How to survive and thrive in the summer with tweens.

About a year ago, someone posted about how if and when she had kids, she would never, ever schedule “playdates” or other activities for them, especially during the summer, because she had shit to do and the kids should learn to be self-sufficient with their social lives.

Don’t you love how the people with the best parenting advice aren’t parents?

It’s true that when we were kids, we spent most summer days with friends from the neighbourhood, doing our own thing, and generally without our parents’ supervision or specific knowledge. My own kids are now pre-teens – age 11 and almost 10 – and this kind of summer activity is nearly impossible for them. Almost all of their friends fit into at least two of the following three categories: a) they live in a neighbourhood that is a minimum ten minute drive away, b) they have two working parents and so are in day camps most of the time, and c) they are out of town/ country on vacation. With that in mind, there is no way the kids can just knock on their friends’ doors and ask if they can come out to play. It’s just not happening. Hanging out with their friends actually requires some level of logistical planning on their part, with assistance from me and the other parents, and as much as I like having a marauding group of tween boys in the basement eating all the food and making all the noise, it’s just not possible as a daily occurrence.

This marks my eleventh summer at home with kids, and things go pretty smoothly, for the most part. The boys actually get along really well 95% of the time, which makes things fairly easy. However, I do find they need a bit of direction at times to keep things running smoothly, so I thought I’d share with you what works for us, what makes for happy kids and a happy me.

Kick Them Out Sometimes

No, this isn’t a nostalgic post about the 1970s summers where kids left in the morning and came home in time for dinner. As I said, that’s not exactly feasible in my case. However, 10-and-11 year olds can certainly head off to the playground on their own, despite alarmist newspaper articles. In fact, my kids love doing this: a trip to 7-11, a walk to the playground, a wander around the neighbourhood. These are the same kids who are “too old” for playground activities, but if they are by themselves, will easily spend an hour making up obstacle courses or training for a future spot on American Ninja Warrior by hanging on the monkey bars.

Get Out Of The House Every Damn Day

This harkens back to the days when they were little and I would lose my mind if I didn’t get out of the house at least once. Sometimes getting out of the house is the afore-mentioned kicking out, while I do some relaxing gardening, and sometimes the “outing” is kind of lame – a trip to Costco or Wal-Mart. Sometimes it’s a dog walk, while the kids chatter to me about some Minecraft thing they are building. The point is, I – and they – need to get out of the house, every day.

A Medium Activity Once A Week

I define a medium activity as one that requires a medium level of effort from me: having some friends over, for example, or taking them to the pool for the afternoon. Other than some involvement with sunscreen, snacks, driving, etc., there is little else required of me, and the kids have a good time. The pool is especially a good bet, because I can hang out in the sun with a book while they swim.

A Large Activity Once Every 7-10 Days

A large activity is something like a trip to the amusement park or zoo, or a day hike in the mountains. This involves considerable physical effort on my part, but is always worthwhile because these are the outings the kids remember with fondness. Years ago, my friend Tara (HI TARA) introduced me to the brilliant idea of using Christmas/ birthday money from relatives to purchase season’s passes for favourite activities. Experiences over things, right?

Let Them Lounge

One of the best things about being home in the summer is the ability to be lazy. When the kids were little, we generally needed to be OUT of the house between 9 and 9:30 or all seemed lost; now the kids are in their pajamas until lunch more often than not. That’s okay because it gives me an excuse to be in my sweaty yoga clothes until then. Unless we are going to do a Big Activity that involves crowds and lineups, we don’t need to leave the house early. I work part-time from home, and while the kids lounge in their jammies, I am able to get a few solid hours of work in. Which brings me to…

Screen Time

I know, I know, we are all supposed to nix the screen time and unplug and everything, but I allow it. I mean, it’s not an all-day-every-day-non-stop-video-game-extravaganza, but I do let the kids have at it while I’m working. Here’s the thing: they build interesting things together in Minecraft, they talk constantly about the characters in Disney Infinity, and later, they talk and draw and make up stories about these imaginary things. Their games on the PS4 are much more physically active and imagination-inspiring than just watching TV shows, which – as I remember from my own childhood – is something our generation did a lot of. I say, bring on the screen time (in moderation, blah blah blah).


When they were little, we would do science experiments and make play dough and crafts and colouring, but they have no interest in that anymore. What they do have interest in is making things to eat (tween boys and all that). The other day, Jake wanted to make crepes. He had made them in French class at school, and he had a recipe. What really surprised me is how little supervision and help he needed to make the crepes. Every so often, putting the kids in charge of making things is a really great idea – not just because we don’t want them to grow up to be idiots in the kitchen, but also because they love eating things that they make. It’s pretty easy to give them a sous-chef position when you’re making dinner, or to let them be in charge of their own smoothies/ milkshakes. So what if they use five tablespoons of chocolate syrup when making a milkshake? They’re exercising their independence!


When I was a kid visiting my grandma, I knew never to say “I’m bored.” Grandma hated that, and would immediately put the offending child to work. My kids get a monthly allowance which gets docked if they don’t do their specified chores. There are so many things kids this age can do – from weeding the garden to vacuuming the floor, from cleaning the kitchen after dinner to making beds. A few daily chores, coupled with a few weekly chores, will keep the boredom at bay – or, at the very least, contribute to a cleaner house.

Academic Work

This is really the subject for a full post on its own, but suffice it to say that the kids do some kind of academic activity for about five hours a week. Call me a Tiger Mom if you will, but I’ll go into details later.

So that’s what we do to survive and thrive in the summer. What are your tips and tricks? xo


  1. We are three weeks into the summer now, but Noah was at his grandmother’s house the first week and then we were all on vacation so last week was the first week that felt normal, summer normal, that is. June’s in musical drama camp from 9-3 this week and next but Noah’s home. I had him work on his summer math packet every day, do a little house or yard work, and pick up his sister every day. (I did drop-offs.) Oh, and their summer music lessons started on Wednesday so they both practiced their instruments and N took J to her lesson. I guess my goal with him is to balance structure and down time because he works very hard during the school year and I want him to relax but I also appreciate his help around the house because he’s often excused from chores during the school year because of his work load.

  2. We both work FT outside the home so we piece together our vacations and time at my in-laws’ house. It usually ends up that the kids have about 7 weeks of camp and 4 weeks of nothing much planned (our Summer break is unbelievably and unacceptably long). Really that’s about all we can handle financially with camp and all I can handle for free time.

    Since Oldest is 12.5 we decided to have him do the first week after school finished home alone to play with neighborhood kids. This was about the only week that could reliably have worked since after that most of the kids went to other camps or out of town intermittently. That week his task was to entirely clean out his closet. It took him all 5 days but he did it and it was great (for me 😉 I’ve also started him doing his own laundry this Summer since he has more free time than I do. Starting next week he’s going to do 20 minutes/day or so on an online math program. Nothing intense, but just trying to stem brain drain. He also has required Summer reading for school. Youngest just finished K, so she doesn’t have academic stuff during the Summer but we read every day and I call it good.

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