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How to Structure a Simple Summer Schedule (For You and Your Kids)

Sing it with me. Go ahead. “School’s out for summer!” 

Children across the U.S. (and let’s be honest, the school staff, too) are belting it out, but parents and caregivers may be filled with unease. How will I keep my kids entertained? Better yet, how can I structure the day so they entertain themselves? What are ways to prevent summer learning loss after an already challenging school year? What type of boundaries or structure should exist in their day? Chores? Screentime? Exercise? The list goes on. 

Whether your kids are home with you, a relative, a babysitter, daycare, or camp, there are many ways you can help ensure reading and other important activities are a part of everyday life by having some structure. 

At our house, we’ll have a quick family meeting each night to discuss our plans for the following day. Having experienced at-home learning during the pandemic, I learned my family feels more comfortable when they know what the schedule is for the next day and expectations are clearly defined. 

Using a small dry erase board, we fill in a chart that lists activities we “must do” and “could do” (see example below). We work together to generate the list of must do tasks, giving the kids part ownership over the expectations. Having a back-up idea in the “could do” column comes in very handy when the dreaded “I’m bored” phrase shows up. And we categorize all the ideas into values that are important to our family (helping, moving, creating, and learning), but this will be unique to each family.

Here’s an example of what a typical day might look like for my kids, ages 11 and 13.  

HELPstrip sheets off the bed, then remake bed when sheets are dryweeding ($1 for every 5-gallon bucket)
MOVEswim practice, 7:00-8:30go on a walk/scooter ride
CREATEcontinue to create Lego stop motion video/make card for upcoming weddingstart new puzzle or make cookies
READ/WRITE/LEARNcontinue reading Blood for Blood/start Wolf Hollow help Mom with Raising Real Readers book review

Completion of MUST DOs = 1.5 hours of screen time the next day. 

Other ideas: 

  • Since I’m home with the kids, I will include my own must do and could do activities. Modeling goes a long way in influencing children and helps them to buy into the system.
  • If your child won’t be home most of the day, be realistic about what can actually be accomplished during limited evening hours. Or discuss with them ways they could read, exercise, or be creative while away at whatever childcare arrangements your family is using this summer. 
  • Do you have a fun summertime activity in mind, like a day at the pool or trip to the zoo? Use this to your advantage. If your kids successfully complete a certain number of must do tasks in a row, allow them to earn the activity! This demonstrates that hard work and consistency pays off. 
  • The power of surprise is real. Perhaps you’ve seen your child display a selfless act or go the extra mile on a task. Allow them to choose one must do to cross off their list for the day! 
  • Follow through. Consistency is key.

By working together to create some loose structure to the day, you’re helping to ensure that your family’s values get attention, but with a collaborative feel. You’re also helping to nurture your child’s executive functioning, the ability to complete tasks from start to finish. 

Do you have a summer schedule? How do you ensure your kids stay active? Share with our readers on social media in order to help us all learn from each other! 

Rhododendron Readers

According to my fancy schmancy plant identifier app, a rhododendron is hard to care for. It needs the perfect combination of essential nutrients, soil, sunlight, and water. It actually says, “is more suitable for gardening experience who are ready to take on the challenge.” Hence my surprise when this beauty blossomed in my woods. 

The app gives specific instructions regarding soil conditions and ideal water conditions. It’s susceptible to “sooty mold” and “powdery mildew.” 

So how do you explain the beautiful, vibrant blooms on this plant in the middle of the woods? I mean, I am not a master gardener, but I know that leaves are a good thing and this rhododendron has none. 

The point is that sometimes conditions don’t have to be perfect to still cultivate growth. 

As it is with raising real readers. 

I have worked with students that have shelves full of books, score well on tests, and educated two-parent households who do not like to read or choose to read. 

I have worked with students who beg their parents to take them to the library, work hard to only score poorly, and who L-O-V-E to read. 

While studies consistently show us that kids with access to books, especially ones they choose, significantly increase their chances at becoming proficient readers, there are those situations, much like my rhododendron, where the conditions are less than ideal, but readers bloom regardless. 

Forget to read to your child during some critical years? 

Worried that the inconsistent schooling environment over the last few years has stunted your child’s reading progress?

Feel like a reading disability means your child won’t want read as an adult? 

Readers, like this rhododendron, are resilient. Sometimes unpredictable. But should never be discounted. It’s never too late to bloom and defy the odds. 

A Reading Field of Dreams

I’m not a baseball fan. But there’s something about a good baseball movie that gets me every time. Like, in Field of Dreams when the whisper comes from the cornfield, “If you build it, they will come.” 

Readers, I had a Field of Dreams moment.

Let me back up. 

My 11- and 13-year old read most days. Sometimes it’s for two minutes, sometimes it’s for an hour. Sometimes it’s independent. Sometimes it’s with me. My husband started reading nightly before bed a few years ago as a way to help shut down his overactive brain before attempting a good night’s rest. But…

They’ve never read independently all at the same time. 

Without a suggestion. Without being asked. Without so much of a hint. 

Until this past weekend. 

I snuck a picture from my corner to capture this moment. 

If you’ve never had a moment like this or want more moments like this, I’ll let you in on a secret. 

We built a field for it and trusted the team would eventually show up to play. 

Here are the blueprints for a field of your own: 

  1. Make time for nothing. On this particular rainy day, we had nothing planned from 1:00 on. 
  2. Set the stage. It was a really chilly day for May, so my husband lit a fire in the fireplace. Important: fires are not necessary. We have them like 4 times a year. But it was super cozy and probably helped draw everyone in.
  3. Cultivate calm. The dog was napping. The tv was off. Phones were silenced. And ¾ of us *might have already been in our pajamas. 
  4. Keep books handy.  I was already reading and my husband grabbed his book too. My son sauntered in and picked up his. Then my daughter joined in a few minutes later. Key: the books were already on the coffee table in the living room. 
  5. Relax. As much as my brain wanted to scream, “Oh my! This is REALLY happening! We’re all reading independently at the same time. In the same room” I refrained. I played it cool. So should you. Your goal is to keep the mojo going.  

We read like this for about 20 minutes. I’m not sure it will ever happen again. But one afternoon, we were all playing ball at the same time, on the same field. It might take awhile. You might feel failure. But keep building. They WILL come. And if they have a good time, they’ll come back for more. 

11 Stocking Stuffers to Encourage Reading and Writing

There are countless parenting pitfalls that we’ve fallen into. One is stuffing the stockings with plastic junk, courtesy of last-minute, panic-stricken trips to Target and the Dollar Store on December 23. As our children have gotten older, we’ve tried to teach them to place less value on stuff, and more value on new experiences, quality time together, and doing those things you most enjoy. It became very apparent that our stocking stuffers didn’t pass our own sniff test. 

Books make a great addition to any stocking, along with other creative items like new crayons, markers, little notebooks to keep by their beds or scattered around the house, and reading-related products. These items also work because they are small enough to fit in most stockings, and yet pack lots of punch in terms of quality, fun reads, and improved literacy skills. The point is, think small, but mighty! 

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Using Books to Teach Children About Microaggressions

Back in 1990, I was starting 7th grade in a new school in a new town after my family had relocated earlier that summer. I was an avid reader, but I never saw a book on the shelf that would help me understand this scenario: 

Boy: “Where’s your towel?” 

Me: “What?”

Boy: “Yeah, where’s your towel?” Cue lots of snickers.

Later, as I was getting off of the bus, another boy quietly said, “They think you’re Muslim.” 

I am white and was raised Catholic. I do have olive skin tones and tan very easily. The town I had moved to is home to a large mosque, which means a handful of students at my school were Muslim. Being new to town and admittedly unexposed to other faith traditions, I didn’t even know what being Muslim meant. My parents had to explain that asking about my towel was in reference to the hijab worn by some Muslim women. 

While I may have lacked the knowledge to understand the substance of this interaction (and that boy lacked the knowledge to realize skin tone is not an accurate way of determining someone’s religious faith), I knew without a doubt that this line of questioning was meant to cause pain. While I could shrug it off as a misunderstanding, you can imagine the pain comments like this cause Muslims; to have their faith traditions be likened to a bathroom accessory. This is a microaggression.

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Easy and Affordable Rewards that Encourage More Reading

For many parents now working from home, or struggling with safe childcare options, or just dealing with the aftermath of kids who have already been stuck at home for months before summer even started, this time period likely presents many new challenges that most of us have never faced. Encouraging your child to keep reading can feel like one more daunting task on the never-ending to do list. We get it. We feel that way, too, sometimes. Honestly.

Some libraries are stepping up to the plate with fantastic virtual or socially distant summer reading programs. If you haven’t yet checked that out, please do so. My library has done incredible work moving their program online, and it has actually made my work-parenting balance easier this summer. Uninterrupted time to respond to emails while they happily read or do simple activities? Yes, please.

But if your library has not, or it is structured in a way that doesn’t work for your family, there are still simple rewards you can offer your child to keep them reading this summer (and into the fall and winter!)

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Fact vs. Fiction: Learning What’s Real and What’s Not Through Reading

I was a journalism major, graduating in 2002. Thousands of miles away, at the exact moment I was practicing how to craft compelling, accurate newspaper headlines and write engaging magazine articles, Mark Zuckerberg was inventing Facebook in his dorm room at Harvard and changing how we get our news forever. I often wonder how drastically different my journalism education would be if I was a student now and not pre-social media.

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Tips for Making Spelling Practice Easier

It’s always around late April and May when our after school homework routine starts getting more than a little unruly. Motivation is lacking and warmer weather outside beckons. Practicing spelling week after week is high on the list of boring, routine tasks for my kids… dare I say most kids?

We can debate the merits of assigning weekly spelling lists, but the reality is it is still prevalent as a common assignment. (We don’t mean to be dismissive of spelling altogether; there are studies that suggest that as students’ spelling improves, so does their reading and writing skills.)

Keep these three words in mind as you help your child work through spelling: manageable, personal, and fun.

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