4 Summer Routines to Keep Kids and Families on Track

Reading and dinner routines, family meetings and more to supercharge learning and family bonding this summer

Parents of summer, I’ve got two quotes for you (play along for a second, I promise we’re going somewhere with this):

“Willpower isn’t just a skill. It’s a muscle, like the muscles in your arms or legs, and it gets tired as it works harder, so there’s less power left over for other things.”

This is from Charles Duhigg, author of the best-selling The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business, which The New York Times calls “a serious look at the science of habit formation and change.”

And: “Today was good. Today was fun. Tomorrow is another one.” These words were written, not surprisingly, by the beloved Dr. Seuss.

So, which summer parent are you going to be? The one who keeps bedtime sacrosanct, who holds steady on screen-time limits and keeps — with iron willpower — the chore chart fresh, the house tidy, and the kids’ academics from rotting away with every clang of that darned ice cream truck?

Or is it to heck with the routines — let the free, wild reign of summer (anything goes!) begin?

Guess what? You can have your cupcake and eat it, too. Summer can be a dangerous time for routines (they’ll peel away faster than a scab on a knee if you let them). But with a little planning and a good dose of fun, you can keep a sense of order in your family — even initiate helpful new routines and habits — while savoring summer down to the last drop.

Here are four ideas to keep your kids on track, build family rituals and try new ways of reaching goals.

Summer nights: Read!

Sure, many of us read to our kids. But the craziness of the school year sometimes gets in the way, and often we stop reading to them when they start devouring books themselves, or when they approach the tween years. Summer is the perfect time to get back to reading regularly to your children: Only 34 percent of kids ages 6–8 are read to, and only 17 percent of kids ages 9–11, according to Scholastic’s 2014 Kids & Family Reading Report. But, 83 percent of all kids report liking or loving being read to at home, primarily because of the closeness to parents it offers them.

Here are some ideas to get back to reading to your kids:

  • Choose a list of books based on current interests or locations where you’ll be traveling or would like to visit.
  • Let every family member contribute some titles to a “book bucket list” and select them together.
  • Tie in a family meal that matches the theme of the week’s book.
  • Try Shakespeare, adventure novels, science fiction, poetry or nonfiction. (Think vocabulary building!) Or pick a theme for the summer: sports stories, biographies, animal tales, fantasy or “growing pains.”
  • Share the reading! Designate a time of night when your kids will read to you. This keeps their literacy moving ahead and builds oration skills.

Family meeting

If you don’t hold a regular family meeting, summer is an excellent time to start — or to get back on track. Get your whole family’s input from the get-go: What day and location is best for everyone? How will the meeting be run? Family meetings should be routine, not called when someone is in trouble, reminds Sarina Natkin, cofounder of Grow Parenting. Meetings are places to demonstrate problem-solving skills and mutual respect.

Try pairing the meeting with a special ritual, such as tea and cookies. A guide to family meetings in Psychology Today suggests starting with questions such as: What happened this week? What’s coming up next week? What’s something wonderful someone did for you? What are your concerns?

Dinner, with a twist

There’s something about summer nights — when, even during busy weeks, the sun glows late into the day and everything feels more relaxed. Take advantage and launch a fun ritual of kids cooking for adults. This routine encourages family meals during which everyone is engaged and present (put the phone away), and it teaches kids everything from kitchen skills to budgeting (anti-brain-drain alert: math practice!).

Designate a night each week, and empower kids by giving them a budget and letting them plan the menu, find the ingredients at the store and prepare the meal while you kick back and chill out. (Don’t forget to have them mix you a mocktail!) Also, don’t forget to ask who is in charge of cleanup, says Natkin. And start slow if you need to — younger children can begin by helping with simple steps, such as retrieving ingredients.

Get your calendar ready!

Summer has a way of melting away like an ice cream cone in the sun. Time flies! Everyone in your family has special things they’d like to do over the summer. Sometimes, the only way to make sure something happens is to schedule it.

Sit down with your family at the start of the season and make a summer bucket list. Everyone contributes places they want to go and activities they’d like to do. Then, make sure you have a family calendar — not a digital one, but a physical wall calendar placed strategically for all to see.

Plot out your bucket items and then stick to them! Think about assigning a theme to different days: Saturday is beach day, Sunday is hike day, and Wednesday is ice cream day. This is also a way to ensure chores get done: If Wednesday is ice cream day, then maybe Monday is room-cleaning and laundry day, and Friday is allowance day. Favorites for my family include movie night (Saturdays) and family game night (Friday). On game night, my two daughters give a short performance — either they play their violins or give a speech on something they are interested in, which helps build speaking skills, and then we play board games. Don’t forget to schedule some do-nothing time: A weekly window when everyone just relaxes (think: hammock, sidewalk chalk, water or dirt play, naps) is a key part of sucking the juice out of summer. Use stickers to make your calendar pop, and if you need a summer craft project, check out our homemade calendar and chart board.

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