Slowing Down Summer: Helping Kids Learn to Enjoy Being Home


Who loves summer?! MEEEEE!!!! 

Who loves having their kids home for the summer?! MEEEEE!!!!

Who loves being the summer activity cruise director and constantly being pestered to supply non-stop entertainment all summer?!!
{*whomp whomp*}
Guilty admission: NOT ME!! 

There’s good reason why their teachers are able to survive an entire school year with a neighborhood’s worth of elementary kids. They are heroes among us, but those teachers are smart.

The trick is: They. Have. PLANS.

I don’t know about your kids, but my school-aged kids LOVE plans. Of course, they love it when our plans include going “somewhere fun” (insert broad range of activities here, all of which cost a small fortune when you are talking about five- or six-person headcount). But seriously, who has the time and resources to be constantly running the roads and paying admission for local attractions? Two of my kids are small, but for the most part they still require at least a partial admission charge. I do budget for admission fees, but even a family trip to the swimming pool costs a minimum of $20, so this is definitely not an everyday event.

And then there’s the personal energy cost. I know several super moms who can drive all over creation all day, every day, and do all the things, all the time.  They jump in the car and eat meals on the go, and they just GO.  Power to ‘em.


A lot of us (LIKE ME!) look forward to summer as being a change of pace…and a lot of parents are looking for a SLOWER pace. But if we aren’t careful, we find ourselves locked into an even busier schedule as we double-book our days with multiple events, and taxi our kids to summer ball and sports camps, swim lessons, art classes, and birthday parties. And even though all of those things are great fun, we quickly lose that summer slow-down that we all craved toward the end of the school year.

Don’t get me wrong: I LOVE taking my kids to do fun things, knowing that at their ages, they are going to maximize every ounce of excitement from a day trip. I love watching them explore and delight in new experiences!  But two of my children are still very young, and while my son is four, he has special needs and his physical and mental abilities average out to about around 14-18 months old. That leaves this mom doing a lot of work to keep up with his needs, as well as chasing three neurotypical kids (2, 6, and 7). Even a trip to the library can completely take it out of me, trying to keep my special needs child from screaming his lungs out.  It’s busy…and sometimes, it’s honestly exhausting.

And let’s face it. Some days, we just need something that doesn’t cost money or packed lunches or require fuel or energy or brain cells.

Truth bomb: Sometimes. we. just. need. to. stay. home.  IMG_0001

And believe me, as a person who actually does like to be busy, I struggled with this for a long time.  And certain people in my life will be absolutely shocked that these words are coming from me.



It’s okay not to supply them activities and ideas for every single minute of the day.

It’s okay to let them veg in PJs with snacks on the couch for a movie day and watch five cartoons in a row.

It’s okay to let them tear apart their playroom playing pretend. I personally struggle with the magnitude of mess involved in a blanket fort, but those happen around here too.

It’s even okay to take their electronics away completely for a day and to let them be bored!!! My kids will generally fuss and squabble out of boredom for a few minutes until I send them to look at the list of free-time options on the wall, and then they are quickly engaged in something that sounds exciting.

In my experience, the first week of summer break involves a lot of adjustment and a lot of boredom, and for parents whose kids are in a public school setting, that can get overwhelming very quickly. My kids came home from school and immediately missed the predictability of their daily classroom routines. If I had a dollar for every time I heard some variation of “I’m bored” in the last week alone, I could probably take my family of six to Disney without a discount. I find that providing a loose schedule of activities and meals gives them a little more freedom to settle down, because they know what’s next. Meal times are our anchor points and I really try to keep those consistent as the general framework for our day. (**COMING SOON** A peek at our summer routine) We get up and get dressed, just like any other day, to make it easier to jump and run out the door if a friend calls us for an impromptu playdate as they are already en route to their destination. Some days we have plans to go out and have fun, but other days, we just stay home.  And the more we are home, the more they get used to it. In fact, toward the end of last summer, my busiest oldest daughter proclaimed that stay-home days were her favorite days.

My personal challenge last summer (and it worked), was to find as many activities as possible that I could pull out and invite them to participate in, while still keeping things fresh. And free. (other than maybe the initial cost of supplies.)  I have several tubs with activities that are kept in our hall closet and pulled out for those moments of utter boredom, when the make believe has been exhausted, when the screen time has been exceeded, and attitudes are running amok. This summer my idea list is growing, and it’s easier for my older kids to be self-sufficient and even help their little sister to get involved.

Here’s a running list (that is ever growing) of free home-based ideas and activities for early elementary that require minimal effort outside of initial supply purchases or set up to get them started on their activity. True, toddlers will not be entertained for quite *as* long as the bigger kids might, but it does help to have older siblings in the mix. Even if painting is a little too messy for her, I can sit her at the table with a piece of paper and dollar store craft stamps and let her have at it and she feels like she is participating with the big kids. These are things that are put away in the closet and come out on request or when I have an empty morning and want to camp out with a book and have my chair and my snack all to myself. 😀

*note* for these activities, I use clear plastic containers with snap-on lids (such as the ones in this picture)IMG_2478,

so that they are easily stackable and we can see what’s in them. I personally loathe labeling things anymore, because I am always repurposing those containers later on, and I really dislike having “TRAIN TRACKS” written on a box that now houses play-doh toys.  (Call me crazy)

Also, if you are worried about messes on your floor or the table, plastic disposable table cloths from Dollar Tree make for quick and easy clean-up.

  • Play doh – Initial investment: Buy the big variety pack of colors, and one of those big multi-piece sets of play doh toys (you know, the plastic scissors, rollers, cut-out shapes, etc). It’s okay to buy the cheap Dollar Tree playdoh so that you don’t feel *as* destroyed when they mix up the colors or leave lids off the cans. You can just drop the whole mushed up mess in the trash and be done with it.
  • Craft box – Initial investment: once again, Dollar Tree for the win. Take a $20, fill your basket with all manner of things, and about once a week I set the whole thing on the table and let them create. Sometimes I don’t even give them a project. I just let them go and it’s always fun to see what they come up with. (*COMING SOON* Supply lists and ideas HERE!)
  • Painting – Acrylic paints and a multi-pack of canvases will keep them busy for a little while. Or water colors and printer paper. And again, those plastic disposable table cloths are a godsend. And kids’ art smocks come in a multipack on Amazon and are seriously worth it.  (Or for the extra cheap version: I’ve also been known to tear arm and head holes in a large garbage bag and let them wear those).
  • Magna-tiles – Seriously, even my husband can play with these for an hour! Well worth the purchase. Or request them as a birthday party gift. Whatever you gotta do to get you some. 🙂
  • Legos (Duplo blocks reign supreme in our house due to a little person who still taste-tests everything he finds)
  • Puzzles – Walmart has variety puzzle packs of popular characters and you can find about 6 puzzles (24-48ish pieces) in a pack for less than $10. I keep them put away, again because of little people who chew things like cardboard pieces
  • Card games – Okay, most times this still requires my involvement, because kids cheat and then they fight. Old Maid, matching games, Uno, Skip-Bo (my kids LOVE Skip-Bo), Dominoes, etc.
  • Board Games
  • Sensory bins – I’m still trying to get brave enough to do this, but the hero moms among us swear by tubs of pinto beans or sand or water or shaving cream or what-have-you, for kids to get their hands in and get messy.  Toss in a couple of plastic shovels, cups, whatever, and let them get dirty. No shame in making this an outside activity.
  • Bubbles – Word to the wise: Even big kids are prone to spilling entire bottles of bubbles. Get the cheap kind, pour the solution in a disposable aluminum pan (as much as you want to pour out for a single use), and tell them to dip their wands in there.
  • Sidewalk chalk (this is a novelty in our house because our driveway is pebbled, so we actually have to go out to the street to use it, thus requiring adult supervision)
  • Train table, if you have one, makes a good activity center. Ours doesn’t stay set up because the little guy likes to play Godzilla, but my 6-year-old loves it when her Daddy makes her a new track and will spend close to an hour playing with it.
  • Coloring books: trust me on this. I know it hurts your feelings, but just trust me.  **Throw out everything from last summer.** Go buy half a dozen cheap, NEW coloring books (Dollar Tree is where its AT, moms!) and an entire ream of blank copy paper for your free thinkers.  Of tantamount importance for this box: new crayons. My girls absolutely LOVE brand new crayons, so last summer I bought one of those Crayola caddies that came with more colors than you ever knew existed, including neon colors and glittery ones. I know…you already have a crayon graveyard box full of broken and naked crayons with dull ends.  Do not EVEN try to get away with reusing their school crayons. Trust me. Kids will not color with those.  They are not worth saving.  If you really wanna use them, go on Pinterest and find an art project involving melting crayons.
    — (***IF YOU HAVE LITTLE ONES, I highly recommend making them a coloring box with the Color Wonder brand of paper and markers.).
  • Wipe-clean activity books from Usborne Books and More. My kids love these. Keep a pack of dry erase markers and a pack of baby wipes in the box with them for easy cleaning. There are almost a dozen of these in different themes, so you can sneak in a little summer learning on the sly.
  • Really, ANY of the activity books from Usborne. My 7-year-old is currently working her way through a creative writing book, and my 6-year-old loves the books of mazes. I would also keep kids’ word search books and things of that nature in this box.
  • Water play. By far the most requested activity in this house. So if you have the space for it, set up a kiddie pool or a sprinkler or a water table, or even just a storage tote of water for them to splash around in. (***disclaimer, because this is the Internet: please supervise your kids around any container of water that is big enough for them to fall into.). Also, because parenting four kids is way more relaxed than being a first time mom: You really don’t have to put them in swimsuits for this. Our water toys are on our deck. While they are outside, I place towels and a laundry basket inside the door. When they come in, they drop their wet clothes in the basket, and wrap up in a towel to go get dressed.
  • Go outside: Bikes! Trampolines! Whatever you’ve got – use it! 
Activity Closet! It’s messy, but it’s real life, and it’s already seen a week’s worth of summer fun! (If you’re lucky, I might organize it later and give you a picture that is easier on the eyes!)


So Mommas, as you can see, summer does not have to be busy or expensive or complicated in order to be fun. Our kids need downtime and rest in the summers just as much as we do. They may need some direction and encouragement to find an activity to engage in, but it’s okay (and healthy) to let them be home and be kids! And you’ll come to find that the more you are home, the more accustomed they become to finding and creating their own fun.

Do you have more ideas that your kids love? Feel free to share yours in the comments!

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