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We’ve just wrapped up the first month of summer vacation and a lot is going on around here.
Like every summer, I realized within the first week that I could easily spend the majority of my day planning, prepping, executing, and cleaning up meals and snacks. (What is with the child-brain connection between boredom and hunger, huh?)
My summer survival basically revolves around four imperatives: keeping kids fed, entertained, and active enough to be tired at night, and keeping my house functionally tidy. If you are a mother of even two children you know that the food situation during the summer is easily the stupidest and most surprising struggle of them all. Like, I could be in the kitchen all day long and still hear, “Mommy we’re hungry,” at least six times a day if I don’t wrangle this beast to the ground, quick. Can I get an amen?
I very quickly decided that if I could minimize the amount of time I spend on the first two, above, I could actually maximize all four. You can tell from how often I’m posting just how well I’m doing on the mom-freedom part. But I’m not complaining, actually. The days are long, the crock pot is plugged in more often than not, and we truly are getting the most of this season of free Vitamin D.
And for the first time all year, I’ve felt pretty good.
I’m about to share with you some pretty genius things I’ve done over the last few weeks that have infinitely improved my daily life with four children who are home from school.
And so, in no particular order, I give you an organic list of ideas that can be applied immediately (or with minimal prep) and adapted to various ages. I’m sure many of these were in some way originally stolen from Pinterest or an education class at Baylor. Whatever. Here’s what’s working in my house. You’re welcome.
1. Schedule Chart w/ Chores and Treat
I picked up this hanging schedule chart from the Carson Dellosa Warehouse Sale for about $5 last May, and the first day I brought it out to use it was a game-changer. No more asking what we are doing or what we are having for lunch, dinner, etc. This was huge.
It wasn’t until a couple of days later that I added the Chores/Treat section to the bottom of the chart. A friend randomly mentioned that when she started putting “Ice Cream for Dessert” on her calendar, once a week, her child stopped asking every single day when was the next time they’d get to have ice cream.
It worked the same on my kids.
So, for summer, we do dessert every single night, which is a little different from the rest of the year. It is both a behavioral incentive and something to look forward to. I make them do all the chores of the day before dinner (usually right before) which includes picking up the house. If they get them done early, they get to watch TV. We are currently electronic-free with our kids, and they get only very limited TV. Putting it at the end of the day ensures that I get a break when I am the most ready for it.
This little chart alone has vastly improved imperatives 1 and 4. It also has helped me to relax for most of the day (about the messes all over the house) because I know by dinner time, things will be back in place and settled down.
2. Sticker Charts
If I had known that this was all Avery needed as incentive to use the potty, I might have tried it last Christmas. The funny thing is, I didn’t even promise a prize for filling the thing up (to any of the kids). I just posted them on various walls in the house and started rewarding them with stickers.
Amazing how well it has kept all four on track to accomplishing one thing or another. (For Avery, it even worked when we traveled to my parents’ house in TN and she was afraid to use a foreign toilet.)
I created those JUNE sticker charts for Eliott and Carter kind of loosely. I wasn’t really sure how much was going to be possible, and I kept the expectations pretty low. The best part was that I basically allowed them to choose their own adventure. For the most part, everything on the chart (with the exception of cooking) was something educational and independent. They actually have really stuck with keeping up and making plans to accomplish things. This was no surprise for Eliott, who is motivated by check-lists and goal-setting. But it has been a very pleasant surprise with Carter, who could not care less about all things school. She’s been getting up the earliest all summer and reading chapter books without prompting.
3. Paper Plate Assembly Line Meals
Say what you will for the environment, I reduce, reuse, and recycle better than most. Also I compost. But sometimes I have to revert to Mama-Survival-Mode, and there’s really nothing better than having at least one meal a day where dishes are the least of my worries.
Another meal tip: produce is cheap right now, so my fridge is stocked with containers of ready-to-eat everything, including pineapple, cantaloupe, watermelon, berries, grapes, cucumbers, green peppers, and baby carrots. I am not a “snack-drawer” mom who lets my kids eat all day from a pre-arranged area of mostly healthy foods. That is totally cool if you are, I simply am not. But I have adapted this exact idea by keeping easy snack foods handy, and simply controlling when and where my kids get to eat them.
4. Quiet Time with Melty-Beads and Audio Books
I hope you played with Perler Beads as a kid. These things are the best in so many ways. Even my preschooler can be entertained by them for an hour at the minimum, but usually longer. I invested in a pretty good starter set from Amazon, years ago, and we’ve added to it slowly as I find smaller sets, usually on clearance. When Avery goes down for a nap, this is a favorite activity. I put them all at the kitchen table and then pop an audio book into the CD player. We’re currently listening to The Chronicles of Narnia.
5. New Chores
Call me crazy, but anytime I make a significant schedule or life-change, I really prefer to do it in the summer time. Summer offers the most forgiveness for kids (and Mom) adjusting to something new. I know you aren’t surprised to hear that more often than not, I’m pretty resistant to change. I hated the dropping of the nap for my first 3 kids. I was naturally reluctant to push bedtime back for my big girls. And I’m never really sure when is the right time to introduce new responsibilities.
It turns out, I haven’t discovered a wrong time to do it.
If there is one thing that cannot be denied in my house, it is that all four of my children cannot wait to be grown-ups.
Though it is a bit sloppy, both my 8 and 10 year olds have been folding laundry for at least a year, a task Carter surprised me with (at 7) one day when she snuck upstairs and did it all without prompting. Isaiah has been taught how to unload anything in the dishwasher he can reach to put away. And yes, this means the silverware drawer isn’t pretty, but the forks are with the forks and the spoons are with the spoons, and I didn’t have to do it.
That’s why, this summer, I’ve decided that any job that needs to be done, I’m going to see if a kid can do it. One of these new responsibilities was allowing my 10 year old to cook. Last winter (when she was still 9) I taught her what I would consider a very important kitchen survival skill: browning ground beef. As a result, she can now fully prepare chili and tacos, and almost fully prepare spaghetti and other pasta dishes.
People. This is huge.
As the days grew increasingly hotter, I sort of let the grass get a little out of control, until one day I had just had enough. At 4:30pm, I went outside with Isaiah and told Eliott she was in charge of keeping Avery inside, and making dinner.
And you know that because I wasn’t in there hovering, she actually managed both, pretty wonderfully.
I had allowed her to brown the meat and prep black beans for tacos at lunch time (under my lazy hands-off supervision), which were staying warm in the crock-pot. She got an entire dinner on the table and nobody complained.
The independence and pride alone made it worth it for Eliott. I’m not sure how long this time will last, but I figure if we keep going with a pretty lax attitude toward the perfection of things, eventually our kids will get better at these life skills. Crossing my fingers they also continue to actually enjoy doing them.
So that’s it for now. Please keep in mind that every day isn’t a picture perfect as I paint it on social media, but on the whole, it becomes increasingly easier to enjoy my kids as they get older. I hope you can use and adapt some of these ideas with your kids.
If you have any ideas to add, or would like a template of the big kid sticker chart above, leave me a comment below and I’ll email you the document.