Summer is the time of ease, of rest and relaxation, of freedom from all those rigid schedules. Hurray! However, if you have a child with learning disabilities or ADHD or other atypical profile, you know that your child needs some structure in order to get along well and be happy. Not knowing what to expect next can increase anxiety and lead to trouble.

Most of the families in my area have two working parents, so they have probably already put some sort of summer plan into place. But for most families there are gaps in the summer arrangements. These bring the opportunity to spend more time with your children, and with proper planning these interludes can be delightful. The challenge is to have enough structure so that your child is not thrown off but enough flexibility so that it feels like a vacation.

I find that for many families it is important to set an expectation for how much screen time you will allow. Perhaps you will have some days with no plans. You might imagine your child doing crafts, playing with a sibling, or exploring outside. However, for most children television, video games and computer games are so attractive that they can quickly trump the other activities. It is a good idea to set an expectation for how much screen time is OK and when it will be. For older children you will need to get their input on this and come to some negotiated agreement for it to work without struggles. Be prepared to be tested and to need to stand your ground. It’s a good plan!

Now, what will your children do when they are not occupied with screens? Perhaps you have children who will engage with Lego or crafts for an hour or so. To be sure that this will work, you might want to be sure that you have the supplies for the crafts. You might want to plan to invest in a new Lego set during the summer to keep the interest going. Regular trips to the library will outfit you with new books to read.

Other times you will plan to do some activity with your child. Consider some outings that you and your child will enjoy. Many public libraries have free passes to area museums. Find out how to reserve ahead and make your plans accordingly.

In addition, many children have (and should have) some responsibilities around the house. The morning is a good time to attend to these.

Now that you have some activities in mind, you can come up with a loose daily schedule. It is a schedule, so that your child will know what to expect, but it is also loose so that it feels like summer. It might go something like this. Your child gets up and has breakfast. Then she can play on her own for a while either on screens or with other activities, like the Lego or crafts or books. This gives you time to do some things you might want to do: return phone calls, read the paper, pay some bills. After an hour the screens go off, and your child can play off screen if you are still busy.

Now you are done with your work, and you and your child can go out on an expedition — a visit to a local park or a museum, or the library. Many towns have story hours or other summer entertainment for children. Perhaps you’ve arranged a play date. Lunch happens somewhere in here. Perhaps you pack a lunch, or you eat out.

By mid-afternoon you arrive back home. You child might be tired, so a quiet activity would be a good option while you prepare supper. Maybe a little more screen time or independent reading. After dinner, maybe some board games, a TV show the family likes, and reading together.

The schedule might look quite different in your family. The point is that the day is chunked into somewhat predictable parts. There are times for independent play (you provide engaging supplies), time for entertainment on screens, time for you to attend your business, time for activities with you. This is a schedule you could make predictable for your child and still have flexibility to enjoy summer. You can make a schedule and post it using pictures to make it accessible for younger children. If your children can contribute some to the schedule and the activities, they will be more cooperative about it.

You will notice that I did not put in a great deal of time for you to work from home. If you have a quirky kid, it is likely that this is not realistic, unless you are willing to let videos and TV keep your child occupied. I hope that you will be able to take some time off when your children are not in programs. If you are torn between work and children, neither gets the best of your attention.

Let me know what ideas you have for making the most of summer free time.

Author's Bio: 

Parent Coach and Licensed Psychologist, Carolyn Stone, Ed.D. ( educates parents of children with learning disabilities, ADHD, Asperger Syndrome and anxiety about their children’s needs using humor and evidence-based practices. Parents learn new strategies through role play and homework. She teaches children to manage their anxiety and attention and to understand their learning styles. You can learn about Dr. Stone’s work from her blog at