Why I Don't Like Summer Schedules

kalkidan's first week home
kalkidan’s first week home

 I love structure and my kids crave it, especially my kids from “hard places,” but I’m not a fan of summer schedules.

I used to love summer and look forward to relaxing after a long year of homeschooling. When our children from Ethiopia joined our family in 2007, our world changed dramatically.

Our lazy summer days evaporated and I soon realized that they weren’t going to spontaneously return.

To be honest, I grieved that loss.

I learned that my children desperately needed structure in order to feel safe. When they didn’t know what to expect, their anxiety led to challenging behavior.

I clearly remember Kalkidan repeating the events of the evening. It went something like this.

Mom, Mom! Dinner? Dinner, Mom? Teeth? Brush teeth? Pajamas? Pajamas, Mom? Story, Dad, story? Bed? Bed, Mom? Pray? Sing? Dad, Sing?

As she spoke, she looked closely at my face, her eyebrows raised, asking each question, touching her fingers one-by-one, waiting for me to nod my head or answer, “Yes,” in response.

Night after night, this was repeated. I recognized her desperate need to know what to expect.

This led me to experiment with schedules, but I soon learned that while knowing what to expect was helpful, forcing the kids into my pre-determined time slots added a layer of stress that resulted in more challenges.

By the time breakfast and chores were over, we were already behind and I was trying to figure out how to get us back on track.

My solution is creating routines, not schedules.

We don’t do things at exactly the same time each day, but in a certain order. Our routines have anchors that move us through the day, primarily breakfast, Russ coming home from work, dinner, and bedtime.

Back then our routines consisted of simple lists: morning routine, afternoon routine, evening routine. These were posted on the refrigerator for all to see, first with drawings, later with words.

This summer, the kids’ routine will include morning chores, Bible/read-aloud time, yard chores, silent reading, outside play time, screen time (my least favorite, but Circle helps control it), and when it’s hot, swimming at the pool. Of course, meals and snacks will be mixed in as well.

We’ll never fall behind, because we’ll just keep moving through our day. When necessary, some tasks will be left undone, and I’m okay with that.

Summer will be busier than I like, but I’ll take happy and busy over disorganized, anxious, and unhappy any day.

Question: What is essential to your summer routine?

Don’t miss my post, Top 10 Father’s Day Gifts (and the best marinade recipe ever). Cornell Chicken is a Qualls family favorite and I think you’ll love it too.

with hope and gratitude,


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Let me introduce myself. Russ and I are the parents of twelve children by birth and adoption, and sometimes more through foster care. I'm the creator of One Thankful Mom which has been as much of a gift to me as to my readers. In 2011 I became a TBRI® Pracitioner* and have lived and breathed connected parenting ever since. I'm deeply honored to be the co-author, together with the late Dr. Karyn Purvis, of The Connected Parent; it is her final written work. I love speaking at events for adoptive and foster parents. I'm also the co-founder of The Adoption Connection, a podcast and resource site for adoptive moms. I mentor and encourage adoptive moms so you can find courage and hope in your journeys of loving your children well.


  1. Danielle
    June 6, 2016

    I homeschool also and this is our first summer without a break. Mine needed the structure but are also behind and need to do extra work. We have to do snacks, every hour if possible and meals and bedtime cannot change. They do not handle changes well and like knowing what is going to happen as well. Thanks for sharing! It can feel pretty lonely on this journey.

    1. Lisa Qualls
      June 6, 2016

      Hourly snacks are a great idea, Danielle. Having a bowl of fruit or other snacks that are unlimited can help too.

  2. Joelle
    June 7, 2016

    Great post. I always had great plans for the summer, mainly exciting educational activities that would keep us all stimulated. But, reality was that we all needed the break that summer brought. We needed the break from the hourly to do list. I like your morning, afternoon, evening way of organizing your day–a way to keep on track but not feel controlled by the clock.

    1. Lisa Qualls
      June 7, 2016

      Thanks, Joelle. I’m hoping for a good summer.

  3. Joy Headrick
    June 7, 2016

    This sounds like such a great plan. I am a grandmother, and I need this kind of “routine” as well!:-)

  4. Emily
    June 8, 2016

    Does the Circle device seem brand-affiliated in any way? I tend to shy away from Disney since I feel like it uses its marketing power to manipulate. I have a friend who has been using Circle, though, and she loves it. I was wary to try it a) because it’s Disney, and b) because I worry about privacy issues from 3rd party monitoring. Then again, we want to monitor our household’s Internet usage and aren’t 100% satisfied with the program we currently use, as it is very limited in its functionality with iPhones. Thanks for the linked review! (I couldn’t find a way to comment on that post for some reason.)

    1. Lisa Qualls
      June 8, 2016

      Emily, I haven’t noticed anything Disney-ish about Circle. It’s a great device and I’m very happy with it. I plan to spend a little time tightening up the filters I’ve set now that it’s summer and the kids will be home and using their devices even more.

  5. Heidi
    June 9, 2016

    I love the routine vs. schedule idea. I don’t remember where I first heard it, but when I had four children ages 5.5 and under, a schedule was impossible and a routine was necessary.

    This summer I hope to make more room for the messes that come with creative play, take the children outside more, and read aloud.


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