With just a bit of planning, summer break can be fun for you and your kids!

Somehow summer is suddenly upon us. Though the first day of summer is still about a month away as I type this, summer starts for me today. Today is my kiddos’ last day of school. At 3 p.m. today we are officially on summer break!

While I’m excited to have my kids home for summer break, I am also a bit overwhelmed by that somewhat. That’s especially true this summer when I am back to working from home more than I have been any other summer since becoming a mom. And that’s one reason I am working to be very intentional about our summer planning.

Once I had a kiddo in school full-time four years ago, I realized how quickly summer breaks go by. I realized how easy it was to have ideas of things we’d do in my head and never get around to doing them. And, in having a daughter who is 9, I also realize that this summer is literally the halfway point of her childhood summers. I don’t want to waste a minute or be busy wishing it away and missing out on the joy of summer with my children.

With all of that in mind, we are heading into summer with plans as usual. Here is what I’ve found works best for my family when it comes to summer planning.

1. Decide how many activities your kids can do for the summer.

We are intentional during the school year about how many activities our kids are allowed to participate in. Right now that number is one for them. If non-regular activities come up, then we talk about it and usually can work it in. There is usually a week my daughter does cheer camp after school with the high school cheerleaders. This school year there were also a couple of months of play practice for the school K-12 production.

Summer is very similar. I don’t limit them to one activity for summer break because most summer activities don’t last as long, but I do limit them. For example, both of the them wanted to attend art camp at school this summer. It’s only for four days in the week following the end of school. I agreed to that.

In addition to that weeklong art camp, they both get one more big activity for the summer. They’ve both picked swim lessons two nights a week in July.

And that will be more than enough. My kids are 6 and 9 this summer. They have the whole rest of their lives to be busy. We do our very best to keep our summers low-key.

2. Make a list of goals.

I am a list maker through and through. I love me a good list! So each year, we sit down as a family and make some lists for the summer. One of them is a list of goals. What things do we want to accomplish or learn over summer break?

For example, this year my daughter wants to learn how to cook more. My son wants to learn how to tie shoes. My daughter and husband want to learn more Spanish. My son wants to learn how to ride without training wheels. I want to get some more organizing done around home.

We type them up and put them on the side of the fridge. Another bonus to having goals for the summer is that when the kids are bored or looking for things to do, we can always point them to their goals and give them suggestions to work on them.

3. Make a list of people to visit.

Part of summer fun is getting to have more time with friends and family, which includes extended family. While we are blessed to have both my parents and my husband’s parents living within 10 minutes of us, we still are intentional about grandparent time in the summer. The kids loving spending the night with grandparents whenever they can.

A few summers ago, my in-laws started a summer break tradition where they take each child individually for 5 days and then have them both together for 5 days.

My kids LOVE this tradition. They get one-on-one time with their Nana and Papaw and one-on-one time with their dad and me while their sibling is with Nana and Papaw. It works out so well. We usually plan a fun outing for whichever kid we have like pottery painting or a visit to Chuck E. Cheese’s.

Then when both kids are at Nana and Papaw’s, my husband and I get a chance to do home projects and such.

In addition to grandparent time, we make a list of friends we want to try and connect with over the summer. It helps me know who my kids are wanting to get together with and prioritize that. Honestly, it helps remind me to plan time with friends because I’m not always so great at doing so otherwise!

4. Make a list of fun activities to do.

Our final summer list that gets printed and put on the fridge is a list of fun activities we want to do. Some of them are simple like having one-on-one play time with each parent. (We divide and each spend 30 minutes or an hour playing with each child and then switch. It is hands-down the most requested activity our kids have every single break.) Some are more involved like going tent camping.

This year we even talked about making a list of movies we want to watch since we were talking about books we’ve recently read that have movies to go along with them like “Tuck Everlasting” and “Charlotte’s Web.”

Having a list of fun activities helps me make sure I’m prioritizing what my kids think is fun for summer break and gives me a go-to when I need an idea for something for us to do.

5. Find all sorts of free activities.

Summertime brings so many free activities that my kids love. Every Friday our city has free brown bag lunch concerts outside. There are innumerable fun summer reading programs we can attend. (Check out my list of more than 100 book ideas for summer reading!)

While we LOVE the library and summer reading program, the actual programs offered throughout the summer don’t require you to be registered and are usually good. Our library has an animal show each summer that we really enjoy.

And, of course, there are also parks for fun. There is something fun about packing a lunch and eating at a picnic table then playing at the park. Even I think peanut butter and jelly sandwiches taste better that way! Look for free splash pads as well for hot summer days.

6. Have an electronics plan.

I don’t want my kids to spend all summer on a screen. And, thankfully, they aren’t interested in that either. While you can have very detailed plans for electronics, we tend to have a laidback plan. But, we do have a plan or else it would be easy to send them off with their tablets any time I needed to get something done without being interrupted!

My kids don’t have to complete certain tasks or chores in order to get screen time — most days. But they do have to ask permission from either my husband or me in order to have screen time. Some days they may get more screen time if it’s crazy hot or raining. Or some days they may get no screen time because we have plans or they just need to find something else to do.

The only exception is that most summer mornings, I don’t mind for them to each watch a 20-minute approved show on the television while eating breakfast. It is nice to have laidback mornings in the summer!

7. Keep fun supplies handy.

Kids often forget about things that are out of sight. So, I make sure the things they want to play with often are easy to get to or where they’ll use it. Their bikes are in an easy location for them in the garage with their helmets on the handlebars. Sidewalk chalk is near the back door they most often use. Markers, coloring pages and crayons are in a drawer they can easily get to. Those ideas at least give me (and them!) starting points for what to suggest when they are bored, which inevitably comes up over summer break.

8. Have easy snacks ready.

Though they only eat three meals and maybe one snack during school days, summer break tends to make them want to graze. And since my kids are usually more active in summer, I get it. They’re old enough now that they can usually fix their own snack if I keep things on hand for them. So, I keep things around that I can say yes to most of the time like Gogurt (frozen is super great for the summer!), boxes of raisins, 4-pack peanut butter crackers, Goldfish, pretzels, easy fruit I can prep ahead (grapes, blueberries, bananas, etc.), applesauce pouches, fruit cups and granola bars.

Just like with screen time, my kiddos have to ask before they get a snack. And usually it has to meet mom’s approval. They know what snacks I will say yes to and what I will usually say no to. Sometimes, of course, I say yes to fun treats because it’s just fun for all of us! I have some 90-calorie mini ice-cream sandwiches that have made for some fun treats recently.

9. Let them know what to expect each day.

Thanks to having chronic health issues, I learned pretty early on not to tell my kids about big plans for a day until I knew for sure it was going to happen. I’ve had times where I couldn’t even predict whether I’d be up for a trip to the park until the day of. They were much happier to have a surprise than to have a disappointment. (Duh!)

I also learned pretty early on that my kids do best when they know what to expect. While we do maintain our routine somewhat over the summer, it is definitely more laidback and less scheduled. Every morning, I try to go over with the kids a brief outline of what’s happening that day. It can be as simple as, “We’re going to the grocery store this afternoon.” Their favorite tends to be: “We don’t have anywhere to go today!”

No matter what, they like knowing what the day holds and I do, too. Of course plans change sometimes, but setting their expectations for the day helps. That’s especially true when I do have an errand or chore that needs done and I can tell them that but also tell them something fun going on that day, too, even if it’s just they’ll be home to play for 4 hours straight or we’ll watch a movie in the evening.

10. Keep your priorities in check.

I’ve got to end with this one. We only have about 18 summers with our children — and even fewer than that with them when they are old enough to do things but not old enough to have their own schedules and agendas. Summertime with my kids is limited and precious!

When I keep that in mind, I can better prioritize the things we can do to make memories as a family. My kids love big things. We went to Disney World and Universal Studios Orlando over spring break and they had a great time. But a lot of smaller, little moments are what really make the best memories. So sometimes I let housework slide. Sometimes I get up at 6 a.m. to get some work done before they are up for the day. And I try to just enjoy my moments with my kids over the summer.

We have peanut butter sandwiches for dinner then go to our favorite fro-yo place. We spend an afternoon swimming. We take off and go to the movies in the middle of a weekday. We snuggle together and read. We play games. We play with toys. We just have time together.

I know that I will never regret the time I spent with my children but I might regret doing other things instead. So, I do my very best to carve out time over summer break that is just for fun for us.

Looking for more summer family fun ideas? Check out these posts:

About the Author: Stacey A. Shannon

Stacey A. Shannon is a freelance journalist and blogger who has been published internationally. She's also a Christian, a wife and a mom of two school-aged children. She started Families with Grace in 2019 to encourage Christian moms as they create homes filled with grace, love and faith.

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10 ways to make your summer break easier10 ways to make your summer break easier