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.
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.
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.)
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?