This is the first full week of summer vacation in my house. If your household is like mine, this also begins the dreadful time of year when parents are stressed about how to fill summer days with meaningful activity for kids devoid of nagging on our parts and complaints of boredom on theirs.
When my girls were elementary school age, it was much easier. Now I have a high schooler who isn’t quite old enough to get a summer job who has intermittent dance and pottery classes and a middle schooler who has two weeks of tennis camp, two weeks of basketball camp and six weeks of time to fill.
The challenge is, how do I ensure there’s a good balance of down-time and structured activity? And, how can I manage their down-time without setting us up for a daily battle of wills?
I think I’ve found an answer that will teach them some basic life skills, important values and how to establish an enjoyable fitness routine. They’ll do this while maintaining ownership over what they do with their time and all for a relatively small investment on my part.
I’m sharing my plan with you. Perhaps you’ll find some ideas that will work for your family.
Overview: My girls have chores they’re responsible for year-round in exchange for a modest (a few dollars) weekly allowance. These are kept small in scope because they have limited time between homework and extracurricular activities. But the summer opens up opportunities to lighten my load of household chores while teaching them basic life skills in exchange for earning more significant amounts of cash. Some of the chores they can choose from are one-time jobs like cleaning the windows, blinds and ceiling fans. Other options can be done weekly like laundry, making dinner for the family and weeding the flower beds.
Execution: The list of chores available to them is posted on our fridge along with each chore’s corresponding hourly rate. They can choose whatever chore they want to do and when they do it. They’re responsible for keeping track of their time and a parent has to approve of the job at its completion before they get paid. I’ve priced them according to level of difficulty. For example, they’ll earn $20/hour for cleaning the windows, $15/hour for making dinner and $10/hour for doing laundry.
Life Skill Rewards: Aside from the obvious practical skills they hone by performing the chores, they also learn about the value of work, taking pride in one’s work and the financial lessons taught by earning, saving, budgeting and spending one’s own money.
Fitness Rewards: All these chores incorporate varying degrees of all the components of exercise (cardiovascular, strengthening and flexibility). Fortunately, both of my girls have taken cooking classes and enjoy it. As such, they both have an interest in doing the dinner chore throughout the summer. This is a great way for them to learn how to choose healthy foods and how to cook them healthfully. In essence, they’re exercising and making choices about eating healthy without realizing it and getting paid for it. Truly a win-win.
Summer Workout Challenge
Overview: They’re challenged to earn 150 exercise points each week throughout the summer. Every week they earn 150 points, they can choose to receive one of five possible rewards, such as one item from a local bakery or ice cream shop or a book, digital movie rental or three digital songs of their choice. Interestingly, the last possible reward they can earn for exercise doesn’t cost us a thing and is the one they’re most excited about earning: “Me Day.” Earning a “Me Day” means she’s excused from the daily chore of making her bed, she chooses what’s for dinner that night and she gets to choose what’s on the radio while in the car and during meals for that entire day. (We don’t have a TV where we eat meals but we do have a radio which is always on whatever Mom wants to listen to while we eat. Ditto in the car. They’re dying to make me listen to their music!)
Execution: They get credit for the dance classes my older daughter is taking and the sports day camps my younger daughter is in. Each day they have dance or sports, they earn 25 points. Beyond that, they need to earn the remainder of their 150 point goal by fitting in exercise during their free time. Moderate intensity exercise like walking or yoga earns them one point per minute and high intensity exercise like running or jumping rope earns them two points per minute. Like the chores, they’re responsible for tracking their time exercising and reporting to me for approval of points earned. To encourage consistency, they’re not allowed to carry points into the next week.
Rewards: As a fitness professional, I understand the best way to develop healthy exercise habits that last a lifetime is to engage in several things one enjoys doing, keep the goals short-term and simple and reward consistency. This plan touches on all three.
I believe many of today’s kids have too much structured time and, therefore, tend to choose unwisely with their free time. Namely, they spend most of their free time in front of screens. My girls have daily limits on their screen time and they both have their share of structured time throughout the summer. But they have a lot of free time as well. It’s really not fair to them if I don’t give them viable and rewarding options over which they have ownership.
How well will it work? That remains to be seen. But they’ve both taken advantage of both rewards plans already. By my count, that makes the score: Fit & Happy Kids 1, Unproductive & Bored Kids 0.