When I was a kid, I couldn’t wait for summer because it meant sleeping in, waking up just in time for Price Is Right, horsing down some strawberry frosted Pop-Tarts, and then heading to the pool. Ahh, those were the days. 🙂
I absolutely love the extra time for relaxation and fun in the summer! But, I also know that those two months off school can reap some big benefits in my children’s lives if I set a few intentions ahead of time. Summers can be used to teach our kids so many useful and exciting things that they may not get at school.
Ever since my oldest child went to Kindergarten many years ago, we have used those months to read great books, visit new places, serve others, and just be bored. Over the course of those years, we’ve gone on many “field trips”, like u-pick farms, hiking trails, the zoo, museums, and more. We’ve served at the Food Bank, taken weekly trips to the library, and learned how to do laundry, clean bathrooms, and to vacuum (score!).
If your kids will be at home with you, by themselves, or with a sitter this summer, don’t let that precious time go to waste. With just a little forethought, you can intentionally help them grow in ways that might not be possible during the school year. Here are seven steps to make your summer count when you have kids at home.
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Step 1: Cast vision and get the kids on board.
Step 1 is important. If you want to use your summer for more than just fun and sun, then you’ve got to let your kids in on the idea and help them climb on board. Here are a few one-liners and some questions I use with my kids as we approach summer:
- “I’m so excited to have you home this summer! We are going to have a lot of fun and use those two months to learn and do some new and exciting things.”
- “What is something you’d like to learn more about this summer?”
- “If you could get better at something this summer, what would it be?”
- “Where is one place nearby that you’d like to visit for a day trip?”
- “My job as a parent is to help you become more independent as you’re growing up. So this summer, I want to teach you a new job around the house. What is something you’d like to learn to do on your own?”
- “Thank you for all of these ideas! Dad and I are going to think about some areas we see that you could grow in this summer, too. Then, we can set a few goals together.”
Step 2: Set a few goals.
Next, it’s time to think through just a few goals for each child this summer. As the parent, I can often clearly see something I’d like my kid to grow in, but it’s always better if my children can articulate some goals for themselves or at least understand the why behind the goals I’d like to see them achieve. So, before setting goals for your children, talk with them about it. Your conversation in Step 1 will really help you hone in on some goals that everyone can be excited about.
Why are goals important? Goals will help you be intentional with your limited time in the summer. They will help you weed through the many opportunities sent your way (“sign up for this camp”, “take xyz lesson”, “sign up for this sport”). As your kids get older, the opportunities come flying at you. You’ve got to have a way to discern what is the highest priority for your family and each child.
Let me say, goals don’t have to be complicated. It could just be one or two small achievable goals, like read a certain book, complete a round of swim lessons, learn to ride a bike, or learn how to fold and put away laundry. I personally like to think about my children holistically–physically, spiritually, intellectually, and socially–and how our summer activities are contributing to their growth as a whole person. So, I usually break it down into some categories.
Here is an example of our goals when my oldest was in Kindergarten and my younger two were a preschooler and toddler. I posted these on the refrigerator so I could make sure we were working on them.
As your children get older, your goals may expand. Here were our goals when the kids were all in elementary school. Several of the goals were the same across the board, which made it easier to execute as a parent.
Setting goals for your kids is highly individual, so do whatever is best for your family! Even having just a few will set up your summer to be used wisely. The point is that goals will help you set a schedule that helps you to intentionally meet your child’s needs.
Step 3: Create a weekly and daily rhythm.
After setting a few goals, it’s time to think through your weekly rhythm and daily rhythm or schedule. I’ve found that setting aside certain days for things like a library trip, family day (dad’s off day), a field trip, pool days, etc helps everyone to know what to expect each week.
Your weekly and daily schedule may change, but it’s important to set a rhythm or flexible schedule that the kids expect. When my kids were younger, I created this visual magnetic daily schedule below and changed it each day, so they knew what to expect that day.
If you don’t want to make your own, here’s a really cute visual magnetic schedule you can find on Amazon.
Once your kids are older and can read, consider getting a large erasable wall calendar like this one to keep track of specific events going on each day. It’s a helpful visual for the whole family.
Important Note: Be sure to leave time in each day for free play (aka time to be bored). Letting our kids get bored is one of the most important ways they can grow! When children are bored, they start by whining and complaining. Amiright? But, if you don’t give in or intervene, do you know what happens?
Kids have this amazing ability to get creative, problem-solve on their own, begin to day-dream, and find ways to use their imagination. It takes practice on both the parent’s part and the kid’s part, but boredom can be one of the best things that happens to your child this summer! Try it and see what happens.
Step 4: Involve the kids in home chores.
As the acclaimed parenting book How to Raise an Adult reminds us, our job as parents is to raise adults who can run their own lives with competence and confidence. That is where chores come in.
Part of that training towards adulthood is teaching them how to do age-appropriate tasks at home now–like caring for pets, cooking, laundry, and cleaning. Our kids can do much more than we often give them credit for! Instilling a strong work ethic and helping them care for the things they own and spaces they live in starts when they are young.
Below is an example of a chore chart I used when my kids were 7, 5, and 3. Notice how I wrote down my own chores to keep myself accountable! 🙂
Here is an example of what the kids were doing around ages 10, 8, and 6.
Now days, I have a laminated Summer Daily Checklist (see example below) for my 12, 10, and 8-year-olds that starts their day with the same rhythm.
The kids use a dry erase marker to check off tasks. This has been one of the most helpful tools for all of us! Our checklist helps us meet many of our goals–house chores, reading, spiritual growth, and exercise.
I often remind my children that working around the house is part of being part of a family, and they certainly don’t get rewarded for everything they do. However, I do have some rewards in place if they complete their summer checklists. They can’t have video game time that day until they have finished; I feel like this teaches them to put work before play. Also, they earn a small allowance in the summer at the end of the week if they have done their daily checklist each day and helped clean the whole house one day a week (see more below). I didn’t always do this, but an allowance has given them to have a way to learn to earn, spend, save, and give money. (These cool spend/save/give banks can begin to teach children how to be financially wise.)
As my children have gotten older, I have added in one day a week where we all clean the house from top to bottom. This has been a life-saver for me and let them try out and learn more advanced chores, like cleaning the shower, mopping, or cleaning the windows. It does take time on my end to oversee their work and help them learn to do it the right way, but it’s gotten easier for them each summer.
We rotate through a different cleaning station each week, so they don’t get stuck doing just one job each time. One child does two bathrooms, another vacuums and dusts the living areas, and the other one sweeps and mops the kitchen and dining room. My expectations are higher the older they are. They also get paid a little more allowance as their responsibility increases.
If you’d like to try a pre-made magnetic chore chart and calendar, this one on Amazon pictured below is really cute and practical.
Step 5: Plan ways to serve others.
“The world doesn’t revolve around you.” That phrase sounds calloused in today’s parenting culture, but it might be one of the best things we can teach our children. I don’t know about you, but the people I tend to like to work with and be around the most are those who think about themselves the least. As a Christian, “loving our neighbor” is an especially high value for our family.
It’s not always easy to fit in an organized service project, but it can be really fun, especially if you go with friends. We’ve worked at our local Food Bank several times over the years with friends and served at some organized service projects at church and school.
A service project can be as simple as thinking about people in your neighborhood, school, or community whom you could help or encourage. Here are just a few ideas, but I’m sure you and your kids can come up with a whole list of your own:
- Make no-bake cookies with the kids and deliver them to neighbors with an encouraging note.
- Put together a few simple freezer meals for a new mom.
- Clean up trash in a local park or your neighborhood.
- Hand your trash man a granola bar.
One of the outcomes of serving others is that it begins to sow gratefulness in our hearts and our children’s hearts! Read more about How to Cultivate a Grateful Heart in Your Child.
Step 6: Take field trips.
Field trips make learning come alive as your children touch, explore, see, and experience new information, places, and people for themselves.
For many years, some mom friends and I would take our kids on a “field trip” each week in the summer. We learned what it looks like to run a big farm when we visited Shryock Farms. They got to feed goats and chase chickens at another farm. We picked berries and apples at orchards and made homemade juice and pies at home.
We explored nature trails all over the area, always taking our nets to catch (and release) fish, frogs, and other bugs.
We visited museums and learned about our environment, insects, reptiles, art, archaeology, and more.
A field trip can be an hour or a whole day. It can be with friends or on your own. Take some time to dream up field trip ideas with your kids and knock a few off your list this summer. You’re sure to make some meaningful memories.
Step 7: Stock up on great learning resources.
Lastly, take the time to invest in new books, games, and puzzles each summer. My kids think it’s Christmas on the last day of school when I open up a big box of summer learning resources for them. I’ve linked to some of our favorites below.
Games and Toys
This was the game of the summer in my (Rachel’s) house for all ages last year. In fact, my 4th grade daughter is better at it than I am! It makes a cool, hands-on coffee table centerpiece, too.
Wow, this stuff is awesome! First of all, it’s provided HOURS of entertainment and fun for all three of my children. Shoot, I even like it. It feels like a cross between sand, play dough, and slime. Clean up in a cinch, because it all sticks together.
To store the sand and cut down on potential mess, I put the sand in a shallow tub. The kids gather around the tub at the counter or on the kitchen floor and use my kitchen tools, our play dough molds, and various construction vehicles in it. They construct snowmen, construction sites, tall towers, elaborate “cakes”, and models of people, to name a few.
After reading reviews, I decided to invest in the 11 lb bag (rather than the 2 lb bag) and portion it out over the year. I’m really glad I did!
Again, this is a super cool toy that every boy or girl (and adult!) who is around it like to play with. This small little box–which takes up very little space in our small house–contains 108 highly magnetic and well-engineered sticks, as well as metal balls.
Children will learn how magnets work as they attract and/or repel one another. In addition to building all kinds of cool structures, we’ve even come up with some fun “magic” tricks with these magnets, too. Disclaimer: This contains very small parts and is a choking hazard to small children. I would say ages 3 and up for sure.
Here’s yet another challenging and fun magnetic toy around our house. At first glance, Fractiles appear rather plain. You may react like I did when they first arrived: “You mean these are just colored magnetic shapes with a metal board?” Yep.
But, here’s the thing. The angled pieces all fit perfectly together to make almost endless possibilities of designs, stretching the user to think geometrically, spatially, and aesthetically and to use fine motor skills. It’s like solving a new puzzle every time you play with it. Plus, like the Magnetic Sticks, this toy takes up very little storage space and is fun to take on road trips. Disclaimer: Again, this is a toy with lots of small pieces, so be cautious with little ones around. I would say ages 5 and up for this one.
When I first saw this low tech device, I knew my 6-year-old daughter would love it. And, in fact, all three of my children do. They write messages on it, play games like Tick-Tack-Toe and Pig Pen, and draw pictures. Then, with the touch of the button at the top, it all disappears.
What I love about this toy is that any age can use it and it requires no batteries because it’s run by LED power (which might give out in something like 100 years?). We have also found the Boogie Board is easy to take when traveling, because it’s light and thin. With magnets on the back, it can be stored right on the fridge and be used for mom’s grocery lists or other notes in the mean time.
This is one of those toys that isn’t used every week in our house. But, every time my older two children bring it out of the closet, I am amazed at what they are learning about electrical circuits. This set is definitely for elementary-aged children and may require some parental oversight initially. Now that my kids have the hang of it, though, I feel comfortable letting them play by themselves with it. If you have an older elementary-aged child, you might consider this more advanced set instead.
My daughter (and her brothers, too) use this easel almost daily to draw pictures, practice writing letters and words, create maps and play school. The key to the lasting value of this toy has been having a variety of colors of dry erase markers and chalk on hand.
Despite the “breeding phenomena”, as we call the spread of Tinker Toys around our house, I would definitely purchase these again if I had to go back. The reason being: My children have played together with these for YEARS–making castles, guns, robots, cars, etc. So, this Christmas I actually bought 200 more pieces to add to our collection. Disclaimer: Small pieces so keep out of reach of small children. I would say ages 3 and up.
Legos or Megablocks (the off-brand)
Boring suggestion, you say? Well, tell my kids that. They play with our huge Lego/Mega Bloks collection almost daily. This building toy is popular for good reason. Disclaimer: Small pieces so keep out of reach of small children. I would say ages 4 or 5 and up.
Don’t underestimate this old school toy that allows kids to use their hands and their imaginations in new ways. On rainy days we sometimes make our own playdough or use what we have to dream up things like these Playdough Aliens. I’ve collected cookie cutters and other playdough molds at garage sales over the years. My smart and thrifty friend Holli even makes her own playdough, packages it in fun jars, and then gives it away as birthday gifts.
What can I say? We have a thing for magnets around here. We’ve used these simple magnetic letters and numbers for years. During the dinner hour, I sometimes bring them out so the younger two can play with them on a metal sheet pan at the counter or on the fridge. We practice letter sounds, spelling words or playing Alphabet Soup.
This has been a HUGE hit with Polly’s kids. If your bubble solution runs out, save money and make your own bubble juice with Dawn dish soap.
It’s amazing to think that a basic deck of cards entertains people of just about every age. And I love that this simple toy can bring together our whole family in a game. With my preschooler, we play this twist on the game of War to learn the concept of more than and less than. My oldest son enjoys playing a few versions of solitaire in the afternoons. And the older two like to teach any kid who will listen how to play Poker (thanks Dad for teaching them that one early on! :). Consider this a learning tool as children interact with number order, matching, and problem-solving strategies.
When all else fails, give your kids a box. Seriously. They might amaze you like this.
Top 10 Toddler Books You May Not Know
A few favorite Preschool and Elementary read-aloud books:
Or try these 10 Read Aloud Books for Kids Who Hate Reading.
Be sure to restock your craft and art supplies to help your kids’ creative juices flow all summer long. Grab some of these items:
- construction paper
- white paper
- good quality markers
- stamps and ink pads
- pipe cleaners (my kids come up with all kinds of creations with these)
- embroidery thread (for making bracelets)
- beads (for making necklaces and bracelets)
- Do A Dot Paints (These are my favorite paints for preschoolers! Very little mess and very fun to use!)
- water color and/or acrylic paints and good brushes
- sidewalk chalk
- journals (for writing stories or as a nature notebook on walks)
- an egg timer (for timing Clean-Up Time, Reading Time, Room Time, and time-outs for younger kids)
Spiritual Growth Resources
7 Excellent Children’s Bibles – In this popular post, we have reviewed a collection of our favorite Bibles for all ages of children.
5 Family Devotionals Our Family Is Loving – These God-centered, grace-centered books have helped our family have a bigger, truer view of our God recently.
7 Devotional Resources We Use On the Ride to School – These 7 gospel-centered devotional resources are perfect to use on short car rides, even in the summer.
How to Talk to Your Kids About Sex (Resource Page) – We believe this topic is so important to begin talking with your kids about (as early as preschool!) that we’ve created an entire resource page for parents. We explain the why and how to have age-appropriate conversations.
Other Fun Summer Learning Activities
Now, if your plan for the day fails at some point and you’re scrounging for an idea, you might try one of these 20+ Preschool Summer Learning Ideas.
Or try one of these 20+ Elementary Summer Learning Ideas. All of these are tried and true by our families!
I know I’ve given you a bazillion ideas here, but I sincerely hope you can just choose one or two ideas or resources to help you be intentional at home this summer. With just a couple of hours of planning and working through these steps, you can prepare for a meaningful summer with kids at home.