How to Thrive (Not Just Survive) this Summer

Summertime is finally here! We packed our final school lunches, frantically assisted with final homework assignments, and attended our final back-to-back sporting events. The long summer days filled with pool floaties, vacations, and adventures sound amazing the week before school lets out. But the reality of long days together may already be setting in: sibling disagreements, wet pool towels left on the floor and excessive requests for TV and screens! We know summer is sweet and challenging all at the same time.

We asked some of our very own NCC parents, “How do you respond when your kids tell you they’re bored? And what structure do you put in place during the summer?” Here is what they had to say!

How do you respond when your kids tell you they’re bored?

Somewhere along the way I read that when kids say, "I'm bored," you give them seven minutes and they will be able to push through and find something to do. For a while, when my girls would come up and say, "I'm bored," my response was, "I've got chores l can give you! What chore do you want to do?" Every time. Rarely did extra chores get done, but I heard a whole lot fewer boredom whines. - Tara Lewis, NCC Ballston

The phrase “I’m bored” is like nails on a chalkboard to a parent and it seems all the more amplified during summer’s lull versus the busyness of school year scheduled activities. When I hear the phrase “I’m bored” come gushing out of a sulky boy who shares my last name, my first impulse is to offer up chores! But this suggestion rarely brings contentment, joy or an enthusiastic response. So instead of reacting from my own constant lack of boredom, I’m learning to live by wise words attributed to satirist Dorothy Parker. “The cure for boredom is curiosity.”

So let's be curiosity facilitators. Skateboarding, baking, gardening, sewing, story writing, sidewalk games, lemonade stands, make-believe, audiobooks on adventurers. - Kate Fears, NCC Barracks Row

Boredom is the gateway to creativity, but boredom brings out the crazy first! Summer has just begun and the phrase, “I’m bored” has already plagued our home. The siblings are on each other’s nerves and the whining is at a record breaking high. But from experience, I know that if we can work through boredom instead of putting a band-aid on it, the creativity that waits on the other side is extraordinary! The kids fight and complain and my natural tendency is to “fix” the problem by creating something for them to do. Consider giving them a list of options instead of taking the lead. I want to mastermind a plan and get them out of the house, but the truth is that there are some parts of the brain that only come alive when we have the mental space to be bored. I know this personally with my own hobbies. It’s not until I have some downtime that I pick up my guitar or draw in my journal. Let’s not fill every day with busyness. Let’s allow boredom to take us to creativity. My kids now know that if they tell me they are bored they will be met with this response, “That’s amazing! You are about to create something and I can’t wait to see what it is!” - Robin Whitford, NCC Ballston

What structure do you put in place in the summer?

The past couple summers, I used and personalized a “No Screen Time Until...” list. It includes being outside, doing something creative, reading, summer packet work, chores, etc. And it was good, but this summer I'm making a modification. I am adding that no one can do screens until 4 pm. Otherwise, what seems to happen is they all “finish” at different times and I was left navigating four different on-ramps into technology. Their goal was just to hurry hurry and do all the requirements and get screen time as early in the day as possible. Now I find that they enjoy the activities instead of rushing through! - Tara Lewis, Ballston

I love summertime! I might even love it more than my three children, but as much as we all love the freedom that summer brings, my family also needs some sort of structure. Each of my children has a “Summer Rules” checklist that they must complete each morning before they can play. It includes a few basic tasks (that I pray will one day become automatic for my children) such as: making their beds, brushing their teeth and cleaning up the bathroom of clothes and toothpaste in the sink. After that, it also has four basic educational tasks that they must complete as well.

  1. Read for 20 minutes
  2. Complete 20 minutes of workbook pages (their workbooks include topics such as spelling, geography, math, and/or writing).
  3. Go through one round of math facts (multiplication, division, addition, subtraction depending on the age of the child
  4. Complete 20 minutes of a typing program on the computer

All of that is done within the first hour to hour and a half that my children are awake. After that, the day is theirs to explore, be creative, play with friends or hang out at the pool. Our family doesn’t allow electronics (TV, IPAD, computer, etc) Monday-Friday. We have learned with our children that if we give them an inch they will take a mile. It was easier to have that basic, consistent ground rule than to constantly hear the nagging, “Can we go on the computer? When can we go on the computer? I don’t want to play outside, I would rather play Minecraft.” ALL DAY LONG! So with that rule in place, it makes for a much more peaceful week for our family. Our children are able to use electronics on the weekend, however, we have found that they are naturally on their devices less on the weekends just because of sports or hanging out with friends and family.

On the last day of school, our family makes a list of all the activities we would like to do for the summer.  Some activities are big, some simple, but we put them all on the list. Then each day we try and do one thing on the list. It could be something simple like catching fireflies at night or playing Kick the Can with our neighborhood friends, or it could be bigger such as tubing down the river at Harper’s Ferry or hiking the Billy Goat Trail. We try and give everyone an equal say in our summer list. We also encourage our children that they can’t complain about the activity that is selected each day because even if it is something they would prefer not to do, it is important to have a happy heart and be grateful for the experience.    

We also have a chore list for our children, but it is the same as during the school year so that is not necessarily an adjustment for them at all. Our snack rule is also the same as during the school year and on weekends, which is, they are welcome to have as much water, fruits and vegetables as they want. They typically have breakfast and lunch and then an afternoon snack, which if it is not a fruit, vegetable, cheese or nuts then it is in our snack drawer, and they are allowed one snack from that drawer each day.  - Kellie Ortiz, Kingstowne

In the summer I carry over our "play date plan". During the school year I got tired of negotiating every day on the walk home from school about whether to make a play date happen, so we pre-decided that we would only have play dates on two pre-determined days of the week! It was an amazing relief of pressure for all of us. I didn't have to fit things in where there was no room and kids had an out or freedom to say no to those recurring constant play date requests because of the family rule. Plus they always knew one was coming so they were okay to defer.

The first day of summer we sit down and make two big fun charts - one is a "no brainers" chart which is a list of things that need to get done every day. Things like pick up laundry, brush teeth, read 20 minutes, and walk the dog. Then we make our "summer fun ideas" chart where each family member has a column. The kids put their wish list ideas on this chart, places they really want to go and activities they really want to do. The list surprises us every year! Each person gives 10-20 ideas. Often it is sweet little activities like take a family walk to 7-11 or play Life. Sometimes amusement parks, road trips, and various excursions make the list. Then we rotate. Each Wednesday, one person (in rotation) chooses the special activity of the day and if the week works right we also do one on Friday. This is certain: Wednesday is a fun day and we all look forward to it. In the meantime, it gives me great ideas of what to direct or implement in other luxurious down times because we have an amazing list of their hearts’ desires hanging on the fridge. It's fun to see what my kids really want to do and it helps me track what I want to do with them. If they are listless (particularly if I am at work), I can direct them to the chart! - Julie Paradiso, Ballston

Three weeks off as a family with a household move thrown in has left our team feeling a little unstructured, to say the least. We are all feeling the effects of being a little “rudderless,” so I am working on adopting a few strategies to create repeatable routines that allow for a little spontaneity.

First, we are fine-tuning some daily routines based on something I recently read which encourages creating a schedule and managing expectations in order to reduce screen time.

Here are some of the highlights:

  • Get Ready for the Day
  • 30 Minutes of Exercise or Outside Play
  • 20 Minutes Reading (in our family, the 11-year-old gets double time if he reads to his four-year-old brother)
  • Math Review
  • 20 Minutes Writing or Coloring (write a short story, draw a picture, color a picture)
  • Do Chores
  • Be Creative (make or build something, make a craft, do a puzzle, create with play-doh, use a sticker book, do a science experiment)
  • Be Helpful and Think of Others (play with a family member, ask if there is a job you can do, write a letter to a grandparent)

Second, we are working to create a weekly rhythm for summertime that allows the kids to look ahead in anticipation to favorite activities to come. And conversely, if there are more mundane activities that they aren’t as excited about, they know that errand running or a trip to the library are a just part of the day.

Some alliterative ideas for Summer Weekdays:

  • Museum Mondays
  • Thinking Tuesdays
  • Water Wednesdays
  • Trip Thursdays
  • Friend Fridays

Throughout the summer, I take a step back and ask these questions:

  • What will make your summer feel fulfilling when you look back on it?
  • What do you want to make sure that you do on a daily and weekly basis?
  • What is a project/interest that you want to work on throughout the summer?

- Kate Fears, Barracks Row

What summertime structures do YOU put in place? We would love to hear from you in the comments!