Post written by mom and parenting columnist Susan Heid of The Confident Mom.

The summer months are ripe with opportunity to help your kids grow in positive ways – a chance to enjoy a change of pace from the busy school year.
You have an incredible opportunity just in front of you to focus on different interests or activities that you don’t have as much time for during the rest of the year, that is….if you take the opportunity.
Here are a few tips that I know will help you get summer off to a great start!

1. Create a Daily Schedule

“To affect the quality of the day, that is the highest of arts.” Henry David Thoreau

With the less structured days of summer it can be very easy to let things slide and before you know it it’s noon and the kids are still running around in their pajamas having a Nerf gun war (not that that isn’t a good thing – sometime!).
A Daily Schedule will help you and your kids stay on track.  You’ll be able to take control of how you spend your time from one hour to the next or at least in segments of the day – like before lunch, after lunch, pre-dinner, and after dinner.
You do not have to have a schedule broken down minute by minute, but by outlining your day and letting everyone know what the expectation is, you will have more time to enjoy activities rather than nagging at everyone to brush their teeth.
You could set up pre-lunch time for in home/yard activities, then perhaps an after lunch segment for activities you go out to do, like the park or pool.  Come home and have a quiet time just before dinner and then also have an after dinner segment.  Also makes sure you include self-care tasks, like brushing teeth, showers/baths, making beds, etc.

2. Establish Summer House Rules/Expectations

This falls in closely to the daily schedule and will create less stress for moms if you address a lot of power struggle issues ahead of time!
At the beginning of summer have a family meeting where you can discuss and decide on bedtimes, expected chores and time to be completed, rules for staying home alone (if that applies), rules for around the neighborhood, limits on TV and computer time and what time kids need to have morning tasks completed, like brushing teeth and breakfast.
By discussing these in advance and even creating a master list of the rules and expectations there is no question about what is expected. If you like, create a poster board with some of these and place it in a location everyone can access.

3. Summer Learning

Think about how you would like to see your kids develop during the summer. Keep  in mind – if you aim for nothing, it’s likely you’ll hit it, that is what can happen if you do not set some goals with your kids. Discuss with each of your children some things they might be interested in learning over the summer.
It may be a sport, maybe they need to brush up on their writing skills or learn a life skill like cooking. Allow them to come up with some ideas and then you can also add in one tasks that may not be one they would ever list, but you know they need to spend a little time on – like math facts or reading.
Then try to make the learning fun.
If cooking is one of the activities, allow a “Kids in the Kitchen Night” where you can supervise but allow your child(ren) to come up with a menu and prepare dinner for everyone. They will not only be learning a life skill but will also be using reading and math skills by following a recipe!
If developing their writing skills is on the agenda, find a friend or family member that would be willing to write letters back and forth to your child. Be creative with the ways you can make learning fun.

4. Meal Planning

Research easy and nutritious summer meals now!
Look for recipes that require little preparation or using your oven. Pick about a dozen and rotate them making planning easy on you. Don’t be afraid to get some help (see prior topic with “Kids in the Kitchen Night”).
I love summer for the fact that my husband loves to barbeque, which makes my job much easier! I normally will double whatever he is barbequing so that I can use the meat in other dishes throughout the week.
Quesadillas with steak and a salad makes for a quick summer dinner – as does using leftover barbecued chicken in salads and other recipes.
Set a day each week to plan your meals and make your grocery list. Even with less “structured” activities during summer I find that it can be even easier to fall into a pattern of getting take-out or readymade items because we fail to plan. That will increase your family budget and create stress for you!

5. Get Creative

Encourage creativity and imagination in your children.  There are many ways to create great family memories without breaking the bank, it just takes being intentional.
Get outdoors: make sure you take advantage of state or national parks in your area –  June 21st is FREE admission day at more than 100 National Parks – take advantage of that! Check out books the library on local hikes in your area, pack a lunch and take off for the day, you never know what you will discover. I love going on picnics – but I used to hate preparing it all at the last minute. Now I keep a basket or cooler easily accessible and ready to go for last minute outings. The basket gets stocked when we return with the items we need, like plates, utensils, cups, napkins, bug spray, and tablecloth. That way I am excited to go instead of thinking I have to get everything ready.
Volunteer: Find ways in your local community to volunteer as a family. This is a memorable way to teach your kids the importance of giving to others and create habits that will hopefully last a lifetime. Brainstorm as a family how you might serve others and areas that interest you – children, church programs or senior citizens.
Create a play group: Starting a summertime play group where moms with similar age kids take turns planning activities and supervising one another’s kids is a great way to give each other a little ‘child-free’ time! Make a list of friends who might be interested and send out an email. Consider hosting a planning meeting where you can create a schedule and allow moms to sign up. This just might be what saves your summer as a mom – getting some uninterrupted time to revive!
If you are looking for some fun ideas to keep your kids busy this summer, check out my 2011 Summer Survival Calendar –  a life-saver for busy moms with 90 ways to beat the heat and blast boredom. Each day features at least one suggested activity, as well as click-able links to kid-friendly recipes, crafts, or special discounted activities; from paper airplanes to homemade ice cream in a coffee can, dollar movies to dandelion painting, you’ll have a summer full of family fun for only $7.
What tips do you have to maximize summer?

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