Summer Holidays: To Structure or Not to Structure?
School is out.
Summer holidays have begun.
The regular routine of evening karate classes, ballet, and weekend soccer is finished. The pressure to finish and hand in homework or to study for exams has abated.
And … the children are bored. Or maybe not bored but restless. The older boys have more time on hand to bug their sisters, and the arguments over little things (like the flavour of a freezie) take on epic proportions.
I’ve always loved the romantic “idyllic summer” as portrayed in the stories of Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer. Summers where the children are fishing, exploring islands and caves, and having adventures.
But somehow this doesn’t seem to be happening in most homes. Perhaps it is because we can stream an endless amount of movies, or perhaps it is because of ‘stranger danger,’ or maybe because children have forgotten how to play and be creative and have adventures.
Some parents, in order to deal with the lack of structure previously provided by schooling, enroll their children in day camps, summer camps, summer school, and so forth. Their children stay busy, they don’t have time to get restless or bored, and are hence easier to parent. I admit that this approach, though tempting, isn’t for us.
So what is the solution for those of us living in urban centres where a Tom Sawyer summer just isn’t possible?
I suggest a hybrid summer experience.
While boredom is a good thing because it will eventually force our brains into a creative mode, I also don’t want to let my kids have total free reign over their summer schedule. After all, there are certain skills that can be learned best in the summertime.
Here’s what our family is doing this summer.
On weekday mornings we begin the day with exercise, alternating between running, biking, and swimming. The rest of the morning is spent on family prayer and outdoor chores, like gardening, animal care, or mowing the lawn.
In the afternoons the children have free time, but they have some skills they have to practice with their siblings. For example, on Mondays they need to spend 30 min skateboarding, then 30 min practicing throwing the football, and hitting the target 30x using their bow and arrows. Giving them these specific tasks accomplishes a couple things: first they are spending time with their siblings (vs. being on a device), and second, they are outdoors and are hopefully encouraged to engage in further outdoor activities and games.
For our evenings, we picked a different activity for each day of the week. For instance, Monday evenings we meet up with other families to have a competitive game of basketball. Other nights of the week have become designated for family beach picnics, board games, campfires, and movie nights.
Friday mornings are somewhat special in that they are spent fishing and hopefully catching our fish Friday meals!
Saturdays are reserved for explorations. We have a list of places to explore, beaches to visit, caves to find, ghost towns to sneak around, and so forth.
Sunday is a time of rest for daddy and mommy.
What we’re hoping will result from this schedule is a combination of freedom and creativity, family/friend time, and advancing of personal skills. It’s not exactly a Tom Sawyer summer, but it’s not a waste of time in front of a screen either. And what’s more, so far our children are not complaining about being bored!
Here’s to parenting!
Kenton E. Biffert
Kenton works at Our Lady Seat of Wisdom College as an adjunct professor and the Dean of Students. Together with his wife, they homeschool their 7 children (plus one on the way), explore the wilds of Ontario in the canoe, and read voraciously. To learn more about the art of fatherhood, visit Kenton's personal blog.