Summertime conjures up joyful images of lemonade stands, splashing at the beach and family vacations. It can also stir up anxiety for parents, as we feel dependent on the structure of the school year to keep our children meaningfully engaged. If that’s how you’re feeling, then take a deep breath and let’s rethink those long summer days filled with downtime. Summer can be an opportunity to teach some of the most important lessons of all: life skills. The pace of the school year prevents us from having the time to teach our kids to tie their shoes, to make a sandwich or set the dinner table. Who has time to plant a vegetable garden while rushing from school to soccer practice to ballet, and somehow squeezing in dinner and homework in between?

But as things slow down over summer, remember that our children are full of curiosity and, what might be mundane for us, can open new worlds for our children. One of our students was so excited when he learned about the ideal conditions for plant growth, that he went home and aerated his family garden!  Engaging even our youngest children in household chores teaches social responsibility, builds confidence, independence and pride. That sense of mastery can carry them through the next school year, as they take pride in knowing how to identify recyclables, plan and prepare their own lunch, or share their chart showing how long it takes for different vegetables to grow. In fact, studies have shown that children who start chores at a young age have the greatest academic, social and professional success later in life.

Summer can be filled with rich, meaningful experiences and a time for building beautiful memories… and not all of them need to involve complex planning. Pull out some old sheets for a fort, explore together in an imaginary lego world, and for every “I can do it myself” two-year old, teach them about planting in suitable soil and consistent watering… Imagine how much you’ll save on a gardener!

Family Skill Building!
Here is a list of Age-Appropriate Activities: 

Ages 2-3

  • Put toys in toy box
  • Stack books on shelf
  • Set the table
  • Plant flowers and water the vegetable garden

Ages 4-7 

  • Feed pets
  • Water houseplants
  • Prepare simple snacks
  • Gather trash

Ages 8-12

  • Fold towels
  • Empty dishwasher
  • Match clean socks
  • Weed garden
  • Peel potatoes or carrots

Age 12 and Up 

  • Wash/ vacuum car
  • Shop for groceries with a list
  • Cook complete dinner or bake bread or cake
  • Do simple home repairs
  • Watch younger siblings

Tammy Keces M.A. is the principal of Irvine Hebrew Day School and a lead Certified Positive Discipline Trainer.