As per usual, the summer has snuck up on me. Even though Target is already setting up the ‘back to school’ supplies display, I still haven’t gotten all the swimsuits and suncreen out of storage. And this week marks the last day of school!
Thank goodness we have only one week of unstructured vacation days before the girls go off to Grandma’s and then to camp. That’s just enough unstructured time to relax, then get bored, then bicker with your sister, and then be glad to have someone else impose structure on your day.
Kids need help filling their days with summer fun.
While school-age kids love the idea of free-flowing days of play, play, play, you just can’t leave kids to make their own decisions about how to spend their time. As much as I wish my kids could just entertain themselves sometimes, they aren’t able to organize fully satisfying days by themselves. Unless we find ways to help them use their time and direct their energy, they end up hanging around in the kitchen whining about being bored.
Your au pair will likely feel pretty challenged over the summer, unless s/he sets up a summer plan. Without a plan, it gets pretty difficult to organize day after day, to come up with good ideas, and to managing the kids moods and the changing weather. S/he’ll need some resources and some coaching from you to create a plan so that s/he always has a sense of what can be done next.
You may have already signed your kids up for a few programs, like some day camp, or swim lessons or soccer clinics. But, even if these activities take up good chunks of their time, there will still be many open hours that your au pair will need to help them enjoy.
Your Basic Summer Plan
Summer schedules should include kid’s chores, learning events, easy outings, group playtime, and kid alone time.
Your plan should consist of two elements: structure and activities. Structure is the daily schedule, the weekly routine, and the calendar on the fridge helping the kids see what’s coming next. Activities are all the things you’ve set up for the kids (swimming lessons, library craft mornings) and the stuff that they want to do, alone or with friends.
It’s always surprised me that even care-free kids who have no boss waiting for ‘deliverables” still like having structure and routine. Kids’ days should have punctuation points like a real wake up time, a real lunch time, a real nap time or quiet time, real snack times, and real bed times.
These punctuation points help an au pair organize around the day too, since they set up chunks of time for different sorts of play.
There’s a rhythm to a summer week. You or another parent might take a regular half-day working at home, or try to come home earlier on Friday nights. Your town might have an outdoor movie night every thursday. To the degree you can, it helps to have a weekly routine for the kids, too.
One year we were especially lucky that our neighbors with girls near our girls’ ages also had an au pair, and she and our au pair became good friends. They organized weekly outings– to the local zoo, the library, a picnic in the park, etc., which they usually did on Wednesdays. And, they coordinated with playdates, planning in one or two additional playdates with the girls together.
You might also consider different activities for specific weeks, to go along with other events. For example, what about decorating bikes with flags and crepe paper the week of 4th of July, for a mini-parade down your own street?
You can ask your kids to come up with a list of activities that they might want to do, that you can refer to when the kids have free play time but need ideas for what to do. My next door neighbor shared with me a list of all the playgrounds within a 15 minute drive. (Who knew there were over 30, including school playgrounds!!) I made a list of the various outdoor toys we had stored in a chest on our back portch, free to borrow (wading pool, slip n’ slide, badminton set). We swapped lists, and hung them on our fridges.
The point of all these lists was to make it easier to remember just what was possible. Face it, when the kids are whining, it’s hot out, and your au pair is tired, it can be hard to get creative or even remember what options you have.
Use Lists, Use a Written Schedule, Use a Calendar on the Fridge
Put all the stuff in writing, and post it where the au pair and the kids can see it and use it. Let them go to the list and look over the ideas that they generated before — simply looking at a list, rather than asking the adult to remember and recount every choice makes it easier for the kids to come to a decision.
Also, having a list to refer to helps them take ownership (tather than blaming the au pair if s/he can’t come up with an idea they like).
Kid Goals, Adult Goals
Goals and Finales can also offer some structure and some motivation.
Some families like to have summertime learning goals for their kids (e.g., read x number of books by August 23rd, learn to swim the backstroke). If you have these goals already, it’s fun to put them into the calendar so that your kids have regular check-in moments, and you can create regular times to work on these goals. My next-door neighbor made it a challenge to visit — you guessed it — all 30 playgrounds, and took pictures at each one.
Kids might enjoy short-term projects that take a few days and have a big ‘ta-da’. Our kids have written, rehearsed and performed neighborhood plays.
Longer term projects are good too, since they help kids feel like they have accomplished something. You might have your kids do a ‘photo a day’ scrapbook or Tumblr, or tend a tomato garden, or train the dog to fetch the paper, or write a booklet of short stories, or visit every historical site in the county.
Saren over at The Power Of Moms has had great success with organizing her kids’ days & weeks as “summer camp”. Saren has some terrific ideas in this post, and also sells a Summer Learning Adventure ‘kit’ with more complete plans.
My girlfriend Sharon gathered up a dozen ‘at home’ science experiments and had her kids try one each week, all summer long, on their Crazy Scientist Days. They wore white “lab coats” (Dads’ old shirts as smocks) and took photos for their “lab notebook”. Lots of folks also try their own ‘art camp’.
And, there’s always the Star Wars or Harry Potter Adventure week, where everyone wears a costume and carries a light sabre or a wand. Been there, done that, it’s fun.
We got a request for your best summer activity planning ideas from a mom who — thank goodness– is looking out for her new au pair. Share ideas below!
Hi. This summer our 6th au pair in the same number of years will come to us right after July 4th. Her first week will also be our kids first week home after school lets out and we get back from our family vacation. Our kids are now 9, 7 and 5 (two boys and a girl), so they’re big enough to do lots of fun things with.
Our family has been crazy busy with sports and ballet and various after school activities all school year, and I’ve been thinking that it’d be best to let the kids have a break from routines and schedules this summer. But, I’m slightly concerned about whether I’m giving our new au pair a great opportunity to have adventures and relaxed, unstructured fun with her new little buddies or a nightmarish quagmire with no routines. It can be hard enough to establish authority with kids that age when routines are in place. My kids are fairly good-natured and well-behaved, but aren’t perfect and are smart enough to take advantage of a power vacuum so they can do whatever it is that they might want at any given time. Am I setting our new au pair up for a summer filled with challenges, whining, moaning and power struggles?