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Tips for Making Summertime Fun, Organized, and Educational at Home

If you're a work-from-home Mom like me, summertime elicits feelings of family fun and R&R along with some serious angst wondering how I'm going to keep up with work while the kids are home.

With four kids (ages 1-7) and a full time home-based wooden toy shop, to say I've got my hands full is an understatement.  So rather than waking up and tackling each day as it comes at me, I'm taking steps to prep for a summer with my kids that's fun, organized, educational for our family, AND (dare I say...) productive for Smiling Tree Toys.

Here are my top ten tips for planning and executing a summer that won't leave you feeling exhausted, stressed, or defeated (because we've all been there, mamas!)

1. routine morning chores

Smiling Tree Toys Chore ChartLet's get this one out of the way first.  I spent my first five years of motherhood pulling my hair out while asking my kids to brush their teeth for the TENTH time each morning.  Then I wised up and did the 'structured Mom' thing and hung morning chore sheets on the fridge so the kids knew the daily to-do's that have to happen before they're free to do what they want.  And you know what?  It WORKED. You can download your free Chore Chart here!

2. belongings baskets

organizational baskets for kids roomsAssign each kid their own basket and create a designated place those baskets live in your house. Throughout your day, toss any and all of their toys, books, clothes, and other random things that belong in their bedrooms. Then, every morning (or evening), have each child bring their basket to their bedroom, put the contents away (might take some initial enforcement to avoid them shoving everything under their beds to get done really fast!), and return their baskets to their home. At our house, these baskets live on the stairway landing wall that leads upstairs to the kids' bedrooms.

I chose cotton rope baskets with handles for our kids.  They're chemical-free, sturdy but flexible, and give me the option to hang from the walls in the future when we need to add a fourth basket for our littlest one. Of course, you can find multiple styles and sizes to fit your budget anywhere you shop. You might even check out your local thrift store for these.

3. meal planning

I know, it sounds so much easier than it actually is. I've tried and failed at meal planning on more than one occasion, but I'm finally winning in this department.  How?

  • KEEP IT SIMPLE: focus on whole foods and dishes with minimal ingredients.  Summer is a great time for simple sandwiches, cold cuts, fresh produce with dips, and easy meats on the grill.
  • KEEP GROCERY LISTS ON YOUR PHONE: when I'm in the kitchen and come across something I'm running low on, I just add it to the list on my phone. I use iPhone's native Notes app, but there are tons of options in the App Store too. Pro tip: you can even share the Note with your spouse so that s/he can add foods to it, snacks bags for on-the-go
  • TWO AFTERNOONS PER WEEK: set aside two afternoons per week while at least some of your kiddos are napping to prep and make meals. As long as I've already done my grocery shopping and have a general menu in mind, that's really all it takes to get myself set in the kitchen for the entire work week!
  • SNACK DRAWER: {disclaimer: I only recommend this if your kids are old enough and you trust them not to eat everything at once} Designate a spot in your fridge or pantry for ready-to-eat snacks that kids can access without needing the help of an adult.  Think pre-cut fruit, cheese sticks, portioned yogurt/cottage cheese, veggie sticks and dip. Add snack prep to your two afternoons/week meal prep.  And if they can't handle spacing out the snacks throughout the day on their own, then you'll at least have snacks ready to grab for them when they ask.  (And they'll ask....)

Smiling Tree Toys Meal PlanAnd if you're looking for everything but the chef arriving at your front door, check out Holistic Squid's Real Plans for customized meal plans made with real, wholesome ingredients. Our Printable Meal Plan PDF is great for accomplishing this. Also check out our healthy foods for kids and organic | foodie Pinterest boards for some inspiration.

4. the "I'm bored" list

The phrase every mother dreads. Or maybe (like at our house) the phrase your children have learned to NEVER say unless they want to be assigned a chore on-the-spot! 

I combat boredom by typing up a simple list of quick and easy daytime activities that require little to no planning. I organize the list by indoor vs. outdoor to-do's.  Inside think playdough, legos, paper plate crafts, painting rocks, dance parties, building forts, and cozy reading corners. When the weather is perfect for outdoor activities, they can get outside for scavenger hunts, bikes and trikes, sidewalk chalk, bubbles, hide-and-seek, freeze tag, and filling jars with treasures they find in nature.

5. day trip list

This is another simple list that I'm always so happy I've done ahead of time. Then, when it's a day you NEED to get out of the house, or the weather is perfect for an outing, or your kids have earned a fun excursion after completing their chores for the week, you don't have to spend half the morning trying to figure out where to go! Some of the popular destinations on our list are: picnic in the park, children's library, nature paths, fishing, or a friend/family's house with a fun backyard.

6. make your backyard awesome

If you're fortunate enough to live in a place where you have a backyard that your children can roam in, make it a place they'll want to spend a LOT of time in!  You can add simple things like a swing, sandbox, kid's garden corner, lawn games, and fairy dwellings.

My oldest daughter and I recently made a fairy tepee out of all sorts of everyday and recycled objects.  We're searching for a well-protected spot in our backyard to tuck it, and can't wait to add more fairy things to at as we make them.

If space and budget allows, think grander things like a tree house, trampoline, multi-person swing, slack line, or even a zip line!  Check out Wellness Mama for ideas to make your backyard the envy of all the kids in your neighborhood.


7. learning drawers

Remember that word "educational" in the title?  No matter their age, any child will benefit from some intentional learning even for just a short time throughout their day. 

At our house, I've been working on collecting things for individualized learning drawers for each of my kids.  Each child will have a drawer where they can choose what they'd like to work on during their daily "learning hour".  They don't need to be anything fancy or expensive, I took a set of plastic drawers that were no longer being used in our basement and set them along a wall in our laundry room.  They're out of the way, but still easily accessible for all ages.

My 7 year old will be focusing on things like counting money, telling time, memory matching, and reading for comprehension.  My 2 and 3 year olds will focus on shapes, colors, sorting, counting, lacing, and learning their letters and numbers.  I also made them each their own Spell Well Name Puzzle. And my 1 year old's drawer will feature a basic shapes puzzlewooden stacking toy, shape sorter, and board books.

Even if learning "hour" can only be learning "minutes" some days, it's still worth it. Check out our educational wooden toys for ideas for your own kids!

8. weekly journals/binders

This is a fun and easy way to essentially have your kids create their own summer book of memories.  And for me personally, it eliminates the mom-guilt I always get when I am reminded that I'm just not a scrap booking mom who physically documents her kids' childhoods. (Sorry, kids...)

Every Monday, spend some time writing and drawing about the favorite things you did over the past week. It's a great way to encourage creative writing and is so fun for hear what your kids find especially noteworthy and worth remembering. Often times I'm surprised that it was a simple funny game or story before bed time that my little ones fondly remember rather than the big trip to the playground. Life is all about simple pleasures, after all!

There are lots of DIY ideas for kids journals out there.  Check out this fun Adventure Journal tutorial by Polkadot Chair and Hello Wonderful's roundup of 10 creative DIY journals for kids.

If you're looking to purchase something that's ready to go, there are TONS of great options on Etsy

9.  ask for help and be flexible

Yes, that's directed at YOU. :) We moms can't do it all, can we?

If you can afford an in-home babysitter, hire a local college student home on break to spend just a few mornings/week with your little ones so that you can do whatever it is you need to do to stay sane, organized, and on-track. In my case, it's keeping up with Smiling Tree Toys.

If paying a babysitter isn't an option, hit up your mom friends and schedule a half-day each week where she takes your kids off your hands and vice versa so that you each get some kid-free time to take care of the necessaries.

Even with the best of intentions, things won't always go as planned. Rather than get frustrated, go with it! Kids (especially toddlers!) have minds of their owns with no rhyme or reason. If they're not feeling it, adjust as you can to keep both your kids and yourself happy. That might mean skipping a planned activity or having cereal for lunch, but hey no shame! Your kids will survive and who knows? That may become one of their favorite memories for their journals!

Taking these simple steps has already made me feel much more prepared for summer vacation than ever before, and that gets me (almost) as excited as the kids are!

In all reality, summer lasts just a few, fleeting months, and I want to enjoy every minute possible while making memories with our kids and keeping up with our family's business.  So let the countdown begin, summertime.  I'm ready for ya!

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