This blog post was written in 2015, but seems especially relevant in 2020, during a global pandemic.

We celebrated our daughter’s birthday yesterday. The original plan was to grill hot dogs outdoors at the community pool…and then we woke up to rainy weather. Storms continued through the afternoon. About an hour before the party was due to start, I began to realize our outdoor party was going to be moved indoors. I’ll admit to a few minutes of panic (“What will they DO?!”), a fleeting temptation to scour the Internet for ideas, and a quick decision to embrace the SIMPLE birthday parties of our youth.

“Bringing back the 80s” was our mantra as we quickly brainstormed low-prep party games (balloon volleyball, musical chairs, and Twister using our IKEA button rug). We helped the girls tidy their room, knowing they’d likely retreat to play away from the parent party chatter. And we took a deep breath, because our children don’t put the same “Pinterest Perfect” pressure on themselves that we do. What mattered most is that our little girl felt celebrated on her special day!

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As I woke up this morning, I decided to “bring back the 80s” to our summer plans as well. I don’t know about y’all, but when I think back on my childhood summers, I don’t remember bucket lists, sensory bins, or even trips to the park. I remember playing outside by myself or with neighborhood friends, reading lots of books, and taking a summer trip to visit family or a special landmark.

Obviously, things have changed a bit in the past 30 years, so I don’t expect that my children will spend their entire day playing at a neighbor’s house (like me) or riding their bikes to the city pool (as my husband did). But I don’t think my children need me to completely organize their play, either.

(Sidenote: What did our moms do on summer days when we were off playing?!)

Savor a Simple Summer with Your Family




Choose to stay home.


I’m blocking off a few mornings each week when we will have absolutely NOTHING on the schedule. My girls have a built-in playmate/best friend/roommate, and they need the opportunity to work together and resolve conflict. They also need to learn to articulate when they need time alone to recharge. (Read more about staying home in this great blog post from Meghann at Practically Hippie.)


Utilize toy rotation.


Rotating toys keeps play fun and fresh and makes clean-up SIMPLE. My husband has also encouraged me to relax our “tidy” rules for their bedroom this summer so they can leave their forts up longer or build more complex LEGO creations. My expectation is that they can move through their room safely.


Leave library books everywhere!


We have designated spots for our library stash, and it’s not unusual to find a child curled up reading a book when she needs a break from the action. We head to the library a few days a week, and the girls know that they get to check out the same number of books they return. Many books are kept until they absolutely have to be returned, but some books are enjoyed for just a few days or a week before they go back.


Make time for self-care.


Our at-home mornings are a time for ME to catch up on laundry (a load a day keeps the wrinkles away), read a book, and do an exercise video (with or without the kids). I don’t mind saying NO, not right now, or “find a way to work it out” when they get too needy. Some boo-boos and conflicts need my attention, but I’ve found that my girls get really creative when they have a few unstructured hours each day.


Create simple summer routines.


    • My husband gets the girls breakfast before he leaves for work.
    • I supervise “getting ready” time after everyone eats, including me (getting dressed, brushing hair and teeth, and putting glasses on).
    • Outdoor play until lunch.
    • Lunch at 1:00, followed by read-aloud time on the couch.
    • Mandatory afternoon SIESTA for everyone.
    • Invitation to play/structured learning time during the “witching hour.” This is when I bring out the Pinterest activities. 🙂
    • Family dinner + evening activities, and a later summer bedtime. I get overheated very easily, so we spend the hottest part of the day inside and venture out when it cools off a bit.


Choose a Line Leader for the day.


I don’t know about your kiddos, but ours like to argue about who gets to do everything first. We solved that dilemma by alternating days when each kiddo gets to be the Line Leader. They get in the car first, wash their hands first, choose the music for the day. Anytime a decision needs to be made, we check with the Line Leader. You will not believe how this saves time and stress!


Are you choosing a simple summer this year? I’d love to hear your tips in the comments below!