Structuring Summer Routines for Children in the Midst of COVID-19

By TCS Counselor Natalie Grubbs

It’s the last day of school, and the kick-off to summer, but with so much uncertainty around summer plans in the midst of COVID-19, it’s hard to know what it even means to kick off summer. Here are some tips on how to provide a bit of closure for the end of a “school year to remember,” and prepare to continue a much needed sense of structure for kids over the summer. 

Mark the end of the school year

Parents can provide children with a sense of closure by finding ways to mark the end of the school year. This can be as simple as a game of “roses and thorns” where each child names the highlight of this past school year (the rose), as well as a low point of the year (the thorn). This can lead to some great conversations about fond memories, accomplishments, and favorite things about TCS while also giving children a space to process any feelings of disappointment or loss they’ve experienced this past year. If your family has a tradition or ritual for the end of the school year, try to do a virtual or at-home version of that. Activities like movie night, take out from a favorite restaurant, a virtual field trip to a favorite attraction park, or even just cake and ice cream can be fun ways to celebrate the hard work that went into making this school year successful. You can also create a COVID-19 time capsule as a family!

Continue to provide routine 

Children thrive on routine, and it’s important for their wellbeing to provide some sense of structure and routine during the summer. Start with consistent bedtime and wake times. As much as children may want to sleep in, sleep and parenting experts recommend setting summer-time bedtimes within one to two hours of bedtimes that are established during the school year. Pediatricians recommend between 9 and 12 hours of sleep each day for children. Once you’ve figured out what bedtimes and wake times work for your children and families, establish meal times as close to the meal times TCS students are accustomed to during the year (mid-morning fruit break, lunch time, mid-afternoon snack) to provide consistency. Pick a consistent time for dinner, and you’ve got a nice framework for a summer schedule that may look a little like this: 

8:30 am wake up, get dressed, breakfast

10:00 am fruit break 

12:00pm lunch time

2:00pm snack time

6:00 dinner time 

8:00pm bedtime routine

9:00pm bedtime 

Schedule activities ahead of time 

While children may not be attending camps, extracurricular activities, or playdates in person for a little while this summer, it’s important to take advantage of opportunities to provide a variety of activities for children to enjoy while at home. TCS’s virtual summer camp is a great option for providing enriching activities and social connection. There are also plenty of options for virtual physical activity classes (ballet, gymnastics, karate), STEAM classes, music lessons, and other enrichment activities. Start with your children’s interests. Try asking them if there’s an activity they’ve been wanting to try, and find a virtual option for your child to explore that interest or subject. While it’s amazing that there are so many options, it’s also important to value unstructured play time. Try to limit planned activities to one per day, or 3-4 per week. For tips on keeping kids connected to others while we’re social distancing, click here.

Allow time for active play  

Incorporate as much active play into your kids’ schedule as possible (playing outside, jumping rope, riding bikes, hiking, canoeing, playing basketball, exercising, etc.). Aim for the recommended 60 minutes each day to keep kids conditioned and healthy, and to help balance time spent indoors and/or on screens. 

Limit screen time as much as possible 

Use resources like Common Sense Media and the American Academy of Pediatrics to be proactive about a plan for media use over the summer. Screen time has not only become a necessity during the pandemic, but it’s also been a lifeline for adults and kids alike, keeping us connected to friends and family, and helping busy families balance multiple responsibilities. The American Academy of Pediatrics has issued new guidelines providing a bit of leeway on screen time over the summer, as long as it does not interfere with bedtime, relationships, and healthy activities like active play and unstructured play time. 

D.E.A.R. (Drop everything and read) 

Schedule in time for reading, listening to audiobooks, or listening to podcasts. Reading is an activity kids can do either individually or along with siblings and parents, and it’s very important to continue to read daily over the summer. Try choosing a consistent time each day to drop everything and read, providing a break from screens, down time to decompress and reset, and time to engage the imagination in ways that only books can do. 

Continue to watch for signs of worry or stress

While summer will hopefully bring a much needed break from assignments and the work/school balance, it’s crucial for parents to continue to monitor and watch for signs of worry or stress in children. Continue to provide simple, honest information about the pandemic, social distancing, and feelings COVID-19 can cause as we navigate these times. Sources like Sesame Street Workshop, Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, and the Fred Rogers Foundation continue to update their websites with excellent information about how to talk to kids about COVID-19, how to recognize signs of stress or worry, and how to provide children with the emotional support they need during this time. 

Parents who need support or guidance over the summer with supporting their children can reach out to Natalie at natalieg@tcsatl.org to set up a consultation via phone or video. 

I wish you all a happy, restful summer and can’t wait to see everyone back on campus someday soon.