There’s always so much I want to do in the summer.
Organize the house.
Do fun activities with my kids.
Have a good routine to do some chores before we play.
Hit the beach on a hot summer day.
Help the kids retain their school year learning by doing some (fun) academic activities.
Save the world.
You know, the simple stuff.
At the beginning of the summer, it seems the days will stretch out in endless possibility, full of all the wonderful ideas I have for us to do.
Then suddenly it’s Labor Day, and I’ve forgotten to do all of it.
This summer, I was determined to do it right.
This simple envelope system was born out of some serious Mommy guilt (more on that later) but has become one of the most simple, least guilt-inducing ideas I’ve ever had.
Related: Energy Efficient Summer Cooking
It’s fail-proof, because it’s just a guide.
It’s flexible as all get out.
It’s in my face but doesn’t contribute to the “pile syndrome” from which I suffer (you know – if I put it away, I lose track of it, so all my papers are in piles).
It’s easy to adapt to random “I’m bored” moments and never uses a clock or a schedule.
And best of all, it will help me remember all the little things I want to do with my kids this summer without becoming just one more “to do list” that never gets all crossed off.
My summer inspiration began when our mothers’ group at church had a presentation on preschool activities that we could do with our kiddos, all of which seemed very messy and work intensive to me.
Who has time for this? I cynically cracked.
As other moms talked about the simple things they do with their kids, like giving them paint brushes and letting them ‘paint’ the house with plain water, or ‘washing the car’ with squirt bottles of water, I thought, I really am the boring mom. Those things are easy enough, but I never think of stuff like that.
Mind you, I’m a former elementary school teacher, so I don’t really have a good excuse for having no good ideas.
I went home a bit dismayed, frustrated with myself, and wondering how I could remember to DO some of the fun stuff we’d talked about instead of putting the papers in my hand into one more pile and forgetting all about it until September.
Then I thought of….
The Envelope System
Rather than lists and stacks of papers, we have envelopes with our summer activities in them and one page on the wall to display what we’ll do that week:
It took about 5-10 minutes, probably while I was nursing or eating or something, to cut out paper squares and write ideas for summer activities on them.
We have envelopes with different categories, and each Sunday (give or take a day) we pull 2-4 out of each envelope, depending on how busy our week is already. For example, last week (Fourth of July week), I knew we were leaving Wednesday for the remainder of the week, so we didn’t pull anything new since we still had a few on our chart from the week prior.
This week, we occupied ourselves quite nicely on Monday, but we’ll pull a few new activities this afternoon (Tuesday).
Although my chart there has days of the week across the top, they’re really suggestions. We just pick one to do on any given day when we’re home and not running out and about.
The envelopes are as follows:
- Paul’s Learning Work
- Leah’s Learning Work
- John’s Learning Work
- Fun Activities
- Once a Week Special Events
The idea is that, if we get started right after breakfast, we should be able to do 15 minutes of chores (set a timer), then everyone can do a learning activity suited to them (often with Mom’s help), and then there’s a fun activity that we all can do together.
If the fun activity gets pushed to the afternoon, or not everyone ends up doing the “learning work,” it’s not a big deal. There’s always tomorrow, or the next day. It’s a no-schedule sort of schedule, which is the only kind suited for me in the summer!
When we do pull new ones for the next week, if there are unfinished works from the week prior, they can choose to leave those in place or trade for something different.
What’s in those Envelopes?
I thought you’d never ask.
It was really fun thinking of all the things around our house that we so easily forget when we get all caught up in our days.
Even fun toys like blocks get forgotten when my kids get in their routine. If they don’t trip over something, they don’t play with it. (I’m afraid they’ve learned from the chief pile-maker herself, sigh.)
So don’t pick on me because I need reminders to play ball with my toddler or have the big kids make bracelets out of beads. At least I recognize the problem and I’m trying to address it.
8yo Learning work
- practice typing/write an email
- play a learning computer game
- do online research
- read about a Saint
- practice multiplication facts
- online piano lesson
- write a prayer
- do a Science experiment (he has a lot of cool book collecting dust)
- pray by yourself
- read 20 minutes
- work on Armor of God book (one I received in one of those ebook bundles; he’ll memorize Eph. 5 and do some questions and activities about the armor of God. At the very least, I printed out the pages when it came up last week, so we’ll leave this one up for this week…)
5yo learning work
- trace letters in shaving cream
- choose a Montessori work (I have a bunch of homemade preschool learning works from when I only had one child and had time to make stuff like that…)
- make a list with letters (building words with letter blocks we have, like a grocery list or party list, invented spelling)
- work on ABC scrapbook (a recommendation from her preschool teachers, one page per letter and find magazine photos to paste in)
- word whammer (an alphabet magnet game we have)
- Kindergarten Rock Stars (I got this ebook as part of a bundle sale, and it has some fun pages to print out – it’s a huge book, so I put it in on 3 different slips of paper)
- write a journal page (sent home from preschool)
- learn a new prayer (we’re praying the Angelus at noon every day we remember, so it was eerily providential that this one came out the first day and reminded me that I wanted to start that habit with the whole family…)
- practice tap and ballet with mom
- make a kaliedoscope (one of those fun DIY gifts she received that it’s so hard to remember to actually DO with her!)
23mo learning work
- sing silly songs
- oatmeal canister work (for small motor control, demonstrated here)
- read with Mommy
- do a puzzle
- build with blocks
- play bubbles
- play ball
- paint the walls of the bathtub
The chore envelope will be really varied depending on your household and routines you already have set. Our chore envelope reminds us on the outside that unloading the dishwasher, folding laundry, tending the garden and making beds are daily chores anyway.
- dust blinds and windowsills
- vacuum stairs
- choose one piece of furniture in your bedroom: clear it, dust it, organize it
- edge vac the upstairs
- edge vac the downstairs
- organize craft shelves (and a few other messy areas on their own slip of paper)
- pray a decade of the Rosary
- unpack a box (that would be for Mommy, who still has a handful of boxes from our move 18 mos. ago…this one has come up TWICE in the 3 times we’ve pulled! Is that providential again? *eye roll*)
- build with blocks
- make peanut butter kisses (super simple, no bake recipe from Healthy Snacks to Go)
- pray a decade of the Rosary
- Guess what? with smells (gather stuff from the kitchen and do blind smell-and-guess tests)
- yarn bracelets (my 5yo learned to braid the first week of summer and already taught her friend!)
- make ice cream
- Frozen Treasure (put a few small toys in a plastic container, cover with water, and freeze. Give kids a few tools to use to get the toys back out and set them loose outside in the grass on a hot day. We did this one twice in one week, they had so much fun with it!)
- bake together
- “wash van” (the spray bottle thing I mentioned above)
- make a hide-and-seek rice bottle (using an empty plastic or glass bottle or jar, hide tiny things in rice that they can then seek-and-find at their leisure)
- Guess what? with touch bag (put small objects in an opaque bag and kids reach in and try to identify them without looking)
- “paint the house” (mentioned above)
- pray a Chaplet of Divine Mercy
- play with play dough
- paint on the easel
- do a craft with glue
- bead necklaces
Just typing those out makes me excited for the rest of summer!
Once-a-Week Special Events
These are all up to my discretion, and sometimes we just can’t make something big happen, but they understand that.
- go to the zoo
- go to Grandma’s
- watch a movie (hoping for a rainy day the week this one comes out)
- have a tea party with friends
- play at a park
- go to daily Mass
- go to the school playground
A few neat advantages to using envelopes instead of lists:
- It’s really easy to add ideas
- You don’t cross them off, so things could come up twice if applicable (or toss them after doing it if it’s a one-time deal)
- Pulling papers out of an envelope is super fun when you’re a kid
- The element of surprise!
- It’s not just one more piece of paper for the pile.
- I can also pull someone’s envelope if it’s a weekend and they say, “I’m bored.” Here’s something for you to do, I’ll say.
My one piece of construction paper didn’t fit all our categories, so the “fun stuff” is just stuck to the file on the wall adjacent:
I didn’t plan out the size of paper very well, but that’s all part of it being LOW STRESS, LITTLE WORK and making it work for me!
So far, although we almost never get to all the papers we’ve pulled, the kids really seem to like it and it gives me just enough structure to do something without feeling pressured.
Do you have a summer routine already? What works for you?
It’s totally not too late to whip up an envelope system of your own, especially if you’re feeling like you just hit the doldrums and your kids aren’t sure what to do with themselves every day in the heat.