Here’s some ideas for how you and your children can enjoy the summer break without the wheels falling off the wagon. Today, as we are have this conversation, we’re getting close to summer break. And so I wanted to talk with my friend and co-worker, Laura Pitney.

Sonya: Laura, I wanted to talk with you about the best way to use summer break so we get our break, but we don’t enter Fall feeling like we’re playing catch-up the whole time in a frenzy. So let’s talk about some big ideas of “How do you summer break?”

Laura: Well, I look forward to the summer break starting in maybe March. Like I’m counting down those days. So my mindset has always been to really spend time with the family. I love the time that is devoted to them versus all the things we have to do. I also do consider it a catch-up time, meaning catching up on things in my house that I didn’t have time to see about during the school year. It’s projects, things that need to happen, but I would’ve had to pick between school day lessons or painting the hallway. It’s things that I really wanted to get done that I chose to delay until summer. I do consider it part of a catch-up time. Not just on house things, but also even things like habits, things that I started to notice with my children and myself that we needed to put a little extra time into.

I try to have purposeful things that we’re going to work on and do, but it’s not formal lessons or anything like that. It’s things that I didn’t have time for during our regular routine each week. I really like to take June and July off from school, like school work, school planning, all of that. So in order to prevent August from being super crazy, trying to be last minute on any school planning, I personally try to get that planning done in April and May. Then I can just close all my books up and know that it’s ready for whenever I start back in August. Whether a person plans like I do before the school year ends, or takes the time out during the summer to do some planning, it really helps the fall to be set up for success.

That’s how I think of summer and how I plan it. I love taking vacations. We always go camping. We have our retreat with work that is always so encouraging. There are definitely good benchmarks to my summer, that I want to participate in and I want our family to participate in, but I can’t neglect my other responsibilities for my home, and the kids’ habits, and the school planning. So as much as I would like to call it a break, it’s just more like different work. I mean, practically, honestly.

Sonya: Let me just mention that not everybody takes a long summer break. We’re aware of that. I did not, when I was homeschooling all my kids. But what we’re talking about can apply really to any longer break. If you go three months on, one month off, three months on, one month off, for that whole month off, a lot of these ideas can still apply. When I was thinking about taking a longer break the phrase that Charlotte mentioned came to mind where she said, “Don’t confuse liberty with license.”

The difference being that liberty is when we have freedom within these boundaries, but sometimes we can take a step over the line into license where it’s like anything goes, no boundaries whatsoever. That might be when we get into that territory where the wheels fall off the wagon. And then when school time comes again, we’re scrambling. “Does this wheel go on this axle? Where does this go? How do we get this thing moving again?” So that can apply, as you said, to habits if we just let the habits go during the break.

Liberty is when we have freedom within these boundaries, but sometimes we can take a step over the line into license where it’s like anything goes, no boundaries whatsoever. That might be when we get into that territory where the wheels fall off the wagon.

Laura: I like how you said, “Liberty is within the boundaries.” It would be important to know what your boundaries are. Give some thought into things that you feel like your home has to have, like which habits are super important.

Sonya: Chores are going to keep going. Got to keep the chores going. I mean we’re not going to let the trash pile up all summer long, please.

Laura: Right, so it’s defining what you personally want those boundaries to be, so that you really can enjoy the liberty. That would be really smart to do.

Sonya: We were talking earlier about one potential place you need to define, and that would be bedtime.

Laura: Oh, that is a constant battle in my house. Not necessarily that the children don’t obey. It’s just always, “Hey, can we stay up later tonight, it’s not a school night.” Or, “Hey, we don’t have school tomorrow.” Or we only have a short day. They just always want to stay up late.

Sonya: And you have older children now.

Laura: I do. And usually I go to bed before them. That’s a challenge because I do know that come the beginning of August, if they’re still staying up late because I’ve allowed them a later bedtime for the summer months or for our break time, then if they jump right back into that, when we start school, they’re going to be dragging. So therefore I want to set them up for success and say, “Hey, we need to start working back to our school-time bedtime.” Which they don’t want to do because they’re like, “It’s still break. Why would we do that?” It’s a choice of either letting them suffer, like you said, the natural consequences of not prepping themselves like they should for earlier bedtime and getting up earlier, or me making them because I know it’s for their good. And it’ll be easier on me, if they’re rested.

Sonya: You just have to think through these things and decide.

Laura: Yeah, for me that would be a boundary; they can’t stay up until whenever they want. I don’t mind having some margin there, to where a school time bedtime is maybe 10 o’clock and a summertime bedtime is maybe 11 or 12, I’d just have to think through that but I can’t just not have a bedtime. That would be the wheels, they could be lost forever.

Sonya: That would be license.

Laura: Maybe the wheels wouldn’t come back.

Sonya: They just rolled over the hill, honey, they’re gone. (laughs) So bedtime is one area where we need to make those decisions where the boundary is going to be. It might be a different boundary than during the school year, as you said, as long as we can make the transition back again. There’s another one along with those habits. We talked about chores but then there’s also any family traditions. I don’t necessarily want to call it that, but if you’re doing your scripture memory, decide, “Is that something we only do during the school year or is that part of our family culture? And if so, we’re going to keep that going all summer long.”

Laura: Yeah, that would definitely be something to consider. For us it’s not necessarily just the lessons that are done. It’s the connection with my family. Especially as the kids are older and they have different outside-of-the-home commitments. The family time of doing our scripture memory and praying together is really important because that may be the only 30 minutes I get with them that day. It’s because of the busyness of this break or whatever it is. That would be a good part to consider for your boundary too, like you said, the life culture of your family.

Sonya: One other part I think is good for us to talk about in a longer break is the atmosphere, keeping the atmosphere of our home the way we want it to be. A lot of that depends on how we are feeling as parents and how we are operating. Definitely go out to play. You need some time to go out and play and you also need some time to evaluate how things are going the rest of the year. I heard an interesting statement. One of the podcasts that I listened to, the host said something like, “Time off is not going to heal you when the problem is how you spend your time on.”

Laura: That’s really good.

Sonya: If you really think about that, that was one of those “aha” moments. We sometimes we think we’re just going to go at 120 percent all school year, and then we just collapse. But that’s not what’s going to be best for our children. This is a marathon, not a sprint. We’ve got to figure out ways to make it sustainable without killing ourselves. But more than that, it’s not just surviving it. It is how can we thrive in this environment as well and create the atmosphere we want. So one thing we can do is take some time during those summer months to give our other nine months of the year a KISS. We talked about that in a previous podcast. How to give your homeschool a KISS. Think through “What do I want to Keep doing? What are we doing now that I want to keep doing? What do I want to Improve on that we’re doing now? But we could improve it a little bit more.” That’s the I, and then the two Ss are, What are we doing now that we should Stop doing? And what’s something new that we want to Start? That’s the other S. Keep, Improve, Stop, and Start. That’s just a simple framework to think through. And you can think through it for your home school, yes, but also for you personally.

Laura: I think that’s important. We get burned out and almost stuck in a rut and we lose that feeling of value in our home because we are the person doing all the things. That’s important, like you said, to take the time to reflect and to make sure we’re in God’s Word and spending time with the Lord because our value in is Him even though our family may not appreciate us. That’s a season that we go through where we feel really dry in the monotony of the school season. If we’re traditional with the fall and the spring semester, come May we really want that break. That goes back to your quote of, “The break isn’t going to heal it.” So to spend time, like you said, reflecting, that’s so important for our own hearts. We get lost a lot of times in how much we give to our families so if we’re not letting the Lord pour into us, we do feel dry. We need that refilling so we can pour into our families. And we probably would enjoy the break better.

Sonya: That’s true. You can enjoy a break much more if you’re not exhausted and burnt out. So we want to take break time for refreshing and extended time with the Lord and really go to those special events. Like you mentioned, the Charlotte Mason Together Retreat, that can renew you in a special way. But don’t depend on that to carry you through the whole year. You need to also set up regular times to keep that refreshment coming from the Lord. Or you’re not going to make it through. The wheels are going to just fall off.

Laura: Right, and I think it’s important too. I’ll give you an example. There are times where we’ll use our break, whether it’s a week here and there through the school year like you said, or the summer break, and we’ll spend time catching up on a handicraft. That’s time that we can give uninterrupted attention, versus sometimes during the school year, our school days just end up being way busier. Understanding that, that time given to the handicraft with our children is also time we’re giving to the relationships, the good conversations. There are always frustrations when we’re learning any kind of skill or handicraft, but if we’re not distracted by the things we have to get done because it’s not necessarily a school day, it helps our own mindsets to be more geared towards, “Oh I really like my kids, they’re good kids.” That is versus us checking everything off the list and being so defeated because it’s been a long school year.

Sonya: Yes. “What else do I still need to do?” Versus “I can be more present in the moment.” Enjoy them, as you said. That would go with handcrafts, as you mentioned, or projects that the kids could help you with or they could just watch and cheer you on. Depending on what it is, even field trips.

Laura: Or time driving, it’s just seeing the value in being with them. Whatever that is. I think it’s important.

Sonya: Good words. Thanks.

Laura: You’re welcome.