Summer is upon us, meaning one thing: school is out! Summer vacation offers children a time to relax and recharge after the long school year. While children delight in this time, many struggle with the loss of routine. 

The school day is predictable for children: wake up, get dressed, ride the bus to school, attend school, ride the bus home, complete homework, bedtime. Children thrive on this type of structure and consistency. 

When the school year ends, that structure and consistency is suddenly lost. Children may not know what to expect at home, or how to schedule their time, which can result in stress and anxiety

A lack of routine can also negatively affect a child’s mood, motivation, and focus. Creating a summer schedule can help organize a child and provide a sense of security that supports the child’s social-emotional development. 

How to create a summer schedule for children

When crafting a summer routine, start by reflecting on your child’s strengths, needs, and interests. Identify goals for your child’s day and set priorities. For example, would you rather your child be active outside, or read daily to reinforce concepts learned at school? 

Also, involve your child in developing a summer routine. Ask your child what goals he/she would like to work on. Promoting your child’s buy-in can increase his/her motivation to follow the routine.

Common activities to incorporate into a summer routine include:

  • daily hygiene tasks
  • regularly scheduled mealtimes
  • household chores
  • learning
  • exercise
  • outdoor time
  • family time and relaxation

Tips on how to schedule your child’s daily activities

Structure. When structuring the day, schedule preferred activities after non-preferred activities. If, for example, your child enjoys reading, schedule reading after a non-preferred activity, such as cleaning his/her room. 

Rewards. Similarly, only offer rewards when your child has completed non-preferred activities. Screen-time is often used as a reward. Be sure to set limits around your child’s access to screen-time. If screens are too easily accessible, your child may sway from the routine and spend excessive time on screens. Nevertheless, boredom breeds other difficulties, such as irritability and poor decision-making. When deciding on screen time, ensure that your child has access to other varied activities during times when screens are not available. 

Sleep. Maintain consistent wake-up times and bedtimes for your child to foster a regular sleep routine. Children may expect to be able to sleep in or stay up late during the summer. Some flexibility with sleep times may be called for, but keep in mind - consistency is the key.

Use a visual schedule

To improve your child’s comprehension, create a visual schedule of the summer routine. Some children may benefit from a checklist with written activities and boxes to check off completed activities. Other children, particularly those with autism spectrum disorder or other developmental disabilities, may benefit from visual schedules featuring words and pictures. Pictures can enhance the child’s understanding of expected activities. Still other children with autism spectrum disorder or other developmental disabilities may adjust better to a “first/then” schedule. 

No matter the format, laminate the schedule to ensure its durability over the summer months. When first introducing the routine, supervise and guide your child through the schedule. Your child will require such direct support to learn the new routine. Depending on the needs of your child, continue to check your child’s use of the schedule to ensure that he/she is following through. Praise your child for his/her efforts to follow the schedule. If your child voices resistance to the routine, check in with your child. It may be necessary to incorporate additional preferred activities to foster your child’s buy-in.

The benefits of a summer schedule for children

Over time, having a summer schedule can:

  • reduce your child’s reliance on you
  • promote his/her independence
  • help develop your child’s daily living skills

Most importantly, a summer routine can ease a child’s anxiety about the unknown since it clearly and concretely shows daily expectations. 

How to reduce summer stress for children

If your child is still struggling with stress or anxiety even after implementing a summer routine, there are more things you can do.

  • Talk with your child.
  • Normalize his/her stress and anxiety. 
  • Promote open communication about all feelings in the home. 
  • Model ways to adaptively manage stress and anxiety. 
  • Consider building in relaxation breaks into your child’s summer routine to support his or her mental health. 

Remember, mental health professionals are available if your child needs support. Learn more about Bradley Hospital and how we can help you here

Gina M. Marini, LCSW

Gina M. Marini, MA, LICSW

Gina M. Marini, MA, LICSW, is a licensed independent clinical social worker at Bradley Hospital’s Verrecchia Clinic for Children with Autism and Developmental Disabilities.