Staring down the summer holidays

We are staring down the beginning of another long summer holidays and I’m wondering if other parents and carers are feeling like me – a bit out of form when it comes to making the most of a summer with the kids.

After a few years of restrictions, last summer resembling an inferno, and the Christmas rush in full swing, it’s hard to imagine a relaxing, rejuvenating holidays. I’d like to offer up a summer holidays to my kids like the ones I loved as a kid – long days with lots of time to wonder, get bored, get creative and maybe even get up to a little bit of mischief.  

I’m quite sure it is doable, and I’m quite sure it doesn’t require a holiday in an expensive, rustic yet idyllic setting. Our homes, backyards, front yards, local parks and national parks are also rustic yet idyllic settings.   

So now that we have confirmed the setting for our summer holiday, what should we plan? Perhaps nothing. For most kids, the holidays are the only time that they aren’t rushed. The routine of day care/school, sports, tutoring, social activities, health appointments and whatever else we schedule in leaves very little time to rest, dream, relax and play, and I haven’t even mentioned outside time.  

I am well versed on the physical, social and psychosocial importance of unstructured time outdoors, in nature. But not even I am brave enough to stare down 6-8 weeks of summer holidays with no plans. I know all too well that it could very quickly become the screen time Hunger Games in the absence of a plan and a bit of scheduling. So, what I propose to do is leave some days in the calendar blank on purpose. These are the days that my kids will need to fill for themselves. They recently wrote a list of things that make them happy. The lists are on the fridge. The lists include things like nature/outdoors (unprompted I promise), climbing, dancing, humming, reading, playing iPad games, animals, listening to music. 

When I get the ‘I’m bored’, they’ll be sent to check their lists and pick something to do (or be given chores). When they ask for screen time, they’ll be told yes, after you have [insert activities from my childhood] – ridden your bike around the block 3 times, pulled out 10 weeds and spotted 3 animals in the clouds. I know from experience that once they get outside and get warmed up, a 5 minute “task” can stretch into an hour of self-directed activity (otherwise known as nature play).  

They’ll think I’m giving them olden days things to do, but what I’ll really be giving them is the opportunity to feel the breeze in their hair, to smell the flowering Wedding Bush and Acacia, to play without the adult gaze on them and maybe even work out some of their sibling niggles for themselves, and ultimately, to experience a drop in Cortisol (stress hormone) and increase in Serotonin (to stabilise mood and well-being) and release of Endorphins. While they’re doing this, I’ll be tapping away at my laptop. They won’t know but may sense that these “tasks” are setting them up for a happy, healthy life beyond their childhood. 

With three kids and a sketchy memory, I am likely to run out of 1980’s-esque tasks to set them and then I will refer Nature Play WA’s list of 25 Things to do in Summer. In fact, I might print it and put it next to the Things That Make Me Happy lists on the fridge.  

On the days that I can’t muster the strength to combat the screens, I’ll ask them to pick a park. They can use google maps or the Every Kid In a Park app (a wonderful app with information on parks and reserves for kids of all abilities). We’ll head out of the house far from the reach of the screens. It won’t necessarily be a full day with a packed lunch, spare clothes, and lots of effort. It’ll most likely be, ‘Grab a piece of fruit, your hat and drink bottle.’ We’ll start by going to parks and reserves in our area and maybe branch out as the weeks roll on.  

And then on the days that I need to work, or it’s too hot to step outside between sun up and sun down, I can let them enjoy their screen time knowing that they’ve had the long, dreamy, hot and adventurous days they need to help them to continue to grow into balanced, healthy humans.   

Visit our Resources for Families section to find out more and for tips on getting the family outdoors these school holidays. 


This blog was first published as Survive school holidays with a list of things that make your kids happy in The West Australian newspaper.

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