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At this point, school is out across the United States. After the initial wave of relief of no more remote learning, a sense of dread is building in many parents’ stomachs as they realize that there are more than two months of childcare to fill before a possible return to in-person learning around Labor Day.

While the country is slowly moving toward reopening following the COVID-19 stay-at-home orders, traditional sources of summer childcare aren’t available. Daycare centers are either not open or restricted to the children of essential employees. Most summer camps had to make a decision about whether to open or close weeks ago and most have decided that the operating restrictions or the liability concerns made it impossible for them to open the doors. Even the neighborhood swim club, the mainstay of my own childhood summers, has limited how many people may be inside or hasn’t made a decision on how to open.

Filling the summer days, though, can be managed with some foresight and a little bit of planning. It is possible to beat the summer of COVID-19.

Build Your Summer Bucket List

Getting summer planning started means creating a summer bucket list. Bucket lists aren’t just for old men in a Morgan Freeman/Jack Nicholson movie. They are an opportunity to think of the many things that you would like to try at any point in your life. We’ve created bucket lists for every city that we’ve lived in and we make one each season to help us plan our free time.

Creating a bucket list is an exercise in additive brainstorming. In other words, all ideas are welcome and don’t worry about the feasibility of an idea. Allow your kids to come up with ideas that range from the practical to the slightly ridiculous. After all, the changing landscape of the COVID-19 restrictions makes advanced planning a little tricky at times.

Here are some examples from our family bucket list:

  • Paint rocks
  • Make face masks
  • Ride bikes
  • Bake churros
  • Have a talent show
  • Freeze dance competition
  • Star Wars movie marathon
  • Build a fort (inside or outside)

My kids have come up with a lot more and we will be having conversations throughout the summer to keep adding to the list. If you get stuck, try out this strategy for fighting the summer doldrums.

Set Personal Goals

Many of us think of goals as something restricted to our New Year’s resolutions. During the quarantine, many of us created COVID-19 goals to help us make downtime more meaningful. During the school year, our kids are used to having goals and they bring with them motivation and energy.

Take some time to talk about summer goals with your kids to help make sure that the opportunities that the freedom of the summer presents don’t slip away. The goals can be about anything from developing a skill to having an experience. One of your children might want to learn how to ride a bike while another may want to try every recipe in a cookbook. You can be broader with the goals and have them connected to some of the fixed summer experiences that are already on your calendar.

Having these goals will help build independence and allow them some choice in figuring out what they want to do with free time during the summer.

Invest in Your Backyard

Since the quarantine began, we’ve been tossing our kids into the front yard and back yard of our house whenever possible. We’re ok with them spending time inside, but summer is supposed to be about fresh air and enjoying the warm days.

With the backyard rapidly being treated like another room in the house, we’ve been thinking about investing further in it. Several of our neighbors have bought those large inflatable pools to help cool them on the hot days ahead. Others have added a slip and slide. We recently purchased a fire pit for relaxing around and roasting the occasional marshmallow.

One thing to consider as you think about augmenting your backyard is to focus on purchases that you will use for more than just this summer. An inflatable pool might be great, but if you have a community pool, you may never use it again. On the other hand, trampolines or slides may bring your kids years of fun.

Don’t Go It Alone

The very nature of social distancing has pushed many of us to be socially distant and physically distant from each other. Our routines and the stay-at-home guidelines have kept many of us close to our homes and the challenge of balancing work and childcare makes for very little time for adults to socialize.

Make sure that you are connected to your larger community through whatever channels you are comfortable with. I’m on Facebook and Whatsapp groups that are a mix of smaller personal networks and larger networks with a shared common interest (usually professional or parenting-based). Each of these gives me another outlet to engage with others and not feel so alone. Even talking with the neighbors from across the street is helpful.

Use these groups and connections to look for new ideas to help you get through the next day. Or just use them as an outlet for socialization. Either will help build up your resilience and make you more available to help your kids. After all, if you don’t put on your oxygen mask first, who is going to be there to help your child?

Embrace Innovative Parenting

Perhaps mindset is the most important part of surviving the summer. Lean into innovative parenting and recognize that you will need to treat each week (or even each day) as an independent entity that you need to think through.

No two weeks will look alike and treat every week as an experiment. Observe how your kids react and develop new theories on what might work to help them stay engaged and grow throughout this summer. Be willing to be iterative and shift and redevelop your plans based upon what you learn each day from your kids. Ask yourself lots of questions, such as:

  • How might I give my kids more control?
  • Am I fighting the right battle?
  • If I look at this problem from a different perspective, will my solution change?
  • What could I do that might disrupt the system causing this problem??

Be willing to fail. You will have days that are complete disasters where your kids are a mess and you get no work done. Be willing to learn from those disasters, both big and small. Figure out how tomorrow can be a better day, even if you can only make small changes.

For more resources for dealing with the challenges of the COVID-19 stay-at-home orders, check out my coronavirus resources page.

Additional Resources

9 Boredom-busters for Any Age Group

100 Things to Do This Summer