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Earlier this week, I wrote about having a no-plan summer. Perhaps that appeals to your family but it isn’t practical. Like if both parents work. Then you have to find something for your child to do during the week. Still, the larger message applies: You can be deliberate about your summer experience, and you will be happier for it.

How do busy families plan a summer with care? Here are two suggestions:

1. Get the whole family on board

Brainstorming together

Have a family meeting where you invite your family to commit to a more laid-back summer. Tell them what they’ll gain: More quality time with Mom and Dad, less time in the car running errands, a chance to play with neighborhood friends. Describe it like a dream that’s achievable. But be upfront with the fact that everyone will have to sacrifice some activities to make it happen. Then vote.

If everyone’s on board, ask them to list all of the things they want to do this summer. Make sure that they know to include simple things too, like reading in the hammock, making homemade ice cream or riding bikes. If the final list is super long, explain that that is the very reason why summer can feel hectic. The goal is to have a manageable list. Ask everyone to pick their top activities. If prioritizing a list seems hard for your child (or for you), consider that this exercise will set an important example for her about how to plan a balanced life.

Another way to get the family on board is to pick a day of the week where your family will have no plan. Every Sunday, for example. Give it a playful name, like Family Fun Day.

Ice cream on Family Fun Day

2. Decide to say no

If step one feels impossible then it’s time to put on your hard hat and decide to say no to one or more fun activities this summer. This is hard. Especially when it feels like you are declining enriching activities, like dance lessons.

In that situation, ask yourself, did my child list this activity as one of her top things to do this summer? If yes, then let something else fall off the schedule to make room for it. Be sure to include the time it takes to drive to and from the lesson when you schedule it in.

If your child did not list dance, then look at why you or your partner is pushing it. If it’s because you genuinely want your child to be enriched, then consider that unstructured time is improving her too. It allows for unexpected learning opportunities, like witnessing the full growth cycle of a bean spout, or working to foster collaboration and consensus with her friends to build a fort.

Spontaneous family trip

Still can’t say no? Keep that hard hat on. Remember that there will be many summers to come to be busy. When your child has summer school requirements, or summer training. Now is your chance to take the time to just play with your kids. These summer days are expensive in the sense that you’ll never get them back. Resolve to scratch from the list anything that feels hard to manage or anxious. Remember, you will be happier for it.

What are your ideas for savoring an unhurried summer? Share them in the Comments section below. And check back soon for other summer-related topics throughout May.

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