Tools for an Independent Summer (And Beyond)

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One of the benefits of a laid-back, less-scheduled summer is that kids have a chance to experience free time.  Having blocks of free time is a luxury for many kids, but it’s also important for them developmentally.  It stretches their imaginations and gives them a chance to flex their decision-making muscles, something they don’t get to do as often as we did as kids.

The challenge with having lots of free time, though, is filling it with good stuff.  This summer I want my kids to have free time to play, read, think and create.  I also want them to use part of their free time doing things that will make them more independant.

For Elena, who is nearing 11, we’re thinking things like learning how to cut the grass, cooking simple meals, doing laundry.  For Eli, who is almost 6, it’s keeping his room tidy, fixing simple snacks, and vacuuming.

Does that sound like the opposite of free time?  Maybe – in the beginning.  Sure, it doesn’t sound like cooking, doing your own laundry, or mowing the lawn is how a kid would want to spend their free time.  But by teaching them skills that increase their independence, I’m opening up pockets of free time for everyone in the family.  In addition, it gives them the opportunity to manage their own time, and do with it as they see fit.

Don’t want to put down that book and come down for lunch?  No problem, come down when you want and make your own lunch. Want to go to the store and buy that nail polish everyone else has?  Sure, just mow the lawn and earn money to spend however you see fit.  Want us to spend a day at the waterpark as a family?  Absolutely!  Help Dad and I out with the chores so we all have more free time.

These are a few things we’re working on for an independent summer.  What kinds of things you’d like to see your kids taking on for themselves this summer?



  1. I had Anna start washing her own clothes when she was around 10 (I think) for the same reasons. That item you wanted to wear today is dirty? Well, wear something else or wear it wrinkled & smelly—I don’t care and it’s not my fault! The trick to making the habit stick was not bailing her out when she “forgot” to do a load. I do still ask occasionally if she has clothes to wash but that’s mostly to prompt her to put in load before I’ll need to use the washer, or to try to prevent last-minute dashes before bedtime.

    She also cleans the bathroom she uses + the powder room. Until recently this was kind of a hit-or-miss activity but I’ve been trying to make it more regular by scheduling it on the calendar. I struggle with this one because it was a dreaded chore of mine as a kid, and I loathe doing it now (because of that, I think), so I have a hard time cracking down on it. My solution has been to (1) be flexible about how she want to go about the chore as long as the bathroom gets clean, and (2) clean our bathroom while she cleans the others so that it’s kind of a we’re-both-getting-dealing-with-this situation.

    She knows how to cook well enough, and has prepared simple meals for us/herself, but that’s another thing I need to be better about handing over to her.

    I have been thinking about having her mow the lawn too, at least sometimes. She’s not here often enough in the summer to get it every time but that doesn’t mean she shouldn’t do it when she can, right? I had never cut the grass when I moved into this house (or for a few years afterward), and it is/was an unfamiliar task to many of my neighbors, so I see it as another chance for her to learn something that might serve her well later in life.

    • Yeah, I actually like cleaning, but not the bathroom. Never fun. That’s something I need to start up again. We were having Elena and Eli clean their bathroom together on Saturday mornings. It was a good way for them to learn how to work together, and it was pure entertainment for Mike and I, eavesdropping around the corner. Along with the added bonus of one less bathroom to clean, of course!