I Created A Summer To-Do List For My Kids

by Rachel Garlinghouse
Originally Published: 
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Summer break is almost upon us, and parents everywhere are wondering what the heck our kids are going to do for the next three months. Yes, three months. The pandemic has drastically altered or canceled summer camps, sports, and child care plans. Right now, many of us are wondering, now what?

I have decided that this summer, I’m not playing. I can’t have my four children whining, arguing, and lying around waiting for me to entertain me or play referee. My husband and I are both working from home, and the job duties don’t stop just because it’s summer break for some of us. I have decided that in order to keep the peace in my home, my kids are getting a daily summer to-do list.

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They’re already a bit peeved with me over this new routine. The other day, they asked me what we’re going to do this summer. Do we have any vacations planned? What about having friends over? I had to remind them that there’s still a pandemic, and therefore, this will be our second COVID-safe summer. They wanted to know what would be on the list, their eyes growing wide when I listed their responsibilities. But then I said the magic words. If you get everything on your list done by 5 p.m., you get an hour of tech. Call it bribery, call it a reward, call it positive reinforcement—whatever.

Just like that, my children were highly motivated. I encouraged them. Their list is feasible, and they have plenty of time to get everything done. I’m sure it’s going to take some adjusting, but they’ll get the hang of it.

Of course, one kiddo wanted to know why. Why do they have to do chores (ugh), learning activities (isn’t that what school is for?), and practicing their extracurricular skills. The other kids echoed her sentiments. I was honest. If they don’t have things to do, they will create things to do, which usually involves a lot of snack demands, bickering among themselves, cries of “I’m bored,” and overall discontentment. I’m not having it.

If you want to create a summer to-do list for your kiddos, too, here’s what’s on our list to inspire you:


We have a big family, and I’m a firm believer in chores. Chores help children learn responsibility, as well as practice being part of a team. I’ve shared with my kids that it’s not fair that the adults take care of all the chores when everyone creates dirty laundry, dishes, and messes. Of course, they groan when I say this, but it doesn’t get them out of doing what needs to be done.

My kids usually do a chore a day during the school week and then help with picking up the house on the weekends. However, they’re stepping up their game this summer. I’ve given each kid two to three chores a day, based on their age and ability. For one, they’re each doing their own laundry—yes, even my four-year-old. She gets on a real power-trip using buttons and dials. The older kids don’t think it’s so fun, but they are fully capable.

Make a list of all the chores your kiddos can do—even if it means doing it as a team the first few times—and then divvy up the list between your kiddos. Some ideas include each child have a kitchen helper day. Think dishes, sweeping, wiping down the counters, and helping prepare snacks and meals. Don’t forget about outdoor jobs too, when applicable. Sweep the porch or sidewalk, for example. Then there’s laundry, changing bed sheets, picking up rooms, dusting, vacuuming, mopping, cleaning out the family car, and much, much more.


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Yes, I am that mean mom who makes her kids continue their learning over the summer, especially in areas where they are struggling. Thankfully, there are tons of apps and grade-level appropriate workbooks to choose from. I especially love the a-few-pages-a-day summer workbooks, because they mix up subjects and give the kids a little practice in math, vocabulary, science, and other subjects each day. A few pages a day is feasible for both kids to do and parents to check.

Another learning activity we do is reading time. Every day we grab a few books, curl up in the living room, and set a thirty-minute timer. Get books from your local library or have your kids swap books between them. There are also magazines, comic books, watching book read-alouds on YouTube, or listening to a parent or older sibling read. If it’s within your budget, purchase some new books for the summer to surprise your kids with and motivate them to read.


Whatever your child is interested in, they need to practice. To be cliché, practice makes perfect. My kiddos who play instruments practice about twenty minutes a day. My basketball player has a weekly session with her coach. Yes, sometimes my kids complain about practicing, but I remind them that no one just wakes up one day and excels at something. Consistent hard work is where it’s at.

There are tons of online options for lessons, too. Whether your child takes an online class with other kids or does a one-on-one session with a teacher or coach, you can help your kiddo hone in on their interests and practice over the summer when they have more time to do so. This is also a great time to explore new interests, whether that be art, a sport, or learning about a subject they are invested in.

Bonus Points

I also made a list for my kids of bonus activities (ahem, chores) that they can do. In fact, I made a bonus menu. For example, if they organize the pantry, they’ll get paid $2. They can babysit their younger sister while dad and I are working or sweep the garage floor. Basically, they have opportunities to put some more cash in their pockets if they want. It’s a win-win. We (adults) don’t always have time to do tackle extra chores, but the kids do.

If we’re going to have a semi-happy pandemic summer, round two, parents have to get organized. A free-for-all summer is only magical for about a week, and then we’re all ready to pull our hair out. Misery loves company, so if one kid is disgruntled, the others follow suit—parents included. By creating a summer-to-do list for our kids, with a reward offered for a job well done, we can all have a happier three month break.

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