As the snowflakes fall outside the window, my mind can’t help but wander toward warmer and brighter days. I know it is on the horizon, as the camp forms pile up, and the girls ask for some new activity or trip every day. Summer. Not my favorite time of the year, that’s for sure, as I’ve found it’s especially challenging to keep my sanity intact on those L.O.N.G. days with all my girls in tow.
I am planning for my third summer as a mother of four, and I have found a few tricks that make it easier to survive.
Surviving Summer with Your Sanity Intact
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Set Goals, Limits, and Expectations
The Engineer and I sit down each spring (or sometimes a little earlier, depending on when the camp forms come out) and make a list of goals for each of our girls for the summer. At the top of our list this summer was swim lessons for our older three (who are ages 8, 6, and 4), and continued speech therapy for our two younger daughters. The Engineer and the kids love our local theme park, so we added summer passes for our family to this list.
After sharing our goals with the girls, we asked for their input. We said that we would pay for one summer camp for each of them, and that they could choose what it was within a certain budget. Any other activities they would need to see if their grandmother could fund for them as a birthday present, or be content with what they chose for us to support.
Since I will be the parent at home for the majority of the summer, I communicated to the girls that we would be home most afternoons so that our youngest could nap. This meant that we would need to work to arrange a carpool if camp pick up was during nap time, and this gave them to opportunity to problem solve. Nap time also carves out time for me to work in the afternoons, which is required if I don’t want to be up all night!
Arrange Summer Childcare
As the last school bell rings, childcare requirements shift. Now, there are days when your previously occupied elementary and middle school age children are home, needing supervision and rides and meals and all sorts of other necessities. Each spring, we try to map out our summer requirements for work, and merge those with our hopes for a vacation, time to visit extended family and friends, and the kids’ activities.
I work in academia, so my summer schedule is quite flexible. That said, we still need a babysitter on occasion, so we have employed our part-time sitters from the school year to help out over the summer. I have also found that Nextdoor is a great place to search for a local high schooler or college student looking for a summer job.
Pack a Box of Essentials for the Car
I hope it’s not just me, but I spend a lot more time in the car in the summer than during the school year. Given the quantity of children we have, it’s been scientifically proven that I will forget at least five things every time we go anywhere.
Enter the tupperware that saves my sanity. It lives in the trunk of my minivan, and I alternate the items with the season.
For our family, we need sunscreen (with the EWG stamp of approval), bug spray, a change of clothes for each child, baby wipes, diapers, cups for water, Benedryl (my older two have localized reactions to insect stings), bandaids, hats, sunglasses, paper towels, and hand sanitizer.
There is a good deal of literature to support the use of non-chemical sunscreen, and it is good practice to wash it off after you are inside for the day.
This way, when we get where we are going, are inevitably running late, and I have forgotten half of what we need, at least some of it is in the trunk.
Toting Food on Hot Days
Despite the heat and humidity that plagues our area all summer long, my children are always STARVING. I used to keep snacks in the sanity-saving tupperware, but they always melted or tasted like sunscreen. I’ve also tried to pack lunch boxes for the kids, but it is overflowing before we get out the door.
The Smart One bought us a great portable cooler, which has been amazing for packing a picnic lunch, filled with enough food and drinks for our family of six. It also serves as a backpack, freeing up my arms to grab preschoolers running into traffic.
To avoid situations like this:
I realized early on that I would have to outsource responsibility for carrying belongings to my children that are old enough to handle it. Allie Jean was immediately eliminated, but my older three girls quickly became responsible for packing, hauling, and unpacking their own bags, just like they do during the school year.
My older girls use, and love, their Pottery Barn Kids backpacks. They come in various sizes and stand the test of time better than any bag I’ve used.
Earning Summer Screen Time
“Can I watch a show? Or play on my tablet?”
All. day. long.
Pinterest is full of great ideas to earn screen time. In our house, we have a dry erase board with each daughter’s list of accomplishments to complete before they can turn on a screen. When the nagging and whining inevitably arrives, I’m quick to point them toward the board, where they can mark off what they have done that day. If everything is marked off, I’ll hand them their device.
We do increase the screen time limits in the summer, since there is usually more down time than during the school year.
Summer Downtime Wishes
Afternoons and evenings in the summer seem to get longer as each day passes. To increase the girl’s involvement in planning, thus giving them a say in what they get to do, I have them come up with a list of downtime activities that they want to make sure we do together as a family before the school bus makes its practice runs. Our current list covers everything from new movies to rent, a backyard basketball tournament, and a lemonade stand for the construction team up the street.
Our summer bucket list also includes museums to visit, sporting events to attend, and family and friends to visit on weeks when we don’t have camp or swimming lessons. I gave my oldest daughter a budget to work with, so she can determine which activities we can do. That way she has buy in, and I get to avoid the incessant whining associated with just about every activity where there is soda for sale.
Plans for Summer Safety
Summertime brings a new level of safety concerns, and the nurse in me has to triage everyone’s needs and have a plan to keep everyone intact. The pool is my biggest area of concern, mostly due to the number of children I seem to bring with me each time we go.
The Engineer was a lifeguard and aquatics director many years back, so he has good advice for water safety and has been instilling this in our children. Our local pool also has strict guidelines on what children are allowed to do, given their age and swimming ability. Because our girls are so tall, they are often mistaken as being much older than they are, so we have to remind them that the lifeguards are less likely to pay attention to them, and thus they need to be extra cautious.
A friend of mine loves to tell of the day when Maggie Paige skipped out on her swim lesson, ran around the pool, and jumped into the deep end. Being the spicy child that she is, The Engineer and I opted to put her in a puddle jumper any time we are at the pool and she is not in a 1:1 situation. We use this just to buy us an extra moment to throw our youngest to an innocent by-stander while we jump in the pool to grab her.
For the beach, we put Allie Jean (who doesn’t meet the weight restrictions for the puddle jumper) in a life jacket.
Cheers to a happy, sanity-preserving summer!
Well Worn Suitcase
Preach, sister! Ha, as a big family ourselves, I can definitely speak to the importance of planning ahead to keep your sanity intact. The essentials for the car is one of my favorite — we have a crate that definitely saves our lives from time to time!
I couldn’t agree more! We stocked the crate based on the moments when we looked at each other and said, “Oh man, I wish we had….” All those wishes made the list!
Food is a big motivator and problem solver at our house. I know it sounds weird but often when my kids are having a breakdown, it is because they are hungry. Swimming can be scary at first but it’s so important for the kids to understand respect for the water. My 2-year-old finally understands not to go running towards the edge of the pool.
I totally agree! We’re really focusing in the coming months on switching our girls to more filling foods, as they seem to be relying on simple carbs for most of their snacks, and that leads to such an ugly crash. I would love to learn your tactics for getting through to toddlers about respecting the water– our 4 and 2 year old are still struggling.
Earning screen time is one I really want to start doing this summer.
I hope it goes well! I’ve convinced my older girls to help care for the younger ones to earn more screen time– if anything, it allows me a moment of peace 🙂
Kristin's Peppermints and Cherries
Earning screen time is a fabulous idea. We are currently limiting to almost none. Some children like it more than others, and it definitely has to be supervised! I spend a lot of time in the car going to and from activities a couple times a week, and packing the car with essentials is a must!
I totally agree! Our screen time during the school year is pretty limited, so I don’t mind making it an “end of the day” treat in the summer, if they earn it. Keeping TV a novelty gives me a great bargaining chip- it’s the first thing to go when they misbehave.
I love the dry erase board idea. I created a chore chart a few months ago that stays on our fridge with items the kids must complete before screens — but it’s a stagnant, laminated list. I need to dig out my old dorm room door dry erase board for the summer!
I like the laminated list idea! It’s tiresome to write “feed the dogs” everyday 😉 I think, for the summer at least, I’m going to create a chore wheel so they can try out new chores.
I needed this! We just finished Spring Break, and I’m already scared of summer, lol.
You and me both!!! I hope this helps 🙂
Oh I definitely agree with all of your points. I’ve been quick lucky in the past in that my two children have been able to attend the vacation care program that was attached to my previous workplace! Childcare taken care of!
That is awesome! When we were looking into childcare options, having vacation care was at the top of our list!
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