Summer vacation looms on the horizon. The kids are counting the days til school is out. Yeah, it’s chill—but what are you going to do with them?

I know this dilemma well. As our three boys have gotten older, the transition from school to summer has gotten more complicated. Love it or hate it, school imposes an organizing principle on our hectic family life. And not just during class time. Breakfast, soccer, playdates, dinner, homework, bedtime–it all revolves around school. Remove that linchpin, and things fall apart.

But the end of school doesn’t have to mean the end of structure. In fact, it’s an opportunity for you and your family to work out a routine that’s more fun, and less stressful, than the school year—even though Mom and Dad still have to work (sheds a tear).

 

#1. Ease up on Bedtime—but Don’t Abandon It.

Of course the kids want to stay up late. And it’s summertime! So by all means, stretch their usual bedtimes—but don’t abandon the concept altogether. Sit down and have a family discussion about reasonable bedtimes. (Hint: don’t do it at bedtime.) Agree on something, then stick to it.

Obviously, there will be exceptions: last week, we had a block party that somehow morphed into half the kids in the neighborhood watching Ice Age in our den. I wasn’t going to kick out the neighbors out five minutes before the climax, just because it’s bedtime. But I might kick them out five minutes into a movie because it’s bedtime—and having an established bedtime turns the clock into my ally.

Circle’s BedTime feature makes this whole issue easy to handle when it comes to screens. You can set up bedtime for each member of the family, with laxer hours for weekend nights if you like. It’s also a piece of cake to override those settings for that crazy marathon Minecraft session with Uncle Steve.

 

#2. Breakfast!

There are Breakfast Lovers and Breakfast Haters, and our family has some of each. My wife just isn’t hungry in the morning— she’d rather eat a bucket of nails than a bowl of cereal. For me, breakfast is right up there with pizza and Pink Floyd. (I like Coco Puffs so much I sometimes have them for lunch, when no one’s looking.)

Overall, the majority of studies seem to favor breakfast when it comes to boosting kids’ cognitive performance. But regardless of the studies, our kids just seem to have more energy when they eat breakfast—and they’re a lot less likely to collapse with hunger in the late morning, when the day’s activities are in full swing.

Since I’m the one in our household who makes breakfast, and since I have to go to work in the morning, the whole operation has to take place at 8 a.m., which is another reason to maintain solid bedtimes. I also want the kids to come down to the kitchen so we can have a little time together before I head out the door. Circle makes this part easier, too—I can just set an awake time for screens on weekday mornings.

 

#3. Strike a Balance

It’s stressful to feel like you have to come up with a brand new activity every morning. In fact, it’s impossible. So don’t try. Plan ahead. Build structure. And accept that the best summers are a mixture of the spontaneous and the routine. Summer camps are a great way to combine the two concepts by having kids experiment with different activities in a structured environment. But if camp isn’t realistic for your family, there are other alternatives. Go down to the park every morning — many offer free or low-cost structured activities. Make a pilgrimage to the pool. Visit the library. Yes, these may not be the most exciting destinations ever— but our kids like going to places where they have a level of familiarity and comfort. And it sure beats moping around at home.

 

#4. Limit Screen Time

Our kids have a lot of fun with their screens, and they often have a lot of fun together—playing games, watching movies, or researching obscure Doctor Who villains. But the fact remains that those screens can swallow the entire summer if you let them. Fortunately, this is another issue that Circle makes a lot easier to manage. Using the Time Limits feature I can set a total number of hours of screen time for each kid. I can also limit time on a particular platform (wait, he’s watching YouTube again!?) or even a whole genre (ok, no more than an hour of online games a day).

 

#5. Try Something New

No school. No homework. What better time than summer to learn and practice a new skill? Setting individual goals for the summer can be a rewarding experience for a child, especially if you provide plenty of support and guidance along the way. A couple of sumers ago, the goal for our youngest boy was riding a bike so he could join in his grade’s mass bike ride in the fall. I went down to the park with him almost every evening for a whole month and spent 10 or 15 minutes running alongside him. Tiring? Absolutely. Would I do it again? In a heartbeat.

 

#6. Relax!

The summer is a great opportunity to relax and enjoy the simple gifts of the season. The sunshine. The barbeques. The frisbees. And that includes you! Make sure you take time to do the things you enjoy. Some of us have to maintain the same work schedule, but there’s still a chance to sneak in some fun. Make sure you go for a dip in the lake, take a few bounces on the trampoline, and savor the blueberries. They only come once a year.