Sara Tyler wears many hats as a mother. 

Nurse, teacher, chef, counselor and professional cat herder are just a few.

With five kids under age 10, two of whom are adopted and one of whom has special needs, Tyler’s summers are packed to the gills with activities to keep her kids active and engaged. But with everything going on, it can be easy to see summer as more of a vocation than a vacation.

“It is really hard in the spur of the moment to be creative and find something that will produce your perfect summer day, and not that all our days are wonderful, but having a plan definitely sets us up for an overall more successful, fun, rewarding summer,” said Tyler, a member of Southeast Christian Church.

Last month, Tyler and other parents shared some tips to help kids have a fun and productive summer at Encouraged, a foster care and adoptive group that meets monthly at Southeast’s Crestwood Campus for information, fellowship and encouragement at every stage of the foster care and adoption journey.

Lynn Willing, an adoptive mom and co-facilitator of the group, said that there are four important areas parents can focus on to help their kids grow mentally and spiritually while still taking advantage of the joys of summer break.

Family and individual needs

Willing shared that planning and preparation can help parents identify specific needs to focus on throughout the summer.

“What I am doing is assessing where our family is in this season overall, and asking myself, ‘What are some primary needs we have as a family?’” she said. “After a season of struggle, do we need to change the channel with some fun and adventure together? Maybe we need downtime to just relax at home with no agenda for a while? More family dinners together, more reading books or Scripture aloud to strengthen connections with each other or the Lord? Date nights for mom and dad? Definitely!”

Parents can look for a child’s specific emotional, physical, academic and spiritual needs, and plan time and activities throughout the week to help their kids grow.

Tyler chooses summer goals for each of her children.

“Before school is out, I sit down and think of what I would like to get out of my time with the kids over the summer,” Tyler said. “I write down my goals for each child and then let my activities reflect these goals.”

For example, if you have a child who struggles to read at grade-level, make time each week to read together or visit the library.

For many kids, parents are working throughout the summer and spending time together as a family requires even more intentionality.

Make the most of evenings, weekends and family vacations by focusing on one-on-one time with kids, even if it’s in the car or at a “have to” like a dentist appointment or a sporting event.

Serve as a family

“One area where we can always grow is in serving others,” Willing said. “The world encourages us to focus on what we need and want, so we have to counter that continually with simple acts of service.”

Willing suggests these options for serving as a family:

>Taking a gift to a new neighbor or helping a neighbor with yardwork or pet care.

>Rounding up shopping carts in a parking lot and returning them to corrals.

>Assembling a “blessings bag” of small things like snacks and toiletries to keep in the car to give to homeless.

>Collecting unused items around the house to donate to Southeast’s LifeBridge ministry.

>Making a get well or sympathy card for a loved one and mailing it.

>Visiting a nursing home.

Fun summer activities

Willing said that giving your kids a fun summer requires a balance of structure and spontaneity.

“I am all for planning, but free playtime is the best time for them to use their imagination and really play,” Willing said.

While some days it’s better not to have a plan, maintaining day-to-day structure will help prepare kids for success when August rolls around.

Willing suggests searching the Internet for family-friendly, free activities or weekly events in the community.

Many local libraries offer weekly activities and various clubs to build structure during the summer months. Look for vacation Bible schools offered at local churches, or visit the nearest park and play on splash pads or spray grounds.

Willing said it’s also important for older kids to schedule family fun. Planning day trips or taking time to do what your kids love to do has a huge impact.

“Consider printing June, July and August calendar pages and filling things in,” Willing said. “Start with the ‘must dos’ and then add in the other items based on when they are available.”

But helping kids have a fun summer doesn’t have to be overwhelming.

“I personally don’t try to do more than one activity or outing per day,” Tyler added. “I find trying to squeeze too much in a day will leave us all exhausted, especially momma. I find it very helpful to have them already on the calendar because personally I am an introvert and love being at home, but a couple of my kiddos aren’t, so this gives us the push we need to actually go out and do something, but also is a pretty happy medium for all of us. My introverts still get some down time, but my extroverts get their needs met too.”

Chores & technology

One of the best ways to challenge kids during the summer is by giving daily or weekly chores or responsibilities.

“I highly recommend giving kiddos chores they are expected to do before we can go have fun,” Willing said. “You know your kids, their abilities and where they need to be challenged. I have one who really gets energized by a chore chart he can check off and be rewarded for.”

As far as screen time goes, Willing said that summer is a great time to set limits and make healthy changes.

“I find that summer is a great time for my elementary kids to use educational games,” she said. “But as with all things, we need to teach and model balance.”

Tyler suggests using a reward system to give kids the opportunity to earn the privilege of screen time. Using a chore chart to earn “screen bucks” is a helpful tool to make limiting screen time and completing chores more enjoyable.

“We limit technology and have found this to have a hugely positive impact on sibling relationships as well as just overall attitude,” Tyler said.

Parent group

The Encouraged Foster & Adoptive Parent Group meets on the second Saturday of the month at the Crestwood Campus from 5:15 to 6:30 p.m. in Room 190A. Parents in any stage of the adoption or foster care journey are welcome to join. The group includes Southeast families and others in the community. Credit is provided for foster parents who need training hours. Regular children’s programming is available. For more info, email EncouragedParent