Sometimes parents begin the summer with high ambitions about how children will spend their time. They can spend four hours outside in free play, one working in the garden, one doing chores, one more reading on the porch, and then we’ll go on a family bike ride each night, and so on. But how often do those scheduled summer plans fall away by July? 

And for good reason! Summer is a wonderful time to slow down and let scheduling fall away to some extent. But, how do we allow summer to be breezy and light while also keeping the all-important rhythm and routine for our children?

Early childhood education teacher, Patricia Cornelious, encourages us to think less about scheduling and more about breathing, specifically in the form of the breath of activity. Patricia explains the intention behind the rhythms, so that parents can learn to honor rhythm in a much simpler way. 

“It’s more about establishing a time to be awake, a time to be led in an activity by an adult and a time for the children not to be held to any structure. Waldorf educators think of this in terms of breath — an inhale and an exhale for children, says Cornelious. “The inhale draws them in and holds them to a task such as drawing, making snacks, and listening to a story. The exhale lets them go to be outside, engage in free play indoors, and use their imaginations. The key is to never hold a child too long in either type of work.” 

In the summertime, families can think of any day’s activities through a lens of honoring this loose pattern of ebb and flow. Chore time is an inhale activity, a trip to the pool is an exhale followed by the inhale of making and eating snacks, and so forth throughout the day.

It’s also important to consider the timing of these exhale and inhale activities by understanding when children are hungry, ready to focus, or ready for rest. Teacher, Joy Itiola, tells us that encouraging good habits can go a long way in making summertime the ideal break from the busy, often overscheduled feeling school year.

“Creating a set rhythm can work around most lifestyles, even during the summertime. Overall, parents should design a healthy routine for their children and stick to it,” says Itiola.

She recommends set wake up and bedtimes, set times for snacks and meals together, and regular naps for little ones. If these are held as constants, then big day trips to parks or museums or a playdate with friends can foster novelty without exhausting the child or depriving them of nurturing, secure stability. 

Here are four easy to follow tips:

1: Set anchor points to your day:

While there may be the occasional late bedtime or differently scheduled meal, these will be your guideposts for daily routine — bedtimes, wake times, meal times, etc. Feel free to include any other activities that happen daily. Do you always walk the dog at noon or garden at the plot during a set time. Place that in this broad outline of a schedule.

2: Consider set times for non-negotiable to-dos:

Grocery shopping, cleaning, banking, yard work and other common tasks still need to be managed in the summer and have the ability to distract and disrupt rhythm. Can each of these things take place in a predictable way? If so, scheduling them can make life easier to adults and more predictable for children.

3: Brainstorm the inhale and exhale joy:

What does everyone love to do in the summer? What fits into a category of an inhale — focused, intentional, structured and what fits into the category of exhale — free, active, unplanned. Having a loose idea of what might slide where into a day can make adults guide children when they need some attention and direction. 

Inhale Examples:

  • Reading 
  • Chores & Helping
  • Scavenger Hunt
  • Arts, Crafts, or Letter Writing
  • Baking or Cooking

Exhale Examples:

  • Fort building
  • Nature hikes
  • Playdate with a friend
  • Sand or water play
  • Any unstructured playtime

4: Celebrate the miscellaneous:

Now, you can’t actually plan for this entirely, but that’s the point and the whole fun of summertime! Friends will call with a fun idea for the evening or unexpected playdate on a rainy day. Be ready for breaks in routine, by recognizing that disruption will occur and that it can be compensated for in the following days. A disrupted bedtime is no big deal when it’s followed by a few days of consistent sleep schedules. The same is true with mealtimes and all the ebbs and flows of a perfectly set day. Be ready mentally for disruption and then work to get back to anchor points in the days that follow.