As discussed in our popular blog at the start of this summer, What the F*ck Are We Going To Do About The Summer?, this one is brutal for both kids and grownups. The kids want to see their friends, go to camp, and play in the pool. In other words, they want normalcy. During the school year there was an argument to be made that staying home could be more fun than going to school. Now that it’s summer and they are missing out on camp, the most favorite time of year for most kids, that jig is up.
Here are some tricks that have helped us get through the first month of summer. A lot of these ideas also translate to grown ups, so they may be useful even if you don’t have children. I may have a whole new list for you in another four weeks as I got quite an earful last night about there being “no fun.” My point is, even with all of my tap-dancing and the list of 11 ideas below, all of which have made my kids quite happy, they still have their COVID meltdowns. This is hard and it does suck for them.
May the force be with us.
What’s Working For Us Now
1. Everyone Gets Their Own Clubhouse
We are all desperate for a bit of privacy and alone time these days. It’s important that everyone in the family have their own space to which they can retreat. As I constantly remind them, my kids are lucky enough to have their own rooms. Even that is not enough these days. Enter the personal clubhouse.
Max’s Clubhouse in His Bedroom
This is Max’s new clubhouse! He started making elaborate plans for a clubhouse during the school year, pre-COVID. These plans involved land, buildings, and a capacity of 15 kids. Seeing as how we live in an apartment and have no backyard, his plans weren’t going very well. The stay-at-home order and Amazon simplified things. Max’s clubhouse is especially fantastic in the dark with a nightlight on inside. He reads and plays in his clubhouse.
James’ Clubhouse in The Playroom
The tent is James’ clubhouse, although also a shared space they play in together in the playroom. Mr. Real Life Style set this up with pillows and a book caddy inside for a secret reading space. Sometimes James sneaks in there at night when he has trouble sleeping too. It’s pretty cute to find him sleeping in there!
Lani’s Secret Hideout in Her Closet!
[I’ve since hung a pretty scarf on the wall to enhance the space and hide the Elfa tracks.]
This is my clubhouse! I became determined to turn my closet into a private “hiding” place at the beginning of quarantine. As an introvert (I know, I talk too much to be an introvert, but it’s true!), quarantine has been particularly hard on me. After reading so many articles about women using their closets for self-care practices, I was determined to use my small space for journal writing, which is mine. I also need a place to hide when everyone in my house is watching TV, which upsets my nervous system when I’m already overloaded. I know, I’m sooo weird.
Someone observed that I had created my own sensory deprivation chamber. That is exactly how it feels when I’m inside. It also makes a great Podcast recording booth.
The Space In Action. Lani In Real Life Pajamas!
[Forgive the terrible picture! It was meant for my sister, not public consumption!]
The major hurdle was that my closet is quite small, especially for a fashion stylist! I had previously maximized the space with the Elfa System from The Container Store. Moving that system around to give me space to sit down would involve some serious editing and reorganization. After 4-5 hours and a lot of grumbling from Mr. Real Life Style, whose assistance I required, I did it! Ironically, it is easier to get to my clothes now. This is probably my favorite achievement of the quarantine.
2. Cooking Camp
Max has been asking to learn how to cook us dinner for awhile now. Between my work schedule and his brother’s camp schedule, I was never willing/able to drive him to Potomac for my twin sister’s week-long cooking camps in previous summers. However, once her camp went virtual, it was a no-brainer! What I was not expecting was how fun camp would be for me.
Vegan Rocky Road Sweet Potato Pie
Being 8, Max needed help with things like using knives and cooking on the stove. Cooking camp at home requires the presence of an adult at all times, making it mommy and child cooking camp if your child is as young as mine. This was great! We did camp together every day for a week from 2:00pm-5:00pm as quality time, and at the end of each session, dinner and dessert were done! We are going to do her next camp session the week of July 13th, which will also be a “Make Your Dinner” camp, and take place from 9:30am-11:30am every morning.
Having one week a month be different than the usual schedule was just enough to keep the sameness from getting to the kids. It also gave me a week off of meal-planning and the kids an opportunity to try new healthy foods that Max had cooked, The pictures above are of James shoving handfuls of spinach into his mouth after dipping them into Max’s homemade strawberry dressing. James hadn’t eaten raw spinach since he was 3. I also have a picture of that landmark event.
3. Marking the Passing of Another Week
Have you heard the Covid advice of figuring out how each day can be different than others? That is too much pressure for me to live up to while trying to run my business. What I can do is make sure that we mark the passing of each week. In our family, we do that by participating in our synagogue’s Zoom Shabbat services every Friday night. We don’t always make a formal dinner, and with trying to manage everything else in life, we haven’t always managed to get every element on the table: candles, grape juice, and challah. At first it was the challah I couldn’t get, now I keep forgetting to buy more small grape juices when I get to the real grocery store.
This last month my mom has been dropping off (distanced!) fresh challah dough we can bake ourselves, which has been a wonderful way for her to help me out and for the kids to get a special treat from grandma. Your ritual could be take-out on Thursday nights, but it is nice to have any once-a-week practice for the whole family to say, “we’ve made it through another week.” I especially like our services because I value our Rabbi’s spiritual perspective on current events. We have been saying the Mourner’s Kaddish (prayer for the dead) for George Floyd each week, honoring his death as a member of our community.
4. Independent Reading
Finding books your kids will read on their own is hard, especially when they are just learning how to read. Max (8) is coming down from the Harry Potter high, now that I have finished reading the series to him. The challenge is, where do you go after reading possibly the best series ever written for kids? Switching gears completely, he has been reading: The Misadventures of Max Crumbly, The Bad Guys, and The Treehouse Books.
New Book Series to Keep The Kids Reading Independently
As much as I don’t feel graphic novels are “real books,” they do keep the kids entertained and they read them on their own. My kids tore through the Dogman series. Even James (6), who just learned how to read, would spend hours going through the books. The Bad Guys series uses better language than Dogman and is quite funny, Max has been reading the Bad Guys books aloud to me, which I have enjoyed.
5. A Loose Schedule
Our biggest obstacle to sticking to a schedule is…me. I am too be creative to be a highly scheduled person. We started the summer with a stricter, more detailed schedule, and have arrived at the one below.
Our New, Looser Schedule
The new schedule functions as more of checklist. I have figured out that we are better off going out in the morning now that the weather is hot and humid, and that Max is good to do his learning first thing in the morning, before James is even awake. I have been waking up early myself to get in my work time when I have the kids alone three days a week, and use their screen time and reading with grandma time to get in more..
6. Taking The Kids Outside in the Morning
I wish I could say that taking the kids outside first thing in the morning, prevents them from trying to kill each other for the rest of the day, but it doesn’t seem to do the trick. However, if we do go out in the morning, we are able to stay out longer, and more comfortably. Also, it is easier to end up not going out at all if I don’t force them out in the morning.
Max and James in The Climbing Tree
Our two favorite places to go within walking distance are Bishop’s Garden at the National Cathedral and Rosedale Conservancy, two beautiful green spaces with fantastic hiding places for the kids to explore and play in. Sometimes we miss the morning window because the kids are resistant to going out, so I take them outside in the afternoon to climb this perfect tree next to our building. I will be so sad when they are too big to play in the climbing tree!
7. Summer School
We have continued to make the kids engage in on and offline learning during the summer. They think this is some kind of special torture, but I assure them that other parents we know are doing the same thing. Please let me know in the comments below how you are handling this in your house!
James Doing His Math Work Book
Both of my kids are addicted to Prodigy, a Math “Game” with the emphasis on game. We let them play it but also make Max do math, coding, and grammar on Khan Academy. He rotates between the subjects and probably only spends 15-20 minutes daily. But they never miss their Prodigy time! We have James, who is a rising 1st grader, working in Max’s math workbooks from the beginning of second grade. He can do the work so I felt no need to buy new workbooks until these are completed. Other than that we are just reading to him a lot and asking him to read to us. I believe at this age they really learn by free play. The kids are also both continuing Mandarin on the Duolingo app.
8. Zoom Sleepovers
Zoom sleepovers have been our social saving grace this summer. What is a Zoom sleepover you ask? Agree on a night and a starting time with another family. This works well with another family that has two children, or two children from separate families. I wouldn’t include more than 3 or 4 kids. We usually get on Zoom (or Facetime) around 5pm for a virtual playdate, which includes choosing the movie. At 6pm we bring the iPad over to the dining room table so the kids can “hang out” while they eat dinner. A fun element is if you can coordinate so that the kids can eat the same meals. We usually do Annie’s Mac & Cheese or pizza because that is easy for most families.
At 6:30pm we start the movie and mute the devices, but set them up so that the kids can still see each other watching the movie. When the movie is over, the kids hop back on, talk about it for a bit, then go to bed. In the morning everyone gets back on Zoom at a predetermined time based on when the latest sleeper wakes up, and eat breakfast together. If the kids feel like it, they can continue the virtual playdate. You can’t imagine all of the socialization itches the Zoom Sleepover scratches. It also makes mixed gender sleepovers much easier to coordinate!
9. Putting Them To Work
Don’t my kids look like naturals wheeling a rolling rack? It always amuses me how in New York no one looks at you twice when you are doing an “on the street” photoshoot. In D.C. they give you very quizzical looks.
Max and James Helping With An RLS PhotoShoot!
Kyle and I had a timely socially distanced photoshoot to get done for a corporate client. So timely, it had to be done on a day I had no childcare. I put the clothes on my kids mini costume rack and they were able to wheel the rolling rack for us. As you can see, they were a little too enthusiastic about their job!
10. Choosing Our Own Adventure
The number one complaint from both of my kids this summer is that there is “no fun.” As in, all of the normal things that bring them joy seem to be off limits. My kids absolute favorite thing in the world is playing in the pool. We finally got into our local social club with a pool last summer and they were delighted. Max had daily swim lessons at camp. This summer was going to be the year James was finally old enough to take their camp’s highly effective swim lessons too. You know what happened next.
Which Kids is This, Max or James? Take Your Best Guess!
Camp was canceled and the social club’s pool has not been allowed to open. I don’t know if we will go if it does. We have been very careful with our social distancing, not even establishing a “pod” with another family. However, we have generous friends with a pool and a child around my kids’ ages. Our one outing this summer has been to take the kids for pool dates there. We keep everyone distanced and mostly in the chlorinated pool. As you can see from the pictures above, the mental health benefits have been worth the small risk.
What is the one thing your child enjoys that is worth figuring out how to do safely?
11. Finding a Reason to Celebrate, Often
We’ve been a little out of control with the Zoom parties this last month. No joke, we have had a Zoom party with my in-laws every weekend since Memorial Day. Between birthdays and Father’s Day, we have covered every weekend. There was one open weekend so I came up with an excuse for a party.
A Happy Birthday Sign For Max and James Half Birthday Celebration
Both of my kids were born in December; one in the beginning, one at the end. I wanted to get them some new books and toys to make it through the summer, and have an excuse for a celebration, so the half birthday party was born. Half Birthdays are something noted in my husband’s family so it wasn’t completely out of left field. Also, I’ve never met a family who liked to celebrate birthdays and give presents as much, so they were totally on board. It was fun to decorate and prepare for, and the kids have been enjoying all of their books and games since, buying their parents some sanity. Having these parties has also helped differentiate each weekend. Now I just have to stop eating so much cake…
What are you doing to get through this Covid Summer? Share in the comments below!
Lani Inlander is a personal stylist who has been working with clients who want to feel their best and look put-together every day for over 20 years. You can find her in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area. Learn how you can train with Lani and Kyle to become a personal stylist at The Stylist Studio.
You can find Lani Inlander and Real Life Style on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram.