Summertime...and the Liv'in is Easy

by carole dean

SUMMERTIME and the livin’ is easy” ~or so says Ella Fitzgerald in the lyrics to this popular spiritual. With the kids out of school the only way livin’ in your home will be easy is for mom and dad to have a game plan in hand! Here’s tested and tried ideas for a fun, productive and relaxing summer for your family. By Labor Day, you’ll be able to look back on this summer as the best one ever!

Routine. One of the best solutions for easy living is to put the family on a livable routine. Without planning, too many days are wasted and kids will be unnecessarily whining about being bored. Without a plan in hand it’s too easy to make snap decisions that you wouldn’t ordinarily make just because of the pressures you’re feeling. Like letting them spend the whole day in front of the TV or computer. Or sending them off on an activity or with someone that you really aren’t comfortable with but you let them go, just because you’re frazzled.

For our family unless there was something out of the ordinary taking place we were up to eat breakfast together at 9 am. I know what you’re thinking … you want them to sleep as long as possible to give you more quiet time, right? But it’s an established fact that too much sleep makes for cranky kids. It’s better to have them up after a good 10 hours of sleep. We set the bed time an hour later than during the school year. It’ll probably still be daylight outside but don’t let that hinder you from heading them toward bed at a very reasonable hour. Since its summer, reward the kids with something special like bedtime stories in the backyard (after the snack and all going-to-bed preparations are completed). Cuddle up on a big blanket, jammies on and teddy bears in arms, to enjoy a family bedtime event. Establishing a bedtime routine relaxes everyone and helps jumpstart a good nights rest. Just don’t let routines get too complicated!

Simplicity. I’ve found it better to have a variety of simple activities to keep my kids happy than to have a major event planned. Try to divide your day into sections that offer a variety of activities and energy levels. Remember “variety is the spice of life”. When we keep things simple we can avoid the dynamics of problems that often accompany complicated plans with too many choices.

Meals. Involve your kids in meal preparation and clean up. Rather than spending time alone in the kitchen making lunch, bring the whole family in and enjoy a great opportunity for togetherness. So often the kids are scattered each doing their own thing which makes eating together a big challenge. So don’t wait until the meal is ready--start by getting them together in the kitchen and letting them take an active part in the work. (Just don’t call it “work”!) Make this a habit for every meal, every day. This “togetherness” will create future chefs who love to cook for one reason … they grew up helping and are comfortable in the kitchen.

Outings. Most kids really enjoy the outdoors. Something as simple as a walk around the neighborhood after dinner can be a great time for the family to come together. It could be as simple as walking to theneighborhood Dairy Queen for dessert. If your plan is to take the kids on a few errands after breakfast, then give them an outing as a reward for good behavior. An outing to a natural area is fun for any age, and being outdoors with nature is a wonderful way to wile away a summer morning.

Rest. This is an absolute necessity everyday. I like to think of it as a mini-retreat. It’s unreasonable to let our kids be active all summer long and expect them to suddenly be able to sit still for hours once school starts in the fall. Help keep the pattern of being quiet and still as part of your easy summer routine. Whether it’s settling down with a book, a doll, board games or naps, being still for at least an hour every afternoon is healthy living at its best! It might be nice if this time involved no electronics--consider turning off Ipods, cell phones, laptops and so forth that they don’t have access to in the classroom. Relaxing is the goal. This is a refreshing time that makes for happier kids—and parents—to get through the activities of the late afternoon and evening time. Of course adding some healthy fruit to nibble on and cold water to drink adds to the retreat feel. Zen moments are priceless!

Fun In our family we have this rule—laugh a lot but never in disrespect for someone else. Laughing is so fun isn’t it? But we all know that laughter doesn’t come naturally if it’s a hot day. So, no matter what the outdoor temps, make sure that fun and laughing is a part of your everyday life! Most kids are left to develop their sense of humor by watching the sit coms and cartoons on TV—but is this really the influence you want for your kids? Cultivate humor through your example. There are plenty of family oriented joke books on the market. Your kids need to learn how to tell a good joke! Kids love to sing silly songs and do silly dances together. Draw cartoons together making up a funny story to go along. The options are endless – just make sure that you make fun a part of your easy livin’ routine.

Playdates. No, not only for your kids but for you as well! What a wonderful time for you and your mate to spend some great time together (without the kids) on a warm summer night in easy conversation sitting on the outdoor patio of your favorite restaurant! Or by enjoying a leisurely walk on the rims overlooking the city as it quiets down and falls asleep. Cultivating the friendship of our spouses and adult friends is a perfect summer activity that really makes living easier. Happy and peaceful parents make for happy and peaceful kids. However, this doesn’t happen automatically. Try to spend at least one day or evening with adults every week—its important especially for the one that stays home with the kids day after day to have this break and enjoy some exclusive adult fun!

Traditions. These will commonly include holidays, however traditions are equally important to mark times in our lives. For example, when school ended every summer, we would take long walks in the woods looking for ‘signs of summer’. This was rather like a scavenger hunt and it remains one of the coolest memories that my kids have! Another treasured memory of a family tradition was spending every 3rd week of July with our close friends. This annual time didn’t always mean going out of town but we planned some fun-fill, adventurous days for our families. Like going crystal hunting near Butte--taking in the Lewis and Clark Caverns along the way. Another treasured tradition was camping with Grandma and Grandpa. Sure they had their motor home and we just had our tent but the quality time together around the campfire at night, the stories and the sharing times are priceless. Maybe it will be the tradition that the first Saturday night of every month, you’ll invite all the neighborhood kids over for smores around the patio grill … or to crank out a gallon of homemade ice cream with special neighbors to celebrate the last month of summer together. The possibilities are endless and the memories are worth every bit of the planning!

Work. Wait a minute! (I can hear your thoughts!) This is supposed to be about easy living not work! Yes, but unless you have a full-time staff to serve your families needs, work is just a natural part of living and it doesn’t need to be miserable. I like Mary Englebreits philosophy “do what you enjoy and enjoy what you do.” Don’t let your family have bad attitudes about helping out around the house! Everyone contributes to the mess and everyone helps clean it up! There are so many good examples for family unity that can be built around chore time. And it’s never too early to start the kids on being good helpers to the whole family. (Doing simple things like throwing away the used paper napkins after every meal helps develop the pride of unity even in a toddler) Serving the family is a good foundation for charity work outside the home. It helps tremendously to take the focus off of “me, myself and I” that has challenged so many of our youth. Establishing good habits of helping others during these summer months is the perfect time. Working together gets the job of housework done in short order—leaving more time for fun. And make sure everyone gets a pat on the back for doing a good job.

Education. Our family motto is “a lifestyle of learning” so I can’t finish this article without including this vital part of our summer easy livin’ routine. No matter what the ages of your kids, look for opportunities to be teaching them. Whether it is counting stairs as they go up and down or reading billboards while stopped at traffic lights, our world is filled with many wonderful learning opportunities. They surround us no matter where we are or what we are doing. My son learned to print before he was in pre-school … not by me sitting him down and forcing him to go through some tedious exercise … but by offering him a tablet and pencil during our worship service at church. With the words to the songs on the overhead screen it was fun for him to write the letters and words. And because most song services are repetitive, it was easy for him to learn the words that he was writing. This is just one successful learning opportunity that worked well in our family. My youngest learned to write during her older sisters baseball practices. Words on the advertisements around the field were copied into her little notebook. Not only did it keep her occupied while she had to sit and wait, but it gave her an advanced edge when she started in the classroom. All of our kids learned to read, write and count without any of the traditional methods of a classroom and long before most kids of their age. The world became our classroom and with no one to tell them it wasn’t fun, they grew in intelligence through the everyday experiences of reading, writing and math that we set before them as interesting games.

As the countdown begins to the end of the school year, plan ahead to make this summer one of the best you’ve ever lived! Humming “Summertime” all the days~

Carole Dean a freelance writer and Montana native is a mother of three.