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It is the last week of school. THE LAST WEEK OF SCHOOL!
No more routines, structure, pick ups, drop offs, lunch making (ooooh I loathe lunch making) and while that reads as amazing, it can actually be quite terrifying too. Like most big families we thrive on structure and consistency. With a shift working husband, 2 home business' and activity schedules for three kids, we need structure to make our wheels turn. Our kids do well with knowing whats coming, whats expected of them and the standard ebb and flow of the day. So in typical Type A fashion I am already 10 steps ahead of it.
Organizing for summer may seem controlling and less spontaneous but anyone with a busy life knows that a little extra work now means a lot more rest later. Rest? Yup, restful enjoyment of the summer and of your family. Enjoying the ice cream, the backyard shenanigans, park dates, swim time, day trips etc. Being able to be in the moment versus planning for the next one. Organizing a little now can make or break how we as parents experience activities and extended time together.
So, here are our top tips for an organized, happy and less anxious summer.
A Constant State Of Packed Up
My family and I take several day trips, weekend trips or cottage visits throughout the summer. We have family and friends out of town from about a one hour drive to a three hour drive. We also like to check out various sites and activities within Ontario or the US. So to combat the time consuming process of packing and unpacking I maintain a certain level of "packed" at all times. I keep a pouch for a variety of categories packed and ready to throw into a bag. It might mean purchasing 2 of things so that you have them at home and away but trust me you will use them both and time is money right? One pouch contains toiletries for the whole family; body wash, shampoo, conditioner, nail clippers, hair brush, toothbrushes and toothpaste (child and adult), face wash and moisturizer for mom (Mama needs her skin care routine!) and a small tube of body cream. Each product is safe for all members of the family to use and thus avoids multiples of everything. The second pouch is medical items. Tylenol, Advil, Benadryl, After Bite, Polysporin, Band Aids, adult and child allergy pills, sunscreen, Bactin, Gravol, Epi pen and my sons medicated skin cream. Everything the family needs in almost all situations. I actually carry this bag with me on all outings whether they are local or overnight. We also keep a reusable shopping bag packed with rain coats and boots for the family and another with towels, swim suits and shirts, goggles and flotation needs for swimming. These two bags live in our front closet for easy access and because they often need washing and repacking after use.
When a day trip or weekend trip comes up whether planned or not I simply grab a few outfits, diapers, wipes, sleeping buddies, the pre packed bags and away we go. We usually travel with a booster high chair in our car for our daughter at all times anyway.
Dollar Store Dollar Store Dollar Store
Summer outdoor toys and activities need not be complicated or expensive. Kids are happy with the simplest of things to jump start their imaginations. Before school ends, like many moms, I turn to Guru Google and ask "what are easy outdoor games/crafts/activities" or if I'm honest it actually reads "how to kill time and save my sanity" and within 2 seconds Guru Google has generated a huge list of random ideas that some genius person has curated on the perfect Pinterest board and who is most certainly not anyone I know, but bless them! I make a list of supplies that almost always includes markers, stickers, craft caddies, paint brushes, glue, sidewalk paint, bug boxes, kites, tennis balls, bird houses, paper airplanes, flash cards, play doh, bug nets, water squirters, water balloons, bubbles etc. The environmentalist in me cringes at the plastic, excess packaging and waste but the realistic side of me accepts that I can save the planet in other ways for two months of the year. No straws kids! I store these things in storage caddies or in bins on a shelf in a main level closet so that I can grab them quickly or my oldest son can help gather what he needs when he has an idea. Certain items I hoard for a tough day and then Voila! a surprise to get them through a tough time. I don't often use pre-assembled kits because the time spent getting that kit ready or helping them do it isn't worth the few minutes they actually spend engaged with it. Rather, I give them some supplies and say go find things outside from nature to paint, glue, build etc. Last year the kids spent 3 hours building, decorating and playing in a beaver damn they build. Thank you dollar store!
Enough Food To Feed An Army
It's been said for generations, millions of times, by parents of all walks of life simply because its the truth - my children eat me out of house and home! We cannot keep our pantry or fridge full for very long. While it can be expensive to maintain our feeling is that the more healthy food they eat the more fuel they have to learn and grow. When school is in I can spend time baking, batch cooking and freezing quick meals and snacks once a week to keep us on track. With summer I batch and bake the last week of school to fill our freezer. Muffins, biscuits, loaves, quiche, egg muffins, meatballs, pre portioned smoothie ingredient bags etc. Do not mistake this idea as "my children do not eat packaged foods" because of course they do! I also stock up on jumbo size boxes of granola bars, crackers, gummies, apple sauce, trail mix, cheese strings, squeeze pouches, yogurt drinks - you name it. Its all about balance but more importantly its all about easy access. I store "anytime of day" snacks in bowls on the counter and containers in the fridge or our snack drawer within reach of the children. Our "sometimes" snacks are still within arms reach but in a separate drawer. I make a menu each week and post it on the fridge so that we can take food from the freezer in the morning and prep it during nap time. 90% of our dinner is made during nap time when the toddler is sleeping and the other two are having a break from the sun. Having dinner made makes the 430-530 freak out easier to manage. Who doesn't have a witching hour with hangry, whiney children?
Forget About Cleaning
Ok, not completely but just let some things go longer then you normally would. I clean because well I am not a slob and I am pretty sure I read somewhere that dirt and mold were bad for kids. But, I refuse to do it alone or all the time. When school ends we sit with the kids and we talk about what they can do everyday and things they can do sometimes to help around the house. We make a list ranging from pick up toys to pull weeds. The kids chime in and we decorate it. We hang it somewhere and every time we hear "I'm bored" or "Mama, can I help you?" (that one is rare) we refer to the chart. Some items are to do everyday (ie make beds, pick up dirty laundry) and others are in red and are rewarded with money in their savings jar because it is bigger and more difficult. The kids love earning money and using it for something when we do go on an outing to a new place. We also pick one morning a week where we do major cleaning as parents. Bathrooms, laundry, etc. before anything else. The kids love this because it usually means a movie and popcorn. We would rather spend our time not cleaning then cleaning so some things get a longer time in between cleanings. But, life!
A Summer Of Nothing
While the above strategies make us sound super organized, on top of it, wonder parents - the reality is the opposite. These few things keep us organized for about 3 weeks and then the "survival" mode kicks in. Our plan for this year is to keep things simple. To manage our expectations and keep our plans minimal. Other then a few pre planned activities and jaunts to visit family we will stay home. We will do nothing. I repeat, nothing. The kids will need to be kids and ride bikes, play in the backyard, call on their friends, swim in the neighborhood pools, walk to the park, play in a splash pad, watch netflix (say whaaaaaat?) color, read on a blanket under a tree, fight, argue, make a mess - those last three on repeat I promise.. Not running around to outings and paid activities will make our mornings less stressful and minimize the witching hour hustle. It will help us to keep our rose colored glasses version of summer realistic. Eliminating frustration or disappointment when the perfect photo op, mind blowing learning moment, deep family bonding experience doesn't exactly happen so perfectly.
Summer is so short. The super helpful internet memes tell us that we only have 18 of them with our kids. So don't over schedule the summer, over complicate your experiences or spend your time on household tasks that can be managed ahead of time. Focus your energy on enjoying the little things versus the mundane tasks that actually take away from your family and make life stressful when you have tired, sun scorched, sticky kids. Those moments you dreamt of will happen and you might actually feel it the way you wanted to. With a smile, a glass of wine and an amazing insta-story!
Or so we hope!
**want to read more? check out my blog https://builtwithjoy.wordpress.com