The days are longer and the kids are out of school. Should it affect your family’s routine?

School means structure for many families. When school is out for the summer, it can be easy to let that structure slide. But should bedtimes be optional and days kept agenda-free all summer?

While most people—children and adults alike—benefit from some level of routine throughout their day, your family’s summer schedule will depend on your child and family.

“There is no right or wrong way to keep a summer schedule,” says Sarah Vadnais, PhD, pediatric neuropsychology fellow at St. Louis Children’s Hospital. “Some children will benefit from more structure to their day, while others may fare better with less direction.”

If your child prefers knowing what the day has in store for her, planning specific times for chores or activities, such as a virtual playdate with friends or a trip to the library, can help provide structure to her day. If she’s more self-driven, keeping her days open can be beneficial. Finding the balance of activities and free time will vary from child to child.

Eat, Sleep, Repeat
Regardless of how your child fills her day, parents should aim for consistent mealtimes and bedtimes throughout the summer. This includes weekdays and weekends.

“They don’t have to be the same times as during the school year,” Vadnais says. “There is room for leeway from the school schedule, but consistency across the week is key.”

Have your child wake up, eat meals and go to sleep at the same time every day. Vadnais also recommends creating a bedtime routine for children to follow every night.

“Following the same bedtime routine every night teaches the brain to prepare for sleep,” Vadnais says. “For example, kids may follow the same routine of taking a warm bath or shower, brushing their teeth, and then reading a book before going to bed.”

The Power of Play
“I encourage parents not to overschedule activities during the summer,” Vadnais says. 

“That can be overwhelming or tiresome for kids.”

Instead, remember to leave room in your child’s schedule this summer to let him play. Spending time playing (the old-fashioned way, with no electronics) can help kids build problem-solving skills, develop creativity, and bond with friends and family.

“We talk a lot about schedules and routines, which have their place in a child’s life,” 

Vadnais says. “But I think that sometimes, we forget to let kids just be kids.”

For help finding a pediatrician or pediatric specialist, call St. Louis Children’s Hospital at 800.678.KIDS (5437).