Making the Most of an Unstructured Summer

Making the Most of an Unstructured Summer

Smiling mom cuddles young daughter in hammockLet’s face it, summers aren’t what they used to be. Making the most of an unstructured summer can be difficult for many families today, especially working families. Summer presents unique scheduling challenges, after all – children have a lot of free time on their hands, and it can be overwhelming to figure out how to manage their open schedule in addition to your unchanged, busy one.

During the school year, your child’s entire day is structured. This can leave you feeling the need to schedule every minute of the summer as well … and quickly becoming overwhelmed by both the cost and logistics of trying to do so.

Encouraging your child to try new activities is important, but it is more important to have a consistent routine that’s realistic to maintain. Fitting unstructured downtime into each day is essential to both your and your child’s happiness and well-being, so resist the urge to over-schedule their summer.

More than anything, your child needs a loving connection with you. So, whether it’s running through the sprinkler together or making s’mores, do at least one thing each day to connect and have fun.

Simple tips for enjoying a carefree summer with kids

A family's bare feet lined up in a row as they lie in the grass togetherTry to say ‘yes’ more often than usual.

Relaxing the rules and routines just a bit during the summer months can help reduce stress for the entire family. So go ahead – say ‘yes’ to that second Popsicle every once in awhile; to staying up late AGAIN; to squirt gun and water balloon fights after work!

Start your own family book club!

Introduce your kids to some of the books you enjoyed when you were their age. Provide lots of unstructured free time dedicated to reading and find interesting places to read, too – in a backyard tent, during a “book picnic” at the park, or even at the beach. Give kids their own mini flashlight and permission stay up late reading in bed.

Ice cream for dinner, occasionally.

Enough said!

Let the pool or sprinkler substitute for a bath every now and then.

Children rejoice when given permission to skip their bath!

Get in the pool with your kids sometimes.

While it’s probably not your favorite thing to do, for a myriad of reasons, nothing makes kids happier than when Mom or Dad joins them in the pool!

Host impromptu driveway parties.

Drag out the lawn chairs and outdoor toys, fill a cooler with drinks and/or Popsicles and wave the neighbors on over. Bonus points for hot dogs or burgers for all and the ball game or some good tunes playing on the radio – just like the childhood summers you remember!

Building a schedule with unstructured time to connect will create a memorable and manageable summer for both you and your child.


Jean Holthaus, LISW is a Licensed Independent Social Worker and clinic manager at the Pine Rest Pella Clinic. She earned a BA in Elementary Education from the University of Northern Iowa and a Masters of Social Work from the University of Iowa in 1995.

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