Summer Fun Book Buckets!

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It was brought to my attention today that the school year has officially ticked along ever so systematically for the last 9 months and we are now simply less than 2 weeks away from Summer Break Beginning! I LOVE SUMMER, I love, love, love summer, I absolutely without a doubt, no questions asked, emphatically love summer break! (Did I get my point across, I LOVE SUMMER!) So I am going to share with you one of my absolute FAVORITE Summer Break Tips that I do with my girls, “Summer Book Buckets”. It’s become somewhat of a tradition and my children look forward to this at the end of every school year now, but first, a little background before I dive into the specifics!

Here’s some background…

Once I became a mother of two and it wasn’t just me and one little sidekick looking for adventure anymore, summer became quite challenging for me. I found myself hoping and wishing for school to begin by July of my first summer as a mother of 2 children. Entertaining my (then) 6-year-old had become difficult with this little (then) 7 month old addition to our family tagging along and so by the middle of July I was approaching every day of summer with a “just survive” mentality and by the time I was sending my oldest little girl to 1st grade I was thrilled that I had somehow survived the rest of the days of summer and still managed to check all the things off the back to school checklist. That was until Halloween at least, by that point I was feeling dreary & grey (not unlike the Northeast Ohio weather I lived in) and I was regretting wishing the warm golden days of summer away! Now it was about this time that I realized I needed a better approach to summer so we could THRIVE through our next summer break instead of simply SURVIVING it. I made it through that fall and creeped by right into winter able to distract myself, at least a little, with the holiday hustle & bustle and before I knew it we were nearing spring.

{Now here’s a side note: I hate rain, it drives me a special kind of batty, really it’s like nails on chalkboard to me if I’m honest, so I don’t love Spring by any means but there are many things about Spring that I do appreciate, mainly that the warmer weather is on the horizon}.

The fact that Spring was in the air had me daydreaming towards summer again. This year I was determined to soak in the days and appreciate the summer instead of wishing it away. We had a vacation planned, we were also planning a few random camping excursions and I had decided to sign my oldest daughter up for a summer swim class. I was not going to let my being home with my 2 girls for most of the summer wear me down again. I would kiss every last night of summer goodbye having fully appreciated the day…..well that was until I found out I was expecting baby #3 around mid July of that summer and then morning sickness (all day sickness actually) had me once again waking up with the “just survive” mentality. I did just that until fall, sadly looking forward to 2nd grade beginning and a break from being sole caregiver, teacher & entertainer all day. My pregnancy sickness didn’t fade (in fact I had it almost my entire pregnancy, bummer) and I just couldn’t get through the holiday’s fast enough so I could get to my 3rd baby’s due date in the middle of March 2010. I had begun my stretch as a SAHM just a few weeks before giving birth and welcoming her into our family in the middle of March. After getting settled in at home as a family of 5, I again began anticipating the summer but this time with a completely new level of excitement.

I have been guilty of  letting myself get wrapped up in the difficult seasons in my past and have been known to wish them away. I was guilty of rushing my life a fair amount as a new mom of my oldest for those first few seasons and it’s something that once I recognized it in myself I have consciously tried to prevent moving forward. We are only blessed a certain number of days here on earth, in the company of others and when we coast through life, when we wish for the next season, when we hope for a future we are unsure of, we are taking for granted the time that we do have and the people we are with. I realized after a health scare with my 3rd daughter in the first month after her birth that we must live our time here intentionally, because we never know when our time or the time of a loved one is up…

 

So here I was at the beginning of summer weather, in the midst of an unusually warm May, just a few weeks away from school being out for Summer Break again except now a mother of 3. My oldest was completing her 2nd grade year and reading like a miniature little book addict like I was at her age.  She always had a book in her hand and was reading quite well, ahead by at least a grade. She was also turning into quite the little helper with her sisters. It was clear to me that I needed to get ahead of my summer plan so I took to Pinterest. This was just weeks after it launched as a site and it was still pretty ground level. I started searching summer/end of school year ideas and I remember being disappointed that so few ideas came up. I looked through the few results and decided to use them as a jumping off point for what would become my new tradition…………..

Summer Book Buckets:

A  GREAT way to get your kids excited about FUN reading to help keep the brain fresh over summer vacation. A good way to encourage an alternate down time entertainment idea instead of the electronics. A creative way to make books seem less like a mandatory for school activity and more like a fun playtime activity. When you encourage reading from a young age and also continue through the summer months I have found it creates a healthy relationship with books for most children. I used plastic beach buckets the first few years that I did this because they are great tools for the beach or splash park and my kiddo’s love sand and water. I didn’t want the book part of the “Summer Fun Book Buckets” to be the only focus so the beach bucket was a fun idea to start. I would also encourage you try to include a few other non book items related to your children’s other favorite summer activities. Here are some picture’s I found from 2 different previous years…

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About 5 years into this plan I switched to metal buckets. It was the year after my 4th daughter was born and I found them at TJ Maxx just in time for Easter. I was lucky enough to find them in each of my daughters’ favorite colors too. They are multi purpose through the year as Easter baskets & “stair clutter buckets” and they have a chalkboard plaque on the front. I do not use all new books, I typically only include one brand new book if any at all. My plan is always to include at least 5-7 books in each girls bucket (however I have done as many as a dozen or more before).

When I executed this idea that first summer, my oldest was such a good reader and advanced to the point that I needed to have quantity for her because the substance still needed to be age appropriate, but 1 age appropriate book kept her occupied for an afternoon if I was lucky. She would read an American Girl chapter book in just a few hours so I would visit the discount bookstores and thrift stores. The recent addition of “Buy Sell Trade FB pages” has given me a new outlet to obtain books inexpensively the last few years also. I do watch store sales in anticipation throughout the year now that it has  become an annual tradition and I stash them until the end of the school year. I find that by choosing titles they are interested in and curious about they will want to dig right into them! As I mentioned before I mix in some non-book summer related items like a new beach towel sunscreen & sidewalk chalk or bubbles to complete my “Summer Fun Book Buckets”.

As a bonus here are a few of my other go to end of the school year ideas that I do with my kids

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Hang poster paper on the door and make a list with your kiddos of things to do over the summer before you go in!

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Crepe Paper the door so when they get home from school they can burst through!

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Ice Cream is always a great way to kick off Summer Break too!!!

I hope this inspire’s you to try one of these ideas to get your kids off to an exciting new start to the 12 weeks of summer! Check back in the upcoming weeks to see some of the ways I plan to keep my kids on top of chores over the summer, limit their electronic use, and instill some character building Virtue Lessons! Plus I will try to update on all of our fun adventure’s, celebrations and new ways to sneak Family Time into our busy summer schedules! I hope you have an AWESOME Summer Break!!!

As always, thanks for reading!

~Rebecca

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Party Planning Pays off in the Moments & in the Memories

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I LOVE any reason to party so people who don’t like to party confuse me just a little. I mean I am an introvert with extroverted tendencies so I actually do kind of get it but even though the “act of partying” drains me, I still enjoy it and strongly value the time spent and memories made with those whom I get to party. Like everything of course it must come with a balance, especially for me as an introvert. When it comes to my kids though I go next level, so just know that what I’m about to say next is coming from a loving heart, I promise.

I commonly hear people say, “We don’t spend much on our kids for their birthdays” or “We don’t really do birthday parties” and the one that maybe irks me the most is “Oh we don’t make a big deal out of our kids birthdays EVERY year” and it makes me a little sad inside for those kids, every, single, time. Don’t misinterpret what I am saying, I don’t think these people are bad parents, (and if you fall under this category of parent please don’t take offense, but rather please continue reading to hear my reasoning). I don’t by any means think you have to spend a fortune on your kids for every birthday (or any birthday really) BUT I do strongly believe that you SHOULD make a big deal out of their birthday EVERY SINGLE YEAR! 

Because Next Year is Never Promised…

Why do I think this? I feel like it should be common sense honestly, but anymore in the culture we live in and the world around us today we sometimes get so swept up in the mundane day-to-day that we forget, next year IS NOT PROMISED.Excuse me here, but Hell, tomorrow isn’t promised at all so the logic that “We don’t need to make a big deal out of Johnny’s birthday this year because we are so busy and kinda broke and can just make up for it next year….” is completely ignorant to me……… because of this I try to celebrate my children often and I am known to celebrate them BIG sometimes!

I have sadly watched from a distance as a friend has lost their child in a sudden, terrible, horrible, gut wrenching way (not to imply that ,there is a way to lose your child that isn’t these things). Even worse I have done so more than one time over my 15 years as a mother. Every time my tears fall & my heart weeps for that Momma & those families. AND every time I vow to be more in each moment with my children. To celebrate who God has made them to be and to do so everyday while God is blessing me with the time with them here on earth to do so because I never want to wake up one day and feel like I wasted my time with them and if I am taken from them for some reason in God’s plan, I want to leave them with a lifetime of happy, celebratory, fully involved mommy moments to draw from .

Let’s Celebrate Our Kids!

I celebrate them in small ways, in unnoticed ways, in silent ways and in prayerful ways more often than not. I do however have a BIG personality and a passion for partying & creating memories so I love the opportunity to celebrate my kids in BIG ways too. From the first moment I knew I was blessed with each one of my girls on I have tried to celebrate each stage, each season, each age knowing it will go by in a flash. The pattern remains that I look for all opportunities to celebrate them and it goes without saying, but I celebrate them extra BIG practically every birthday.

I know I have had many a fellow mom  (intentionally or not) that has judged me because I do so. I spend more money on the birthday parties than many moms I am sure (though we are not loaded so I definitely get out spent by plenty of other moms). I DEFINITELY spend more time preparing the details than the average mom but it is an area I am passionate about and consider it a personal hobby too. I have been told more than a few times that I go a little crazy over their  birthdays but I do it all in the attempt to celebrate that God blessed me with another year as their mommy here on earth!

Resist Satan’s Desire to have you Compare…

Now the comparisons that I just made are not in any way meant to make any other moms feel guilty or less than. This blog topics purpose is to encourage that we celebrate our journeys and look for opportunities to create memories, big & small. Just because I may spend more money or time in preparation on my child’s party does not make me a better mom. Each family has their own set of circumstances and in my family, for my children, in the ways that we choose to we are capable to do so in the ways we do and so….we do!

It creates an atmosphere of constant celebration and makes my home a factory for memory making! I want to encourage that same model in other people’s homes how, where & when it fits into their life journey. I also aim to make it feel accessible to be replicated in whatever ways you feel challenged to try. I am well aware that as moms we are all just doing the best we can with the mothering and personal skills God gave us and the life journey He placed us in. For every area I may excel in there are easily two more areas that I daily seek strength from God to survive or thrive in. So please resist the urge to compare, instead please reach out to me and let’s open up communication.

I love helping to encourage other moms! I also love hearing kind constructive criticism so feel free to lovingly share any that you may have for me because I believe we can only grow better in Him by reflecting on ourselves and our interactions with others. I digress, let’s jump off that tangent and get back on topic.

Break Free From the Rat Race

When we live in the rat race day-to-day we can easily let our big events and reasons to celebrate get lost in the mix and accidentally become after thoughts, but this cheapens your memories in my opinion. It minimizes your reasons to celebrate turning them into just another chore instead of maximizing the opportunities to celebrate together. Living in the moment and living in the rat race don’t have to be the same thing and I encourage you to prayerfully work towards finding the balance in life to get out of the rat race mentality if that’s where you are. I was trapped in the rat race in my head for a long time and still find myself slipping back to it when I am not mindful, but I find the best first step to getting back out of it is by taking control of my schedule, daily, weekly and even seasonally and by reflecting on & evaluating our priorities as a family regularly.

Time together must always be one of the first priorities as a family, even above higher income potential, hobbies, training and other extra curricular type activities that can quickly complicate the schedule building on the rat race lifestyle. Once you have figured out the balance needed to keep your family from constantly living in that rat race lifestyle it creates more available time and will make those opportunities to celebrate more apparent and even more manageable in your life so you can enjoy them and not be burdened by them!

Planning Pays Off in the Moments & the Memories…

These are what I consider to be my main Tips to Planning  Ahead to Create Lasting Memories.

  • Looking at your schedule and calendar seasonally (or quarterly) in addition to monthly will allow you to begin to prepare in advance and save time & expenses accumulating the elements to/for your events that are coming up in each season. I have a large Dry Erase Calendar that I fill in at the start of the first week of every month with the most current 30 days of our schedule and it gets updated daily when new things need added. I keep a command Center pretty religiously as of the last 5 years and it has DRASTICALLY improved our families schedule (and ability to stay out of the rat race) At the bottom of the calendar there is a large notes area and I use that to note upcoming important dates for the next 2 months. This eliminates me being surprised that 3 whole months flew by and suddenly I am two weeks before the birthday and wondering where all my prep time went.
  • Keep a separate notebook on hand for just your “Reasons to Celebrate”. {My mom used to have a birthday card book when I was little where she tracked all the birthdays in each month and could quickly reference them. This is essentially my model for this notebook but with more details, on steroids if you will.} Most importantly I use this notebook to help me just look at the next 3-4 month overview, not the entire year.  I only include those whose events I am choosing or expected to partake in planning, not every birthday card that I plan to send {though one of these years I am going to type up one Master List of Birthdays for the niece & nephews & such}. Now for most people this book will just contain parties for the most immediate members of your family. I will throw a party for anybody if asked! Therefore I am typically juggling a few different events of the birthday & non birthday variety, but again, I digress. Back on point. This notebook will give you one place for the planning thoughts to accumulate helping to keep your brain less cluttered and more focused on being in the moment with your kids.
  • Find a solution in your home to accumulate necessary things for the party without creating excess clutter. If you aren’t careful these celebrations can get to be a thorn in your side at home so be certain to stay ahead of the problem and find a solution that suits your life & home. I purchased Rubbermaid bins with lids in a few sizes to begin to store the accumulated needed items in for each event & out-of-the-way so they can’t be discovered or messed with prior to the party. This also prevents me most of the time from making a purchase ahead and then forgetting where I stashed it or worse completely forgetting I even purchased it. When you have a predetermined storage space for it all until the event that is much harder to do and it can also be extremely helpful to keep these things from cluttering the main areas of the home. These totes get consistently cycled through parties in my home and have a permanent home stacked on a shelf in my office area while in active rotation.
  • Fight the urge to go disposable with your party ware!……….and don’t be afraid to make practical, party ware & service item purchases when needed, just be sure they can be somewhat universally used from one party to another and are of a decent enough quality to last. This will ultimately save you in the long run because you will only need basic paper plates, napkins & plastic silverware to stock up on before parties and the rest of your party ware will not follow those items into the trash to add to our existing overflowing landfills. Items like a set of catering chaffing dishes, cake plates, cupcake stands, beverage dispensers and other food platters may seem pricey at first but when you sale shop, look for coupon opportunities, even Buy Sell Trade groups on Facebook, or even just to bite the bullet and cough it up (sometimes) WILL pay off in the long run. These types of things are worth finding spare pantry space for or room in the garage for a few extra storage totes to have them on hand to use over and over again because the alternative is a whole lot of extra waste, especially once you realize how fun and worth it that it is to find more reasons to party!
  • Pin with a purpose, this means to search specifically to your theme/event/colors/idea and set a time frame for yourself before you begin. ( check out this tip and more directly related to Pinterest in an upcoming blog about “Putting a Pin in a Pinterest Problem before it Begins”!) Also limit yourself to only a few ideas, don’t try new food recipes for the very first time the day of the party unless you are somewhat familiar with it already at least a little. Be sure to not take on more than you can handle in your own abilities and time restraints around work and other commitments. Remember it’s always better to perfectly approach and execute a few really cute ideas than to put up a bunch of Pinterest fail type elements at the party.
  • Don’t forget to check My Fool Proof 6 Point Party Planning Steps to help you get the details nailed down for any event type! This is my method every single time…
  • My last and MOST VALUABLE tip is to not bog your own enjoyment of the party with an unrealistic expectation list for yourself. We don’t have to all throw our kids parties like David Tutera would (though I do personally try hard because I LOVE him!) There is absolutely nothing wrong with hiring out some of the work too if it is in your budget and you want something out of your skill or ability, and in so many more cases than you would probably expect it won’t really cost that much more to hire a reasonable priced vendor instead of doing it yourself. I always try to look in my immediate community and in the small or home business department because I love to encourage the entrepreneurial spirit. I recognize my own creative & personal limitations and love to take the opportunities whenever possible to brag on someone else for their God given skills.

I hope this has made you look at your own opportunities to celebrate those you love a little differently and I pray it has challenged you to make a little more of a priority out of it. We as parents need to really be in these moments with our children and with some simple planning ahead you can create more fun, more memorable and more aesthetically pleasing celebrations for them and their friends than ever before and they WILL remember that more vividly than an overcrowded Saturday afternoon bowling party or cold pizza, chips and kids running around screaming in your back yard. The details make the event what it is, so stop letting yourself get so swept up in life that those details get overlooked until too late, we never know which birthday e are giving ourselves or our children their last memories on earth…so go forth and plan a celebration! Just find a reason, pull the ones you love around you and set the atmosphere of the party for fun! I have given you the starts to your party planning toolbox! Take it and be in your Moments, creating Memories for eternity!

Thanks for reading!

~Rebecca