When summer break isn’t a break

When summer break isn't a break
Written by Shawna Wingert of Not the Former Things

I remember summer vacations so well.

When I was a child, summer break meant eating way too many popsicles, not having to get up in the morning, swimming for as long as I wanted, impromptu trips to the lake, and absolutely no real plans.

The summer break of my youth was glorious.

The summer break of my children? Not so much.

When we first began homeschooling, I had big plans for the last day of school. We had a party. We took pictures. We discussed all that we had learned that year. It was a great day.

Then the next day came.

The first day of our summer break.

I was looking forward to doing nothing. I was looking forward to sleeping in. I was looking forward to less structure, less requirements, and less planning.

My children, however?

They were grumpy, out of sorts, and fighting constantly.

They were like different children, and not in a good way.

And then the next day came, and the next, and the next.

Our first summer break as a homeschooling family was our worst.

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As they got older, summer break (or any break really), became something I wanted to avoid. It was clear that they needed structure, so I decided we would just keep the existing routine and homeschool year round.

It worked, for my boys.

But it turned me into a jerk.

I needed a long respite from the day to day investment in their progress, their learning, and their needs.

Not getting a break meant that I was running on empty, all summer long. It meant that when we got to the fall, and all the other families were excitedly talking about their plans for the new school year, I was dreading it.

In short, summer break wasn’t a break at all.

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When we found out about my children’s unique needs, I better understood why the change in routine was so difficult for them.

Navigating autism and anxiety disorders is tough. Being able to depend on the schedule, to know what comes next, and to not have to worry about the day, made it just a little bit easier for them both.

After reading a few posts from other moms, I know now that my boys are not alone. This is true for many children, and not just those with special needs.

And I know now that I am not alone, either. Many of us feel like we need a break, like we are going crazy in a haze of dry ice experiments and math equations.

How do we make summer break something that works for everyone?

I wish I had an easy answer to that question. I don’t, but what I can share is what we have had some success with so far.

Planning for our break

As much as I desire a break that is spontaneous and requires very little of me (like the ones of my youth), I am learning that is just not our reality right now. For us, summer break requires planning in order to make it a true break.

The first thing I do is outline a rough routine for our days and weeks.

Our days look different than they do in the school year, but there is still a routine in place.

For example, every morning we play outside and water the plants. Every afternoon, we listen to an audio book. Once the boys get used to the new routine, they relax and begin to enjoy the slower pace of summer.

Our summer will include a few, you can count on them every week, expectations, too: one field trip, one hands-on science experiment, one history mystery, one activity from our global study, and one trip to the pet store (my boys’ favorite place) each week.

The boys know this, and look forward to these weekly activities, instead of incessantly asking me when we are going to go and see some snakes. (Yes, snakes. Pray for me.)

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Setting the expectation of rest

As my sons have matured, I have learned to set the expectation up front that summer is a time to relax and refresh. They may not necessarily agree, but making it very clear that mommy will be taking a nap in the afternoon from time to time, and that they can have more screen time in the morning if they’d like, are concrete ways they can expect rest, instead of dreading the lack of a plan.

We all still struggle with this one, but I am committed to finding a balance that teaches them to expect, and hopefully enjoy periods of rest.

Easing into the next school year

We take off the month of June. I use the month to set up and plan for summer. I communicate throughout the month that June is about playing, reading, seeing friends and, honestly, more screen time. We also plan a trip right in the middle of the month, just to break it up.

There is still unrest and always a few meltdowns, but it gives me a month to decompress.

Then in July, we start back to school part-time. We keep the summer routine as is, but I start to incorporate one or two subjects from the upcoming school year. For my youngest, July means we begin daily All About Reading lessons again. For my oldest, math will be a focus this July.

August transitions us back to our full-time schedule. I slowly but surely wind down the summer routine by adding a few more structured activities and subjects each week. By the time September rolls around, we are back to our usual homeschool schedule without anyone really being aware of it.

This approach has been so, so good for me. I get a much needed break, and then the chance to ease back into the daily requirements of homeschooling. My boys get to enjoy the summer, without causing too much anxiety and distress.

It is my sincere hope that this summer break will be a restful time for my family, and for yours. If it has been a source of stress in the past, I want to encourage you to find ways to approach the break that work for your children and for you.

And, if nothing else, stock up on popsicles. You can’t go wrong with popsicles in the summer!

Do you need structured summers in your family too? What do your days and weeks look like?

About Shawna Wingert

Shawna Wingert is wife to a fun loving, makes her laugh all the time, stole her heart away husband. She is also momma to two uniquely challenged, wildly joyful little boys. She writes candidly about motherhood, special needs, and the beauty of everyday messes at Not the Former Things.

Comments

  1. We live in Hawaii & homeschool so the whole uear feels like summer 🙂
    We school year round & take breaks as life demands them. I do better with structure, my daughter likes it either way.
    Sarah B R’s latest post: The story of how we met

  2. We have three kids still living at home including a disabled adult and a special needs teen. My kids rely very heavily on structure but, I need a break. When the kids were little, we did very much what you post was like. They are tweens and teens now and we send them to a day camp that is with their dance teachers who they have know for years. It allows me to have some decompress time. We also have a gentle routine that continues during the summer on days that they are home.
    Blessings, Dawn

  3. This is great advice–wish I’d read it a month ago. 🙂 And I’m glad to learn that I’m not alone in having kids that NEED routine even though Mom NEEDS a break. We’ve managed to find a workable compromise this summer, but I may copy your easing into the new school year gently.
    Anne’s latest post: Assessment 2016–Super Star

  4. Thank you for this! It resonates with me in so many ways. We have homeschooled year round for several summers now due to illness, and while I like the flexibility of having that option, it can wear on Mama (and sometimes my kids too, although they like the structure of a school routine.) I love your ideas for compromise and providing both a routine and some rest. So helpful!

    • Thanks Shannon. Year round homeschooling is such a great option for many of us. But just like you, figuring out how to get the rest I need that has been tricky! Good luck to both of us this summer. 🙂
      Shawna Wingert’s latest post: Parents Gone Wild

  5. This is so helpful. This was our first year homeschooling, and we have one son (possibly on the autism spectrum) who attends the local public school. So he is home, he is out of his routine of attending school every day, the other kids are finished homeschool and not sure what to do with themselves, and there’s a preschooler and a toddler in the mix, too. I. Am. Exhausted.
    I think creating some loose “routines” will help tremendously, and having a weekly excursion or two they can count on would be great for them, too. Thanks for sharing!

    • Oh Eileen, I understand the “I. Am. Exhausted.” Thank you so much for sharing your experience too. Loose routines and getting out of the house have made it feel much more doable for us. I am confident it will help you and yours as well. (And if not, there are always popsicles!)
      Shawna Wingert’s latest post: Parents Gone Wild

  6. I have many, many children, and we certainly do need structure. While I did originally plan to continue math throughout the summer, it hasn’t happened much. We start homeschool again next month, but for now, we have a routine that we try to stick to everyday- breakfast, outside play/screen time/crafting, straightening up, lunch, chores, outside play/screen time/crafting, dinner, chores, outside play/screen time/crafting, baths, bed. It may not sound like much, but it gets us through the day with a little more structure. 🙂
    Shelly’s latest post: Homeschooling Methods: An Overview of Unschooling

  7. Becky Barrett says:

    This is my first year homeschooling my younger guy, who attended public school for developmental preschool and kindergarten. It has been a struggle at times, especially juggling the extra time he needs in his studies, and not getting everything done for my older dude. We will also be homeschooling part-time through summer. Consistency and structure is so important to our household and his comfort and success. Yes, it takes a lot of time to plan and a break would be nice, but I don’t think it’s worth the melt-downs and discomfort to not continue his routine through summer.

  8. Tanya W says:

    Thanks so much for this post Shawna. This is exactly my experience over the past 10 years! My eldest (now 16) is an extremely extroverted Highly Sensitive Child. He also comes with a whole host of Executive Function issues. While I remember my carefree summer days fondly, trying that same routine with him 10 years ago was a disaster. I implemented more structure in his grade school years but it has been a struggle through the tween and early teen years.
    Thanks for the encouragement to continue to set up structure through the summer but also to make sure I take a break. Since beginning homeschooling 2 years ago, I am just SO tired by the time summer rolls around. Last summer, I was a mess and I know it was because I didn’t give myself a true break and spent the summer fighting with my teen who was out of his routine!
    Making a note right now to book a “Planning Saturday” for myself to plan summer! What a great idea that is and I know if I have a plan, things will flow more smoothly around here!

  9. Kimberly says:

    This is us to a T! And a great benefit for us is that when we roll back into school, we don’t have to “review” anything, because we keep a few “school” things in rotation every week during the summer. And each summer, I find one more way to give myself a break without interrupting the structure my kiddos need. I LOVED reading this! It made me feel like I’m not alone!

    • And your comment makes me feel like I’m not alone! It’s funny – every single time I write something that shares what I think is a unique part of my motherhood, I am always pleasantly to find I am in the company of so many other great moms. Thank you for sharing.
      Shawna Wingert’s latest post: To the Step Dad on Fathers Day

  10. Great post!! We don’t officially school year-round …because we all just need that summer break:) But I have definitely learned the hard way that we need structure!! Especially my son! So we follow a loose guide for daily activities, I have a list of requirements they must do to earn screen time, and we stay focused our our summer reading program that I put together for them. It helps A LOT.
    Lora Farrell’s latest post: Summer Reading–it’s the BEST!

  11. I loved your post and all of the comments, as it’s right where I am. I would add that a benefit of keeping things low-key this month (and we’re only taking one month off), is that in the struggle with boredom, all my kids are looking forward to easing back into school next month. And I’m trying to find the balance between holding to a good ,predictable routine, and also saying, “This month is Mommy’s rest time, and I know that’s hard, but I need it!” It’s good for them to see me allow myself to take that break. Thank you for your wisdom!
    Julie’s latest post: school at home, part 1.

  12. I’ve noticed that I (and probably others) don’t realize just how fast our kids are growing and changing. We have to mix things up EVERY SEASON, because the kids who are 10, 8, 6, 4, and 3 this year need a different summer plan than they needed last year when they were 9, 7, 5, 3, and 2. It’s not a matter of “in the summer, we do THIS and in the winter, we do THAT” year in and year out … as much as I would like to think that.

    I can’t take an entire season off, or even slower – I can just do “different” every time. So I build in breaks for myself over the course of the entire year, 1-2 weeks at a time at least every couple of months. It also means I’m not blasting my way through 9 months of a “school year” and then collapsing at the end of it, needing a couple of months of down time. We are homeschoolers for the flexibility! Use it!
    treen’s latest post: new course of study?

  13. Fiona Clarke says:

    Hi Shawna
    Such a great post thank you. We have started homeschooling this year in NZ with our 3 boys and I find in holiday breaks we need structure too. I have quickly learnt that if I have a theme to the day like Science experiment or Art day it gives them a focus even if that time spent is only a few hours and the rest of the day is resting and enjoying hobbies, playing etc. I have decided for my boys at this stage to do 6 weeks on with a ‘school work’ routine and 1 week off with hands on projects, field trips, extra reading time etc. The first time I tried this it worked quite well, still plenty of learning going on but we managed a little rest which is what we really needed. I love reading your posts, even though our boys needs are different, I love reading about how other Mums are homeschooling their boys. Thank you. Fiona

  14. Marnita Sonnenberg says:

    In Canada we have short summers so we try to make the best of it. We try to end formal school by the end of May. Then we started moving into what we callLearning time. This means that we do a bit of things at least several times a week. My youngest needs to continue with his printing, phonics and stuff so the older ones can write in their time capsules( they are cool journals for the summer), review a bit of math once a week, read, listen to a science documentary etc. only abt an hour per day or so. We also got passes to the zoo and a historical park so those will also be learning experiences. Some times we do summer camps but all the drivng around can be a hassle too so we will skip that this summer other than church VBS. Some weeks we will take off for trips, etc.

  15. Thanks. I needed this as my son always needs “the plans for today”. And a description of the weather forecast too… 😉

  16. We just make sure the kids are busy with chores and more things during the week. We plan activities for them to do on the weekend….camping, gardening, visits with family, friends, and being out in nature!

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