How To: Summer with Toddlers
I am a stay at home mother of two toddlers. In college I worked my butt off having multiple jobs year round just to pay rent and eat every day. I have not experienced the relief of a true summer break since my final summer after high school. None if this is said to garner sympathy, I have had many kickass summers in my life; this is just to say that I do not yet have the perspective of the anxiety it brings to working parents who have had their children in school all year. The memes still make me laugh when I see them, but I do not have a true understanding of the pressure of year end from the parents perspective yet. I have not had to cram all of my children's fun into after school and only on holidays. In fact, those are usually the times we stay away from all of the adventurous places we love because they become too overcrowded with people who do not have the choice.
My schedule with my kiddos is more dependent on the weather than any other factor. This spring was absolutely brutal with the amount of rain we got, so the sunshine has been a huge reprieve for all of our sanity. I do create a world for them where family time is sacred, so when my husband gets home from work we do our best to be home so we can hang out with him as much as possible. It is a blessing that he has a job that allows him to be home for dinner almost every night, which is good because he is a far better cook than I am! Our days flow from one activity to the next, with no concrete schedule for any one of them. Summer is less of a stress for me in this season than I imagine it will be when they get older, but there are still some essential shifts that I have to prepare for. If you are in a season of raising toddlers some of these tips might be helpful to you too.
First thing is first: hit up your dollar store. It is literally where I get 90% of the things that entertain my kiddos throughout the year, but it is especially valuable in the summer. Letting them ‘go crazy’ in a dollar store is much less offensive to our budget than any other store. Our backyard is west-facing and toys get absolutely destroyed in the sun. The backyard is also currently a work in progress so it is a space that I do not make them clean up unless we are mowing the lawn. We have a water table and a rock pile, so everything has become a water or dirt toy. Our general rule of thumb is that if it goes outside, it is no longer allowed back inside. Every toy that makes it outside is immediately counted as a loss in my head since they will inevitably be destroyed by the sun, rain or small boys that occupy that space. This is why the Dollar Tree is so epic. I never feel bad if these toys get destroyed or lost on an adventure. It helps relieve my anxiety of keeping toys clean and well maintained (which by the way seems impossible with 2 and 4 year old boys).
Favorite Dollar Store Finds:
Beach Toys (buckets and shovels are essentials)
Summer Car Snacks (make sure it cannot melt!)
Kitchen Utensils (great for digging and water table play)
The backyard is my favorite place to have the boys play because it is the easiest for me. It is fully fenced in and while there are many dangerous things they could play with, they tend to steer clear of the things that could cause them harm and focus on the rock pile and water table. It also gives RM the best access to a potty he can use without me. When they play in the backyard I feel comfortable doing a quick task in the house without them or sitting outside with them and reading a book. Anyone that has toddlers can appreciate the rarity and bliss of this. I have a large stack of books I hope to get through this summer, so I know the backyard is going to play a big part in that goal!
We are finally in a place where both the boys can (sort of) ride their bikes, so that is an incredible shift for our family! JR is not as efficient at it yet, so there are many times where the boys will spend hours going up and down the street: RM on his bike chasing JR on his feet yelling “Baby on the LOOSE!”. If you are wondering, yes, it is as cute as it sounds, especially when the neighbor kids join in. So while our backyard is full of construction trucks, water tables and dollar store finds, our front yard is mostly for biking, chalk and bubbles. RM also spent all last summer climbing the tree we have in our yard, although he has not fallen in love with it as much this summer since he got a piece of bark in his eye before the snow even fully melted. Since they are always on and off their bikes, they almost always have their helmets on all day long which has saved their heads from many non-biking injuries already!
While they are allowed to go up and down the entire street without me (always in my sitelines), they often request that we go on a longer ride together and we will take the long route around the block and to the park nearby. Local parks are another great activity to do with your kiddos in the summer. I like to plan our errand days so that they include park or outside time. Utah is a state created to raise kids, so parks and kid activities are never further than 15 minutes from where you are. Any time we leave the house, I plan to be gone for at least a few hours. This requires some serious planning. Throughout the summer, my car is always packed with anything we might need on a summer adventure. There are certain things that I do not prepare for unless I plan on specifically going there: taking water gear is only for when we specifically plan on hitting up a splash pad, and bikes only come if we are planning to go to the bike park (yes, there is a local dirt track with toddler-size trails). Everything else is always ready to go, because you never know when a fun opportunity will present itself!
Summer Car Essentials:
Folding Picnic Blanket
Cooler of Snacks and Sandwiches
Backup Outfits (including shoes)
It gets HOT in Utah. Like, incredibly hot. The heat here is different than Ohio. Since we live in a valley the heat of the day is not from 12-3, but it builds throughout the day so 2-5 can be really brutal. That being said, we will be spending a lot of our summer hiking in the morning at higher altitudes to escape the heat followed by playing in the water in the afternoons. I know TLC recommends against it, but we do spend many of our summer days chasing waterfalls. Just plan accordingly with extra clothes on those days. We have a pool local to us, so between splash pads, swimming pools and our water table, the boys will be soaked for the majority of their summer days. The bonus part of this is that all the water washes off popsicle stickiness quite nicely. We also spend a few afternoons a week watching a movie inside during the heat of the day. Don’t worry about my kids brains melting from screen time, sometimes a break from the heat is just what everyone’s body needs. It is almost impossible to keep them inside on a summer day without some sort of distraction, so I will screen it up when necessary, and you should too!
So that is it: front yard, back yard, parks of all shapes and sizes, and water play. Oh, and popsicles, DO NOT FORGET THE POPSICLES, trust me on this one! I am told I will miss the simplicity of these days, and I can already feel time speeding up, so I am going to fully immerse myself in the nothingness of this kind of summer. Don’t forget: their imaginations bloom in the absence of a planned task, so embrace that. As much as possible, try to play with them. For times when you cannot mentally handle more playing, grab a good book and a refreshing summer drink, our favorite right now is cucumber lemon water. Keep it simple my friends; and feel free to share your favorite summer fun!