I thought we'd never beat last summer (it was pretty much the summer of my dreams), but this year tried very hard. It was different--Clark made sure of that--but we still managed to capture the idyllic feel of summer. With it coming to a formal close next week (school begins on Wednesday), I thought I'd reflect a little on what made it so great so that maybe, hopefully, I can recreate it next year.
I've come to realize that I'm happiest when we have a strong foundation of structure and routine interspersed here and there (not every day) with a fun new activity. I'm a homebody at heart, but I like the occasional adventure. (Most of my kids are this way too.)
And so, taking that into account, here are seven of the things we did this summer that made me love it so much I wish we had another six weeks of it (at least).
1. Making summer goals
Have I mentioned these goals enough yet? I'm sure it's my Upholder personality showing through that here, in the middle of August, we can still be working just as diligently on our summer goals as we did during the first week of June. Not only have these goals helped me feel like we actually accomplished something this summer, but they defined every morning and gave it a purpose. The goals became part of our routine but in a very measurable way. It's one thing to have a daily list of chores (we have those too), but it's another to feel like everything you do has a purpose and is contributing to a larger goal. I will admit that accomplishing these goals required an insane amount of dedication on my part (my kids liked them, but they would never have stuck with them if they'd been left entirely on their own), so seeing those stars gives me just about as much pleasure as it does them.
2. Reading The Story of the World
Are you familiar with this history of the world by Susan Wise Bauer? I've been eyeing it for many months but wasn't sure if my kids were old enough for it to hold their interest. Finally though, I just decided to try it out (and we further committed ourselves by making it one of our summer goals). We started with Volume Three because that's the one that was available at the library at the beginning of summer. Now, looking back, I'm kind of glad we had to start with the third one because it includes the time period of the American Revolution, something my kids were already somewhat familiar with. We've read a little bit every day. It has forty-two chapters (divided into two or three sections), so it's been one of the goals that I've really had to stay on top of. We'd been reading about four or five pages a day, but just last week, we decided we better increase it to ten if we wanted to be done with it by the end of August. The best part of it has been that at the end of every sub-chapter, either Aaron or Max draws a picture of what we read about. We've made a long timeline in their room with all the pictures.
3. Going to the pool
When I was growing up, I went to the pool a few times each summer, but definitely not every day. However, I knew that the pool was a landmark for many kids--the common thread that tied all the days together. There was a part of me that longed for that daily familiarity. So you might say that now I'm living my childhood dream. There is a little swimming club in our neighborhood. All last summer, we saw kids with towels hanging around their necks making their way there every afternoon and then straggling back home. This year we decided it was time to buy a share ourselves. It wasn't the most economical (it's just a little pool, and it's only open for three months out of the year), but both Mike and I agree that it has been more than worth it and one of the highlights of this summer. It's given my kids some motivation to be productive in the morning because the promise of the pool is always there. We've gone almost every day, and it's been a great way to cool off and relax. Plus, it's turned my kids into confident little swimmers, a benefit I hadn't even really thought about.
4. Instituting poetry snack time
On a past episode of The Read-Aloud Revival Podcast, Sarah Mackenzie interviewed Julie Bogart. One of the things they talked about that piqued my interest was poetry teatime. The basic idea is this: you gather up a few books of poetry, set out some food (it can be as fancy or as basic as you wish), and read poems while enjoying a little snack. I knew my boys wouldn't go for something called poetry teatime, so I renamed it poetry snack time, and it has been received with the greatest enthusiasm you can imagine. There are too many details to go into right here, so I'll save them all for a future post.
5. Watching very little TV
Almost by accident, my kids have watched very little TV this summer, and it's been fantastic. During the school year, I rely on the TV when I'm teaching piano or working on blog posts. But I took a break from piano and I shifted most of my writing to the early morning, so there just hasn't been much need to turn it on. For the most part, my kids don't even ask for it. On the rare occasion when we've turned it on, I almost always regret it because it turns them into grumpy little monsters.
6. Reading aloud
Of course this one was going to make the list. Reading together has made up a big chunk of every single day. I love reading to my kids right after breakfast, before we tackle any of our work for the day. It's been so nice to have the flexibility to be able to read one more chapter . . . and then, one more chapter just because we feel like it. And we've made it through some pretty great books during the last two and a half months.
7. Participating in fun, memorable activities
I like routine; I like structure; but I also like changing things up and trying new things (as long as they're not scheduled too closely together). I feel like we struck a good balance this year. The majority of our days were blissfully boring, but occasionally, we broke them up with something new. It made our summer feel fun and exciting without feeling stressful (although there were a couple of weeks right at the height of summer that got a little overbooked--but I suppose that's natural, right?).
Here are a few of the out-of-the-ordinary things we did:
- Attended family reunions (fourth one this weekend)
- Played at the watering hole with cousins
- Watched a movie at the library
- Took a road trip to Nebraska to visit my grandma
- Kayaked in a little pond
- Went to Lagoon (a local amusement park)
- Hosted several guests (family and friends) from out of town
- Tried ice skating
- Caught crawdads
- Swam at Lava Hot Springs
- Hiked around Silver Lake
- Went camping (Mike and the three older boys, not Clark and me)
- Participated in a session of swimming lessons
- Relaxed at the cabin
Mike and I argue all the time about which is better: summer or winter (we both agree that spring and fall are, of course, the best). He says winter because he hates being hot. But I say summer because even at its most unbearable, the mornings and evenings are still indescribably pleasant. This summer has been so good to us. I'm sad that it's over, but I don't think I would have changed a thing about it. And that feels good. Summer for the win.
Tell me about your summer. What fun (or ordinary!) things have you done?