If you are anything like me, the beginning of May marks the beginning of the end. Summer is just around the corner, which means full-time kid duty from sun up until sun down. Of course, there is something oddly freeing about the break from early wake-ups and carline during afternoon naps. But after that first week of transition, I know from experience that without a basic summer plan, my kids and I will be eating each other alive, daily, before lunch.
The summer I had a rising 2nd grade daughter, a rising kindergarten daughter, and an 18 month old son at home was the first time I really sat down to plan out our summer. The age span was such that one required a daily nap, one wasn’t quite old enough to go to many summer camps, and one was a little too old to be stuck inside all day entertaining her younger siblings.
At that time, I did not consider myself a super crafty person. I did not exactly enjoy inviting my children into the kitchen and teaching them the art of chopping and mixing. I was not a huge fan of stained clothes, mud (in general), or any art activity that might require a smock. It might not come as a huge surprise to hear that I’ve never really been the mom who likes to roll up my sleeves and get on the floor with my kids to do puzzles and play with blocks. I’ve always considered myself a facilitator of fun, but by no means do I double as a playmate. It just isn’t my style.
However. I know for a fact that I could not simply point my kids in the direction of the play room for an entire summer and expect them to stay busy. This is why I came up with a list of ideas and activities that are relatively easy to pull off, minimally messy, and adapt to a wide range of ages. Oh, and some of them I also enjoy.
Around here, we live and die by a schedule. It isn’t a super-rigid schedule, but the predictability of each day is the only method of survival in my genetically bred type-A family. Certainly there are weeks that break up the monotony of long summer days (vacations, visitors, camps, etc.), but in general, this is my approach to surviving summer with kids.
This list is always a work in progress, and I like to update it as I find things that make my life easier. Whether organizational, educational, just-for-fun, ongoing, or one-and-done, the following is my summer survival list. By all means, feel free to steal any (or all) of the ideas below and incorporate them into your summer plans.
At Home Activities
- Daily Activity List: I created the categories myself and simply made this using my computer, some construction paper, a piece of poster board, and the laminating machine at my local “Smart Start” (an educational resource center for preschool parents). I used Velcro Sticky Back Tape (from CVS) so the categories can be changed daily. Note: some cards left blank to add ideas. *Could also be used as a chore chart.
Total prep time: 3 hours.
Approximate cost: $5
- Wet Erase Calendar: I actually use the back of the activity chart for this so it is already laminated and use Vis a Vis markers to fill it in each month. This helps us keep track the big away-from-home activities coming up. I do not make this calendar very detailed.
- Reading Corner: get a basket of books and some oversized pillows, throw them in a sunny corner, and suddenly my children are excited to read every day. We do “D.E.A.R.” 1-2 times a day for 20-30 minutes when we’re home. Sometimes I read to them. Sometimes I silently read my own book alongside them.
- Summer Reading Incentives: several national chains offer summer reading incentive programs for elementary school kids. You can easily Google the following to find more information. My list so far includes: Chuck E. Cheese (10 free tokens), Barnes and Noble (free book), Scholastic (online), Junie B. Jones Reading Club (online), Sylvan Book Adventure, Pottery Barn, Book-It Summer Reading Challenge, and the local library. If you are in Winston-Salem, also check out the Bookmarks summer reading program which ends with a huge book festival in September.
- Creative Writing / Journaling / Art Journaling: Using a simple (age appropriate) composition notebook, some glue, and any collage material we have laying around, we create unique journal covers and then spend time each week writing, painting, and gluing, in them. Again, this is an activity I actually enjoy doing with my kids.
Total Prep Time: 1 hour
Approximate Cost: < $5
- Just Dance Kids: If you don’t have a Wii or another gaming device – you can find Just Dance Kids videos on YouTube and play them on your computer or stream them through something like Apple TV for your kids to follow. They won’t be scored, but mine will do this for an hour now that I’ve taught them how to navigate the iPhone through the TV. It is fun and a relatively compact physical activity. Great for rainy days!
- Plant a Container Garden: Though the initial planting is a one-time activity, gardening in general is one of those cool things that my children stay excited about all summer. From feeding and watering the plants, to picking and eating the veggies we grow, this is a relatively simple and inexpensive activity that pays off in the long run.
- Water Table: I seriously found ours at a thrift store for under $3. I tend to sort of collect toys here and there and have found that rotating toys in and out has kept my child interested in this activity.
- Big Bubbles: 6c. water + 1/2c. Dawn Dish Soap + 1/2c. corn starch + 1T. baking powder + 1T. glycerine (you can find this in most drug stores in the first aid section or possibly the ethnic hair section).
- Sidewalk Chalk/Paint: make your own using 1/8c. corn starch + 1/8c. baby shampoo + 1t. water + food coloring. Add water to make it runnier, add corn starch to make it thicker. Play with colors.
- Yoga: I got my kids their own yoga mats for $5 each at a store called “Five and Below.” Sometimes I lead them in a routine, other times I check out kids yoga DVD’s at the library and let them do that. This is a great inside or outside activity and they love it.
- At-Home Manicures and Pedicures
- Play Doh: whether you buy it at Walmart or make your own, Play Doh is one of those things that I finally gave in to, and realized it is one of the better things I have given in to. I usually try to rotate out the toys somewhat regularly, but it is easy to find “new” tools, cookie cutters, and other fun things to use at thrift stores or simply lying around the house. Bonus idea: add lavender oil to homemade play-doh for a “calming” sensory activity.
- Bean Bag Toss Games or Corn-Hole
- Make a Ski-Ball Board
- PVC Pipe Sprinkler: You could probably Google for more exact instructions but the basic idea here is to attach PVC pipe with holes in it to your existing swing set (using zip ties) and connect the hose. See photos below.
Materials: PVC pipe; drill with 1/16 drill bit; zip ties; swing set; hose & water
Prep Time: 2 hours
Total Cost: less than $7! (PVC pipe is very inexpensive)
Away From Home Activities
- Visit a Local Park or Spray Park/Splash Pad: click here for a list of new Winston-Salem splash pads.
- Go to the Pool: click here for a list of Winston-Salem pools.
- Go to the Gym: if you have not yet considered it, now is a great time to join a local gym. For me, this is more than just an exercise outlet. It means up to 2.5 hours of childcare and a chance to connect socially with friends, away from our kids. We belong to the YMCA, so there are child and family friendly activities all year long, and also a variety of sports and summer camps. A gym membership is a must in our family budget.
- Go to the Library: Forsyth County has a fantastic summer reading program, and each library has an entire calendar of free events happening all summer long. Check your local library to see what they offer for kids in the summer where you live.
- Vacation Bible School: I happen to live in the Bible belt, so there are a number of different churches doing VBS during different weeks. Some in the morning and some are in the evening. All are free and many take kids as young as 4 years old.
- Day Camps: My town offers everything from dance to drama and sports to legos. If you haven’t enrolled your children in extra-curricular activities during the school year, summer camps are a great way to find what your kids really like. In addition to the many private dance, art, and music academies, our local YMCA, several schools in the area, and even some churches offer a variety of thematic day camps for a variety of ages and many at very reasonable prices.
- Free Bowling: Try Kids Bowl Free or AMF Summer Bowling.
- Cheap or Free Summer Movies: See free or cheap summer movies in North Carolina or free or cheap summer movies nationally.
- Home Depot Workshops: offered all year, actually, these workshops are offered on Saturday’s and everything is free. Most activities are appropriate for kids aged 4 and up.
- Michael’s Craft Club
- Go to the Zoo
- Go to a Children’s Museum
- Visit Local State and National Parks
- Camp Out in the Back Yard
- Have a Picnic