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.