Summer Sanity: Give the Kids a Checklist Summer Sanity: Give the Kids a Checklist

I hate summer break.  I hate it because my kids the idea that the word “vacation” means “fighting over the computer all day”.  But this year I’m determined to enjoy it.  To make that happen, I’ve re-purposed a tool we used this spring to great success: A daily checklist.

Now this is going to sound a tiny bit organization-crazy, but let me remind you, I am the lady who struggles with self-discipline.  Writing up a checklist every day, and then following it, does not come naturally to me.  If my husband hadn’t insisted on it this year, forcefully, I would have never pulled it off for more than three days.  But now that I’ve got in the habit, even though I still resist all this order-and-self-control stuff, I find it really does make my life much, much easier.

How it Works: The Basic Checklist Method

We had to do something radical in order to join the ranks of the semi-disciplined: We had to decide what we expected the kids to do each day.  Homework, chores – no more fudging it, no more negotiating.  Jon and I made a list of clearly-defined responsibilities for each of our children.

After that, I made up a “generic” daily checklist for each kid.  (I used a spreadsheet to type it up.)  Then, each day I fill in the details.  If I want to skip a requirement, I write in “none” or “skip”.

I’ve failed at the list thing many times, because I tried making a single weekly routine based on my prediction of a “normal” week.  But we have enough variation in our schedule that it turns out I need to print out fresh papers for the kids each day.   I know that sounds extravagant.  It’s not completely a waste for us, though: It doubles as a record of their daily school work, which I have to keep as part of our state’s homeschool laws.

If your life is predictable enough, you could make a reusable checklist and put it in a glossy page-protector.  Use washable crayons or dry erase markers to check off the completed items each day, and to cross out any “skip” items.

The Summer Variation

Like most kids, mine do have a little bit of “school” stuff to do over the summer.  Yours might have a summer reading list, or a sport or musical instrument that needs to be practiced.  We use the summer to do a little work each day towards our weakest subjects – about half an hour of daily work.  My kids also have daily chores around the house; like all normal children, given the opportunity, they’ll push those off until the end of the day if I let them.

The other summer challenge for us is electronics.  I don’t mind if my kids play a few computer games or watch a little TV.  But I don’t want them turning into vicious, screen-addicted zombies, and that’s what happens if I give them unlimited access to digital devices.  I want them to spend some time every day doing fun kid activities that involve the flesh-and-blood world – playing outside, doing a craft, building with blocks, I don’t really care what, I just want them to do it.

So for the summer, what I’ve done is create a two-step process to make that happen:

1.  In order to earn any digital-device privileges, chores and other assignments must be finished by a deadline.  On an ordinary day that’s 11AM for us, but that’s something I can specify each day.  (If you’re using a reusable list, just leave a blank for Device Deadline: ________, and write it in with your marker each morning.)

2. The right to use the devices comes later in the day.  On a normal day for us, that would be after lunch.

What that means is that there’s a spread of a few hours between when they finish what they must do, and when the electronics come out.  And guess what?  My kids have thought up some cool stuff to do during that time.

We added a few other features to our daily rules about electronics:

  • At 4pm everything stops, and the kids do a second clean-up.  They have a deadline (5pm) for getting that done.
  • After dinner, as it cools down outside, we take advantage of the long summer evening to get out and go for a walk as a family, or head down to the playground.  No staying home with the video games, even if you’re old enough to babysit yourself.
  • We turn down the lights and turn off the machines an hour or so before bedtime, to help everyone unwind, and maybe even talk to each other for a while before bed.  (Honestly: We try to do this.  Success rate varies.)

You might have a different set of rules, since your family’s needs are going to be different than mine.  Our daily time frames change a bit from day to day, because of appointments, or lessons, or a work deadline for me.  I just write in the change on their checklist so they know what’s happening that day.  And if something comes up midday to throw off our plans, we just cross out what’s written, and put in the new thing.

Are the Kids Happier this Way?

I think they are.  They aren’t “happy” in the sense of, “Gee, I always wanted my mom to hide my iPod from me until I did the dishes.”  And sometimes they get irritated as they run up against a set of rules that doesn’t let them do exactly as they wish at every moment.

But using the daily list to set expectations helps Jon & I hold firm about our rules, and gives the kids clear guidelines on what they need to do in order to earn their privileges.  I don’t have to nag: I just look at the clock, and lock up the laptop if the work isn’t done on time that day. So I’m a lot calmer.  And the kids never have to worry that I’m going to add “one more thing” to their mandatory chores.  If I really need it done, I’ll add it to the list the next day.

What are your summer rules?  Have you come up with a good system for managing summer free time?  I’d love to hear what you do!

Copyright 2013 Jennifer Fitz