There’s no doubt that parents have faced multi-tasking challenges amid the COVID-19 pandemic. They’re balancing their work, their children’s online learning, while also trying to maintain their own self-care.

For many, this summer brings both a welcome relief and a different challenge.

Online learning is paused, but many camps and other activities are opting to stay closed. So what can parents do to keep their kids occupied for the next two months? Should they focus on combatting the “summer slide” — the learning loss children often experience during school breaks?

Yen Mac, an Ontario-based parent of one, says that summer planning has been tough. She and her friends have experienced burnout from the last four months.

Mac says they’re teetering on the edge of a mental breakdown from:

  • the endless hours of trying to educate kids (who do not want to be taught by their parent), 
  • hours cooking in the kitchen,
  • the stress of having to work from home full-time, and
  • concerns over their kids’ very lives.

Amid health concerns and burn-out, it might help to embrace that summer slide this year – for the sake of everyone’s mental health.

How to help your kids maintain structure and routine this summer

Creating a summer structure and routine for kids doesn’t have to mean scheduling every single minute. Instead, it helps to have some activities planned to keep everyone occupied. Miranda Feenstra of Montreal has found this helpful with her 10-year-old daughter, Tristan, who has been home since March 12.

“We lucked out in some ways this spring being at home, because our neighbour offered us a free trampoline. She's been happily jumping on that every day,” says Feenstra.

They’ve also been cleaning up the backyard and built a chicken coop together. They have five chickens, one of which is Tristan’s responsibility. Add an inflatable pool that Feenstra bought, and there’s enough to keep Tristan occupied.

Without some structure, says Feenstra, she found her daughter was spending too much time chatting with friends on the computer. So her plan includes setting limits on computer time. Instead, Tristan can watch a show in French to improve her vocabulary, jump on the trampoline, and do her chores. Feenstra has already noticed that Tristan is behaving better with some structure in place.

They’re also planning little trips around their neighbourhood — to the post office and to the local ice cream shop. Of course, they’ll be sure to wear face masks and wash their hands.

Keeping kids active this summer

Do you have plans or activities lined up for your kids this summer? Here are some things to keep in mind.

  • Limit screen time and encourage outdoor play.
  • Reward positive behaviour with praise or prizes like a movie or video game (while still maintaining reasonable limits on screen time).
  • Create some structure and routine, even if it’s for a couple of hours a day. Give your kids an easy-to-follow schedule or activity plan. But let it be flexible enough so that your kids don’t feel like they’re under a strict summer regime. 
  • Take advantage of creating safe social and geographic bubbles* for your children. That will allow them some freedom, as well as much-needed social connections. 

*A social bubble is a circle of people who can interact with one another without physically distancing. The recommended number per bubble varies across the country. For example, in Ontario, the bubble must be a maximum of 10 peopleVisit your provincial or territorial government’s website  for information and guidelines on creating social circles in your area. 

Some of Mac’s friends are going to spend time with their family at a cottage where there’s plenty of outdoor space but fewer crowds. As for Mac, she’s going to try to create a bubble with other families in her neighbourhood that she trusts.

Find ways to make learning fun for kids, but don’t worry about the summer slide

Families can feel free to let the academics slide a little over the summer. 

Still, if you can build in some learning time that is also stress-free, that can be an educational and enjoyable activity.

One way to merge learning with free play might be to let kids choose books to read at their leisure. And when they finish, reward them with an activity they enjoy. Or families can opt to put on a talent show, tailored to academic or learning achievements.

This summer is all about balancing everyone’s needs amid the uncertainty we’re all facing. A little bit of structure with a generous amount of free time is the best way to help your family enjoy the time together.