68. How To Wind Down School Year and Transition to Summer

With the school year coming to an end, parents face a new challenge of helping children wind down from an unusual ending. Children who are used to the fun activities schools provide in the final weeks of the school year, as well as the build up the last day and perhaps even graduation ceremonies are all mourning the loss of these end-of-year rites of passage.

Families will benefit from distinguishing between school and summer, while shining a light on those graduating

Usually when I enter an exam room to talk with patients, there is time to chat and build a rapport. These days, the usual banter is weighed down by this uncertain season we are in. Kids of all ages don’t know what to expect, but they know that this will be unusual. I’ve even heard kids describe this as a “ghost summer.” 

Many kids have been outside riding their bike and doing chalk thinking, “Is this summer? Can we go to the pool yet?” There is just so much unknown right now that it will be helpful to mark and celebrate the end of the school year as we usually do, just with some adjustments. 

4 ways to distinguish the school year from summer

Countdown to the end of the year: Children are always counting days and then hours to the last moments of school. I remember shaving cream parties, water balloon fights and pizza parties. With the schools unable to provide these social events during quarantine and kids are social distancing from their friends, it’s up to parents to make this happen. Consider marking your calendar for the last day, making a big deal of putting the books away and then planning something fun to create a demarcation between school and summer.

Thank the teachers: When this school year began, no one would have the idea that we’d end up remote learning. Teachers are feeling a similar sense of needing closure as their students. Unlike any other year, teachers will enter the summer without the “warm fuzzies” that make the difficult task of teaching worthwhile. Send a message of gratitude that can be as easy as just pulling out your iPhone and shooting a quick thank you video. By showing gratitude to teachers, they have something to hang on to because they’re not going to get those last days of school hugs and gifts. Before thinking about all the summer activities and creating a daily routine, be sure to first have your kids thank their teachers.

Get out of the neighborhood: Anything that gets parents and kids out of the house, gets them to take pictures, and have something new to discuss over dinner that night is helpful. Making these small memories this summer could have a big impact, whereas other summers they may have been taken for granted. 

In the past going to the park was just something to fill the time. Now, these ordinary things have become extraordinary and far more valuable to us. Honestly, this pandemic has put families back into the perspective of appreciating the ordinary. We don’t have to go to Disney World, the zoo or other big outings to enjoy our time as a family. We can focus on regular everyday life and make those moments special. 

Create a new routine for summer: The next step after making a clear distinction between school and summer vacation is to create a summer daily routine that should be different in some way from the home school routine. Inevitably, some of the parts of the routine will overlap, but try your best to make things at least appear a little different. Especially since we don’t yet know what school will look like in the fall, having a distinct summer schedule will help kids transition back from summer to school. Consider a schedule or checklist that includes a healthy mix of outdoor activity, fun learning, art or nature activities and helping around the house.

Check out my chore list and summer planner that can help with summer routines.

The chore chart is broken down by age and printable chore chart, which you can keep it on your fridge. The summer routine template will help you create a realistic, customizable and screen-time friendly daily family routine.

4 meaningful ways to celebrate graduation

One special moment that will be very different this year is graduation, especially for high school students and those graduating college. It’s devastating to think about the class of 2020 missing out on this momentous transition. They are missing the graduation ceremony, the parties and saying goodbye in a meaningful way. All of these issues are real. It’s important to recognize their accomplishment as a family, and at the same time, acknowledge how hard this is. 

  1. Check in with your child to see how they are feeling. Find out what you can do to make the time more special for them is a practical way to help. Give your child time to think about the situation and almost grieve the last month of Coronavirus and the end of school that was robbed of them. Acknowledging this challenge for them and supporting them through it is the most important thing right now.
  1. Social distance celebrations. Sure it’s not the same, but you can still celebrate with technology and drive-bys. These can be tons of fun for everyone to have family and friends drive by the graduate’s house. Honk, hold up a sign for them. Just acknowledge the fact that they have friends, and even if they can’t be together, we can still have fun and celebrate. 
  1. Give a graduation gift. For the new graduate’s next stage of life, it’s always appreciated to receive a new phone, laptop or useful item. At the end of the day, the graduate isn’t going to remember how big, or how many gigabytes the new iPad was, but rather what this experience in this strange time was like. Whether it’s a gift or a lesson, there should be a tangible transitional moment where they acknowledge, “I was a senior, and I am now a graduate.”
  1. Memorialize this graduation. Just to remember it more clearly, have your graduate make a video blog or something similar to memorialize the experience. That way, they’ll have this in 20 years when they are asked about what this time was like for them. This way, the grads will be able to share the lessons they’ve learned and have closure.

This is part of their story now. This is all of our reality, so it’s time to go out and make this a very special part of each graduate’s story. When they look back, we want them to be able to say, “Here’s how it all began.” 

What will summer look like?

Moving into summer, what does a summer activity schedule look like this year? It’s certainly a big question in every family’s house. I think that we’ll have more clarity in the next few weeks in terms of when the peak is and when we can return to some less stringent social distancing.

No doubt we’ll be wearing masks in public for a while, and the social distancing rules will impact what activities are open for kids this summer. If playgrounds and bike riding to playdates are options, there will be less need to plan activities around the house. 

If you live in an area where there are an abundance of state parks within a short driving distance, going on day trips to the parks is great because the outdoors is a vast place to be with children and families right now away from the crowds.

Moving on from the pandemic

When we look back,  what many of us will learn from this period is that it was more about how we felt as we went through this terrible ordeal of a pandemic. That really defines the experience on an individual and family level. Including this element in the discussion with your student moving on to a new grade or your graduate will help them close one chapter of their lives and move into another. Ask them, “What memories will you take away from this time?”

We hope the response will be that our family connected more deeply; that we were able to learn more about each other and truly became closer; and that we learned how to deal with our big emotions as a family with everyone together all the time.

Though no one expected we would face these challenges in 2020, by making clear transitions with your kids, acknowledging these challenges and encouraging everyone to be the best they can be, we can all do our part to shine some much needed light this summer.

If you want a supportive place to chat with like-minded parents join my Present and Productive Parents Group on Facebook. If you like what you hear, please leave a rating and review on this podcast.

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Dr. Phil Boucher



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