***warning…long rambling blog post ahead. If you want to just “get to the point” look for a series of ***.

So it’s official: summer is in full swing. Luckily, the itch is gone (woohoo!) thanks to the good stuff: prednisone! The nights are simply delicious right now—perfect for open window sleeping to the lullaby of the crickets. Love this.

Baseball season is also in full gear. I spent last week writing (working on my next workshop) between trips to the local University for baseball camp and basketball camp. The telecommuting schedule, it seems, worked much better in my mind than in the real world. Although I have to admit, it was glorious to sit alone in the baseball stands writing even though I would have gotten more done in the office.

But…you have to try things to find out if they work. And if they don’t work out as planned, so what? You simply collect the data, take in the pros and cons, and tweak going forward. That’s my strategy anyway. The net of it all was on overloaded email in-box (if you’re waiting for a response from me…I am happily digging out…slowly but surely) and one happy little (sports) camper. For me, foregoing just a notch of productivity for the higher cause of a happy boy…it was well worth it.

My most recent experiment, coupled with a few emails and comments on prior blog posts, has me thinking about summer, schedules, chores, and how to balance it all. Most weeks this summer…my life is much simpler:  one drop off and one pick up to a local day camp. We’re doing this all but three weeks this summer…so in fact, during the summer my schedule is (usually) a bit more predictable, and my kid’s schedule is quite consistent.

For the three weeks when the kids are home, it will be a juggling act. And then, I’m pulling out the big guns:  a list. :) See I feel way worse about the quality of my parenting, when my kids spend the day playing video games and watching T.V. (which they would quite happily do 24/7 without intervention from me) than I do when my kids are playing with other kids, swimming, skating, doing crafts, and other fun summer camp activities.

How will this list work? Well, in the week before the first “stay home for a week” extravaganza, I’m going to ask both kids to make a list of all the things they will do to occupy they’re time…that doesn’t involved electricity or remote controls. Then, we’ll use this list as to keep them refocused away from the electronic devices, as needed throughout the day. Sounds a bit unstructured…but honestly, that’s one of my goals. I look at my kid’s life, and it’s loaded with structure. And while I find this to be really, really healthy, I also think back to my own childhood summers and they were filled with three months of NOTHING to do.

No structure.

No camps.

No place to be.

Every day was a new adventure, and often the adventure consisted of finding something—anything to do that didn’t lead me to complete stir craziness. We played cards. We dug huge holes to “China” in the empty lot next to our house. We bounced on the pogo stick. (My heavens, does that make me sound like I might now need a walking stick to get around?) We rode our bikes. We played in the sprinkler. I’d walk down to my friend Vicky’s house, and we’d hang out at her house or in her back yard…doing nothing. We’d roller skate. We’d do whatever. And the best part of all…we used our imagination.

I realize times are different now…and I also know that as an organizer, one might expect that I’d run a more structured ship on these off weeks. (And perhaps after the first experimental week…I could be singing a new song.) But…I’m going for three weeks of unstructured bliss and down time, all guided by a simple list of possible ways to pass the time. We’ll also be making a few calls to friends to set up some “scheduled” play dates, and take a family vacation-in-your-(almost)-home-town day to the local water park. But all in all…we’re striving for no structure and total down time. I’m hoping the contrast will do them good…in a number of ways. I hope it will stretch their creativity and maybe they’ll appreciate the busyness and structure of the day camp plan we carefully crafted for the rest of the summer.

Now…I’m certain that not everyone will embrace this flexible, no schedule, no extra chores approach to summer with the kids. So…here are some ideas for those who crave a bit more structure .

Make a list. Start with a simple list of things you’d like to do (or get done) this summer. Just brainstorm. This can be a list of big events (fire works, water park, etc.) or it can be simpler…things like read, practice guitar, or other routine things. If you’re interested in having your kids help out with chores over the summer…make a list of things that get done around the house each week: laundry, grocery shopping, cleaning, washing the car, take out the trash, etc.

Assign the list. For events on your list, assign them to a date on the calendar. For example, pick a day (and perhaps a rain date) to go to the water park. This is the best way to make sure these events happen…and don’t stay forever on your wish list.

For routine chores, or activities to pass the time, decide who will do them. If you’re assigning chores to kids, start with the youngest first, giving them the chores they can reasonably do on their own. Be sure to think of and assign the various steps involved. For example, laundry can be broken down into sorting (which a young child could help with), and loading (appropriate for an older child), and switching over from washer to dryer (older child) to folding and sorting (which, depending on the type of garment, could be done by children of various ages) and putting away.

Ease into it. I have found with my own kids, gradual works better. Sure, I’d love them to clean the whole house for me with absolutely no intervention from myself…but that isn’t going to happen just yet. It has worked better to add a new chore occasionally, once we’ve gotten used to the current responsibilities. So for example, you could start with making the bed, and then once this is a habit, add a chore of putting away clothes.

Communicate the system. This is where it can get fun. I seriously drooled over this fabulous schedule that Tara Whitney put together for her kiddo’s last year. Or you could post the schedule / task list on clipboards or a bulletin board. For pre-readers, creating photo cards of the chores to do can help your child remember what he or she is responsible for, without having to ask you. Gives your child a feeling of autonomy and you one less interruption. :)

Put away laundry

For more on these cards, visit this prior post.

At long last, it’s your turn! Please share. Do you thrive on schedules in the summer…or avoid them like the itchy plague? What’s your favorite solution for kids’ chores and to keep track of who needs to do what? I’d love to see and hear your ideas!

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Aby Garvey is a creative organizing expert and simplify 101’s founder. She has created 14 online organizing classes, which she has been teaching since 2007, helping thousands of people around the world get organized. Aby loves to help people create positive change in their lives through her online classes and organizing eBooks.

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