Kick Off Your Kid's Summer With One of These Rituals

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Welcome to “Best Summer Ever,” your guide to making the most of the sunny season. Whether your idea of a perfect summer is embarking on epic adventures or blissfully doing as little as possible (preferably somewhere with good air conditioning), we’ve got you covered, because the best summer doesn’t just happen. You have to make it happen.

The beginning of summer usually doesn’t mean that much to adults—the season changes, but you go to work and pay the credit card bills just the same. It’s easy to forget that the change between the school year and summer is a big deal to kids. A family celebration, ceremony, or ritual is the perfect way to respect the transition and help your little ones navigate their mini life-change smoothly. Plus, it’s fun.  

Celebrate the start of summer with FIRE

My little family started annually celebrating the end of the school year after my kid had a rocky time in sixth grade. He came home from the last day of school and said, “Hey, dad, can I burn all my school notes?” After a moment of panic thinking, “but what if you need them,” I remembered the zero times in my life that I consulted my sixth grade biology notes and said, “Yeah, let’s do it.” 

So that evening, the family and a few close friends gathered around a backyard fire pit and watched while Dexter solemnly dropped pages of his notebooks into the fire. Maybe it was partly because we were letting him do something “dangerous,” but it was clear from the way my normally lighthearted kid carefully and solemnly fed those looseleaf sheets into the flames that something important was happening to him. Then, with the symbolic past in ashes, we all shared our hopes and goals for the coming summer.

We’ve celebrated the end of the school year with notebook burning every year since. He doesn’t burn everything, of course—school projects, artwork, and meaningful writing assignments are stored away—but the unimportant things are fed to the flames. It’s become my favorite “holiday” because it belongs to only us. (And I’m not the only awesome Lifehacker parent who agrees.)

What to consider for your kid’s beginning of summer celebration

The specifics of the celebration depend on the child and your family dynamic and style of course, but here are some things to keep in mind:

Keep it serious (at least for a few minutes): The seriousness with which you take the ceremony is, I think, what differentiates it from a run-of-the-mill picnic. So don’t make a joke out of it; even the goofiest kid will appreciate a little solemnity and a your acknowledgment that their lives are important and their feelings matter. 

Don’t make it part of another celebration: Folding the end-of-the-school-year celebration into a July 4th picnic or something is convenient, but it detracts from the weight that a ceremony needs to be successful.

Keep it simple and stress-free: You don’t need to do anything super elaborate. Limit activities to things everyone in attendance can enjoy (or at least tolerate) to keep the stress level low. Keep it loose and try to go into it without expectations.

Be consistent: Children love the stability of unchanging family traditions (even if the tradition is only a year old), so mark the occasion every year, and make certain you don’t let it slip.  

Keep it positive: While acknowledging challenges of the past is important, make sure the vision you present of the future is a positive one. 

Let your kid plan and choose the details: Once your child is old enough to make decisions, let them pick how the end-of-school ‘do is going to happen, and make sure they’re involved in as much of the planning as their maturity level can handle. Don’t try to make it perfect or impose your ideas of how it should go: It’s not your show, so if your kid wants to go out for a steak dinner instead of burning their notebooks, take ‘em to a steakhouse. 

Beginning of summer ceremony ideas

Even though the decision of how to best mark the passage of time should rest with your child, most kids need guidance and don’t respond well to an open-ended question like, “How should we ritually mark the beginning of summer?”  So give them options instead. Here are some thoughts:

Throw a family party: Invite the whole clan over, but let your kid pick their favorite food to serve, the games you play, and the music you listen to. Make sure everyone who attends understands that the “ritual” part of the evening is important. Ask relatives or friends to share a summer memory, or talk about their summer plans, if your family likes that kind of thing.

Go to a special place: Successful rituals can hinge on taking place in a space that’s outside of normal life. If you’re an outdoorsy family, consider a hike to somewhere beautiful. Or take a trip to the beach at night. Maybe just eat dinner in the backyard. Anything that indicates that this afternoon/evening is not like all the others.

Make a time-capsule: Many children (and parents) would be horrified at the idea of burning any of their school notes and would much rather memorialize the year by saving things in a scrapbook or a memory box packed with photos, mementos, art works, and whatever else they consider important. Mark the time-capsule with “Do not open until 2034,” seal it, and tuck it away in the attic until you’re ready to dig it out. Eventually, you can add opening an old box to the yearly ritual. 

Have them write a letter to their future self: Have your kid write a letter to themselves in the future, maybe to themselves at the end of the summer. Seal it, stick on a stamp, and set a reminder on your phone to mail it out at the right time. (Don’t just hand it to them—the mail is “serious” and a little magical to kids.) Reading it will give them (and you) a chance to see how they’ve grown over only a few months. 

Have a relaxation night: Even if your kid likes school, it’s demanding. To help your kid transition to the mellower vibes of summertime, have an evening that’s devoted to relaxation, whether that’s a pajama party, a spa day, or a marathon session of video gaming.

Have a “do nothing” day:  If you keep your kid on a tight schedule, consider denoting a full day to doing nothing at all. No demands. No plans. Nothing. I realize that can be a big ask to hard-driving people, but maybe it will do you some good too?

How will a beginning of summer ritual help your child?

I’d like to end this post by telling you how our end-of-year rituals became cherished part of my child’s memories, how they’ve helped him grow up into a well-adjusted, kind adult, but the dice are still in the air. I have no idea whether he’ll look back on these annual ceremonies fondly or recount them ruefully to his therapist. But I can say for sure that they worked for me. 

I went into it our first notebook burning thinking it would be a goofy thing to do on an early summer night, but something about how serious he looked lit by the flames stopped me cold. I had a moment of, “oh, shit. He’s not a little boy anymore, and he won’t ever be again.”

The realization of what that really meant filled me an immense mixture of love and sadness that only parents watching their children grow up (and away from them) can understand. Maybe you’re not a sentimental person like me, but I still highly recommend a beginning of the summer ritual.

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