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School’s (Almost) Out For Summer

By Melissa McQuarrie

3adf2697-65ab-4d7a-9ece-ed8dcde97b1c3This Friday my children will bid their teachers goodbye and sign yearbooks and clean out their desks and bring home pencil boxes and stacks of papers and, elated, they will fling their backpacks down in the mudroom, rejoicing that they won’t be going back to school until late August. And part of me will rejoice with them: no more making school lunches every night; no more car pools; no more hours spent helping a certain ten-year-old child with homework while she cries and fumes and asks why she can’t drop out of school; no more band concerts and piano recitals and play performances and soccer games. I’m looking forward to a more relaxed routine and warm days spent lazing by the pool and picnics at dinnertime and evenings spent outside, gazing at the stars and roasting marshmallows and listening to crickets chirping in the darkness. Yes, it’s going to be grand.

But who am I kidding? Because while part of me enjoys having my children home and looks forward to an idyllic summer vacation, another part of me knows that an idyllic summer vacation doesn’t exist and that it only takes about two days for the whining, bickering, and boredom to start, punctuated by endless video game marathons and requests for more Otter Pops. That part of me feels like I’m staring into the gaping jaws of Hell.

Every year I begin the summer with high hopes and a determination that this summer will be great. I make up a schedule: we’ll have a half hour of chores, a half hour of reading and math, and a half hour of exercise every day. I make a list of summertime activities to break up the boredom; my kids will stage puppet shows and start an insect collection and have water balloon fights and go on nature walks. I pencil in a few camps, some tennis lessons, an art class or two, and story time at the library. But then I also make sure to leave lots of free time for daydreaming, swimming, reading, going to the movies, and building forts (yes, I can hear your snickers).

Of course, all of my plans unravel during week one when my thirteen-year-old announces he doesn’t like swimming or water balloon fights anymore, and my ten-year-old can’t find anyone to play with and will have nothing to do with puppets, and my sixteen-year-old decides he’s too cool to go to a movie with his family, and no one will work on the summer math activity books I bought, and everyone complains that it’s too hot to go outside, looking at me with scorn and outrage when I suggest collecting bugs or going on nature walks or building forts. So they gravitate to the computer and the Xbox 360, or put on one Star Wars movie after another and then all three Lord of the Rings movies—the extended versions—while I’m wracked with guilt because my children are turning into video game addicts and couch potatoes. And I find myself making lunches for my children and the extra ten neighborhood children who spend all day at my house, and wiping up spilled juice and the tracked-in dirt while listening to the dog bark every time the doorbell rings—over the sound of exploding spaceships on TV. And I realize I have eleven more weeks of this. And then I’m weeping as I head to the grocery store for more Creamies.

And yet, somehow, by the end of the summer, though I’m relieved when school starts again, I’m also a little sad, too. Go figure. And that’s how it’s been every summer for me since my children have been in school. How about you? What do you love/hate about summer vacation? What secrets can you share about keeping your children occupied and happy and yourself sane during the summer months? And those of you who have children in year-round schools, I’d like to hear from you, too. Do you like/dislike having shorter summer vacations? Please share your thoughts/ideas.

About Melissa McQuarrie

(Advisory Board) grew up in Australia and California and now lives in Provo, Utah with her husband, four children, and their dog, Daisy. She served a mission in Peru and has a BA and MA in English from BYU. She loves reading, writing, and quiet afternoons. She does not love grocery shopping. Now that two of her children attend BYU and her youngest children are in high school and junior high, she is trying to adjust to this "emptying nest" stage and still wondering how it snuck up on her so fast.

35 thoughts on “School’s (Almost) Out For Summer”

  1. Oh. If only I didn't have a collection of summer schedules! Mine always resemble yours: learning new things, enjoying outdoors, counting the clouds as they go by! But, alas, I too have end of the summer (or second week of summer) guilt when the tv/video games battle rages. Because we live in NY, our summer vacation doesn't start until the end of June, though, so I have more time to plan. My hope is to just keep trying. Last year I ran a free little dance camp at my house for two weeks with my daughters and a couple of her friends. That actually worked! We also spend time at the town "beach" by the lake, so we aren't completely ruled by the tv. One problem we have is it gets too hot to be outside, so no one wants to go on a nature hike. Still, when I do better implementation of our plans on a daily basis, things are either great or I'm totally exhausted! Hope you have a great summer!.

  2. One year, we organized neighbor camp, and each week, a woman in the neighborhood would take her turn and host it, doing all sorts of activities for all the involved kids. We had a math week, art week, cooking week, outdoors week, writing week, etc. The kids had something to look forward to every week of the summer. It was kind of a lot of work to organize the whole event, but it worked out really well. I haven't been able to duplicate it since, though.

    Plus, you're a lot nicer than me, we work all morning on chores or school stuff. The kids get more free reign after 1:30 every afternoon. I'm just too type A, I'll admit it.

    I'm excited for this summer, though, just like you! I'm excited to go on vacation and go camping and go swimming every day.

  3. My mom has always said that she couldn't understand when mothers said they didn't like the stress of summers because she loved having everybody home. I can't say what I think yet. She also started off the summer with a big plan that gently faded away, though she always got us to do our reading and practicing and workbooks.

  4. Your summer plans sound just like my summer plans — pipe dreams.
    I have told my ever bickering brood that we will work on seeing how it feels to be an only child by rotating who gets to come out of their room and play for an hour at a time. They look at me and wonder, "does she mean it?" Oh boy, do I mean it.

  5. Have you been reading my mind?!!
    After this past weekend's "summer preview," I am reluctant to enter the real thing — wish I had heard your idea earlier, JM! 🙂
    The creative, imaginative side did come out in my kids, though — that's my favorite part: the impromptu plays, the lemonade/book sales….
    Finding friends with similar aged kids to go with on outings is always fun — then I get to talk to a grown up 🙂 and the kids have fun, too!
    This summer I hope to do some genealogy trips, going to cemeteries (my littlest, after hearing that their spirits are with Heavenly Father, is much more willing to go this year!) and finding family.
    Thanks for addressing this wonderfully torturous issue! I look forward to reading everyone's ideas — we may survive after all!

  6. I'd really like to do some exploring around our area. There are lots of local museums and interesting sites My biggest complaint is having a toddler ruin all our fun. He's still stroller bound or running wild. We'll do what we can. Sigh.

    We're the opposite of Justine. We spend all morning lolling around doing nothing. Sleeping in, reading, playing with legos. We get to work after lunch.

    I keep meaning to sign my kids up for camps, but every day I forget. I'd better get busy!

  7. Um, I think you pretty much summed it up!

    We live in Texas so the only thing we do outside in summer is swim. Otherwise, we are indoors. No camping, no hiking, no bike riding–hotter than h@ll here. We do those other things in the winter!

    My husband works from home and it's time to visit his family in the motherland (UT) so what started out as a 10-day trip in July has morphed into renting a house up there for 4-6 weeks just for a change of pace. He can work from anywhere. We'll see if it helps being in a new place closer to some family with all new sights to see.

  8. Have you been visiting my house during the summer months? Seriously–the otter pops, the video game marathons, the "it's too hot," the fury-inducing workbooks, the ringing doorbell.

    Glad to know I'm not alone. 🙂

    I always have good intentions. Hopefully that counts for something.

    Thanks for bringing a smile of recognition to my face this morning!

  9. Thanks for your ideas and comments! Jennie, I remember those days when little ones made it difficult to get out. You'll find, however, that as kids get older it's hard to corral them into doing things. My favorite summer was about five years ago, when my youngest was five and my oldest was fourteen. We did a lot together that summer, went to museums and movies and went swimming nearly every day. I remember feeling so content having my brood with me all summer long. Now, however, the teenagers want to do their own thing, and I'm left with just my youngest to entertain and keep me company. Sad days.

  10. I always feel like a cruise director during the summer… "And what would you like to do today? Swimming? Library? Children's Museum? Submit your requests and I'll arrange your day trip for you!" I get pretty grouchy about it somewhere around week 4.

    You guys have covered all my tricks (camps, friends, vacations, routines). One of my friends sponsors "park day" once a week at a different park around town. She types up the schedule, then we all meet at a different park every Wednesday morning all summer long. It's a fun way to get to know all the parks and have a planned activity once a week.

    I'd love to hear how y'all feed your kids. The grind of breakfast, lunch, and dinner really gets to me.

  11. Sigh,
    we've still got three more weeks of school! And I swear, there are more school projects, field trips, concerts and activities packed into these last three weeks than the whole rest of the school year combined.

    Although I can completely relate with this post,(right down to the Star Wars and LOTR marathons–oh heaven help me!)the older my kids get, the more excited I am for summer to come and I really try to clamp down on my own anxiety over the 'gaping jaws of hell.' It's true, I don't have todlers anymore (Jennie, I hear you girl), but *because* I don't have toddlers anymore, I can somehow see the light at the end of the tunnel and suddenly, I like my tunnel a little bit. Getting "through" that baby/toddler stage has really made me appreciate these days where I still have all my little (and not so little) ones at home.

    (Maybe it's because I now sleep through the night and my fuddled brain has begun to finally re-emerge…
    –was a time I thought I would DIE in THAT tunnel…)

    I love my unstructured, unscheduled days.
    Yes, endless legos, movie + game marathons, bickering and short-order cook duties sometimes get me down,
    but I never wish they were back at school.
    And call me completely crazy: although I am excited and happy for them when they go back to school, I'm also a little sad to see them go.

    (Ooh, and JM, I LIKE that "stay-in-your-room-rotating-only-child" idea! hmmm…)

    (And Melissa M. you're right,
    there is a magic window of time + kids' ages that make for that one perfect summer–)

  12. Now that my kids are older, the only meal I fix during the summer is dinner. They're on their own for breakfast and lunch! I do try to keep the fridge stocked with healthy options.

    At the beginning of each summer I have my kids make five goals: one physical, one academic, one spiritual, one musical, and one just plain fun/creative. That tends to help keep them occupied and on track (in theory, at least). They're pretty much busy every day (doing chores, practicing, etc.) until noon. After lunch they're free to play, swim, read, lounge, hang out, whatever. Of course, the teenagers all have jobs, so that helps a lot!

    Loved this post, Melissa. Oh, how I relate!

  13. I like the "dinner-only" idea! We've been trying to give our kids the opportunity to learn to cook (each has a night), so add "dinner-only" to my one or two nights a week — almost a vacation!
    The dishes can get daunting with almost everyone home, three meals a day — think I'll invest in some paper plates (sorry trees!), and have everybody assigned a cup color so we only have to wash a little a day — fingers crossed!

  14. My kids WISH they a video game console! They find enough free games on the internet though, yes I monitor them, but it still turns into a couch potato fest.

    The kids do like the local library's summer reading program, so once a week, we load up on fresh reads. I don't know how much "reading" actually goes on, but I figure if the opportunity is there, I've done my job.

    My kids work in the morning, okay I make them work in the morning, because if they didn't nothing would get done. They can have the afternoons to play.

  15. This is what I do:
    Each morning, we have a routine (breakfast, dress, tidy rooms, etc.) and then we have "school". This is only 45 minutes long and it includes: Piano practicing, reading, writing (drawing), and math concepts. Then we do whatever is planned for the day. To make this easy, convenient (and easily changeable), we schedule it like this:
    Monday: Chore day
    Tuesday: Museum day
    Wednesday: Park day (or water day)
    Thursday:Library Day
    Friday: Craft Day

    Nothing is in stone, none of it takes all day, but we have something "planned," you know? My kids are young (8, 6, 4, 2) and so the school thing is for their benefit, and they aren't old enough to really whine about it, either. 🙂 However, it's so good for ME!! I don't get bored, they don't get bored, and we feel like we're actually accomplishing something each day. Last summer it worked really well, so I'm assuming it will work well again for us…we'll see.

  16. Mine are still young–almost 5 and 2.5, so this is the first summer that feels like "summer vacation" since the 5 year-old just finished her first year of preschool. So I'm curious to see how this works out.

    I like the idea of a semi-schedule, how some of you have. Last summer we did a lot of museum and library time and swimming, but it wasn't quite as organized and I wonder if it would be good for my kids and myself to know a little better what is coming up in the week. I may have to play around with that.

  17. Grocery shopping–that's what I dread. I just did it w/kids this Memorial day weekend. Not good. Maybe we can live on food storage…

  18. Merry Michelle, have I mentioned that I absolutely hate grocery shopping? With or without children–although admittedly it's better without. But still unbearable, for me.
    As far as feeding everyone goes, now that my children are older, they are perfectly capable of making themselves lunch—it's their definition of "lunch" that worries me. My thirteen-year-old will eat a granola bar and a bag of Cheetos and call that lunch. I'm going to try to encourage my children to make their own lunches this summer, but I want to make sure they are eating healthily, so I'll have to monitor that. I'll try to have lots of healthy food available (which means more trips to the grocery store, sadly). We'll see how it goes.
    I do like the semi-scheduled day that most of you are proposing. I think it's good to have some structure for part of the day and then free time. When I was a child we were basically left to our own devices during summer vacation, so my siblings and I spent many afternoons exploring the Bush (we lived in Australia) and roaming the banks of the river near my house. We built club houses and played in the creek behind our house and read books beneath the gum tree in our backyard—I have many fond memories of my childhood summers. Of course, we live in a different time now, but I wish my children had more downtime to just play and enjoy nature. But "downtime" to them means video game time. Sigh.

  19. Sounds like you guys have the routine down (mostly). This year our kids are 8, 4, 2 and 1. This is the summer I fear. 🙂 I think that we will do the semi schedule thing… park day, craft day, museam day, etc, etc.

    At the beginning of the summer we each contribute to a big list of things we like to do in the summer (our local bowling alley lets kids bowl free all summer, two games a day… so that is a favorite) and at the beginning of the week we decide what we are going to do that day. We also make a spiritual/a personal and a physical goal for each season and work on that… but we do ok…..

    Great idea's here though!

  20. Yes, I am seeing the gaping jaws of hell and love bubbles for my children at the same time. Crazy.

    In the end I think some kind of optimistic planning is better than nothing. Of course everything won't go as planned, or go at all, but it's better than if nothing were hoped for at all.

    Maybe making the kids somewhat responsible for the planning and set up of the activities would help them learn planning and carrying out an activity. I make the kiddos responsible for one dinner a week, they choose the meal and help make it.

  21. I loved it when the children were younger. They were so much more cooperative with whatever I planned. I too, always had a schedule for the day and the weeks planned by themes. Not anymore, at ages 12, 10, and 8 they just don't want it or the same thing as each other. The older they get the harder I find it. In England they don't finish until until late July and are off for 6 weeks only, not as long as in the states. Still, we have to fill the time without them killing each other, turning into vegetables, and uttering those awful words *I'm bored!*. I do like not having to make packed lunches and the late morning starts are a bonus too.

    I love the beginning of the holidays. I go insane by the end. However, on the first day of school I always cry, without fail. Will they be o.k. with new teachers and new routines. I am scared silly for them and wait all day for them to come home again.

  22. It all sounds SO familiar! But now that my baby is 17, and those summers with six kids at home are over, I'm just enjoying gardening and hiking. So, I say, remember it doesn't last forever and enjoy those kiddies, they really will be gone before you know it.

  23. Wow. I'm feeling guilty for being so mean. We eat breakfast at 7:45 (a big break after 6:45 during the school year). My kids work until at least noon, when someone (including sons, of course) is assigned to make lunch. We swim for 2 hours, then come home for naps for babies and school work for big kids. After that is free time to play with friends, run through sprinklers, etc. Every so often we toss the schedule and go to "Family Day" at the museum or some such thing.

    And guess what? If they do all of that and turn in their schoolwork to me, they earn a book at the end of the week.

    I am a mean, mean mom.

    But the last week of summer before school starts is always our fun week when we completely dump the schedule and do "the fun things we forgot"; everyone gets to choose one or two fun things to do, and we party all week.

  24. Kay, when I lived in Australia we only had six weeks for summer holidays as well—and I thought that was a perfect length. A three month vacation has always seemed too long to me. Jendoop, I like the idea of letting the kids be in charge of planning activities and taking ownership for them—I'm going to try to do that a little more this summer. And Kylie, I think I need to get my act together and implement a little more structure and a little less video game playing.

    One thing that I do is bribe my children to read: I pay them a penny per page for books that they read during the summer (and they have to be books my children haven't read before—sometimes, if they really want to re-read a book, I'll pay them half). They keep a chart and write down how many pages they've read and check in with me when they've finished a book. It's a way for them to earn a little extra money. My daughter (who was nine last summer) earned almost $90 last summer—that's a lot of reading.

  25. I have a 7-year-old and a 3-year-old.

    We are going No-TV this summer, and I'm scared. Yet, I feel like that is the one best thing I can do for them. I have a 7-year-old who thinks he needs to be entertained 24-7, and TV has been a contributing factor there. We will allow TV on Saturdays and Church videos on Sundays, but nothing the other five.

    We'll be doing swimming lessons to start out. We'll have a movie day on Thursdays (the school has a deal with the local theater), picnic and nature day on Fridays (hopefully going up a local canyon). One day a week will be library day. There will be chores every morning and (hopefully!) enforced quiet time every day after lunch. Other than that, I'm not sure. I've jotted down art and nature ideas on index cards, so when they are bored, they can pick a card.

  26. eljee
    Do you have a quiet time where they have to stay on the couch? I have found it is a good substitute for what we as parents use the TV for. I don't even have a regular quiet time anymore, but it is ingrained in them so whenever I say "Quiet time" they go to a couch or bed and either read, look at something they bring with or look off into space. Love it. I need to pick a time for quiet time this summer.

  27. JKS, I was thinking of having my son have his quiet time in his room, but I haven't decided. My 3-year-old still needs to nap, and I usually lay down/read stories with her before she goes to sleep. That's worked fine because during the school week, she's the only one home. I am hoping to have her brother stay in his room reading, and then maybe I can spend some one-on-one with him too. I'm afraid if he is on the couch, the TV will be too tempting (though we may be moving it into the basement). But I really need some time to myself because I'm teaching at a conference in August, and I need that time to prepare for it.

  28. We do quiet time too. It is a must-do for keeping sanity. Remember what Sister Beck said about working the swing shift? Don't expect as a mother to be able to work all waking hours- you need some down time, teach your children to expect realistic things from others by being an example of it yourself.

  29. HOW LONG is summer vacation?


    Wow! Here in Australia, summer holidays (December on) are for 6 weeks (7 at the most). That is the perfect length for me – time enough to enjoy hanging out together, just relaxing, doing those things that we never get our fill of during the school year, then by the time I'm getting frazzled I send them back to a new school year.

    I can't get my head around having that long a break. No wonder camps seem so popular!

    All the best of luck ladies. Remember that the summer is YOURS as well, and everyone needs time to just do nothing.

  30. Ah, the good times of summer vacation.

    I have nothing more to say, except that even though I spend most of summer vacation wishing I had something to do, when school starts up again, I spend the whole semester wisihing it was summer again. Oh the paradox. Alas.

  31. I love the idea of paying the kids to read books, I have no problem with the idea of bribery.

    One thing that does happen every day is that after lunch we have quiet time which is more for my benefit than for theirs. I use it to go to my room for an hour and a half to read or sew. When I go back to them I like them again.

  32. some vaca doesn't start for another month here- we get out the last week in june and start the last week in aug- it's too short- too short for all the fun of childhood in these days of nightly homework and too much structure- I love summer vacation- but it's probably also because I don't have to get up to teach seminary!


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