From Ready Nutrition:

It’s that time of year that kids love and parents fear: summer vacation! Study after study has shown that kids need unstructured playtime (be that outside exploring or playing with imaginative toys like these). In my household we take a break from extracurricular classes and sports during the summer months and we find ways to make our own fun (for as little money as possible).

Self-guided play guarantees that kids are resilient, resourceful, and never, ever bored, but how can you let your kids play freely without finding them still in PJs, eating cereal and watching TV at 5pm? A little planning on the parent-side of things will keep your days running smooth all summer long.

Full disclosure: Much of this article is inspired by the book and concept of TinkerLab—I highly recommend this resource for parents/caregivers.**

Make a Schedule

Budgeting time is like budgeting money—if you don’t do it, you’ll wind up feeling like you’ve wasted the day without anything to show for it. Creating a schedule you can post somewhere in your home (we have a “base station” where we keep our calendar and other important information) sets the tone for the day. This isn’t meant to be strictly adhered to; instead, this schedule sets intentions for the day. We try to keep our bigger activities to two per day—one in the morning and in the afternoon.

A sample schedule might look something like this:

Start of day-10am Wake up, breakfast, get dressed

Hint: Getting dressed soon after wake up is super important for setting the tone to a fun, productive day.

10-11 Outdoor activity (free play, Summer Mural, etc.)

In the case of the Summer Mural Activity, kids gather outdoor materials (shells, sand, leaves, feathers, etc.) from the backyard to add to a seasonal mural that they work on slowly over many days, but you can plan any type of outdoor activity. The point is to get them in the fresh air and guide them into their own play.

Hint: having kids collect particular things gives them a goal and will keep them busy and outside longer. They might also be given a directive to look for a specific plant or animal/insect to observe.

11-12 Self-guided Crafting Time

In this example the main activity would be to add collected materials to the summer mural with glue, but I also make sure to have lots of paper/crayons/paints set up to entice a variety of independent crafts.

Hint: We buy butcher paper and spread it over our dining table every morning to keep cleanup easier. I make sure to provide crafts that avoid glitter, beads or other tiny, messy items that require a ton of clean up.

12-1 Lunch followed by quiet time (reading or resting)

Hint: I continue to pack/plan lunches for my kids the night before, even when they’re out of school. It’s so much easier to just hand them their lunch bags instead of planning/preparing in the moment and we can always bring our lunches with…

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