The Lazy Genius Summer Survival Guide
As a kid, I loved summer. As an adult, I actively root for it to be over.
But I don't want to be complainer for the next three months, especially when I get immensely frustrated at every complain-y word that comes out of my kids' mouths. I suppose I should set a good example. Blerg.
We complain when things go off track, when they don't comply with our invisible standards. I also complain when I'm sweating; anything above 76 degrees turns me into a nightmare. If you're the same, let's gather our tools and Lazy Genius our summer.
To make this guide easy for you, the headings are super specific. Grab what you need, and leave what you don't.
The One Thing to Always Remember
If we try and force summer into the way we live the other nine months of the year, we're going to hate summer.
Summer is slow.
Summer eats hot dogs for dinner and stays up late.
Summer is full of couch forts and dirty rooms.
Summer sits in the driveway every night and eats an ice pop.
Let summer be unique. Don't begrudge its speed, stickiness, or schedule by wearing autumn-colored glasses.
So right now, decide what matters to you. Like, really matters. If you have little kids at home, you're terrified of how messy things are going to be for three months, but what do you value more - cleanliness or connection? That question isn't meant to make you feel guilty; I hate for my house to be a wreck, too. But I'd rather the house be a wreck and the kids have fun playing than worry about making me angry with another mess.
Don't let your summer panic prevent you from seeing what matters most.
Need a quick refresher? Listen to The Lazy Genius Summer Strategy: Mindset.
How to Keep Things Rolling Without Being a Drill Sergeant
Your house still needs to be cleaned though, right? Meals have to be made, appointments have to be kept, and you need to be alone before you fall apart. Plus, there are those ever-present projects that allude us summer after summer. Wouldn't it be awesome to get so many things done?
Oh, but wait... you also want to be flexible and go with the flow. What's the perfect balance? Let's just pop that bubble right now.
The perfect balance doesn't exist.
We definitely need to acknowledge the power of structure in our lives and in the lives of our kids. Knowing what's coming, setting up loose processes for getting things done, all of that does matter. In fact, it just might help you embrace a better mental state when you go off book, knowing that you have some semblance of dinner or order waiting for you at home.
Just try not to let your desire for structure undermine the singular gift summer has to offer: freedom.
Rather than looking at the entire summer as one sweeping arc, an arc that you have to fill day after day with enough activity to satisfy your extroverted kids but not destroy the souls of your introverted one, look at the summer week by week.
Not day by day... week by week.
Every week, you and your people need to rest, tend the house, make some food, play, be with people, be alone, run errands, read, enjoy a movie, and the list goes on. If you try and fit that list into every day, you'll lose your mind, and so will your kids. But if you look at that list week by week, you can loosely structure each week to include all the things that matter.
Make your time container bigger.
In the podcast episode The Lazy Genius Summer Strategy: Time, I talk about the different kinds of time you need to consider each day and/or week, things like rest time, screen time, meal prep time, project time, etc. Listen to that episode to get your brain around the different ways to see time whether you're home with kids or not. After that, reconsider how to organize that time into a routine by listening to The Lazy Genius Summer Strategy: Routine.
I love a weekly routine, not a daily one. One day, we tend to the house. One day, we meal plan and shop and prep food for the week. The other days, we take what the summer gives us. Day trips, play dates that last longer than an hour, classes at the library we never have time for.
Structuring your summer by weeks will help you see where you're doing too much at the expense of the introverts, where there are major lulls that your extroverts will be desperate for interaction, where you can take the longer chunks of time to work on projects and household tasks so you can take that weekend trip to visit a friend without coming home to chaos.
Lower your expectations, don't let structure take away the uniqueness of summer, and move week by week rather than day by day. And for the sake of your own sanity, stop thinking about summer as one giant entity; you'll drown in its crazy before May is over.
Ways to Make the Days Fun Without a Pool Membership
First, exchange the speed of the school year for the speed of the summer.
I'm about to give you some ideas on stuff you can do, especially with kids at home. You've probably heard or even done all of them, but the problem we have is we wear our school year glasses instead of our summer ones. If I suggest that you go to the library, you might roll your eyes at me.
"Genius move, Kendra. I know that already. But the library doesn't take all day."
You don't need the library to take all day, but it can take longer than you give it in October.
When we run errands or go to the library or go to visit a friend during the school year, it's always butted up to the very next thing. Tiny time pockets leave us rushed and scattered, never letting us fully be where we are.
If my kids want to go to the library after school, I sigh and say, "Okay sure, but we can stay for only 20 minutes because we have to run by Target to get toilet paper and I need to be home by 4:30pm to get the chicken in the oven." Boom boom boom.
The summer doesn't have to be boom boom boom. In fact, that's what makes the summer so awesome. (Minus the heat. Dear Lord, help us with the heat.)
PRO TIP: Do this stuff with other people, especially if you have kids. Going to the park with another family has exponentially better possibilities than alone. Do. Summer. In. Community. Amen.
Places to Go
- the library
Yes, it's obvious but also lovely, with or without kids. If you have kids, go during a story time or check out the events and classes offered at different library branches throughout the summer. Ours has Lego classes, nature walks, and free movie afternoons. Even if one thing on the library calendar works for you, it's one more thing you can easily add as an option to your own calendar. If you don't have kids, go read. What a delight to sit in a quiet place, surrounded by books. Take a morning and just browse. Talk to your librarian about suggestions; they know a lot. And don't forget to try different branches, even if it's not your closest branch; if you have kids, this is an easy trick to add freshness to a regular outing.
Barnes and Noble is like a book playground for kids, plus they have a great summer reading program for kids. Be sure to check the website or call your local indie bookstore, too; ours does a children's story time once a week. And don't forget used bookstores. If you're browsing alone or with your kid crew, it's easier on your wallet to buy used than new.
- summer movie programs
So many theaters have summer movie programs, usually around 10am for a dollar or two. Choose your theater family, find your location, and write down a few options on your summer calendar. On super hot days, it's a fantastic back-pocket option.
- craft classes
Michael's offers kid craft classes for $2/kid which includes supplies. If one of your personal summer projects is to make a memory book or paint a canvas or knit a blanket, you want to browse the supplies with time to breathe. Schedule your shopping with a craft class where your kids do a craft while you shop. Or if crafting isn't your thing, take your kids to the class and sit in the back of the store by the picture frames in silence.
- a park tour
Sometimes I forget how many great parks are in my city, many of which we've never tried. If you're spending the summer alone, consider walking through a different park or through a different set of trails week to week. I even have a handful of beautiful neighborhoods that I drive to so I can push Annie in the stroller. If a place in your town inspires you, walk through it, or find new ones that do. If you have kids, going to different parks and playgrounds is such a treat. It's the same concept as different library branches; saying "let's go to the park" might not always instill the same excitement if it's the same park you go to every day. Try new ones, and invite friends along. You could even make it a thing with a list of all the different places to try and cross them off week by week.
- a bakery or coffee shop
Going to a place you personally love and forking out the eight bucks for a couple of giant muffins for your crew to share is actually super fun. Even if you're there for half an hour, you get to be in a spot you personally love with your kids. Don't always go places that are full of primary colors and monkeys on the walls. Neutrals and pastry are good for the soul.
- a local restaurant for a fun meal
Eating out is so expensive, but check your favorite restaurants for any weekly specials they're running. Maybe kids eat free on Tuesdays, a local diner has a BOGO muffin situation, or Sonic does their magical happy hour. Pay attention to when eating out is cheaper, then go and enjoy it.
- community events
This is such a catch-all option, but your local parks and rec department and different community organizations probably have all kinds of things going on in the summer. Even different local farms and dairies have little community events to check out. We have a couple of weekly and monthly downtown festivals throughout the summer that are so fun to just walk through. Maybe you have a cultural center or an arts center that offers classes and events. If you have no idea where to start, ask your local librarian.
- a national park
We're several hours away from the closest national park, but you might not be. Check out the list, and see if you can fit a visit into your summer.
For adults, take a train to your closest metropolitan city and visit a museum or two based on what you love or never have time for. For adults with kids, find a children's museum and make a day of it.
- zoos and aquariums
Yes, this can be harrowing, but it's all about perspective. Kids won't stare at the animals as long as you hope, and the lions might be hiding behind a rock. That said, it's fun to experience a new place. Keep your expectations low, your shoes comfortable, the water plentiful, and pay the money for those zoo strollers if you have toddlers. Worth every penny. Find a zoo or aquarium within your preferred driving distance here.
- your next-door city
In the same way you have fun visiting a playground and favorite coffee shop in your town, you might have the same amount of fun driving an hour to the next town. Don't ignore what's just a few miles away. Again, do this road trip with a girlfriend and her kids and have a ball exploring.
Stuff to Do at Home With Kids
- chalk stories
Sidewalk chalk is a summer essential. Let your kids spend summer mornings creating a comic strip story all the way down the driveway or making the longest hopscotch course they can.
Another essential. Don't leave the dollar store without lots of them.
- play in a baby pool
This goes for babies and their third grade brothers. Having one of those cheap plastic pools in the yard is a gift. Kids can fill up water guns, water the flowers, and just splash around. I know that dealing with tiny wet humans is a bear, but just have a stack of towels by the back door. Strip them down, wrap them in a towel, and consider yourself lucky to have had entertained kids for an hour.
- fort days
My boys love building forts but only if they can keep them up all day. Multiple days is preferred, but I'll give them all day. Deem a day Fort Day, pull out all of the binder clips, broomsticks, rubber bands, and sheets you can find, and let them go for it. Don't see a mess; remember what it was like to be a kid and have a fort.
Paint is the worst and the best. It's so messy, but kids love it. When I'm not being wonky about how many paper towels I'm about to go through, I love it, too. Our family prefers watercolors. Just be sure to give your toddler only as much water as you're willing to wipe up.
- sticker stories
Discount stores have massive sticker books for just a few bucks. I like to roll out a giant piece of paper across the table (rolls of paper are the best, by the way), and give the boys sheets and sheets of stickers to create a town or scene or story.
- draw from the greatest drawing books ever
Ed Emberley is a genius. He has so many drawing books that teach kids (and their mothers ohmygosh) how to draw just about anything by breaking it down into shapes. They're some of our most beloved books in the house. Our personal favorites: Animals, Make a World, and Weirdos. They fill the time in delightful ways.
- masking tape magic
There's something about a strip of masking tape on the floor, marking a starting line, a finish line, a boundary for a game... it makes it so fun and official. Assuming your floors will respond alright to affixed tape, give your kids a roll and let them go to town. My boys create roads throughout the house, have race tracks, and sometimes wrap their Lego characters in tape like mummies. We've weaved masking tape across two walls like a spider web, and the boys through those fuzzy pom moms at the web to see how many would stick. It costs eighty-nine cents, y'all. Just let them have the tape.
- family yoga
You'd be surprised how a lot of kids are into this kind of thing. Put on a YouTube video of kids yoga, and do it together... or at least as long as the kids will give you.
- dance parties
I'll never not suggest it. Play fun music super loudly, and wiggle like a maniac. Grumpy moods tend to fade when the music begins.
- rearrange a kid's room
This feels weird and arbitrary, but what would it hurt to have a summer set-up for your kid's bedroom? Let them arrange their furniture however they want, and let them keep it that way for the summer or maybe for at least one summer month. They can organize their toys in a new place, put their stuffed animals in their own bed... the sky is the limit, and that's the point. We often say no to things because they feel unnecessary, but summer is made for unnecessary.
- bake something
Even slice and bake cookies are a good call if you don't want to deal with flour and such. If it's too hot for the oven, make popsicles or no-bake cookies.
- make a video
My boys love to use my phone to take video of their Hot Wheels race tracks in action. If you want to go the extra mile, use iMovie or some native video editing software to put together a loop of the footage they take. Home movies to blow their minds.
These are just a few ideas to get your wheels spinning. The Internet has hundreds and hundreds of activities you can do with kids, but not all of them have to work. But keep it in perspective. I listed eight places to go, four possible day trips, and a dozen or so play-at-home ideas. If those are spaced out with two a week, your summer is set. Again, don't look at the summer as one gigantic arc that a few trips to the library and a giant game of Hopscotch can't possibly fill; look at the summer a week at a time, and notice the margin you can create while still having fun things to look forward to.
If you pack every day, your kids (and maybe even you) will expect every day to be packed. Space it out, and enjoy the margin.
When Heat and Sweat Are the Worst
This is where summer gets annoying for me. I mean, y'all, I hate to be hot. HATE IT with an irrational fury. I also realize my immense privilege in having an AC unit that works and money to buy window shades and a freezer that makes ice.
Relativism not withstanding, how do we stay as cool as possible in the hottest season of the year?
Go outside early.
This feels too easy, but it's also easy to forget. The school year programmed us to reserve playing outside for the afternoon, but as a person who's passed out from heat exhaustion, not once but THREE TIMES, I'm all about changing up the routine.
Eat breakfast outside, or go out right after you eat. Let the kids do their play thing. Work in your garden. Go for a walk or a bike ride. Enjoy the outside when it's most enjoyable. Save errands and rest time for the hot afternoons when AC is your friend.
Wear the right clothes.
Cotton and linen, my friends. Wear it loose. Give in to the shorts, or wear long sundresses.
My body shape and taste are made for cold weather, so summer isn't my favorite season to get dressed. That said, I'd rather be comfortable than look good. Being self-conscious about my Shade of Glue legs isn't worth sweating, especially when nobody really cares. Again, decide what really matters.
Buy a good water bottle and a handheld fan.
I'm not joking. Get a water bottle that holds its temperature well, keeping your cold drink cold, and get one of those cheap battery-powdered personal fans for days at the zoo or the pool or in the backyard when you feel like you're going to die. No shame in personal fanning.
Pro tip: the experts say to apply cold water to your wrists for a more immediate cool down.
Nobody likes to wear it, and I've never met a parent or babysitter who looks forward to applying it to a child of any age.
What Kind of Sunscreen
I prefer mineral to chemical because it blocks your skin rather than seeps into it. I don't like anything that seeps. Mineral sunscreens can leave your skin looking a bit ghost-ish, so if you want mineral coverage without looking like you just dunked yourself in flour, you might have to shell out a few extra bucks. So if you're Oprah, you're probably throwing Drunk Elephant sunscreen at anyone with a face, but for the rest of us who are willing to settle for a slightly chalky exterior, Neutrogena and Aveeno both make mineral sunscreens that won't break the bank. During your next Target or Walgreens browse, see what sparks your interest.
This year, our family is trying out Blue Lizard sunscreen. It's like the cult classic of mineral sunscreens; everybody who loves it loves it and makes the rest of us feel bad for not knowing it existed. Make sure to follow me on Instagram to hear how ghost-like we all end up being. We have a lot of eczema in my family, so we basically have to rub pure diamonds on our bodies to not look like lepers.
Ultimately, you're looking for zinc and titanium oxides; don't let the word "natural" fool you.
However, if chemical sunscreens don't bother you and you're ready to Banana Boat it up all over the place, NO SHAME, GUYS. I don't buy ethically-sourced clothing or drive a hybrid car, but we recycle and wear mineral sunscreen. To each her own, and the judgment shall stay in the car while the rest of us enjoy the cookout.
Applying Sunscreen to Resistant Children
RULE ONE: Never apply sunscreen to a child while the child can see the fun that awaits them.
Kids already have a bogus sense of time, so making them stand by the edge of the pool while you coat them in plaster will inevitably lead to exclamations of how "THIS IS TAKING FOREVER." I don't know about you, but that kind of complaining makes my spine stiff, like I'm Wolverine ready to let loose my claws. Avoid at least some of that complaining by applying the sunscreen while they're in the carseat, in the parking lot, or at home on your way to the neighborhood pool.
RULE TWO: Make it the tiniest bit fun.
Scream "STARFISH!" and see how quickly your kids jump out with arms and legs wide. Race the time, trying together to keep your personal best over the summer. ("Think we can beat two minutes and twelve seconds?") Paint shapes on their backs and faces and see if they can guess what the object is as you rub in the sunscreen. Nobody is going to look forward to sunscreen, but if you keep the fun of it in front of you, it won't be terrible.
RULE THREE: Don't get angry at what you know is coming.
They're going to complain; all the starfishes and strategic applications won't eliminate it completely. Expect that it'll come, and patiently wait through it. My kids' complaining gets worse when I get snappy, and then the first hour at whatever summer activity we've deemed necessary that day is garbage. Everybody is mopey, including me. Stay patient, and try and remember what it was like to be eight years old, ready to take on all the bubbles and zoo animals and snack bar french fries in front of you.
RULE FOUR: Cover as much of their body with clothes as you can.
When it comes to the pool and the beach especially, consider swim shirts. They cover 60% of where The Sunscreen Apocalypse takes place, and they're not going to run out of SPF in an hour. We're leaning hard into those this summer, especially with a week-long trip to the beach planned. Also sand and sunscreen? The worst combination.
Applying Sunscreen to Yourself
So apparently the best anti-aging practice is to wear sunscreen or to stay out of the sun completely. My high school self is rolling her eyes so hard right now, but my adult self is very grateful for this news. Wear a big hat. Don't feel the need to get a tan, y'all. I mean, you can, but you're beautiful the color of Elmer's Glue, too. At least, let's hope so because that is 100% my summer tint.
Technically, apply sunscreen to your face after your moisturizer and before your makeup. If you don't know where to start, be brave and go to your local Sephora if you have one. Tell them that you want a daily mineral sunscreen for your face, let them ask you questions about your skin, and then try what they recommend. If it doesn't work, return it. Sephora has such a great return policy which is why I'm suggesting you go there. Otherwise, ask your friends what they love.
Personally, I'm working through a bag of sunscreen samples I got in a Sephora sun-care kit, so again, hit me up on Instagram to hear what my favorites become.
Bottom line? Put it on when you get ready for the day so you're not having to fight the urge of skipping it when you randomly decide to go to the park for a couple of hours after breakfast.
Summer Club: Friendship on Purpose
I'm all about doing summer in community, and if you want to be super purposeful, establish a summer club.
Ask a few families or friends if they want to be purposeful throughout the summer. Do an activity together once a week. Meet at a park at the same time on the same day throughout the summer. Exchange kid-watching with another family so everybody can get some alone time. Have a weekly or monthly standing dinner to share a meal. Have kid dinners where one or two couples watch the kids while the other couple or two go on a date night, and then switch the next week.
Think about it now. Think about the relationships you want to nurture now and actually put something on the calendar. It doesn't have to be excessively regular, just intentional. Doing life with people is always a gift, but doing life with people in the summer is essential. Step out, and gather the people.
- If you're a parent, keep the following close at hand: baby wipes, baby powder (to get sand off tiny bodies), tissues, aloe vera gel, sunscreen, water bottles for everyone, a physical book for when your kids are magically playing and you don't want to move and mess it up, a simple first aid kit, extra socks (kids' feet sweat like a mother), and dried fruit. Wait, what? Dried fruit? Yes, dried fruit. It's a quick snack that doesn't go bad in the heat, is hard to chew so it takes longer for kid mouths to complain, and is a quick sweet jolt when you need to run one more errand. Dried berries, mango, apricots, pineapple... do yourself a favor and stow a pack or two in your summer bag.
- Don't give your kids all their summer fun at once. If you have a visible list of all the possible things you could do, kids will want to do it all right then. Or if you have a bucket of summer supplies like chalk, silly string, and bubbles and give them free reign of the bucket, you'll be out of supplies and patience before June is over. Space out the fun. Stay in charge of how it's handed out.
- Have a board that answers that day's most popular questions. My kids always ask what's for dinner and where are we going today. If you want to avoid answering the same questions day after day, write the questions and their answers on a little dry erase board. "Grilled cheese and the library. Hot dogs and Grandma's. Tacos and nowhere."
- Have a family goal. You all want to finish a Harry Potter audiobook. You want to save up enough money in a jar to go to a baseball game at the end of the summer. You want to build a backyard fence so you can get a dog. Working together toward something is a great way to mark the end of the season.
- Put away what makes you crazy. If there are toys in your house that drive you bonkers, put them away before the summer starts. Like, away away. If your kids ask for them, cool. Pull them out just for that day. But maybe they won't ask, and you just saved yourself a ton of frustration.
- Wondering how to cook in the summer? Listen to The Lazy Genius Summer Strategy: Food and make my favorite summer recipe!
I hope this guide offers at least a handful of ideas to make your days full of connection amidst the crazy. It's good to have both.
Happy Summer, my friends!