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Preparing for the Summer: Children’s Free Time

The structured school year provides a normalized schedule for children and parents that allows for ease in following this routine. Once summer begins, children are faced with days full of free time and no set routine. This unstructured setting can lead to difficulty with transitioning, compliance, self-initiation of activities or independence. To avoid this increase in behavior problems, try adding structure to an unstructured summer day.

  • Create a written or visual schedule of the day. For younger children or children with developmental delays, a schedule comprised of pictures is easier to understand. The schedule will include activities that happen every day (like lunch and dinner) and structured activities like painting, outside water play or listen to music.
  • Allow your child to help create the daily schedule. Their input in decision making will increase the likelihood that they comply with the schedule. Start by adding the must do’s like chores or brushing teeth. Provide choices for your child for the remaining time, example: “After lunch do you want to play a game with your sister or play in the sandbox by yourself?”
  • Add set durations to the activities on the schedule. Identifying a clear start and stop time will help with smooth transitions between activities. Many children also benefit from a prime of “one more minute” before having to end an activity.
  • Create a break card. The card can have written or visual suggestions of appropriate calming breaks like lay in bed, read a book alone, or a sensory break. If your child is beginning to show noncompliance or is becoming upset, give them the choice to take a break and then return to the schedule.
  • Include creative new activities like the ones suggested here.

Sample Daily Schedule

made with visual cards (available for free print and use here)

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