Remember when summer was relaxing?

It’s clearly a new day when it comes to planning out our kids’ summer. My memory may fail me, but I can’t remember one time when I overheard my parents discussing which camps their three kids were going to attend, coordinating dates to ensure we had friends with us, and trying to decide what educational materials we should work through to be sure we didn’t lag behind next year. God forbid our tournament team calendars conflict with our family vacation(s).

Here’s how it went in my house as a kid, and probably yours: Vacation Bible School in June. That was the plan.

Somehow in spite of my parents’ failure to orchestrate each and every second of our summer, we had a great time in just keeping it simple. Albeit, the bar was lower “back in the day.” (31 Flavors to cool off, Sun-In for that not so natural highlighting, a slather of Coppertone all topped off with a heavy dose of gluten ridden cuisine) In the words of an esteemed ‘80s icon – “those were the best days of my life.” Okay, maybe not the best, but darn good.

A few summers ago I implemented a “no camp summer” for my kids. We had just moved into a new house and were tired of the constant outflow of money. We told the kids we had a new swimming pool and that was our summer “plan.” Yes, if you must know, I lost my will to live around June 8th and cursed this “no camp” nonsense. However, we still remember that being one of one of our favorite summers. The reason our family loved it was simple: we all needed time to do nothing.

It seems logical, yet every year we fight that notion and fill up our kids’ summers with lots of activities and set their calendars like they are CEOs of a fortune 500. Yes, our kids love the camps and all the activities, no doubt. But they also love down time, and there are a limited number of summers you get to just be a kid.

I know, this is all great in theory. But the problem with giving kids too much downtime in the summer (not that I know from experience), is that every single ugly attribute and annoying quirk shows up almost immediately, leaving us to wonder how our husbands have so miserably failed in parenting. Just kidding. Limiting activities and allowing kids to “refresh” sounds terrific in practice, yet it’s a recipe for disaster if we aren’t careful and thoughtful. Nothing brings out my bad parenting like arguing kids, Texas heat, and ungrateful attitudes repeatedly sounding the “I’m bored” mantra.

So I talked with a few great moms and tried to gather some thoughts on how to make our summers more purposeful. Yes, my kids will still be attending camps and probably do a little bit of “supplemental education” (that’s code for math tutoring). But here are a few ideas if you are looking down the barrel at June and feeling a bit intimidated.

Serve Others

For the last six years, our family has had the privilege of partnering with a local ministry to make sack lunches every week for kids who do not receive their regular free lunch provided during the school year. Keeping it simple, we just invite friends to come over every Tuesday afternoon and bring something to contribute to the lunches. We make 300 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches (yes, the smell mars my house for months), add chips, fruit, and a drink. Thanks to the help of my trusty neighbors, we have an amazing assembly line for the kids and they knock it out in forty-five minutes. This single-handedly is the favorite thing my kids will tell you they enjoy doing each summer.

I love that they are serving the Lord and associating it with great fun. I was talking to a friend about what we thought Jesus would do with his summers: we concluded that he served others everywhere, all the time, wherever he went. Summer provides the time and opportunity for us to model this with our kids. It doesn’t have to be complicated: take snacks to firemen, do random acts of kindness around town, make blessing bags for the homeless. One friend said she finds a way for her daughter to share her gift for music by coordinating with nursing homes to have her play the piano for the residents. Where can your child use their gifts and talents to serve others? A little creativity and intentionality goes a long way when it comes to serving and getting your kids involved.

Biblically Parent the Gaps

Another great suggestion was to find a topic to focus on and study biblically with the kids each summer. Summer often seems to reveal some heart issues with my kids that need nurturing and correction (that’s putting it gently). Often times it relates to how they treat each other and their attitudes. Summer is a great time to find a topical Bible study (age appropriate, of course), and work through it with your kids. A few deas: entitlement, selfishness, salvation, self-esteem, self-control in thoughts and words . . . the ideas are endless. Memorizing scripture on fear, self-control or other struggles they may be facing is another great way to make a lasting impact. Summer gives us time to breathe and is a perfect time to find a fitting character attribute to focus on and give some guidance and redirection using God’s word.

cynthia chalkboard
Exhibit A: Look at all we did this summer

Maximize Family Time

Finally, summer allows us the time to prioritize our families and get some old fashion bonding in. At my house, we like to make a bucket list of things to do in the summer and write them out on our chalkboard in the kitchen. My kids love having input into our summer and can’t wait to check off the items we do as a family. A helpful by-product of this is having a list to use as Exhibit A on the night before school when the kids inevitably complain that we didn’t do anything and summer was too short.

One of my friends said they make a point to stay up late, ignore set bedtimes, swim after dark, catch fireflies, eat dinner outside, and disregard any set schedule. That’s their way of having extra time together and truly enjoying each other’s company. Another friend said they pick themes for each week such as Nature Week, Texas Week, or Splash week. They all come up with what each child wants to do that week and plan a fun craft, activity, or field trip based on the week’s theme. Whether your family likes to camp, read, travel, or simply just do nothing together, summer is the time to regroup and get back to the basics of family bonding that are often railroaded by the demands of the school year.

In the event you now feel overwhelmed by these ideas and wish to go back to the days of our youth and summers of simplicity, after VBS is over consider another 1980s summer favorite of mine which involved baby oil, scorching sun, foil and some Def Leppard in the background. Okay, maybe not . . . . But let’s say no to overscheduling and the need to be “busy,” and yes to letting kids be kids and ending our summers rested and ready to tackle another school year (both physically and spiritually).

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