The Summer of Smooth Sailing: Tips for Balancing “Work” and “Fun”

The Summer of Smooth Sailing

Tips for Balancing “Work” and “Fun”

Toddler schedule or routines during summer can be especially challenging. Learn tips and strategies for finding your groove and making this the summer you get stuff done AND have fun. Plus, surefire tips for helping you stick to your new routine and a FREE printable

Summertime can mean so many things. For some of us, it simply means the weather is warmer (hotter?). For others, kids are home, so our entire routines change, making us wonder how to create a toddler schedule or routine, and maybe even how to integrate older children into that mix. Or, maybe you yourself are out of school for the summer and have time off that you don’t normally have during the rest of the year.


Summer can mean travel, but it can also mean that it’s time to get projects done. So, how do we do both?


How do we make sure that we’re not spending our days running around like chickens with our heads cut off, feeling beat up and ragged by the end of the day as we pass out on the couch with a glass of wine in our hands?


We plan!

We get organized.

We make sure we have a good balance of “work” and “fun.”


After all, the goal of summer is to have fun with our little ones, right?


We want to make lasting memories and make it the summer they’ll remember… but, we also need to finish that house project before winter and make sure we ward off the “summer slide” as best we can…


This post originally appeared on First Belle, which is where Ashley, a toddler mom AND teacher, helps teachers and moms (or teachers OR moms) navigate the classroom or their new adventures in motherhood.  Check out the original post here.

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When we’re home all day without any plans, it’s easy to let time slip away from us and for our routines to go out the window. Sometimes we find ourselves still in our pajamas at 3 o’clock on a Friday afternoon (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing…) and wonder where the day or week went. Our house might be torn apart from kids playing and we’re probably getting tired of breaking up sibling squabbles and stepping over Legos. So, what can we do to make sure we have fun with our kids this summer (after all, they’re only this age once!), but get everything done that we need to?


Let’s talk about several different approaches and things we can do to make summer both fun, but manageable, while creating or revising a kid or toddler schedule or routine. We’ll start with the big picture and organizing what we envision our summer looking like.

Summer can be a challenging time for parents. Tips for making summer easier for parents while the kids are out of school, tips for getting organized and creating schedules and routines. FREE download available at

Short on time?

Here’s the Cliff Notes Version for Creating a Summer Schedule or Routine: 

  1. Get organized.
    1. Make a “Summer Bucket List.” Get the whole family involved!
    2. Organize your Summer Bucket List.
    3. Make a “Family To Do List.”
    4. Organize your Family To Do List
    5. Take your family commitments into consideration!
  2. Tie it All Together!
    1. Combine the two lists- Summer Bucket List (fun), meet Family To Do List (work)!
    2. Create a calendar!
      1. What gets scheduled gets done!
  3. Have a specific plan for each day.

Now, scroll down and check out the Tips for Toddlers and Preschoolers (below), Tips for Being Prepared and Organized, Skipping the Summer Slide, and Tried and True Methods for Sticking to a Daily Routine below!



[bctt tweet=”What gets scheduled gets done! Combine your Summer Bucket List with your To Do List for the Ultimate Summer! ” username=”ConnieDeal_LL4L”]

Get Organized!

Have an organized summer with kids by setting goals and having routines for kids. Don't just make your summer bucket list. Actually DO your summer plans. Survive summer by getting organized, the easy way! Visit for more info.

Summer is supposed to be fun, right? So, start by making a “Summer Bucket List.”

  1. This allows you to get input from your children on what they’d like to do during the summer.
    1. When making your bucket list, make sure you get input from everyone in the family and record ALL the ideas- big or small.
    2. Of course, you won’t be able to do them all, but writing them down gives everyone’s ideas merit and might spark other ideas.
  2. Once you have ALL the ideas written down, organize them.
    1. Maybe some can automatically be moved to another list (perhaps a “Family Bucket List” instead of “Summer Bucket List”), or changed into something that’s more reasonable and that you’d be able to accomplish this summer.
      1. For example, going to Italy might be out of the question, but reading about Italy and cooking a traditional Italian meal the way they do in Italy while watching an Italian movie, subtitles and all, would be doable.
  3. Organize your list by putting things into categories, such as things that can be done at home, day trips, things that go together, etc.
  4. After talking about what needs to be done this summer (see below), it’ll be time to start planning.
    1. When are you going to do these things?
    2. Write them on the calendar!
    3. Things that are calendared stand a better chance of getting done.
      1. It might be a good idea to let your children take turns choosing which bucket list items get done when so that they have more stake in your family’s summer plans and so that everyone has an equal amount of things they want to do on the calendar.

Now that you know what everyone would like to do this summer, talk about what needs to be done and how you’ll accomplish this. Do this by writing a “Family To Do List.”

  1. What do you need to do this summer? Work? House projects?
  2. What do your children need to do this summer? Summer reading? Sports? Camps? Deep clean their bedrooms? Volunteering? (Note, it’s important to ask your children what they need or would like to get done over the summer, but also tell them what you feel they need to do too.)
  3. What are your family commitments? Weddings? Vacations or other events to plan for and around?
  4. What would you like to get done this summer? Is there anything you can do over the summer to make the next school year easier?
  5. How much time do you have each day or each week to work on this?
  6. What skills would you like your children to learn or practice this summer, if any?

It’s a good idea to write all these things down. You might not be able to accomplish them all, but it’s helpful to have it all written down.


Have an organized summer with kids by setting goals and having routines for kids. Don't just make your summer bucket list. Actually DO your summer plans. Survive summer by getting organized, the easy way! Visit for more info.

Tie it all together

You have two main lists- the “Summer Bucket List” (the fun one!) and the “Family To Do List” (the “work” one!). It’s time to tie them together. There are several ways to do this, but involving your children in the planning, especially if they’re older, is a wonderful way to get them to help you and understand what needs to be done, when it needs to happen, and why. Depending on your “Summer Bucket List” items and your “Family To Do List” length and type of items, you can create a schedule in several different ways.

  1. Do something from each list every day.
  2. Do the work first and the fun stuff later (each day or at the end of the week).
  3. Alternate fun days and work days (Monday = work, Tuesday = fun, Wednesday = work…)


Regardless of how you decide to integrate your two lists, create a calendar for it. Some questions to help you with combining your lists and calendaring it are:

  • What do you hope to accomplish each week?
  • What needs to be done each day in order to achieve the weekly goals?
  • Who is responsible for doing each task?
  • What supplies or other resources are needed?
  • What pre-planning or preparations are needed?


Now that we’ve looked at the big picture, let’s focus on each day and thinking about how we can make our days go smoothly while getting done what we hope and need to accomplish.

Have an organized summer with kids by setting goals and having routines for kids. Don't just make your summer bucket list. Actually DO your summer plans. Survive summer by getting organized, the easy way! Visit for more info.

Some questions and points to consider:

  • Kids are usually the most attentive in the morning. Do tasks that require the most focus, dedication, or attention in the morning.
  • If you have things to do outside, it’s probably best to do those tasks in the morning when it’s coolest.
  • Kids work well with incentives, so it’s probably best to do the “work” stuff in the morning and the “fun” stuff in the afternoon.
    • Another approach is to do the “work” in the beginning of the week with some of the smaller, easier to accomplish items from the Summer Bucket List sprinkled in during the afternoons and the “bigger” fun stuff from the Summer Bucket List at the end of the week. So, if you need to purge their closets and reorganize their bedrooms, do that at the beginning of the week and go to the water park or whatever fun day trip they’d like to do at the end of the week.
  • Do you have any children who take naps? If so, plan around nap time(s) to keep that schedule as consistent as possible.
  • Involve your children in deciding what you do each day and write out a daily routine.
    • Post the daily routine where you’ll see it each day.
    • You can write a routine by the hour if that works best for you or your children or a general one that tells the order that you do things.
  • What do your children like to do at home? What do they do when they’re just “hanging out”?
    • Make a list of things you’d like done each day before they get that downtime.
      • Do they need to help you with something? Do some reading? Make their beds? List whatever needs to be done before it’s time to “hang out” so that everyone’s on the same page and you’re not fighting that battle each day.
  •  Summer can be a challenging time for parents. Tips for making summer easier for parents while the kids are out of school, tips for getting organized and creating schedules and routines. FREE download available at Grab all the FREE printables, plus a few more HERE!


Tips for Toddlers and Preschoolers:

  • Keep their naptime from preschool or daycare.
    • Consistency is key!
    • It helps with predictability and makes the transition back to the new school year easier.
    • It takes time for kids to adjust to new schedules, so changing it for the summer and then changing it back for the school year isn’t the best idea.
  • Write out a routine (for you) and make a visual one for them (Natural Beach Living has an AMAZING free printable VISUAL schedule!).
    • Refer to it ALL the TIME (in the beginning) so that your child learns the order that you do things.
    • This can be a bit tedious at first, but they catch on quickly, making it well worth the effort.
  • Think about what you can do while your child plays. It might help to write a daily routine that has one column for what you’re doing and one column for what your child is doing. In other words, how can you effectively multitask?
    • Clean the bathroom while your child takes a bath. Do the dishes while they eat a snack. What else can you do while your child is occupied?
    • Move toys/activities into the room you need to be in so that your little ones can play nearby.
    • Figure out ways to have your child help you. Even if this slows things down a bit (it usually does!), your little one is occupied, learning new skills, spending time with you, and not making messes elsewhere.
  • A daily toddler routine or schedule that  works well for us is:
    • Breakfast and free play while I clean up the downstairs
    • Get ready for our day and quick bedroom/bathroom tidy-up as needed
    • Short activity together (art, science, sensory play, etc.). Have a baby too? See my tips for including Baby into activities.
    • Outing (play date, soccer, errands, etc.) from approximately 9-11:30
    • 11:30-2:30 lunch and nap time
    • 2:30 snack and quiet time
    • 3:00 activity, game, walk, or something else done together
    • 5:00 dinner prep, dinner, and toy clean up before family time
    • 7:00 bedtime routine
  • Going out in the morning and doing quieter, or more low-key stuff in the afternoon at home works well for many families.


Being Prepared and Organizing Helps a LOT! Here are a few tips:

  • If you’re going to be doing a lot of outings, consider making a list of what you need each time you go out.
    • Nifty Idea: Put the list in a page protector and cross of items with a dry erase marker as they’re packed or accounted for.
  • Pack different bags for various places you routinely frequent, like a park bag, a pool bag, etc.
    • Make sure you have lists of what you need for each place! This makes getting out of the house easier, allows for anyone to help, and reduces the chances you’ll forget key items.
  • Have quiet activities ready for your kids to do. This could be for at home if it’s needed or for when you’re on the go.
  • Pack your bags, grab snacks, fill up water bottles, etc. the night before. That way, you’re ready, it’s one less thing to do in the morning, and you can probably do it after your children go to bed, making it easier.
  • Going on a road trip? Check out my travel tips.

Busy Bags and Quiet Activities for Toddlers and Preschoolers don't have to be complicated to make or involve a lot of "stuff." Check out these 60 different activities using the same basic materials in different ways. Great for traveling, plane trips with toddlers, road trip activities, and more! Busy bags for toddlers, busy bags for preschoolers, busy bags for 2 year olds

Skip the Summer Slide!

The “summer slide” is the term many use for kids who forget some of what they learned over the summer, so they start the next school year a little behind where they ended the previous school year. EEEEeeeek! How awful is that!? Incorporate learning into your day to prevent this from happening!

  • Have your child help you count out snacks or supplies.
  • When you’re cutting up food (like pizza for dinner), talk about how you’re dividing the whole pizza into smaller pieces. Talk about how many pieces there are, how many each person can have, etc.
  • Read! Read, read! But, make it fun.
    • Read whatever your child is interested in.
    • Make it part of your weekly or biweekly routine to go to the library and check out books.
    • Ask your child about what he/she is reading, or discuss what you’re reading with your child.
  • For school-aged children, check their last report card and see what they were working on in school.
    • Incorporate some of that into your week.
    • Sprinkling in a little learning or “school stuff” here and there can go a long way in preventing the summer slide!
  • Visit museums or historical places around you or that interest your child.
    • Talk about what you saw, learned, liked/disliked, and so on.
    • Having meaningful discussions is great for kids because it helps them explore their own thinking, helps with listening and speaking skills, and keeps them in the habit of thinking critically and about what they’re doing and why.

Connect with Children through Conversations Guide is for parents who are tired of not knowing how to get quality answers from their kids and who are tired of activities not going well. Learn simple strategies for tweaking what you're already doing so that your questions are more efficient and you're learning more and talking with your children instead of at them.

Tried and True Methods for Sticking to a Daily Routine

  • Use a timer. Set a timer for however long a task should take.
    • You can always add more time if needed.
    • If you’re busy and your child wants you to play, set a time and stick to it.
    • The timer is great for this (“Let’s play in 5 minutes. When the timer goes off, I’ll be done with this for now and we can play.”). This also helps you not lose track of time too.
  • Use a visual routine with pictures so it’s easier for your kids to follow.
    • Bonus tip: include a way to mark which step of the routine you’re on.
  • Practice saying, “no” to plans you don’t want to make or places you don’t want to go. It’s ok to not do everything!
  • Make a list of what you want to get done that day.
    • Prioritize it so that the most important or the most timely tasks get done.
    • Another idea is to make a weekly list instead of a daily one and cross off tasks as you get them done.
  • Communicate and explain!
    • Tell your children what needs to be done and explain why.
    • Allow them to help.
    • If you don’t communicate your needs and your plan, how will your children know what to do, what’s expected of them, or how to help? The same goes for your spouse! 😉
  • Get dressed!
    • Don’t stay in your pajamas or comfy clothes all day. You’ll feel better and be more productive if you’re dressed and “ready” for the day.
  • Take breaks.
    • This is beneficial for both you and your kids.
    • Breaks can be down time, something relaxing, or something active like dancing and singing. Do what works for you!
  • If something’s not working, change it!
    • If you find yourself getting frustrated or your kids are “losing it” at the same time each day, look for the cause and try to make adjustments to avoid having the same rough patch each day.


Phew! That’s a lot! But, even if it just gets you thinking, or you only use the parts that are most relevant and helpful to you, you should be well on your way to controlling the chaos to make this summer one for the memory books. If you’re ready to get started, check out my FREE printables to help you organize your time this summer! You might also be interested in How to Easily Make Over 60 Busy Bag Activities for $12 and How to Make a Toddler Activity Kit. 


Ready to get started preparing your toddler or preschooler for kindergarten?

(It’s never too early to start!)

Find out more!

Simple science activities for toddlers that you can set up in 3 minutes or less. Toddler science is a great way to build language skills, incorporate sensory play, and have fun learning. Quick and easy activities for preschoolers too!

What’d I miss? What’s your #1 tip for combining “work” and “fun” all summer long?

Share below or join the discussion on Facebook!

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