A Summer Survival Plan

Julie Pippert
June 24, 2009

Oh, summer. Today I and many other parents let out a collective groan on this, the first full of summer with kids at home full-time. Many camps and activities haven't yet begun, and all of us are trying to keep up with our workload -- regardless of whether it's home chores or an assignment from a boss -- while managing kids who aren't used to free-range summer life at home yet and who are probably a little testy or troublesome. At the least, there are moments when they feel more like Impediments to Getting Things Done than the usual Treasures and Joys we view them as.

So what is there to do?

Create a plan!

Here's what we do....

Early morning: Take it easy because you can.

The girls and I normally have to hop out of bed and make a run for it. So, the good thing about summer is the chance to take a minute and breathe. The mornings really offer that chance. Although the temptation might be to hop up early and get some work done, think about sleeping in a bit (for us that means 7 a.m., maybe) and having some cuddle time.

Breakfast: Consider letting a few rules slide and eat out of the kitchen.

The kids enjoy a bit of couch lolling and show watching first thing in the morning. They may get up early, but they're a little slow to the start line. In the summer I let the kids eat breakfast and watch a show.

Exercise: Load up the bike and take a ride, go for a walk, or use one of the kid-friendly exercises

Get those willies out, have a bit of fun, and freshen up your own mind. Plus it's good for you.

Important Thoughts: Work is a lengthy composition, with parenting as frequent intermezzo

The rest of the day will be a careful balance between tending to your kids and your work. If you're like me, constant interruptions get your mind off track and make it hard to keep focused and moving along at a good pace.

In a full symphony, there is sometimes an intermezzo, which is a short movement separating the major sections of a lengthy composition. It's also a bit of entertainment between two acts of a play.

So think of your work as the lengthy composition, and the kid activity as the intermezzo. You could consider it an interruption, but you can also think of it as the important mind and body stretch away from the computer and phone.

Unlike music and theater, we begin with an intermezzo and intersperse them frequently among the work acts.

Important Thoughts: Setting up your intermezzo in advance

Nothing is quite so interesting to children as the forbidden fruit. In our house, that's the bins of toys we keep up on the high shelves in the closet. I highly suggest that you pack up activities and toys into boxes, and put them away. Leave out only a few toys. This creates fresh, "new to them" toys and activities for kids---which are always more entertaining than the same old toys they can get to every day. In the summer, the big, big fun for my kids is Taking Down the Bin.

We have junky fast food meal toys, stuffed animals, games, Legos, blocks, and more. You can sort any way you want.

Right this minute my kids just got a giant box of stuffed animals they haven't seen in a month.  They are busy playing with those stuffed animals while I write this. At last glance, they were sorting the animals by type: birds here, bears there, and so forth.

Another bin has plastic animal and people figures and paper and colors. That's for kids to set a scene and draw it. It may just be scribble scrabble with the younger ones, but it's still fun, and they often choose matching colors, so it's a good color lesson.

The blue bin is filled with blocks and cars. I encourage the kids to create a city and roads for the cars when they play with that bin.

The opaque bin is filled with what the kids think of as treasure.  It includes Mardi Gras beads, action figures, whistles, toy cameras and phones, and other little assorted "toys" (aka junk). They love to dig through that and make fun finds.

Get creative with how you create activity bins. Think about burying things in a sand bin for kids to take on the porch and dig through. What about a blanket and doll bin? A wooden toy bin, such as "dress the bear," and maybe even some of those lacing games? A musical instrument bin! A dress-up for playacting bin! How about getting a big box and letting the kids color on that, and add toys to it or make a club house?

My kids love the arts and crafts bin, and sometimes I let them do watercolor body art outside---easy to hose off, afterward.

The idea is simply to create activity bins that are easy to pull out, start the play, walk away, get work done, and clean up easily.

Plan your bins to match the length of time you need for that portion of your work. For example, a bin that might require some assistance should be left to a time when you don't plan on being on the phone. Most activity bins should last anywhere from 30 mins to an hour.

Intermezzo: Activity bin 1

Tip: Turn on some music. Sometimes I pop in a classical CD, and sometimes I turn on Radio Disney.

Work: 30 mins

Intermezzo: Check in, is it time for bin 2?

Always make sure to have the children pack up one bin before diving into another. This way, kids learn to be responsible for cleaning up, and for putting away one thing before moving on to the next. Also, you don't end up with a colossal disaster to clean up in the evening!

Work: 30 mins

Lunch time!

Let lunch be an activity. One of our favorite fun lunches is build-a-cracker. I use the divided lunch plates and the kids choose four toppings for crackers. Favorites here are peanut butter, cheese, jelly, and ham. On the side I add a vegetable and a fruit. They have fun creating their lunch, and then fun eating it.

Let little hands help clean, too.

Think about taking a quick walk, blowing bubbles outside, set up a sprinkler for the kids to run through, or another active activity that lets everyone get fresh air.

Intermezzo: Bin 2 or Bin 3.

Clean up last bin before getting next!

Work: 1 hour.

Intermezzo: Give the kids what I call a "creative play" bin.

I like to give them dress up, some props, a few books, and ask them to get inspired and create a performance to show me. I tell them they have until I call them to get ready.

Work 30 mins.

Intermezzo: Take an activity break.

Clean up last bin before getting next! 

Let the kids do their performance It may only last a few minutes, and you can decide if that's long enough before the next kid activity, or if you should take a longer break and run an errand, bake bread, do a chore, or something else.


Hold up a promise of fun---is everyone cooperating and helping out? Offer a swim in the late afternoon or evening as a reward.

Will this always work as perfectly as it sounds here on paper? No, and never expect it to. Or count anything as a failure when it doesn't work. Just try the next idea. If there is fighting or bickering, try separating the kids into different rooms with their own play bins. What "play on my own" things would interest each of your children?

Keep it creative and workable for you. Take this game plan and customize it day to day and for you and your kids. Different ages have different abilities, different jobs have different requirements (regardless of whether you are meeting an employer's demands or doing a load of laundry), and different kids have different interests.

And don't try to shoulder too much on yourself. I find that mother's helpers now and again are wonderful. A 12 to 14 year old who loves kids and is responsible is a useful helper for a couple of hours, and in my neighborhood that shouldn't cost more than $5 an hour. I'll gladly sacrifice something in my budget to buy a few hours of sanity, whether I use it to go de-stress in a coffee shop or to put my nose to the work grindstone.

Always remember the value of the playdate and trading off of kids.  If you keep some kids for the morning, trade off for the afternoon. Another fun outing is to schedule a field trip.

It doesn't matter what work you do, if you're a mom at home, it helps to create some structure and schedule to get things done. With a good game plan, you can lower your stress, and before you know it, it's been a fun summer that's already coming to an end.

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