helps their days have meaning.

While we're limited by social distancing, closed camps and restricted activities, we still have the ability to create meaning and purpose—along with plenty of fun—this summer. Things definitely won't be "summer as usual" this year. But the good news is, even though things are different this year, there are still plenty of ways to make summer meaningful for your kids.

Try the following five tips to help your kids have a meaningful summer, even while being limited by social distancing.

1. Set summer goals

One of the easiest ways to give your children's summer meaning is to encourage them to accomplish something that feels worthwhile. In order to make that happen, you need to help your children figure out what they want to accomplish.

Depending on your children's ages, you may create a list of goals primarily set by you (for younger kids) or by them (for older kids). Generally, it works best to set a range of goals—some daily (read for 15 minutes each day), some weekly (help cook dinner) and some for the whole summer (learn to ride a bike). Goals can also encompass a range of skills and ideals, including personal goals, social goals, academic goals and community service goals.

Once you have a list of goals, make a checklist so kids can check off items as they're completed, helping them see progress towards their end goal. At the end of the summer, they can look back at all they've learned and accomplished!

2. Find ways to connect to peers

For many kids, summer is about free time and friends, and a summer spent without that feels pointless and frustrating. It's important to help kids stay connected to peers in whatever ways feel appropriate to your family.

For some families, that means using videoconferencing apps to call friends or using Netflix Party to watch movies while chatting with friends. For other families, it means picking one or two "safe" families to socially distance with—limiting social interaction to just a few families to minimize exposure.

Peer relationships and safety are both important right now, so try to find a balance between helping your child feel connected and what feels right for your family.

3. Create family rituals

In general, activities gain meaning when they're about something more than just ourselves; we find meaning in tasks when we see a connection to something bigger. One important way to help kids feel connected to something bigger than themselves is to strengthen their identity as part of your family—and family rituals help kids do just that.

Summer, with all its endless time together, is the perfect time to create family rituals. Make Friday night "family movie night," and let children take turns picking the movie for everyone. Make Saturday morning your standard time for a family walk, and check out different places to walk together. You can have everyone cook dinner together once per week or build in time for board games each night after dinner.

Choose whichever rituals work best for your family, and remember that having the rituals is far more important than what you actually do during the rituals. Rituals help develop connections and consistency, which are both so important right now.

4. Create daily schedules

Another way to make summer feel more meaningful is to build a structure and plan for each day. Many kids feel overwhelmed and lost when their days are completely open, with no sense of a plan. Creating a schedule (even a loose one!) can help give kids direction and meaning.

Having a schedule doesn't have to mean you're all bound to the clock 24/7. Your schedule can reflect the more relaxed nature of summer (later bedtimes and wake times, free time before getting dressed in the morning, and so on), but it's still important to have daily expectations. Build in a predictable schedule for waking, dressing, meals and exercise.

And because it's summer, build in plenty of chances for free time, while ensuring the major transitions of the day are included. When kids have daily expectations, it lends a sense of purpose to their days.

5. Build self-help skills

Finally, give meaning to summer by helping kids learn how to be more independent. One of the great gifts of summer is time. You can let your preschooler spend 15 minutes putting his pajama shirt on all by himself because it's okay if he gets to bed a few minutes late. You can let your 6 year old spend 20 minutes tying his shoes because there's no school bus he's going to miss.

Because summer gives you time, it's a great chance to help kids of all ages master self-help skills and developmentally-appropriate chores. Elementary aged kids can learn to prepare simple snacks and meals or help run the dishwasher and washing machine. Younger children can work on dressing, hygiene and toileting. If you have middle-school or high-schoolers, help them develop job skills or more advanced cooking skills. Summer is the perfect time to let your child master a new skill that he or she will have for a lifetime.

Summers often feel long and lazy, but this summer could feel especially long since families have already spent the past 3 months cooped up together! Rather than viewing the next few months as an endless battle against boredom, work toward giving your children's summer a sense of purpose and meaning—it might just be your best summer yet.

This is cause for celebration, mama! You are one month into this exciting new adventure, and those precious cuddles certainly help compensate for the lack of shut-eye. (Mostly, at least.)

Although it's only been a few weeks since you officially met your latest love, you're probably already amazed by how quickly your teeny snuggle bunny is growing and changing. Unlike those first few days when your sleepy newborn's eyes were rarely open, your baby is likely now eagerly studying objects within a few inches of their site and reacting to sounds. Their favorite sights and sounds of all? The people in their family.

After months of pregnancy, the extreme physical accomplishment of delivery and possibly the initiation of breastfeeding, your body needs time to recover. As you go, remember that while your baby may always be on your mind, it's healthy for you to make space for self-care, too.

While you continue to adjust, here are our favorite items to keep in your tool kit (for you and baby) at the 1-month mark:

To get sweet dreams while room sharing: Ingenuity bassinet

bassinet

Experts recommend sharing your bedroom—but not your bed—with your baby for the better part of the first year. If space was already at a premium, a compact bassinet is the perfect solution.

$129

To free up your hands: 4moms mamaroo swing

mamaroo swing

You may not want to take your eyes off your adorable baby, but life does actually require you use your hands every now and then to take care of things around the house. If your checklist includes tasks in the same room, a soothing swing can help keep baby content for a few precious minutes.

$219.99

To get through marathon nursing sessions: Boppy nursing pillow

nursing pillow

Whether from the breast or bottle, it can feel like feeding baby is your full-time job right now. Make it less of a workout with backup from a nursing pillow, which can take on a second-life as a support for your sitting baby in just a few short months.

$39.99

To start your bath-time routine: The First Years newborn-to-toddler tub

infant tub

Bath time is an important element in most nighttime routines—starting from the very first days! Focus more on the hands-on bonding without worrying your baby will slip and slide around a great big tub with a bath that is just their size.

$18.99

To celebrate baby’s first milestone: Cloud Island muslin blanket and frame set

milestone blanket

One month of life is a big milestone, both for your baby and you! Documenting how quickly your baby is growing each of these early months is a gift you will love looking back on for the rest of your life.

$21.99

To help with postpartum recovery: Frida Mom recovery kit

frida mom postpartum

Labor and delivery is a major event, mama—and our bodies are firmly still in recovery mode at the 1-month mark. If anything, life is probably only speeding up right now, so be sure to take care of yourself.

$49.99

To conquer early morning wake-up calls: Stars Above robe

stars above robe

Chances are that your baby has taken the place of an alarm clock. When the wake-up call comes too early, it helps brighten the morning a bit by having a comfy and cute robe to slip on.

$29.99

To get some letdown backup: Up&Up nursing pads

nursing pads

As you may have learned by now, breastmilk doesn't only flow on demand. Should you decide breastfeeding is your path, nursing pads will give you the protection you probably didn't anticipate you needed so you don't leak through a shirt. (Don't worry: This will ease as your supply is established!)

$7.56

To hydrate: Simple Modern pink water bottle

water bottle

It is always a good idea to drink more water—but especially now! Make it easier on yourself with a water bottle you actually like carrying around. Bonus points for being able to open it up for a drink with just one hand.

$19.99

To snack one-handed: Good & Gather snack bars

Good and Gather

You know when the baby last ate. But, what about you, mama? Keep some tasty nutrition bars on hand to simplify snacking when time and free hands are limited commodities.

$4.29

This article was sponsored by Target. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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How often do we see a "misbehaving" child and think to ourselves, that kid needs more discipline? How often do we look at our own misbehaving child and think the same thing?

Our society is conditioned to believe that we have to be strict and stern with our kids, or threaten, shame or punish them into behaving. This authoritarian style of parenting is characterized by high expectations and low responsiveness—a tough love approach.

But while this type of authoritarian parenting may elicit "obedient" kids in the short-term, studies suggest that children who are shamed or punished in the name of discipline face challenges in the long-term. Research suggests that children who are harshly disciplined or shamed tend to be less happy, less independent, less confident, less resilient, more aggressive and hostile, more fearful and at higher risk for substance abuse and mental health issues as adults and adolescents.

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The reason? No one ever changes from being shamed.

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