Every year, I look forward to school getting out for the summer and then wonder what all the fuss was about when my household is falling apart within days. Here are a few strategies I’m armed with this year to help us stay afloat, keep a little structure and still have fun. (For those that are new here, my boys are 10, 8, almost 7, 5, and their sister is 2.)

And no, it doesn’t consist of setting Maggie after the kids to run all their energy out.

a little girl running in front of a puppy

But, it does consist of:

1) This Zoku popsicle maker. Probably the best summer gadget we own. While a bit pricier than stocking up on freezie pops, it makes popsicles start-to-finish in 7 minutes (and you can do multiple batches; works best if you stick it back in the freezer while the popsicles are setting up and allows for more popsicles to be made!) and we can make them with whatever we have on hand (smoothies, our own chocolate fudge pops, etc.). My kids use this contraption every single day.

2) Lots of outdoor time. While getting a puppy hasn’t necessarily been the easiest thing in the history of ever to happen (fun? yes, cute? yes, easy? no), she does encourage a lot of outside play – even more than normal – and it also gives the kids a chance for responsibility. We live on a little bit of property with lots of room to explore and run around. Even though the bugs are terrible, getting outside is key to surviving summer.

A little boy holding a puppy.

3) Speaking of bugs, I use this Bug-off essential oil blend (the only natural blend that has ever even come close to working, and I’ve tried all of them, although you do have to reapply it more often than commercial products and don’t talk to my husband, Brian, because he’s a total naysayer) and a drop of rose geranium oil on our wrists and ankles has kept the ticks away for the most part (on Maggie, too, when I remember to put it on her). As backup, if we are going to use the real stuff for traipsing around the deeper woods, these wipes keep the mosquitoes away and the application is a lot better than spraying right into my kids’ faces and mouths.

4) Along with bike rides and long walks to wear Maggie the Puppy out, we also swear by water guns and water balloons (for the kids, not the pup). They keep the kids occupied for hours especially now that my adept 10-year old can help tie them. The kids also have a lot of fun outdoors with the trampoline and scavenger hunts for bones and “stuff that makes mom shriek” along with other random outside activities. Playing catch with each other in the yard with baseballs and footballs is a favorite pastime as well as these clever fling socks – they’ve provided lots of fun over the years (half the fun is getting them unstuck when they get caught in the trees).

5) Another strategy: Reading. Lots of it. My kids love to get their noses stuck in a book on a normal basis but to give them a little incentive to keep up their reading over the summer, I typed up a very simple reading chart where they color in a box for every 10 minutes they read, read to their siblings or are read to. They get a small prize (think: stickers, stay up 30 minutes late, $1, extra iPad time) after filling up each 20 square segment, and when their entire chart is completed (I think it’s about 100 – 140 squares total), they get to pick out a book of their own from Amazon, most likely. They are pretty excited about this (and our little piano practice timer is coming in handy for them to keep track of how much time they are reading). I also have a couple books waiting on the docket to read out loud to them (usually before bed). Right now we are in the middle of Sign of the Beaver (the boys are enthralled with it so far) and next up is Bridge to Terabithia followed by Elijah of Buxton. Reading. It keeps our summer rolling along (with lots of trips to the library thrown in there!).

A little boy sitting on a brown recliner reading.

6) Twice a month, we are also doing Kids Cooking School. My boys love to cook and are getting quite good at it. In order to help encourage this hobby, one of the days in the month, each child will choose a recipe that we will make together while we learn certain things: oven safety and taking hot pans in and out of the oven, using the stand mixer, measuring accurately instead of sloppily filling the measuring cup, etc. And then of course we get to eat all the spoils! The second cooking day of the month, I get to choose the theme and the recipes. I have a few ideas up my sleeve: grilling for kids, simple bread making (letting them get their hands in the dough to knead and learn about it), a cookie dough project (more details to come on this!), knife safety and skills for their ages, homemade ice cream, simple dinners they can make from start-to-finish, and a few others.

7) Jobs. Chores. Work. I think I’ve mentioned this before, but I have a really old school, handwritten job chart that I’ve used for years. I recently updated the job assignments to work better for our family and I just have to say that sometimes simple is best. These circular job assignments work wonders for our family. No guessing on who has what job. Even if child A messed up the basement and it’s child B’s turn to clean up basement, they know they have to do it. What goes around comes around (and hopefully the lesson learned isn’t to mess up your brother’s room job but instead to pick up after yourself). Speaking of charts, the kids also have a “wake-up” chart they see in the morning with other simple assignments that I detail on a white board (like practice the piano, one household chore, a learning activity like xtramath.org or something similar, someone is assigned Maggie duty that day, etc.). Don’t worry, it only takes 30-45 minutes in the morning for them to do everything so they have plenty of time to be kids and play, too. But the requirement is that they have to complete their jobs before they can read, play outside or have screen time.

A family chore chart on a fridge.

8) Friday Adventure Days. Fridays are when we we throw all the chores and jobs and structure out the window and have an adventure day. Things like swimming, driving out to the state park and exploring, packing lunch and eating it somewhere fun, taking a road trip (2 hours) to the Children’s Museum and of course IKEA, staying in our PJ’s all day, etc. It should come as no surprise that this is a day we all look forward to.

9) My boys love a good craft. They’ve been enamored with perler beads lately – literally creating for hours. They also recently learned (everyone but my 5-year old, it was a bit tricky for his fine motor skills) to knit using this clever homemade tube/popsicle stick knitting device and it kept them busy for hours; they each have new yarn to try out with it. I have my eye on making these larger than life homemade bubbles at some point this summer, too.

A little boy doing a craft.

10) Road trip(s). Our only real trip this summer is a road trip out to the West Yellowstone area in Idaho. Cue lots of driving through North Dakota. I have a lot of strategies for road trips with kids but that’s another post for another time (assuming anyone is even interested or that you’ve actually read this far, if you have, let’s be BFF’s). I think we’ll end up throwing in a few spur of the moment road trips, too – I really want to take them to see the headwaters of the Mississippi near us and to a few other “local” sights.

A wide open road with no cars on it.

We’ll see how this all plays out! So far, one week down and it’s been pretty good with only about 6 1/2 meltdowns (most of them me).

What are your strategies to make summer break fun and survivable?