5 Upgrades to Our Summer Bucket List

 This is a testimony, not a persuasive, but if it inspires someone, then I consider it a privilege.

Summer Bucket Lists--fun, energy-releasing, imaginative activities that you check off as you complete them. I love lists, I love check marks, I love activities!

But the bucket list alone lacks a component that we've found key for an enjoyable summer.

We upgraded our Summer List by adding a variety of disciplines for our kids. (If you shirk at the word discipline, try one of these: practices/habits/character-building activities). ;)

In our experience, without disciplines, our kids become complainers--expecting a fun activity planned for them instead of exercising their imagination. Without disciplines, they also expect more purchased activities--carousel rides and snow cones are no longer appreciated luxuries but almost a right of life. This is what makes ME shirk.

I want my children to grow in gratefulness, I want their creativity to soar. I want to buy them the snow cones--not to keep them from whining, but to shower them with affection.

For us, the key component to an enjoyable summer has been daily disciplines. They have changed over the years, and right now we are incorporating these 5 (and if you desire to adopt some of these, don't feel pressure to do them all at once! We grow with our kids!* See notes at the bottom.) Combined, they only take about 90 minutes a day; the rest of the day is blanket forts, ice cream, and sight-seeing fun!

5 Disciplines of Our Summer:

1. Household chores

3 white boards display individual lists of daily chores for our three kids of different ages. 
  • 5 year old: filling the water filter system with fresh water after breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Watering the plants 2x's a week, sweeping under the table after breakfast.
  • 7 year old: clearing the breakfast table and washing any dishes that are dirtied at this meal. Sweeping under the table after dinner.
  • 9 year old: starting the day's laundry, overseeing it through the rinse and drying cycles. Sweeping under the table after lunch.
We've stayed hands on, showing them how to do the chores, being ok with less than perfection. Our eagerness is contagious and our consistency vital.

2. Desk time

I purchased 5 different workbooks for each child, and each day they do 2 pages in 2 workbooks of their choosing. I read in recent years that coloring and tracing exercises the part of the brain that is needed for self-control. (I never knew that! I just thought coloring was fun!) Not only do we feel good about keeping writing and reading skills before them, when my kids spend time daily in this discipline, they play better together afterwards. Seriously! It seems that the feeling of accomplishment gives them a satisfaction that makes the play more fun, and the quiet separation from each other makes the play more amicable!

Many friends have mentioned that their child can finish a dollar-spot workbook in one sitting. Sure, mine can too, but I encourage them to resist that urge. Part of the discipline is to stay steady at something consistently over time. If they are desiring more activities of quiet or concentration, I direct them to a coloring book or a free read.

 3. Musical Instruments

Summer is a great time to make leaps in learning a musical instrument (or a great time to begin one!). Most people who quit a musical instrument do so because it is not an activity of instant gratification, yet little else rivals music-making's ability to integrate the brain. Summer months allow our kids time to spend on scales and such that are "not fun" but necessary to put songs together, which eventually is an exhilarating accomplishment! 

Having experienced this myself, I have my kids use this daily practice regimen for summer, in this order:
  • Scales (as many as they've learned) 2x's each
  • A new song/composition that they are trying to achieve 2x's
  • A song of their choosing that they have mastered, 1x
And I could write all day about the benefits of learning music--lowered anxiety and stress, increased math and science abilities, testimonials about improving dyslexia and other learning disabilities, etc. I don't even need to site them, because they abound and are undisputed. But if you'd like to see just a few in a condensed space, check out this awesome info graphic:

4. Reading Together 

We read good books aloud together.  Our family does this all year long, and we don't cease for Summer because it is so enjoyable and fruitful. It bonds us over common stories, develops our language, fuels learning, and provides great conversations at other points in the day--and days to come!

We read at 2 set times of day: Breakfast and bedtime. 
  • "Breakfast and Bible" has been a daily tradition of ours for years. This summer we are reading through "My ABC Bible Verses: Hiding God's Word in Little Hearts" which carries the bonus discipline of memorizing scriptures along the way. I am convinced that it is the power of God's Word in us all that makes any of these disciplines possible and fruitful!
  • At bedtime, we are reading through The Little House series, and after each volume, we alternate a book of a different genre. Some of our favorites this year have been The Phantom Tollbooth, and James and Giant Peach.  
photo from Black History Studies

5.  20 Minutes of Quiet 

We spend 20 minutes each day with no noise. It's not punishment, it's rest. At some point in the late afternoon, everyone retreats to their own little space. They choose the space as long as it's not butting up against someone else's space. They can choose an activity--a book, coloring, puzzle, whatever, but the one and only rule is you stay in your space for 20 minutes without any sound from your mouth. I tell ya, this one took the longest to master (it took a year for my youngest when he was 3. We started with 5 minutes and gradually increased the time, and once they can read on their own, then it is no longer a challenge). One of my children really needs this time--I see a significant change in her mood after she's had a little break by herself. (And I don't have to tell you why it significantly lifts my mood as well!) Now, several years after instilling this discipline, all 3 of our kids can sit still and quiet for an extended period of time when necessary. It's a skill for which others--including strangers--frequently say thanks! ;)

The benefits we've seen:

Being consistent with these disciplines has greatly enhanced not only our here-and-now Summer, but the weeks and years that followed! We slowly built these into our lives, starting when they were little and growing with them and their abilities. I'm sure as they grow, we'll modify again. For instance when putting this list together, I recognized that most of our current disciplines focus on concentration and stillness--this is obviously an indicator of this season of life. I recognized that there is no daily discipline for growing physical stamina. I thought, "Wow I've neglected this entire area!" And then I realized--we live in Italy and walk literally a mile or more every day--disciplines for physical stamina are not required because it is already happening as a natural part of our life. I'm sure that will change in the future, and we'll need to create disciplines so as to not neglect it.

I'm sure there are natural disciplines that are part of our daily life, as I'm sure there are some areas which could use more intentionality. This list is that for us this season. (If you have some favorite/successful disciplines, please share!)

And if we take a day off to go to an amusement park, we don't fret about skipping the disciplines, but we reap the fruits of our labor by enjoying the day with delightful, thankful children!

She is only mildly amused at both my song and videoing of this moment.

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