balancing summer activitesA Lowcountry summer arrives early and fast. Making sure we have plenty of activities to keep our little ones occupied and ourselves sane becomes a top priority.

The days become less-structured when school is out, and I am reminded of “those lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer.” Nat King Cole’s song captures the essence of summer, but what happens to that slower pace?

I think of my own childhood summers in Pennsylvania. My sister and I were fortunate to spend our days with our grandparents. Both my mom and dad’s parents lived in the same, small town. We watched TV, walked to the park, swam, and learned to do chores. We did not attend camps or play on travel sports teams or enroll in daycare. But times have changed: families may not live close to each other, parents and caretakers work, and working hours stretch beyond the 9-5 for most people.

We may want to fill summer up with as many activities as we can, but there are ways to make the most out of summer without maxing out the schedule. As a teacher, I have my minutes—even seconds—planned out during the school year. Yet, I am no longer tied to living “minute-by-minute” during summer, and that is a welcome change when we seem to live by the minute instead of in the minute.

Summertime becomes a matter of balancing the “crazy” pace with the “lazy” pace. So, how do we balance the less-structured time of summer without catapulting into chaos?

  • Choose a summer routine and stick to it! I am a night owl by nature, so I am my own worst enemy when it comes to keeping structure for myself during the summer. But, we all know that a change in routine for a child may not be tolerated as well. Meltdowns, whining, boredom, over-eating—you name it. We keep our summer routine simple, though we do go to bed a little later and wake up a little later—just without the early alarm and several snooze buttons later. Our bedtime “story” becomes “stories,” and we spend a little more time at the breakfast table in the morning. These few extra minutes without the rush are a reminder to appreciate the moment instead of thinking about the next thing on the to-do list.
  • Vary activities—both fun and educational. We do have to find meaningful activities to minimize summer brain drain; it is important to keep kids entertained and productive. There are plenty of workbooks by grade-level, but real-world learning is even better. When we go to the grocery store, we talk about simple math concepts. When we go to the Coastal Discovery Museum, we end up at the library to check out books on plants and animals that we saw. Henry exchanged letters with friends this summer, so he was able to work on writing without feeling like he was working on writing. There are daily and weekly summer camps to attend, but we usually limit camps to one or two so that we can add in other activities.  We like Henry to try one new sport during the summer, so he is taking karate. Summertime offers the flexibility to learn in a more organic way.
  • Technology. Some parents create a chart with chores and activities that have to be done before technology can be used. I opt for a less-structured plan of “20 minutes on.” Henry has a 20-minute window to play video games or use the iPad, and then we detox for a while. I don’t prescribe a certain amount of time to being “off” technology because if I give Henry a time frame, then he will constantly ask when “time” is up! There are educational apps as well, but it is just as easy to learn the old-fashioned way. Getting sucked into the technology vortex is hard to avoid whether it is summertime or not, so making a plan to manage usage can help prevent a freefall into the technology pit.
  • Create a family activity just for summer. My boys (husband and son) are big Star Wars fans, and I can now say that I know what it’s all about. Last summer, we watched the Star Wars movies in order, mostly for me because I had never seen any of them (yeah, I was living under a rock!). This summer, we have been walking to a nearby dock and eating a sweet treat to watch the sun set. If your schedule doesn’t allow for a lot of additional time, there are many simple ways to make summertime memories, such as eating popsicles on the porch or adding an extra story at bedtime. Whatever your family chooses, it is a nice change of pace from the nightly homework crunch.  
  • Family and friends will visit: enjoy their company! Summertime in the Lowcountry means we have company. All summer. We do the touristy things that we normally try to avoid. When family and friends come to visit, they always say, “Where’s your tan?! You live at the beach!” And, it is true: we usually only go to the beach to walk and sea-comb at night. Even though we may have to spend a little more time in traffic to navigate the tourist hot spots, or literally just be hot at the beach, it is good to take time to explore and enjoy the things that draw thousands of visitors to the island every year. After all, it’s not so bad being a tourist for the day, and I can finally get a little tan!
  • Make and eat healthy meals together! Normally, going to the grocery store alone is a haven for parents (no little hands going after toys and candy, and no tantrums).  It’s true that I can drop Henry off at practice, run to the store, and be back to get him before practice ends—and, usually, that is what happens during the school year. But summertime can be a time when we spend a few extra minutes with our kids to help them understand the importance of meal planning, budgeting, and preparing. Henry and I look for new recipes to make together, and this leads to more meals together at the dinner table, which is one activity I plan to incorporate throughout the year.

We may never have the truly “lazy” days that Cole sings of. We may want—or need—to fill our summer days with as much as we can. Yet, taking advantage of a less-structured schedule can help us to enjoy a slower pace, which is just the right refresher as we prepare to get back into the busy season. School will resume before we know it, and we will all adjust when we return. What will we wish we had taken the time to do? 

Deirdre Johns is Mom to Henry, an eight and a half-year-old lover of animals and nature. She has been teaching English for thirteen years and has lived in the Lowcountry with her family since 2012.