A simple summer.

June 3rd, 2013

“‘Tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be free”

-Shaker hymn

This is the last week of school for my kids before the summer break, and we’ve been counting down the days–they with gleeful anticipation, me with rising panic.

It’s going to be a simple summer at home this year. The two oldest boys will each return to sleep-away camp for a week, but that’s all that’s on the program (or in the budget) right now. Last year was our triennial, month-long, Eastern Canada vacation, and we went to Disney World and Universal Studios for spring break. I don’t feel too sorry for us, do you?

Still, the empty calendar looms large. I’ve always embraced minimalist summers, but it was easier when the kids were smaller. Now I have a child in elementary, middle, and high school, and it’s harder to span all three of their interests and needs. I’m particularly perplexed as to what to do with my teenager. I don’t want to turn him loose all day, every day, but neither do I want Netflix binge-watching to be the theme of his summer vacation. A part-time job might be an answer (and will probably be expected next year), but I also want him to savor what time he has left to be a kid on summer break. I like being free of the tyranny of the clock myself during the summer months.

I think our salvation will lie in routine, same as it did when they were tiny, and I had them home all day, every day. We’ve never been much for schedules around here, but we all do better when our days have a rhythm and a routine. I’ve recently been using a time management technique called time blocking. Before school gets out this week, I’m going to use it to plot a daily template. Nothing too detailed, just a loose outline, so that everyone has an idea of what to expect between waking and sleeping, and downtime is balanced by active time. I’m also going to have to create a physical boundary for my work, probably leaving the house early in the morning while they are content to hang around pants-less and play video games.

How to use free time is a good problem to have, isn’t it? I hope with a little planning and a lot of imagination, we can make the most of it. If you’ve got any simple summer suggestions, I’d love to hear them.

P.S. My friends Asha and Christine, authors of Minimalist Parenting recently spoke on NPR about scaling back summer. Do you feel pressure to keep your kids busy with structured activities during summer break, or is it a matter of practical necessity? What would your ideal summer with kids look like?

15 Responses to “A simple summer.”

  1. Corrie_Alexa says:

    My baby will start college in the fall. She babysits every summer. I asked how her first day was going and she said she has helped them make a lemonade stand and watched the little boy shoot arrows. It sounds to me that all 3 summers are off to a good start! Babysitting is a good choice because she gets to play while she works!

  2. I’ve been thinking about this too lately, though my three are littler than yours. I also listened to Asha and Christine on NPR and had a bit of an epiphany around the idea that minimalist summers aren’t just about scaling back (which I generally don’t have a problem doing, as I’m rather a homebody) but also about being intentional about the things we DO want to do with our time. So your talk of time blocking and schedule templating totally hits home. Thank you, Kyran!

    • Kyran says:

      Yes, it’s all about intention. And “scale” in terms of recovering a sense of proportion. I get so guilty about them being in front of the tv, or not being enrolled in enrichment activities, that it’s easy for me to lose perspective and balance. With a map of our days in hand, I hope I’ll remember, “Oh, it’s tv time now. It’s totally cool.” :-)

  3. Kathleen says:

    I am so jealous that you are almost on summer break! We are counting down – three more weeks left of school. I am eager for summer, mostly for the break of having to get up from working in bed to get my little one off to preschool.

    In only have one child, but am planning a very easy summer, too. I want to cherish the time that he is mostly content with spending time with me. I am relying on my mornings to be super productive because I need to make a lot of headway in a manuscript.

    I have been thinking about how to spend our summer, a lot and am going to plan my day this way:

    Get up early before my son rises, about 5 a.m. I will write in bed with coffee (need to turn off the internet to stay on task!) until about 7-7:30 when he wakes. Then he will watch some cartoons next to me in bed while I squeeze in another hour or so.

    I am determined to squeeze in some exercise time for me, so after breakfast, he can play with his toys while I get a 40 min home workout in.

    Then I will quickly shower, we will have some lunch and pack for our afternoons, which will either be spent at the beach, my parent’s pool or running through the sprinkler in our own backyard. I am hoping to be able to squeeze in editing some pages in the afternoon, as well as writing blog posts and magazine pitching. Then an easy dinner, showers, books and he is off to bed. I will squeeze in a little more work, maybe some reading and be in bed.

    My biggest problem is always finding ways to get him to play by himself for a little while (without the tv or ipad) when I try to squeeze in some work.

    It is a packed schedule for me, but the best way to keep working from home while he gets a carefree, fun summer!

    Look forward to seeing how you end up blocking out your time and squeezing in time to write.

    • Kyran says:

      You are way ahead of me, Kathleen! And I’m impressed that your brain can wake up so early. I love quiet morning time before the house stirs, but I tend to spend it passively until the coffee kicks in. :-)

      • Kathleen says:

        Not every morning is super productive, but I try to make the best of it. Trying to work from home and take on a new project (that of course is not a paying project just yet) makes me try to squeeze something in every spare minute!

  4. Kelly says:

    I would like fewer days of “pj’s til noon” this summer. It’s okay for the first week, but after that I felt like the Family of Sloths last year. That’s my big goal…and to hit the beach more often. We’re 40 minutes from the Pacific & didn’t manage one true beach day last summer. Tsk!

    • Kyran says:

      Yes, the pantslessness (and bathlessness) starts to feel normal after a while. We will definitely need a pants-by-10 rule.

  5. I’m so glad to already be part of this conversation! We don’t have a lot going on this summer, either. I agree about the time-blocking and routine. I’m also one for collaborative list-making: sitting down with the kids and writing down some goals, things they want to do, things I want to do, etc. For example, my daughter wants to swim, and I want to exercise. So we’re all talking about ways to make that happen in real terms (not just “yeah, we should swim this summer”). I’m thinking of instituting a loose weekly rhythm as well, as in Mondays we go to the library, Thursdays we hike, etc. I’ve also been scouring the paper for all the free events and local listings and plugging them into the calendar just so we remember they’re happening.

    • Oh, and I’ve also decided ahead of time that I’m okay with a limited number of pants-free, veg in front of screens days. It may not be MY preferred way of spending my time, but there’s something more than just vegging going on for my kids, and I try to respect that.

      • Kathleen says:

        I love the idea of asking kids help with coming up with summer goals. And striking a balance between their vegging and down time and encouraging them to be active. I will definitely have to keep this in mind as my little one gets older.

  6. Karen says:

    Kyra, would you mind sharing what your block plan looks like for the summer? I’m looking for some inspiration and my boys are close in age to yours.

  7. Beth says:

    Good stuff as always, Kyran. I so enjoy the way you process subjects. I flatter myself because I always think that you tackle subjects I would tackle and process/approach them as I would, and so then I save myself the trouble of thinking through them and just adopt many of your conclusions.

    Hmm. In retrospect, what was intended as a compliment has now taken on my usual creepy stalkerish tone. Le sigh.

  8. Cid says:

    I am trying to quell the rising panic that comes every summer with three boys at home. Even though my eldest will be taking a summer course all July and I will have to get him there every morning it is the other two I am worried about. Number Two is on crutches right now but is supposed to be a mother’s helper to another family of three boys two days a week. Fingers crossed he is fully mobile by the time he starts. Number Three is supposed to be going to camp in August but a torn ACL may require surgery sooner rather than later so I may have an 11 year on bed rest for most of the summer. Kind of like trying to keep a puppy quiet, I fear. So I’ll be checking in early and often to see how everyone else is surviving the summer.

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