How to Plan Your Family’s Summer

Tame the chaos of unstructured months with a few simple steps
April 7, 2018 Updated: October 8, 2018

Ah, summer. Slow days, chasing fireflies in between dips in the pool, and not a care in the world. 

Unless you’re a parent, of course, because an activity roster like that will last you through the afternoon of day one, if you’re lucky.

If you’re a parent, joyous and carefree summer days can be yours—if you have a plan. 

Some people scoff at planning. They’ll throw these quotes at you: “People make plans and God laughs,” or, “Life is what happens to us while we are making plans.” 

There’s some truth to those, for sure.

My favorite quote about plans came from Dwight D. Eisenhower. He said, “In preparing for battle, I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.”

Any parent who has ever “enjoyed” a summer with no plans whatsoever is probably knee-deep in charts and spreadsheets right now, because that sure isn’t ever going to happen again! Make no mistake. We’re preparing for battle here, people. So let’s get planning.

It’s not going to be that bad. Let’s break this down into easy-peasy steps that will have you skipping through a dew-filled meadow with perfectly coiffed, smiling children in no time (or something).

Step 1: Hydrate

Grab coffee, tea, whatever beverage is going to take you through a painless(ish) process of listing, calendarizing, and wrapping your head around kids activities. Stock up. This may take a while.

Step 2: Gather Materials

This will vary, but you’ll need a calendar, any information you’ve received about possible activities or travel, and a list maker of your choice. Maybe you’re a pen and paper person, maybe you love spreadsheets, maybe you’re going to create a graphic-filled slideshow to dazzle the rest of the family with later, or maybe you’re keeping this on the back of an old receipt you found in your purse. It’s all good. My favorite tool for this project is post-it notes.

Step 3: Remove the Children

Not permanently. This activity will require some focus and concentration and will take 10,000 times longer if you’re constantly interrupted. Can they go visit Grandma for a few hours? An alternative, of course, is to do this before they wake up or after they go to bed, but “yawn.”

Step 4: Count the Weeks

The first task that will reduce the overwhelming nature of planning an entire summer will be this: Think of the summer in terms of weeks, not days. How much better does it feel to plan 10 weeks versus planning 70 days? However many weeks you’ll enjoy of school-free time this summer, list them out. Week 1, Week 2, Week 3, and so on. Label the Sunday of each week on your calendar with its corresponding number to keep yourself organized.

Step 5: Calendarize the Hard Dates

You likely have commitments and plans already scheduled for the summer. Make sure they’re on your calendar and in your list of weeks. You’ll work around those dates as you add further plans.

Step 6: Prioritize

Before you add any more to your summer plan, ask the high-level questions: What kind of summer do you wish to create for you and your family? What would be best for each member of the family? Do you have any big goals you can spend time working toward? 

This is where you should completely ignore what everybody else is doing and truly get clear on what is best for your family at this time.

Step 7: Fill In the Gaps

With hard dates on the calendar and your priorities in mind, you can now choose any other activities, travel plans, or projects you want to focus on this summer. If the kids are going to camp or taking lessons, get that paperwork ready in this step. 

Think in terms of weeks. If one week is too light on activities, find something fun. If one week is too packed, make some adjustments. 

If you prefer a very unscheduled summer like many families do, consider giving each week a theme—Week 1: Nature Adventures, Week 2: The Beach, Week 3: Game Nights, for example. This way, you’re operating on a really flexible level, but you’re not totally aimless as you navigate through summer.

Step 8: Establish Habits

The key to successfully implementing a weekly plan is to have some daily habits in place. Summer brings forth a drastic change in daily routines, which is welcome but can throw everybody off. 

Give some thought to simple habits you’ll incorporate into your summer days consistently. Will you take a daily walk? Have chill-out/quiet time before dinner each day? Wind down with reading time before bed each night?

Anything you can do to bring rhythm to your summer days will reduce your family’s stress measurably. Don’t overdo this, of course, but have a plan for how your day will flow and be flexible enough to adjust when needed.

Step 9: Get Excited

At the end of this process, you should have a good sense of what your plans are for those 10 or so weeks of summer coming up. Hopefully, they sound joyful for your family. If not, go back to Step 1.

You now have a map to guide you through summer. Of course, if as you travel through it, you find yourself wanting to veer off and explore uncharted territory, by all means, do it! Remember what Eisenhower said? The plans give you peace of mind and a guide for when the going gets tough—but plans are made to be broken.

Happy summer!

Follow Barbara on Twitter: @barbaradanza