How are your summer days looking so far? Are they relaxing and recharging? Are they grounding for the whole family? Have you been able to set up a routine that works for everyone in the family, yourself included?
Think back to when your child was a toddler. Structure and schedules were important. A missed naptime could spell disaster, and a ten-minute snooze in the car was often enough to derail the whole afternoon. I remember singing goofy songs in the rear view mirror trying to keep my oldest awake as we turned the corner into the neighborhood. For these little munchkins, knowing what was coming next helped ease transitions. Giving warning for an upcoming transition helped ward off a meltdown, and a special stuffed animal or “lovey” could bridge the walk from the playground to the car.
Our children continue to need routines as they grow. The stability of knowing what comes next in their lives helps ease anxiety and unpredictability that can occur as they develop a sense a self, separate from caregivers, and realize they are their own entity. Kindergarten teachers use picture schedules for a reason – their students are experiencing a large leap developmentally as they start testing out their personality and independence on the world - and the teachers spend time each morning going over the schedule for the day. Whether public school, private schooling methods, or homeschooling practices, each educational setting starts with a grounding of the day. Even an older student can benefit from a structured schedule.
Along with this sense of structure and routine, our children are developing their executive function skills. This means they do not yet have the skill at predicting what is going to happen next, understanding the passage of time, or the skill to regulate how much time they are spending on any given activity. In the absence of an outside reinforcer (parents, a visual schedule, a timer), they are often unmoored by irregularities in the routine, tiredness, excessive emotion of any given day, or influence from siblings. We use routines and structure to help them feel calm and secure in their day.
- Provide security
- Teach your child how to prioritize
- Allow for enough sleep
- Allow for some flexibility (sick days, "extra fun" days) when most days are steady
- Relieve stress
- Relieve anxiety
- Eliminate the need to scramble to put out fires
- Allow for deeper learning to occur
- Teach your child accountability – if they know what’s expected of them, they know how to achieve
A morning routine gets the whole family regulated. If you’ve gotten off track during the summer, think of setting a loose routine and posting it for everyone to see. Our morning routine looks something like this:
- 6:30-7:00 Wake Up and Coffee
- 7:00-8:00 Breakfast, Get Dressed, Brush Teeth
- 8:00-9:00 Do Morning Chores (Feed Dog, Sort Laundry, Clean rooms, Water Vegetables)
- 9:00-11:30 Morning Activity (We usually head out for the day to the museum, splash pad, or library)
Once we’ve returned from our activity, assuming we haven’t packed lunch to eat on the go, our afternoons start with lunch and quiet time, followed by a possible afternoon activity.
- 12:00-1:00 Lunch
- 1:00-3:00 Quiet Time (Nap for Toddler, Books and Quiet Play for Older Kids)
- 3:00-5:00 Afternoon Activity
Quiet time is a habit that can sustain the whole family, and allows me time to catch up on work, let my introverted side rest, and gives us each space to pursue our individual interests. My older two children know how to read, so this is their chance to deep dive into topics of personal interest. We pick up books from the library weekly to support these areas. (Recent favorites have included nonfiction books on the children of Alcatraz, the Wings of Fire series, the Little House series for my 6-year-old, and the Story of the World.)
Many of our days follow a similar rhythm. They can be loose to allow for summertime fun, but provide predictability, which children need. We even kept a similar rhythm for our recent vacation on the days we didn’t have a big family event scheduled. Children have not yet fully developed their executive function skills of prediction, reflection, and monitoring the unknown, so we have to provide them some sort of framework to fit their experiences into. Having time each day to think, journal, or draw about their adventures makes those summer memories all the more rich for your child.