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Our summer: a little chaos, a little structure

Our kids get out of school this week—I know, it’s crazy late. I’m learning that that’s just life in the Pacific Northwest. And if you haven’t gathered by my podcasts, Instagrams, and general one-liners here at there on the blog, you’ll know: I’m so very ready for summer. I’ve felt like a kid, eagerly counting down the days. I even contemplated making a paper chain to officially count down—for me, not the kids.

I’ve wisened up to the fact that our family’s summers need to find that happy medium of relaxed and somewhat structured (but not in a boring, taskmaster sense). After a week or two of decompressing from the school year and enjoying some lazy days with nothing but play on the agenda, my kids need a few—shall we say, suggestions—to make the most of their freedom.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m all about letting the kids explore, wander through their summer days, and enjoy the challenge of being bored. We’ll be doing plenty of that. But I also don’t see any reason we can’t still learn stuff and, you know, be intentional with our time.

So here’s how our family will strike that lovely balance for the next few months between free time to explore and a wee bit of summer structure.

15-minute “school”

Yeah… I’m gonna be that mom. And I only call it school out of irony, really, because I believe learning best happens through life lived, so that’s pretty much what we’ll be doing. But I do want the kids to keep up with a little bit of brainwork.

tate reading

For about 15-30 minutes a few times a week, we’ll work on a weekly rotation of subjects—foreign language, math, handwriting, and a bit of catch-up on grammar that I feel like my oldest one missed this past year. My five-year-old will work a bit on phonics and reading, but he doesn’t really know he’s learning anything, because he thinks it’s pure fun.

We’re talking fun stuff, like Rosetta Stone, online math games, this cursive joke book, and casually talking through First Language Lessons. And like the rest of the year, we’ll keep Story of the World playing in our car, we’ll cook together (fractions!), and of course, read, read, read.

I’ve found that with just a bit of planning, this really only does take about two hours a week, tops. And of course, we’ll skip all this when we decide to go off and do something epic instead. No pressure to finish anything here.

Mandi recently wrote a compelling post about why her family does year-round school.

Book list

Tons of stores and local libraries have book lists, so we’ll cull from each of those and make our own. My oldest loves reading independently, but I do find I need to give her suggestions in order to gently push her towards more challenging reading. So, we’ll work through our book list, just for fun. And the prize for finishing? I have no idea yet. Maybe pride and joy.

Art supplies

As always, we’ll keep our centrally-located craft cabinet stocked with paper, scissors, glue, cardboard, tape, stickers, pipe cleaners, and whatever other scraps might be reinvented in to something glorious.

craft cabinet - crayons and markers

No direction needed here—our kids come up with their own crazy ideas.

Daily room straightening

When my kids wait to clean their rooms until it’s an epic disaster, nobody wins—there is gnashing of teeth, the kids cry with overwhelm, and I’m totally annoyed at the whole situation. So, for everyone’s sanity, we’ll keep up with a daily room straightening (it doesn’t need to be perfect). Just a quick pick-up every afternoon works wonders.

No TV until after lunch & the rooms are straightened

Yeah… I’m that mom again. Since we don’t have regular television (we only do Netflix and Hulu), our kids don’t have to catch a show at a particular time, and I’ve found that they are Grumpy Gills when they watch it in the morning. I don’t know what it does, but on the rare occasion we let them catch a bit of screen time in the a.m., it somehow reflects off the sunrise and sends laser signals to the brain that tells them they’re perfectly free to be jerks to each other.

So. We don’t turn on the TV until after lunch and the rooms are relatively non-disastrous.

Pool, library, park, bike rides, & weekly movies


My childhood summer memories involve riding my bike to the neighborhood pool and staying till kingdom come, almost every day. I’d like my kids to have some of the same, and since they’re part fish with their undying love for the swim, we make the most of it. Especially since it’s frigid winter up here ten months out of the year.

(I kid.)

(Sorta. It’s more like a solid nine for me.)

We also like regular library visits, hitting up the local park scene, going on family bike rides, and this year, we’ll try and catch a few dollar movies on Tuesdays.

Ye olde Pinterest bucket list

The advent of Pinterest has brought on an influx of mom pressure to have an Official Summer Bucket List. I’ve tried this before. It doesn’t really work for our family. But I do like having a visible checklist with some ideas of what the kids can do, so that’s what we’ll do, laid-back style.

Summer 2013 pinboard by Tsh Oxenreider.

My 8-year-old knows how to get on the Internet and look at my summer pinboard, if she wants some ideas. I’m not up for spending hours on crafts that I ultimately finish, but she’s welcome to tackle some on her own, if she wants.

And of course, we’ve got camping trips and lake visits on our agenda, a few local road trips, and a week down visiting friends and family in Texas, since it’s so mild there during July. But outside of these, we’ll be home, and I’m all about keeping a fun summer simple. Kids don’t need loads of perfectly-organized crafts or activities—ours just need a wee bit of structure and a whole lot of freedom.

Deep summer is when laziness finds respectability. -Sam Keen

I’m also slowing down my work a bit for the next month or so, so you’ll see a few guest posts here, like we do every summer. And while I enjoy a bit more time to sew, learn some French for fun, work on some book preparation stuff, and maybe read a book or three just for the heck of it, I’ll be back much more refreshed and excited to write here again. As a reader, you should be happy about this.

(And of course, I’ll still be podcasting every other week, and you can always catch me on Instagram.)

What are you most looking forward to this summer?

Reading Time:

4 minutes





  1. Archer

    I totally laughed when you said “Grumpy Gills”! That is so true. I didn’t let my first daughter watch much tv until the second one came along… If she gets it in the morning it really does set a negative trend for the day. I wonder what it’s doing biochemically!?

    • Tsh

      I hope you hear that phrase in your head the way Dory says it. 😉

      • Archer

        Hah! I didn’t know that was from Finding Nemo!

    • Heather

      I totally agree with this! My oldest rarely watched tv before my youngest came along, and now when they watch in the am, they think they should just continue to watch throughout the day – or there are huge attitude issues. Glad I’m not the only one 🙂

      • Bethany V.

        We’re there too involving TV in the morning. I do it on rare occasions when I need to get something done during my son’s morning nap. But I usually pay for it later. Usually I try to delay it until post nap / post afternoon quiet time. The predinner hour works well as long as the start of dinner doesn’t interrupt the end of a show.

  2. Kimmie in TX

    To say it’s “kind of mild” in Texas, in July, is, um, putting it mildly. 😉 But I do hope you enjoy your visit, and the rest of your summer!

    • Tsh

      Sarcasm. I’m from Austin.

      • Kimmie in TX

        Oh, I figured you were being sarcastic, but didn’t know you were from Austin. 🙂

      • nee

        Sarcasm noted! We’re in Dallas, and I was cracking up when I buzzed over your ‘mild in July’ remark. That only flies under the radar if you hail from somewhere else…cooler. Happy trails!

      • Emily from Texas

        I too laughed out loud about the mild Texas weather. I am taking my three kids to a blueberry farm tomorrow morning and we plan on being there when they open due to our “mild” summers. 🙂 We love escaping to the Colorado mountains in August when it gets unbearable here.

  3. Mike

    Yes to all, nice post. Our kids do the same thing with TV in the morning. It’s like it sucks some mysterious energy out of them.
    Thanks for sharing the Pinterest list too.

  4. Laura

    Hi Tsh,
    Thanks so much for sharing your Pinterest board here, as well as this lovely summertime post – it was dreamy and made me long to be a kid as well as have kids of my own. As it is, I care for 27 boys in a children’s center in Mozambique, so I don’t get to do a lot of “normal” family things with that many BUT your Pinterest board has given me tons of inspiration!
    Oh, and it’s winter here but your summer post was dreamy nonetheless!
    Have fun, Laura

  5. Jenn @ A Simple Haven

    Enjoyed reading your thoughts on a nice blend of flexibility and structure!

    As spring (and summer) has dragged her feet into existence here in the Midwest, I am grateful just to be going outside with my kids sans jackets. 🙂

    • Tsh

      Totally. Me too up here in Oregon.

  6. Jennifer

    Great post, Tsh. Thanks for sharing all of these ideas. I know that you have discussed _Story of the World_ here before, and my interest was piqued then. I have been thinking about purchasing the audio books for our upcoming move (and the 10 – 12 hr drive to get to our new home) this July.

    How engaging does your 5 year old find the audio books? My oldest is 5, almost 6, and pretty interested in history. I tried audio books last summer, however, and he was not particularly impressed. It would make sense to try the audio books out first, but our local library branches don’t have them.

    • Tsh

      He’s not as in to them as our older kid, for sure, but he’ll listen when we say it’s story time. When we intersperse them with music or talking (particularly about the stories), then he stays a bit more engaged.

  7. Heather

    We are going to continue homeschooling through the summer, but we are going to do a lot more science type stuff – aka gardening, nature walks, learning about different bugs (mainly the ones that like to attack my garden) and the cycle of the garden…lots of gardening. We have such long winters in Maine we don’t do nearly as much outside stuff in the winter as we should. Luckily my kids are still very young and actually enjoy helping me weed and figure out why I have such a slug problem 🙂 Add to that a lot of reading and I think the kids should have a pretty good summer.

    When I was younger, my mom would always give me workbooks to use during the summer. I was the nerd that actually looked forward to those types of things. And there was always a lot of reading to be done…

  8. Christy Murphy

    Tsh, just curious, which language will you be studying?

    • Tsh

      French, just for fun. 🙂

  9. Rita@thissortaoldlife

    You might think I’m crazy, but I’ve long maintained that here in the northwest we should go to school until the very end of June and start back up mid-September. Although we’ve had beautiful weather this year, most years I never really count on warm weather until after July 4th!

    • Tsh

      I know; that’s what EVERYONE says (about July 4). I can see the validity in that, except that when I’m from Texas—and therefore everyone on Facebook and Instagram are doing fun, summery things—it just makes my May and June kinda painful. I get the logic, though. 😉

    • Christie

      I totally agree that PNW kids should not have to go to school in September. We homeschool, but I really do drag my feet in September. It is just too nice to be in school. Last year, June was kind of coolish so summer didn’t start until mid to late June. Did you hear about that school in Washington that took a Sun-day this spring (rather than a snow-day). I thought that was so fun.

      I do think the PNW is pretty mild weather-wise. Spring and fall are kind of short, but summer and winter aren’t extreme either (even on the sunny & snowy side of the Cascades).

    • Sara

      I completely agree with you about the summer here in the PNW not getting her until the 4th of July.

      • Angel

        Chiming in to agree with all the other PNWs. Summer vacation is much better in July & August here. When all the southerners are heading back to school in August we are just hitting our peak of summer weather. That’s why I never really wanted to school year round as a homeschooler. We have to take the time to enjoy the weather when we have it. 🙂 But I hear many southern homeschoolers say they school in the summer when it’s too hot to do anything and take parts of spring and fall off when the weather is perfect. 🙂

  10. Ann

    That sounds like a great plan, especially the daily cleaning. My kids are too young to be on summer break, but I think I’d like to take a more intentional approach to their summer. Need to think about it.

  11. Kate

    Where did you get the map above your couch?! It looks like a canvas of some sort. I have been looking for one like that for months and can’t find it anywhere!

    • Tsh

      It’s this one from Ikea.

  12. Laurajoliza

    My kids are the same way with morning movie time. What IS up with that?! I have been leaning hard on Netflix lately (2weeks post partum and baby’s best nap is in the morning), so we have had a lot of Grumpy Gills here.

    I’m sending my 6.5 year old out into the woods for a week of day camps that the Wildheart Nature School does. Bend people – check them out. So neat!

    I love summer because of the camps and activities geared toward kids who are in ordinarily in school. They are a great combo of fun and education-lite. We are relaxed homeschoolers, so using some carefully chosen summer day camps gives us a bit of a break and let’s the kids get that All Important “socialization.” 😉

    • Tsh

      Nice! I’ll look in to those camps. We’re doing a few classes with Bend Parks & Rec, but the nature stuff sounds great.

      And congrats on the new baby! I think you totally get a Netflix pass for awhile. 😉

  13. Moira

    After being on summer break for about two weeks, I had to start multiple room pickups a day. I thought I would just let them play without worrying about it until the end of the day, but boy did we have some epic meltdowns over the final pickup! Weirdly if I make them pick up more often, there is less yelling (by me) and less whining (by all of us)!

    • Tsh

      Totally know what you mean.

  14. Sarah @ Fit Family Together

    Tsh, I appreciate your reminder to leave time to just let the mind wander – watch clouds drift overhead and renew yourself. Hard to restrain plans enough to allow for this.

    And yes – tv or screen time in the morning is a doozy on the brain.

  15. Alissa

    Oh, these posts make me long for a work schedule that would give me time to “do summer” with my kids. As it is, I’ll only get them home on Fridays and then the week at the end of August, but I really want to spend our Fridays soaking up summer – contemplating making that a “cyber sabbath” for me to really be present with them.

    Thanks for the link to the handwriting book. I see they have the same one for printing and my son would LOVE it! (and really needs it)

    • Tsh

      I think a cyber sabbath is a great idea! We do that once a week, too, and it’s good for all of us.

  16. Rachael Alsbury @ Frugal Faye

    I don’t have school-age kids yet, but I do love the idea of blending structure and downtime!

    Your summer plans for yourself sound lovely! Enjoy!

  17. Stephanie

    Great post as it is almost identical to life in our home during the summer. I really loved, “enjoy the challenge of being bored”. It is sparking lots of thoughts for me! If you’ve not yet lined up all your guest posts for the summer, I would love to know how to share some ideas with you.

  18. priest's wife (@byzcathwife)

    This sounds exactly like us- except we have ‘lovebug learning’ every day…just a half an hour for the going into 1st grader to do some boardwork (copy 2 simple sentences, draw a picture), read his easy phonics reader, do a tiny bit of math…we go to the library a lot and I expect the big kids to read (for fun- but no twaddle)

    I agree about no screen time until after lunch!

  19. Tanya W

    This is a great list Tsh! It mirrors what we’ve got set out for our summer break. Though I need to add in the room pick up before screen time~ great idea! My kids also cannot have screen before lunch~ they become grumpy, unable to think of anything to do and then we fight being on the screen

    Here in B.C., we don’t get out for summer hols until the end of June so I still have 2 1/2 whole weeks to go! I’m a native British Columbian though so you’d think I’d be used to it, but it is hard to see everyone else doing fun summer stuff when we’re still in the day in and day out of school. We don’t go back until after the Labour Day weekend but I think we should make it mid-September….wouldn’t that be awesome??

    Thanks for linking up your Summertime Pinterest board….off to have a look!

  20. Rachel - Love in the House

    Tsh, thank you for sharing your Pinterest board. As a daycare provider and mom of four, I am always on the lookout for a balance between structure and play. Your ideas are really helpful! We had an incident at a pool this spring ( so I’m a Nervous Nelly for anyone who mentions pools and swimming. Have a fun and SAFE summer!

  21. Julia

    I’m really grateful for these ideas. Transitioning from the structure of school days to summer days fills a lot of moms, including me, with trepidation. However, I am looking forward to picking Saskatoon berries and our first-ever family camping trip!

  22. Lisa

    Tsh, I just love your posts. Your writing is so fun to read. Even though my kids are 10 and 8, I still feel like I flounder a bit in the summer with what to do together. I love your suggestions. (Daily room pick up for sure!) And why didn’t it occur to me to have screen time only in the afternoon? Morning screen time totally does the same for my kids, and sets their dials on “cranky” for the rest of the day. (Why???)

    We’re in Oregon too, and will be relishing being outside as much as we can now that the sun is showing a bit more. (I laughed out loud at your “mild” comment about Texas in July, and I’m a native Oregonian.)

    Wondering about chores for the kids too. Mine have a few regular daily chores they do, which we will keep up. Will you be adding any new chores to your kids’ lists for the summer? Or keeping their duties pretty much the same?

    Thanks for sharing bits of your family life.
    – Lisa

  23. Steph@livingbrilliant

    I am looking forward to trips to BOTH sides of Canada. Yup, my husbands’ family is on the west coast and my family is on the east coast, and WE are splat in the middle, or almost. I am looking forward to seeing friends and family and cramming in as much time in the ocean as possible. But, like you, I need a little order with the chaos!

  24. Nicole

    Love this, Tsh! This is how I like to do things, too. We are going to do a little theme for the summer (idea I got from a friend) so we’ll try to find some fun activities, outings and recipes to go along with– not everything, but just as sort of a fun jumping-off point.

    Love the no-TV until after lunch. I find I appreciate it most during the witching hour myself. 🙂

  25. Jessica

    I really really love this. We try to have a semi-structured day every day (my little ones aren’t in school yet). And I must agree, that screen time winds up being a much more pleasant experience if it happens after lunch or nap. Oddly, my kids wake up from their naps rather cranky – and something about vegging out and watching a show on Netflix gets them to the other side of that funk.

  26. Jana

    I look forward to sleeping in! During the school year, I am up at 5am to get everything going for the day – but once school is out, we can sleep in until 7 – 7:30am. I can actually get up before the kids for some nice quiet time… heavenly!

  27. elle

    I’m looking forward to weekly trips to the library and hanging out in the neighborhood. Since our summer is only 8 weeks –plus we have joint custody so split that in half — summer goes way too fast. I’m just looking forward to the family time we do have together.

  28. Lil

    What specifically are you doing with phonics, reading, and your 5 year old? Mine needs reinforcements in the same areas but will only respond to the subtle approach, and I need all the ideas I can get!

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