5 Fun activities to give your kids some structure over summer break

Jul 14, 2015 at 4:05 p.m. ET
Image: Kinzie Riehm/Getty Images

Now that summer is finally here, many parents are finding themselves overwhelmed by the amount of unstructured free time that lies ahead for their children. Parents often ask me questions like, “Should I let my children enjoy the open-ended fun of summer? Is too much free time a bad thing? Should I create some kind of schedule so that September isn’t a total shock?”

What I typically tell parents is that they should find a mix of freedom and scheduling that works for their family. Some families make weekdays a bit more planned (for example breakfast, morning activity, free time, lunch, afternoon activity, practice instruments, dinner, play, bedtime), while weekends allow for spontaneous, unplanned and creative opportunities for classic summer fun and memories. Other families find that they prefer each day to have some kind of schedule so that everyone remains organized.

If your child has summer camp, summer school or summer studying or reading to do, take that into account and make sure that the rest of her time isn’t too scheduled. Overscheduling could affect not only the quality of her summer, but also your relationship and her behavior. Let’s face it, when summer feels more like a chore than fun, nobody’s a happy camper.

Should you decide to insert some structure into your child’s day, make sure that more demanding activities are followed by ones that are more fun or rewarding. This creates balance and a way to maintain motivation through less appealing activities.

Parents often ask me what sort of activities they can do with their kids to help structure their days. Some of my favorite ideas include:

1. A lunch picnic in the park

2. A supermarket scavenger hunt

You get to complete your shopping list and keep your kiddos busy; that’s a win-win!

3. A favorite movie with popcorn and sleeping bags in the chilly air conditioning

4. A nature-trail walk with a sightseeing checklist

For example a stream, a bird, a squirrel. They can earn points for everything they check off the list.

5. Making fruit cutouts with cool cookie cutter shapes or making fruit ice pops

Bottom line: Think about what is right for your family. Some kids do better with more structure, but there’s no right answer. Brainstorm some fun ideas that are simple for you while still being exciting for your little ones and make this your best summer yet.

For more parenting advice please go to childmind.org.