5 Tools to Help The Summer Curse of Unstructured Time

May 30, 2014 | Parenting

Every summer parents have mixed emotions about school ending. You’re excited to have the busyness of school over, but there’s angst in having unstructured time with kids at home. Routine is nice.

Several summers I’ve planned routines with activities and chores for quality family time and my sanity.  How else do you keep kids occupied and distracted from fighting?  How else do you remain sane with all of them home?

One summer, I revealed “The Schedule” to my kids at a local hang out. The tween complained, the eight year old picked on the kindergartner and the preschooler knocked over a glass of soda.

Welcome to summer.

What I imagined as an idyllic lunch with great ideas for a summer routine turned into the “normal” routine of life….messiness, complaining, fighting, and a frustrated mom. It’s no different now that my kids are older.

Over the years I’ve learned kids need unstructured time just to be kids. Summer schedules may or may not be ideal. I reassessed my plans that summer, looking for the best way to reach the goals. 

Goals for a summer schedule included:

  • developing responsibility for the kids
  • having quality time together
  • giving me a sense of routine.

How have we accomplished these goals each summer?

    1. By setting goals with flexible time-frames.  During past summers, I’ve made a commitment to do something fun with the kids. Once you pick an activity, make it happen before the week ends. This allows for flexibility around weather, children’s moods, and essential chores needing to be done.  Nothing upsets kids more than when you promise to do something “scheduled” and you have to change plans. Some kids at developmental stages can’t understand this, causing more frustration.
    2. By setting a time-frame for chores and letting kids be responsible to accomplish them. I’d love to have all my kids doing chores from 9-10 every morning. It just doesn’t happen. It’s been helpful for our kids to have assigned chores at different ages with the expectation that, “By 4:00, this needs to be done” or “Before you play the video game, this needs to be done.” It gives a child the sense of freedom and independence they crave while still teaching them responsibility.
    3. By choosing appropriate expectations for each child. With four kids nine years apart, mine are never at the same stage. Each summer, think about what your kids need from summer vacation.  For one child, it might be learning the art of unstructured time and flexibility. For another, it might be learning responsibility. For a teen whose summer is dictated by activities, sports and busyness, they may need to relax between events.  For preschoolers needing naps, a scheduled naptime is important.  Determining summer schedules for kids should be based on the needs and stages of your family.
    4. By finding balance. Like most things in life, balance is important.  All of these factors need to be held in balance for setting schedules with kids (I’ll follow up on this in another post).
    5. By giving kids time to play, turning electronics off and letting them be kids.  As an educator and school counselor, my colleagues and I see more kids growing up too fast.  In today’s fast-paced world, kids have a lot of fear-based expectations put on them.

If my child isn’t involved in this, then…..”

”If they don’t score well on this test, then….”

“If they don’t keep up with other kids, then….

Kids and teens have a lifetime for schedules to dictate their lives. Childhood – including adolescence – is designed for exploration and physical play but fewer children are engaging in it. Today’s kids generally lack the skills of:

How to be productive with unstructured time

How to be creative

How to problem solve.

Kids and teens need time to develop these skills.

As we’ve practiced these principles, our family’s survived and thrived. The oldest two recently graduated high school and college with academic honors. While in high school, they participated in sports, music and drama while maintaining part-time jobs. Kids can engage in unstructured activities at various developmental stages and still succeed in school and life. The same is true for your family.

Find what routines work for your kids, using them to enrich your family and as a resource so you don’t lose your mind. Just as summer goes fast, so does time with your kids. What are things you’ve found helpful in balancing summer time at home? What are your struggles?













The Value O


Simple Secrets For A Compelling Life

Do you feel trapped in a chaotic, relentless, demanding lifestyle? No matter where you live or what season of life you’re in, you can find inspiration from the simpler life. 


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