I love the summer holidays as it’s a nice long stretch where we can really forget about our ‘normal routine’ (eg school lunch boxes) and relax into a more carefree, come-what-may existence.
Of course, all carefree living takes careful planning. We ignore that maxim at our peril! Knowing how to navigate the trickier aspects of summer living with kids is critical. How can we make all the joys of summertime – visits to the beach, playing in the backyard, road-tripping to visit Grandma, camping, and picnicking – that little bit easier?
Here are 31 shortcuts, tips, tricks, ideas, and bits of advice that will take away a little stress and add a lot more carefree to your summer days.
The beach is great, but it’s loud, messy, and a little bit irritating too. Try these parenting hacks to soothe the burn.
1. Keep a king-size sheet in the car
Pop a fitted sheet over the entire back seat to catch all the sand. When you get home, simply shake all the sand out. Sure beats trying to vacuum the sand out of car carpet.
2. Keep your valuables safe
If you need to leave your beach camp to watch the kids in the water, store your valuables inside a rolled-up nappy in a nappy bag. Potential thieves will be fooled into thinking it’s just a dirty nappy in your beach bag. Ain’t nobody gonna touch that thing!
3. Use mesh bags for toys
Stock up on some big mesh bags to keep the beach toys in. Wash out the toys a good 10-15 minutes before you plan on leaving, put them straight into the bag, and hang the bag somewhere to dry (on your beach hut, a tree, a stick wedged in the sand … ). The toys will dry beautifully through the mesh and any residual sand will fall straight out of the bag.
4. Pump some water
Fill a large recycled soap pump pack with plain water for washing sandy hands before eating. There will be far less wastage than if you poured water over hands from a standard bottle. Pump bottles are also great for filling water balloons.
5. Take some cupcake liners along
We all love an icy pole to eat on the way home from the beach, but make life easier by putting a popstick-sized hole in the bottom of a large cupcake case and threading the ice cream stick through the hole. The cupcake liners will catch all the drips!
6. Blow up an inflatable pool
If you’re heading to the beach for a big day out, you can keep babies and young toddlers safer at the beach by corralling them with a blow-up pool play space. This is particularly effective if your pool has a built-in shade cloth. Make sure you securely anchor their impromptu play space though! Filling the pool base with lots of sand for them to play with will do the trick. For babies, you can also set up their portable cot and pop a fitted cot sheet over the top to keep the sun at bay.
7. Take some icy towel holders
Freeze water in plastic bottles overnight to take with you to the beach. Use them to hold the corners of your towel in place and they will melt in the sun for later drinking.
Long trips in the car are the reality for many of us over the summer. A car trip can be hot, it can be boring, it can be your basic nightmare. But only if you’re not prepared …
8. Hang an activity station
Hang a plastic shoe organiser over the back of the front seats and let the kids fill the pockets with their favourite toys, activities, and books. Keep some pockets free for snacks. You can also close up a couple of pockets and put a little surprise inside with strict instructions not to open until you say the word. This will keep the kids anticipating something along the road and if you time it right, you just might make it to your destination with everyone still enthusiastic!
9. Make a reusable activity book
Print out activity pages and put them into an A4 plastic sleeve and the sleeves in a three-ring folder. The kids can use whiteboard markers and wipe their answers off for next time. Another win is that there will be no tears when the car hits a bump and the pen goes flying across the page! For older kids, you can print out lots of crosswords, find-a-words, mazes, and worksheets. For younger kids, you can try colouring pages, letters, numbers and matching games. Good sources for free printables include:
10. Turn a nappy case into a LEGO case
How cute is the is portable LEGO case? I reckon any kid would love one. Jillian at Mommy Testers will show you how to make one.
11. Use plastic containers for games
Throw the dice inside a see-through plastic container to save it flying all over the car. You can also give each player a container to keep their cards in to keep things neat. Board games go much better if played on a large tray – pack a big, soft cushion to rest the tray on the middle seat (or lap of the child in the middle!) while the kids play.
12. Use biscuit trays for playing
A metal biscuit sheet is a perfect surface for drawing, colouring, and writing on. Use a magnetic clip to hold the paper in place (you can get these for whiteboards or use the clips from your fridge). You can also use the tray for building LEGO (use a tray with small sides to keep the pieces from sliding off) – stick some magnets to the bottom of some small plastic containers and stick them to the tray for keeping extra LEGO pieces in. If you’re really keen, photocopy the surface of your children’s favourite board games and stick the photocopy onto a biscuit sheet. Then add magnets to the pieces so they can play to their heart’s content without everything falling everywhere as the car moves along.
13. Pool noodle balloon tennis
Pool noodles aren’t just fun in the pool, you can create all sorts of fun outdoor games and party games for kids with some pool noodles. Try this fun balloon game with a pool noodle hoop. Find the instructions here on Kidspot.
14. Grow a bean teepee
A bean teepee is the cutest way possible to give your child their own little backyard nook without spending a fortune. Plus you can eat the cubby! Mavis can show you how to make one at One Hundred Dollars a Month. You can bring your backyard to life this summer by allocating different spots in the garden to become a dinosaur lair, a zoo, a fairy village, or a natural play space. Find some really great ideas here:
15. Set up an outdoor play table
If you’re pressed for space, you can make an outdoor play area for the kids by constructing a simple table that folds flat against the fence when not in use. Find out how to make it at Sensibly Sara.
16. Bring the beach to the backyard
If you can’t get to the beach (or you’re tired of the schlep), bring the beach to you. You can allocate a corner of your backyard over to some pretend seaside fun. It’s like having a giant sandpit. Ship in a heap of sand (check in with your local landscaping supplier to get a good deal), add a spade and shovel, and let the sandy fun begin! It’s best to have an area that you can cover to keep cats aways when it’s not in use.
17. Make a giant mural
Lay an old sheet out on the back lawn, bring out the paints and let the kids go berserk painting a giant mural. You can hang the mural on the clothesline for showing-off purposes.
18. Blow some giant bubbles
You can make your own giant wand and the secret bubble mix that produces bubbles that are bigger than the kids. This is an all-day activity that will keep the kids happy and outside for hours. Find the instructions at Happy Hooligans.
19. Create a giant water blob
You can fuse two plastic painter’s sheets together with an iron and fill it with water to make a giant water blob for the kids to go mad on. Full instructions at Homemade Toast.
20. Slip ‘n slide success
Use a tears-free body wash or shampoo to give your slip ‘n slide some get up and go without the tears. Popping pool noodles along the edges can help to keep the water (and kids) contained. Either roll them into the sides and secure with landscaping pins or just make a slit down the length of the noodle and slip the slide material into them.
21. Have some bubbly fun
Take a few dollar shop bubble wands along on your next picnic and fill a larger bottle with bubble mix so the kids can refill and keep blowing.
22. Put food on sticks
23. Pack food into lunch boxes
If you’re picnicking with kids, it makes sense to stick to the tried and tested lunch box regime. Instead of shared bowls, pack each child their own portion in a lunch box. Kids know what to do with a lunch box.
24. Take cupcakes the easy way
Don’t fuss around with expensive plastic cupcake holders that are bigger than the Moon. Pack mini cupcakes into DIY cupcake holder for easy transportation.
See the ideas for ‘beach’ and ‘picnic’ above and then add these clever little tricks to really make your summer camping relaxing!
25. Put on a shadow show
Kids love putting on a show for the parents and the tent is perfect for a shadow show. Help them write a cool script during the day so they can really show off by making some interesting shadows at night.
26. Take your ‘welcome’ mat
A front door mat at the front door of your tent will do an amazing job of keeping dirt out of the sleeping area. This is a must when you are camping with kids!
27. Pack everything into plastic drawers
You know those stacks of pull-out drawers you can get for the pantry? Use them for camping! Pack one for the kids’ clothes and personal stuff to keep in the tent and another with food and kitchen equipment. You can also use a plastic shoe organiser for stashing the kids’ clothes and toys. Being able to access their own stuff in a neat way is a great way to help kids learn independence when you’re camping. Kidspot has handy packing lists for families.
28. Make some campfire cones
This is a great dessert idea that the kids can help with. Make American s’mores in a cone to pop on the barbecue. Find the recipe on the Kids Activities Blog.
29. Foam play tiles make a great floor
The kids’ colourful foam jigsaw puzzle pieces make fantastic flooring for the tent, so bring them along! They’ll double as a familiar play surface for babies and toddlers during the day.
30. Keep the toilet paper clean and dry
The kids will love decorating a coffee can ready to pop the toilet paper into. Lots of glitter and gemstones will keep things fun and the toilet paper easy to find!
31. Make a cubby
Take along a shower curtain, painter’s drop cloth or tarp to make a waterproof bush cubby for the kids. Set it up with some foam flooring (see above) and a few outdoor cushions. It will be a nice nook for them to retreat to when all the outdoor fun gets to be too much.
This article was originally written by Maxabella for Kidspot Australia and adapted for Kidspot NZ.