The last day of school marks one of our family’s favorite evenings of the year, but probably not for the reasons you’d think. For months ahead of time we begin planning what we’ll eat, where we’ll be and what we’ll talk about. Everyone comes with his or her own ideas of what will make the night a success.
The last day of school in our house is more than the end of books and studying. It is also the night in which we hold our Annual Family Meeting.
Dinner starts with a fun meal that the kids have looked forward to for days. I might surprise them with a full, homemade Mexican feast or platters full of BBQ chicken legs with Purple Burping Cows to drink. A particularly crazy year might mean really fun and unusual take out. We chat and watch the gradual relaxation and relief that comes over the kids after realizing the stress of the final days of school is over. There’s always a fun and unusual dessert to follow. Then the meeting begins!
The Annual Family Meeting is the time we talk about the summer ahead. We ask the kids what they have planned in their minds for the next three months. Is it a trip to the local amusement park? A canoeing trip in northern Minnesota or a day at the beach? Nothing is rejected as we generate our long list of ideas for summer entertainment.
Where do we want to travel on the weekends with our travel trailer? Is there a favorite spot to revisit or do we want to try something new? Remember that bike trail we drove by last year; can we fit in a trip in to that town? The list is always longer than the available time, but it gives the kids a chance to voice their opinions and to prioritize which activities make the list. We discuss vacations we have planned, days we volunteer at church and available weekends for planning sleepovers or camping trips. Doing this:
- allows the kids to plan how they will spend their money for the summer and decide if they’re going to need to earn extra income to cover their activities
- makes sure we get things on the calendar so we don’t over schedule
- ensures that we don’t head back to our regular schedule in September with a lot of regrets over things we intended to do but never did
- gives Bret and I a chance to plan time off to make sure we spend time with the kids
The next thing we do is talk about our summer schedule at home. Since I have always worked at home, it has always been important the kids have a way to keep busy, yet have access to me during certain times. Our solution was to come up with a daily schedule that occupies them in the morning, and allows them to play in the afternoons and evenings. When they were younger, lunchtime was spent together and they’d run their afternoon plans by me. Sometimes those plans were to ride their bike to the park, other times they’d get permission to watch a movie.
The morning schedule usually looks something like this:
8-9am Breakfast – I found that if I didn’t set a time for meals kids would eat at all times of day and were never hungry for dinner. So, the kitchen is cleaned up at 9 and is closed until lunchtime.
9-10am Work Block A
10-11am Work Block B
11-12pm Work Block C
1-5:30pm Free time
One work block is for reading, one is for chores and one is for other summer school work (penmanship, math games on the computer, etc.) The older kids find summer learning opportunities like computer programming, video editing or extra math. I have three kids so each kid works on something different during their work blocks and they rotate. This means there is no fighting over the computer, the comfy reading spot or the vacuum. (That last one is a joke, no one ever fights over the vacuum).
Chores are also divvied up during the annual meeting. First we brainstorm all of the things that need to be done during the summer, including the things my husband and I handle, like earning money to pay the bills, planning meals, running kids around and going to the grocery store. There are the regular chores, like garbage, dishes, laundry and bedroom cleaning and then there are the summer chores like weeding, mowing and trimming bushes. After we’ve brainstormed the chores, the kids play a game to earn their chance to choose a job. We play until the jobs have been divided equally. We’ve found that when the kids see the huge list of jobs broken down into smaller lists that each family member is responsible for, there is far less arguing than if they are just presented with a list of things they need to do.
When it comes to yard work, we’ve tried a variety of methods of maintaining our yard. The one that has proven to be the most effective is to break the yard up into zones. Each kid is responsible for their own zone: weeding, edging, trimming bushes and picking up garden discards. One kid is assigned mowing for the entire yard. We’ve found this method makes it really easy to tell who has done their work and who hasn’t and an hour a day is more than enough time to make the yard look neat and tidy. We rarely have to do any yard maintenance on the weekends during the summer.
Now that the kids are older, each one will also take a turn a making dinner one night a week. They all are experienced cooks and it should be fun to see the variety of meals they plan. Early conversations regarding this has already made it necessary for me to set up some parameters: of their four meals a month, each kid can only cook pasta once, and we cannot have more than two tomato sauce based meals each week. When they were younger, they took turns making a dessert.
A few tips we’ve come up with over the years:
- Kids love large pads of paper for brainstorming. We use the ones that have sticky note glue on the top so we can hang them up around the room. Fat permanent markers are also a hit.
- The more fun you can make it the more the kids will agree to the chores. A chocolate malt will do for a child what a glass of wine does for an adult.
- If the list of activities gets too long or too silly, let it. When you start plugging everything into a calendar you’ve drawn out, the kids will start realizing that some things just aren’t possible.
- When adding activities to the calendar, we’ve found it works best to let the kids take turns. We usually start with the kid who was last when it came to choosing chores and let him be the first one to choose an activity he wants to do. Make sure that the kids realize that there won’t be enough time to do everything, so they should choose wisely.
If you work during the day, don’t get discouraged. Kids who are old enough to stay home should be able to follow a simple schedule. If your kids are young and gone during the day, maybe you want to simplified summer activity planning meeting with modified chores. Oh, and if you disagree with the idea of a daily schedule, just remember last summer when the kids were “bored” each day by lunchtime. Having a schedule helps kids to have a framework for their day rather than a huge expanse of time they need to fill.
The main idea is this: summer time can be a fun, productive season. Give the kids a chance to own some of the planning, and own some of the responsibility, and you all might find yourselves surprised at the memories you’ll create and the things you’ll learn, right there at home.