Planning Summer with Kids: How to not ruin Summer

Want to know the secret to planning summer without the overwhelm? I’ve learned it’s equal parts what you do, and what you don’t do.

My oldest daughter loves to make bucket lists.  In fact, she loves to make all kinds of lists.

(She’s clearly related to me.  She, too, will drive some lucky man insane someday with her organizational glee.)

As summer snuck up on me yet again this year, I began to think about all the things I wanted to enjoy with the kids during this season and what things would top our “warm weather bucket lists” .

At the same time, I wanted to think about a “summer schedule” of sorts – what our days would look like and how we would manage the family budget during what is usually the most expensive time of the year for us.

coffee cup, cupcake, an open notebook and pen set on a marble backdrop. Concept of making plans.

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The last thing I wanted was for our long-term goals to short-change our summer fun and the memories we hope to make as a family.

But what I’ve learned is that simple is usually better for everyone.

Image of two little boys eating watermelon with text above "how to not ruin summer by bringing back simple family time this year."

Planning Summer: Keys to a SIMPLE Summer plan

Instead of jam-packed calendars and commitments, I am looking at this summer as an opportunity to make new memories as a family, day by day, moment by (simple) moment.

These changes we’re embracing this year will help us stick to our budget and reconnect as a family.

You might call it our “lazy summer” plan.  I think everyone is due for one of these once in a while!

Here’s what we’re doing to keep it simple, fun and hopefully…make it last.

Teen girl smiling with her head propped on the window ledge of a car driving down the highway.

1. Staying Local

To be honest, big vacations aren’t usually in our budget.  It’s part of the sacrifice of me working less hours to have more time at home with the kids.

And, we refuse to go into debt to take a vacation.

Instead, we are going to enjoy our yearly 2-day stay at a nearby tourist destination and other “day trips” we can take in a few hours or less.

These are small adventures, BUT they’re really something we all look forward to.

What I like about NOT going on a big vacation:

  • There’s something for each of us to enjoy when we take a few shorter trips
  • It doesn’t require 42 bathroom pit stops and endless fighting over electronics to get there
  • It’s a long enough break from the mundane without being overly exhausting.

We do dream of taking a grand trip someday.  But for now, enjoying the small things brings the big picture into view.

2. Not stressing about housework

I already admitted previously that I like to be organized. (And I blame this course in part – it’s a really helpful tool!)

Who doesn’t really like a tidy house?  But, I have to be realistic.  Six people live in my house.  I work at homeI’m busy and we’re messy!

So I’m choosing to overlook some of it this summer.

I may have to literally close my eyes when I walk into my son’s room to refrain from lining up his stuffed animals and making sure the trucks and tractors are all in their designated boxes.

And I’m already making progress – I skipped the dinner dishes a few nights this week!  Go me!

Dirty dishes in the sink and countertops

The reason behind all this madness?  I want more time to enjoy the joy of summer: taking walks, watering and watching the plants (and kids) grow, playing Wiffle ball in the yard.  The stuff that you can’t enjoy all year around.

Organizing closets and having a sparkling kitchen every day of the week can wait until winter – when there’s nothing else to do.

Related post:  5 Suggestions for the Mom Who’s Struggling to Get Stuff Done (with littles)

3. Not sleeping in every day

This may seem contrary to the general laissez-faire attitude of this post.

But here’s what I’ve discovered:  we’re actually happier people when we stick to somewhat of a schedule.

The first week or so of summer break, I only set my alarm on the days we had to be somewhere.  We went to bed late and slept late and just moved back our routine a few hours.  I kept wondering why, after getting extra sleep, was I feeling more irritable and exhausted than usual?

The kids were crabby, uncooperative and I had a feeling the change in schedule was partly to blame.

It turns out there is a connection between “sleeping in” and lack of motivation and lethargy.  Researchers at Harvard found that “It appears that any significant deviation from normal sleep patterns can upset the body’s rhythms and increase daytime fatigue”.  (Read the article here.)

image of child sleeping late in summer time

Who knew?

My kids seem to thrive on having a routine, so I think we’re going to keep setting the alarm this summer and see how it goes.

Sure, there will be late-night fireworks in July and outings that will require some sleeping in and catch-up naps, and that’s ok.  But I think there’s something to be said for having a little structure and a plan for each day- even in the summer.

4. Avoiding scheduled activities (mostly)

Hear me out, moms.  I know you love your kids and want them to stay busy, engaged, and explore their interests.  There are so many summer opportunities out there, it’s hard to say no.

We all want our kids to keep busy and have a purpose to their days.

However, balance is so important.  Our parents – and especially grandparents – were much better at this than we are.

We sign up kid #1 for basketball camp, then volleyball camp, church camp (all fun things!) …throw in a music lesson or two …pretty soon your 11-year-old has a load that would overwhelm a freshman college student.

Steering wheel of car with sticky notes all over it with reminders of all the activities mom has to keep up with.

Then it all starts over with kid #2 and however many kids you have that are old enough to be let out of the house for extended periods of time.

Suddenly your life becomes an endless cycle of Google calendar notifications, running the mom-taxi all over town and way more Sonic cheeseburgers on the menu than should be legal.

Stepping back from the madness

Sometimes we need to take control of our schedules, our summers, our lives (and our kids’) — and prioritize.

Deep down, we know that our kids will not suffer by having limited activities outside of family time – or heaven forbid, learning to entertain themselves at home with some old-fashioned creativity.

Yes, I might totally be channeling my inner Mama Berenstain Bear there.

But I firmly believe that it’s beneficial for kids to have ample time with their family, at home to just.be.kids.

Does it benefit everyone?

Some of my perspective on “doing less” has to do with having four children and trying to find time for each of them.

When you’re part of a family, everyone’s needs should be considered.

Yes, the older the kids get, the more they want to do – but if it’s going to severely cut into our family time, church time or other things that we value as a family, then we don’t need to feel obligated to do these things.

We can be more selective for the good of everyone and choose to balance our time, instead.

Two young kids doing an art project on the living room floor with a baby watching on, with parents on the couch in the background, smiling.

Keeping it cheap and simple may not be everyone’s idea of summer fun.  And I recognize the fact that some people thrive on their busy-ness and love it.

But if your schedule is chaotic and you feel like summer is passing you by, maybe it’s time to let a few things slide off the calendar.  For now at least.


Side note: If you really want your kids to learn some valuable skills while at home, don’t miss Life Skills Summer camp this year.

Trading overstimulation for imagination

Your family can create memories in your backyard, at the dinner table, anywhere you’re together.

The funny thing is that those small, unplanned moments are the ones my kids usually talk about the most later on.

We’re also looking forward to spontaneous adventures like road trips to (local) state parks, fishing in the creek, visiting the soda fountain, the zoo, and the like.

We’re hoping that a low-key summer will help us to grow closer and highlight the values that matter most, to us.

What are you planning and not planning this summer?

You might also like:

• 29 Cheap or Free Summer Activity Ideas + Printable List

13 Engaging Outdoor Activities to Immerse Kids in Nature

40 Inside Activities for Rainy Days

Useful Hobby Ideas for Moms

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