Kids sit and smile during visit to woods while summer vacation.

How to Transition Kids to a Summer Schedule

June 3, 2024

As schools let out and the weather warms up, many kids struggle with the loss of a familiar routine as they shift to summer break.

“The end of the school year is full of excitement for children and parents alike as they anticipate time away from traditional schedules and obligations,” says Amanda Esteves, MD, a pediatrician at Columbia. “But time away from school schedules can be hard for children. And can negatively impact their behavior, emotions, and health.”

Dr. Esteves often sees parents and children grappling with this shift in routine. She has plenty of tips to share for understanding behavioral challenges, partnering with caregivers, and smoothing the summer transition.

Understanding the Switch from School to Summer

This transition usually brings abrupt changes to daily routines, such as when to eat, play, and sleep; who is home and when; and more. Many people—and nearly all children—function better with consistent daily structure.

Parents tend to be surprised by how hard this transition can be for children. The loss of routine can affect how much a child eats and sleeps, which impacts overall health. Additionally, children may become sad or anxious, or may behave differently than they usually do.

How to Smooth the Transition

The start of summer is a time for patience and understanding, as parents help their kids settle into new environments and routines. In addition, Dr. Esteves suggests several tactics, including:

  • Listen to your child’s feelings and expectations: Ask what summer activities they are excited or worried about, and what they will miss from school. This information can help you make plans that meet everyone’s needs.
  • Set a meal schedule: You may not keep to it exactly, but scheduling breakfasts, lunches, and dinners helps you plan healthy meals, and helps kids avoid over-eating by snacking.
  • Stick to usual bedtimes: Bedtime may not be perfect every night, but consistent sleep is key to a child’s growth. In summer, they likely need extra rest after long, active days in the sun. In addition, children who have a set summer routine will have an easier time returning to school.
  • Plan daily outings: Whether you’ve registered for day camps or the kids are home for the summer, daily excursions can enrich your family routine. Take walks on Tuesdays, visit the library on Wednesdays, go for bike rides on Thursdays, and so forth. Also, take advantage of community summer programs.
  • Stay social: Schedule time for your child to get together with friends or others who they were used to seeing at school.
  • Write or draw a schedule everyone can read: A tangible schedule can help children understand each day and help them finish chores and tasks. Use paper or an erasable board that they can hold and look at as much as they need.
  • Partner with caregivers: Whether you’re working with a camp counselor or babysitter, keep an open dialogue about any behavioral concerns, and try to identify triggers (such as switching from favorable to non-favorable activities or the loss of a daily nap schedule). Focus on positive approaches to adjusting behaviors.

What All Parents Should Remember About Summer Vacation

Enjoy it, says Dr. Esteves, who points out that vacation is an opportunity to spend time together, relax, laugh, try new things, create memories, and even learn that change can be good.  


Amanda Esteves, MD, is an assistant professor of pediatrics at the Division of Child and Adolescent Health in the Department of Pediatrics at Columbia.