May is finally here, and with it comes the end of the school year. Between all of the spring sports, concerts, plays, graduations and family parties, so many of us parents are ready for a well-earned break from the rush and are excited for the lull of lazier, slower, summer days. And while the first few days of summer are a relief, eventually the kids (and we parents) crave something to do. Many parents opt to enroll kids in camps or go on vacations. But even if you aren't leaving home much, summer is the perfect opportunity for kids to gain access to independent life skills that will last them a lifetime.

Think of life skills as the maintenance of our holistic daily care. Life skills include things such as personal hygiene, house cleaning, communication, preparing meals, problem-solving and time management. Parents sometimes have a tendency to brush over teaching life skills during the busier school year. After all, it can be hard to fit these tasks in with homework and bedtime considerations.

One great example is tying shoes. I think every parent out there knows the pain of watching a kid try to master shoe-tying at 8:05 a.m. when you were supposed to have left the house 10 minutes earlier. All too often, we opt for simpler solutions (hello, Velcro shoes) as a way to ease our days, and rightfully so. But consider the informal structure of summer as the perfect opportunity to slow down and work through these little (yet bigger) life skills with our kids.

Before the summer begins, sit down with your kids and ask them what they'd like to work on over summer break. Since they probably won't respond with "learn to use the washing machine," go ahead make a list of your own as well. Maybe you'd like them to learn to empty the dishwasher, while they'd like to learn how to nail a perfect cartwheel. That is fine. The longer days of summer allow time for both. Engaging your kids in the planning of their summers will get you the buy-in you'll need, as well as give you a glimpse into their goals and motivation.

Planning out what you'd like to work on ahead of time is also a great way to fill in your schedule. If you'd like your child to be a more confident swimmer, plan for swim lessons. If your child would like to earn and save their own money, schedule a trip to the bank. If the entire family seems to groan at your well-honed weekly meal repertoire, summer is the perfect time to send them to the grocery store or the farmers market, to have them look through cookbooks and to experiment with preparing meals.

There are so many life skills that kids can develop during the summer – everything from cutting their own toenails to calling to order takeout pizza. Think big and small, sit down together with your children and co-caregivers, and brainstorm opportunities to give your children the gift of independence this summer and for the rest of their days to come.

Pamela Savage is a freelance writer living in Springfield. Last summer, she thought she might teach her kids to consistently use the washing machine but definitely fell short. She looks forward to trying again.

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