Interested in learning more about The Summertime
Survival Guide for Parents? Well, here is
Chapter 3! Enjoy!
Creative Ways to Organize Your Home and Car for
“When you leave a beautiful place, you carry it with you wherever you go.”
– Alexandra Stoddard
Most likely, some percentage of your child’s summer learning will take
place at home. You’ll want to start the season off right with a special
space that cultivates all of the essential elements of deep learning –
experimentation, exploration, creativity and play.
Activity: Create Discovery Stations That Inspire
Benefit: Discovery stations support creative pursuits and hidden talents.
Have you got yourself an artist, scientist or musician? Maybe you do and
you just don’t know it yet. Accessible, organized spaces are especially
helpful in supporting creative pursuits of this kind; they may even help
uncover latent skills and hidden talents. If you have the space to do it,
design specialized work areas throughout your home and outdoors. These
spaces don’t need to be large; find corners in and around your home you
think might do the job. Think of these as “discovery stations.” Designate
places where special projects don’t have to come down but that you can
simply tidy up at the end of the day.
When my children were young, we set up an art area, a science center,
a cozy reading nook and a space just for music. For fun, I left out a
microscope and instructions for the kids to stumble upon
“accidentally.” The piano’s cover was always left up—an open invitation
to come and tinkle the keys. Our covered patio made a magnificent art
dining room wall became a giant bulletin board where we’d display
my children’s art.
You can keep these spaces fresh by periodically adding new resources.
For example, unfamiliar books, maps, science equipment, art supplies,
sheet music and treasures found on a walk will always catch your child’s
attention and draw him back for more play and exploration.
Before preparing space for summer learning, look around your home
and see it through the eyes of your child –
Are the tools he needs accessible?
If you aren’t available, can your child safely get to the
things she needs or is she beholden to you each time she
wants to begin a new project?
Is there space to run freely and make colorful messes?
Is there an area where noise is acceptable—or better yet,
Is there a place to go to escape all of the noise and have time alone
Does your child know she is welcome in these spaces?
Let these questions be your guide as you prepare your home for a summer of playful learning.
Activity: Turn Your Kitchen into a Learning Station
Benefit: Kids feel confident and good about helping others.
Relinquishing some of our control in the kitchen isn’t always easy.
Providing access to messy ingredients and sharp knives can test our
patience and our nerves! Nevertheless, the kitchen is a place where
amazing learning takes place. Preparing meals for the family is one
of the first opportunities for kids to feel competent and helpful to
others. So, take a deep breath and start cooking.
As soon as your child is old enough, it’s time to place tools where he
can reach them. If this is not possible, invest in a good portable stool
he can maneuver himself. From as early as possible, the kitchen should
be a place where your child feels welcome. Make it a place where he
can prepare healthy, delicious foods. And, it goes without saying, the
child who is old enough to cook in the kitchen is old enough to clean
up the kitchen.
Over the summer, it’s great fun to come up with a special culinary goal
or two. If your child is young, agree that by the end of summer he will
have all of the skills he needs to plan a special dinner for the family. He
will learn to plan the menu, purchase the ingredients, prepare the meal,
serve it up and clean up afterwards.
Here are some good cookbooks I recommend using with young children:
Kids Cooking Without a Stove by Aileen Paul
Young Children by MaryAnn F. Kohl
Pies, Pizza Dough, and More! By Leah Brooks
If your child is older, make a plan to focus on the cuisine of a specific region.
Research, collect and use exotic spices and ingredients together. Your
child could also throw a dinner party for family and friends or he could
choose an elderly neighbor or a family with a newborn and prepare a
home-cooked meal for them.
Here are some cookbooks I recommend for older children:
Activity: Turn Toy Clutter into Weekly “Activity Bags”
Benefits: This activity creates calm spaces, is great for babysitters and gets kids
away from the TV.
The toys our children play with provide much more than a way to pass the time.
Well-selected toys inspire deep learning of all kinds. Acquire new toys with that
thought in mind. However, just as these treasures can enhance learning, they can
hinder it too; as our grandmothers warned, too much of a good thing can be too
Take some time to de-clutter your child’s play spaces. If she is old enough,
encourage her to be a part of this process. Sort through the toys and
identify a few special favorites that will remain out at all times. Remember,
this is not a punishment and should never feel like one. Keep this process
playful. If you think it’ll help, you can even make a game out of it!
To create weekly activity bags, have large plastic tote bags on hand, each big
enough to contain a week’s worth of items for play. There should be enough
containers to represent each week of the summer or whatever timeframe you
wish. Make a pile of toys for each bag and be certain each collection fosters a
range of playtime activities including opportunities for physical, fine motor,
imaginative and sensory games. As you add toys to each pile, engage in
conversation with your child. Discuss the rationale for each pile’s contents and
ask your child for input. When you are through, put the bags somewhere out of
view where your child will not see them.
After this job is completed, take a moment to pause with your child. Reflect on
how calm the space feels and congratulate her on a job well done. Consider aloud
how much fun it will be to open each bag later on and play with everything
The day your summer learning plan begins, take out the first bag. It will feel like
Christmas when your child opens it up! Make sure the process is ceremonious;
make it a shiny big deal. Invite older siblings to “ooh” and “ahh” as your little one
opens the bag. Talk with your child about all of the possibilities that each item
contains. For extra fun, wrap the bag in colorful paper; add a few simple items
inside that your child hasn’t seen before such as inexpensive craft items, bubbles,
stickers and new crayons or sidewalk chalk. When the week is over, bag up these
items and bring out the next tote.
With less clutter and fewer distractions, a child’s ability to concentrate deepens.
Play becomes more imaginative as the child finds new ways to engage with old
Activity: Create Fun Outdoor Learning Spaces
Benefit: Outdoor learning inspires a child’s independence, engagement and
Do you have a garage or outdoor shed on your property? Have some fun
organizing a section of that area and equipping it with easily accessible tools for
outdoor fun. Assemble a collection of butterfly nets, magnifying glasses, empty
jars for soil or water sampling, gardening tools, wood scraps and tools for
building. Gather binoculars, a kid-friendly nature guidebook, sun block and hats
along with a sturdy travel bag, notebook and pens. Keep everything in one place
so the kids can grab these items and take off on adventures whenever inspiration
If you have a young child (or perhaps an older child who isn’t accustomed to a lot
of time outdoors), take some time to look over the surrounding landscape
together. Discuss where the best bugs might be. Where are the wild raspberries
growing? What corner of the yard yields the best mud for mucking in? And
earthworms! Where are the earthworms? In no time, your child will know the
answers to all of these questions. Your curiosity and enthusiasm are important
first steps to help get your child’s wheels turning.
For inspiration, check out these fabulous guides for young naturalists:
Most of us don’t live in mansions with ample square footage; our homes may
already feel too short on space. The ideas I’ve shared here don’t require
sprawling spaces. Have fun planning, organizing, de-cluttering and using your
imagination. Avoid the temptation to focus on perceived shortcomings of your
space. Instead, work within its parameters and let it become a haven that
inspires your child’s independence, engagement and joyful curiosity.
Activity: Create Your Own Roadschooling Kits!
Benefits: Turns tiresome car rides into a time for engaging learning and fun.
Doing so also provides an opportunity to explore new activities in a
Hours in the car driving to classes, music lessons, sporting events and friends’
homes can grow tiresome—for children and for adults. But, what if I told you
that it is possible to turn time on the road into a fabulous opportunity for
learning and fun?
To begin, let’s stop thinking of our cars simply as objects that get us from point A
to point B. Envision your vehicle as a space to maximize and enjoy much like a
comfortable room in your home. Consider whether this space is well organized
and kid-friendly. Does it inspire opportunities for meaningful learning? Can your
children access its contents without asking for help?
There are a number of items available to help organize space in the car, but
nothing beats a good backseat organizer. Available in different styles, backseat
organizers slide over the back of the seat in front of your child. With pockets for
books, art supplies, music and food, this item makes it easy for your child to
access anything he needs.
Make each roadschooling travel kit to fill your child’s backseat organizer with a
variety of auditory, visual and tactile items. Be sure to use items that won’t melt
in the car! Rotate kits on a weekly basis so that the materials feel fresh and new.
Kids also love repetition, so don’t be afraid to cycle items back into the kits
regularly as well.
Your child will look forward to this new tradition. To keep things efficient,
prepare a number of kits in advance and store them in boxes inside your home.
When items in your child’s backseat organizer lose appeal, simply pull out
another kit and add its contents to the organizer.
There is no need to break the bank with this activity. Use items you have on hand
that your child hasn’t seen for a while. Shop at yard sales and thrift shops and
keep an eye out for sales.
The number of materials placed inside of the kits should correlate with your
length of travel time. Your child is less likely to feel interrupted if there isn’t a
large number of left over, unexplored items in her kit when you reach your
Roadschooling kit contents can include items such as:
- Art supplies
- Activity books
- Manipulatives like tangrams, Rubik’s cube, wooden beads, lacing cards
- Small stuffed animals and plastic animal or action figures to stimulate imaginative play
- Subject-specific objects like flashcards, maps, calculators and workbooks
- Reading materials
- Snacks and water
Contents children can adapt for use in a variety of ways are most appealing to
children. Provide materials that suit open-ended activities and self-determined
play. It’s great fun to listen as an excited child rifles through his kit calling out,
“Mom, let’s listen to a little Beethoven. Would you like me to read you a story,
Dad? Do you know how to say ‘fish’ in Spanish?”
This is just the tip of the iceberg! Time in the car with our kids can inspire new
methods of teaching and learning in a number of ways. Make the most of every
moment and see what kind of wonderful fun unfolds.
The Summertime Survival Guide for Parents is available on Amazon.
And you can get The Summertime Survival Guide for Parents FREE planner here.