How to Give Your Kids One of Those Nostalgic Summers

Ever wondered how to give your kids a summer like you used to have? Well, you’re not alone.

Parents Magazine shared a recent survey that found a majority of parents are ready for their kids to go back to school just 2 weeks into summer break. The reason? We feel pressured to keep kids busy every second of the day, and we feel like our kids’ summer doesn’t live up to their peers’ summer experiences.

Since summer break is way longer than a fortnight (but shorter than the average Fortnite addiction), how can we make it fun for us AND our kids?

I don’t know about you, but I LOVE reading all those blog posts about how the summers we had in the 80’s and 90’s were the very best summers imaginable. I think the theme in all of them boils down to 2 things: benign neglect and the luxury of time.

In my house, summer rolls out in front of a us, a barren landscape of kids demanding snacks and long days to fill up before my husband comes home. My oldest kids are in the double-digits, so our nights are filled with sports practices and games, meaning I sometimes don’t see my baseball coach husband at all, except to hand him a packed dinner and a water bottle along with whatever kid is jumping into his idling car.

At the beginning of this summer, all of this uninterrupted kid time made me feel anxious, but I soon realized that I could do just a few things to tweak our days so that the kids had a glorious kid-centered summer, and I managed to squeeze in a break or two in between wiping unmentionables up from various kid bathrooms.

  1. Don’t schedule any camps. Sometimes it feels like a dirty secret to admit that we aren’t doing any camps at all this summer.  (**Whispers** But we’re totally not.)
  2. Pick a really easy theme to give your weeks some flexible structure. We are doing library Monday, new park Tuesday, water Wednesday, screen time Thursday (the kids suggested this—it is the best idea EVAR), and fun fun Friday. On fun fun Friday, they draw an activity from a bag of activities they came up with (my only caveat was that the activity had to be free or cheap). This helps me feel less overwhelmed with 4 kids up in my face all day because at least we have a THEME. Also, these are low-key, adaptable themes, so we don’t spend our days rushing from one place to another.
  3. Go to the pool. We do swim lessons, lunch and open swim every single day we can. Now that my kids are all good swimmers, I sit in the shade with a book, and they just sort of run around and go down the slide and dive off the board and do their own thing. When I was a young teen in the early 90’s, my mom would sometimes drop me and my brothers off at the pool on her way to work and pick us up on the way home, and those were basically the best summers of my whole life. 
  4. Don’t be afraid of boredom. It’s a hallmark of summer to whine that you are bored when you’re a kid, so sit back, grab a library book or a pile of laundry to fold and let their relentless requests for entertainment roll off your back. They’ll figure something out, and the next thing you know, you will open the back door for a second and see a tangle of bikes and popsicle sticks and realize they’ve found friends! And helped themselves to snacks! It’s glorious.
  5. Pay them to do things. I have been paying 50 cents a chore this summer, with a payday every Sunday, and suddenly my kids don’t have to ask me for money to buy junk food at the pool or at the Little League concession stand, and it is a MIRACLE. Plus I have really well vacuumed stairs all of the sudden, and my diligently watered gardens are doing great.
  6. Stick to a little bit of a routine. We do eat breakfast/get dressed/make beds/ read a book/do some math for about 45 minutes at the start of every morning, and then the rest of the day is completely unstructured, punctuated with seven thousand snacks.
  7. Eat someplace besides your house whenever you can. I am the queen of the picnic lunch or dinner. At the pool!  At the baseball diamond! At a park! Anywhere with a floor I don’t have to sweep, basically.
  8. Curate your Instagram feed. Feel jealous of your friends’ summers? Make yours looks freaking awesome, too. I am doing a #100happydays photo challenge for myself, where I post a lovely, edited picture everyday. In September, I am going to look back at my summer feed and think my summer was even greater than it actually was.

And, you guys? It’s pretty great. We are enjoying unstructured time, and my kids are learning to make their own fun while I am sitting on the couch eating bon-bons and reading all of the books. Just kidding. Sort of. Happy summer, friends—drop me a comment and tell me how you are making it a great one.

Sarah Jedd has a Ph.D. in communication arts from the University of Wisconsin-Madison where she teaches and studies the rhetoric of Planned Parenthood. Sarah has 5 (F I V E) children: teens Harry and Jack, elementary schoolers Cooper and Dorothy, and sweet baby Minnie, born in August 2020. Sarah blogs about being a mom of many at harrytimes.com and overshares on IG as @sarahjedd. Sarah, her husband, and their kids live in Verona with the world's laziest dog.

1 COMMENT

  1. Yes, yes, yes to this! Mine are 4&7 so I am trying to start early with keeping expectations low, lol! My youngest is doing t-ball (1 45-min game a week, no practices) and they are both taking swim lessons (my goal is to do what you do at the pool when they are in double digits). I occasionally check parks and rec schedule to see if there are any 1-day camps they might be interested in for $20. I even shipped them off to their grandparents for a few days where they can form bonds with aunties and uncles and cousins and be entertained by other people. That’s it. We love it.

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