By: Jolene Roehlkepartain
Have the summer doldrums hit your home yet? They usually do at some point. Kids start getting bored, and they start driving you crazy because they’re pestering you to come up with ideas that interest them. So how do you keep your kids busy in meaningful ways? Create a meaningful structure!
In our home, our kids tend to reject all the ideas I generate, which only adds to the frustration. Even though kids often protest about certain structures, child and adolescent development experts point out that structure is key for raising successful kids. The beauty of a structure (when you design it well) is that it gives your kids stability and flexibility at the same time. Step into any child care center, school classroom, or after-school program, and you’ll find a structure. Kids know what to expect at the beginning of their time together, what happens in the middle, and how a leader or teacher wraps things up.
For young children in child care centers, the schedule often goes something like this:
7 – 8 a.m. Free time or play time (while kids arrive)
8 – 8:30 a.m. Breakfast
8:30 – 9 a.m. Circle time, interacting, social time
9-9:30 a.m. Music
9:30 – 10:30 a.m. Outside or indoor physical play time
10:30 – 10:45 a.m. Storytime, reading, or drama
10:45 – 11 a.m. Numbers and letters
11 – 11:30 a.m. Arts or crafts
11:30 – 12 p.m. Nature walk
12 – 12:30 p.m. Lunch
12:30 – 12:45 p.m. Free time or play time
12:45 – 1 p.m. Storytime (and winding down time)
1 – 3 p.m. Nap time
3 – 3:30 p.m. Snack
3:30 – 4:30 p.m. Outside or indoor physical play time
4:30 – 5:30 p.m. Free time (while kids depart)
At home, you can add another important element: choice. Whether you’re checking out library books, doing physical activities together, you can give your kids time to look at the options and see what they want to try. They can have a say in what types of activities they’ll be during scheduled activity time.
For example, as my kids got older, they both got interested in science. We bought a science kit, and they loved looking through the different experiments and choosing which ones to do during their “science” time of the day.
To switch things up, make it a point to take field trips. Visit museums, zoos, the state fair, the Renaissance festival, apple orchards, nature centers, parks, and bike trails. Some of these places have free family days (or discounted family days).
Even though older children and teenagers often resist structure, it’s important to explain why structures matter: They help us stay healthy. When we eat meals and healthy snacks, we stay healthy. When we take time to exercise, that keeps us healthy. A structure helps us wind down before bed. It also places boundaries on us so that we don’t spend all day watching TV, playing video games, or surfing the Internet.
Create a structure that includes activities that you value. Many families include household chores as part of the structure. Others include a family service project. Many have a weekly family time where family members play games or watch a movie together. Others enjoy cooking together.
Make sure structures have some flexibility. If your child gets into an art project, sometimes it’s better to let that project go on longer than the schedule says. If a child gets bored with a certain activity, change it or shorten it. The structure is meant to be a guide, not a stranglehold on kids. Create one that gives your kids meaning during their day.
If you have an older teenager…
With my older teenagers, I tell them that when they leave home, they need to figure out a structure that works for them. A parent won’t be telling them when to wake up, eat, go to bed, clean up their room, or study. That will completely fall on their shoulders. The more we can help our kids see that structures actually help them thrive, the more likely they’ll buy into the power of a daily structure.
1. Family Fun, Parentfurther.
2. Summer Learning, Parentfurther.
3. Image via asturdesign on Flick’r.