(this article originally published on 06.30.09)
I love nothing more than lounging around in our backyard all summer long. I will do anything to stay outside with my kids and hibernate in our big backyard. Indiana winters are so long and our summers here are far too short. I really try to make the most of every moment of sunshine.
Wouldn’t we all love to just lounge around in the backyard all day with our feet kicked up? While I can’t say it will be possible every day, I want to share with you a few things we have been doing to make outdoor living a priority in our home.
Chores come first. We all love being outside and in order for me to be able to camp out with the kids in the backyard, we need to have our indoor chores accomplished. The short list for me is to unload the dishwasher, make the beds, and swipe the bathrooms. The kids have to eat their breakfast, get dressed, and tidy up their rooms and playroom. With the promise of fun and relaxation outside, we all are more motivated to do our chores inside.
For work-at-home moms, I try to get up an hour before the kids and tackle any work priorities and I do most of my work on the weekend mornings. I encourage you to read my post on finding balance to work priorities to assist with figuring out a good work-at-home schedule.
Get the dinner prep done. After I have finished the chores, it is time to get together whatever we will be eating for dinner in the evening. Slow cooker meals are a great alternative in the summer because they don’t heat up the house and can be pulled together quickly. Likewise, marinating meats or preparing meat for the grill is another way to keep the house cool and keep one step ahead of the game in mealtime prep.
Of course, anything that you can do after your grocery shopping will also give you more time to enjoy being outside. Chop up veggies and fruits for snacking on throughout the week, cook pasta for pasta salads and keep it in a food storage bag to make a yummy cold pasta salad, bake chicken for the week to dice in tortilla wraps, for cold chicken salad sandwiches, or to toss into a pasta salad. I also love to wash and chop the lettuce for the week and use it on burgers or for a light lunch for myself or a side salad with our dinner.
Take the night off completely from dinner and roast your dinner on an outdoor fire pit instead. Children will love the novelty of cooking their foods over the fire and you will love having a night off from cooking. We try to do this a couple of times a month as a fun family night tradition.
Scale back those fancy dinners and keep things simple with grilled meats, fresh veggies, and fresh fruit. Summer is not meant to be spent in a hot kitchen so get acquainted with your grill or slow cooker so you can enjoy that beautiful weather outside.
Be prepared for outdoor excursions. The past couple of years, I have learned to become more prepared for those unexpected outdoor adventures. On our door hangs a beach bag that is ready to go for a fun outdoor getaway. I keep sunblock, bug spray, towels, bathing suits, and a water bottle in this bag.
In our car, we have a collapsible bag that is filled with activities for the park. I try to keep containers of bubbles, a ball, a waterproof blanket for sitting on, a Frisbee, and a lawn chair. These activities not only come in handy for when we take a trip to the park, but they also are invaluable when visiting friends who don’t have activities/toys to keep little hands busy.
Revise your homemaking schedule with the weather. Check the forecast at the beginning of the week and try to format your schedule according to the weather. If it is raining on Thursday, make Thursday your day to clean the house. If it is sunny on Tuesday, use that day to accomplish the laundry day outside and hang your clothes on the line instead. If it is sunny all week long, then accomplish chores during your child’s nap time or after they head to bed. By revising your homemaking schedule to fit the weather forecast, you can take advantage of as many beautiful days as you possibly can.
Make the outdoors fun. My children will play outside for the entire day, but each summer we make an investment into outdoor activities that will help keep the outdoors fun. Some of my favorite summer investments have been a sandbox, a small water table, sprinkler toys, a new set of chalk, and a batch of homemade bubbles.
My children also love to create so I also put out a bucket of water with paint brushes for them to paint the cement or to paint their chalk drawings. We also make a batch of sponge balls to play with in their water table or for fun water play outdoors. Nature journals can help them document the changing of the seasons and what they see in nature. Homemade play dough with some cookie cutters and a rolling pin can lead to fun creations, without the mess, on an outdoor table.
Don’t forget that many activities that you can get your children to do outside can also help you. I have my kids use their water toys to water my garden. My children also love to help wash the cars and wash their own outdoor toys. Have them set their own table for lunch or help you clean up after an outdoor dinner.
Make easy evening routines. After a long day of playing outside, I bring the kids inside and we start tackling the baths. After the kids are bathed, they can have a small snack and watch a television show while I work on getting our dinner ready.
This usually leads to a little napping or general zoning out as they are usually so exhausted from playing outside. With this time, I tidy up and get our easy dinner together for us to dine outside. After that the kids play outside until bedtime and I am able to put them to bed earlier after all of their outdoor fun.
Outdoor chores are accomplished by my husband & I trading off the kids to get done what needs to get done. One of us mows in the front, while the other parent is playing with the kids in the back. As I have said before though, many of these chores are just done side by side with the kids while they are playing or helping.
Remember they are only young once. Each summer, I marvel at how much my children have grown and how quickly our time together seems to be passing. I am trying to savor these moments and for me, that means slowing down our summers. While we make big plans for summer activities, I can admit that I become selfish with my time with them in the summer. The school year will begin again and we will be back to the crazy grind of school days.
Savor these moments and revise your schedule so you can enjoy each moment of them. Seek a little shade with them. Create with them. Hop in the kiddie pool with them. Indulge in homemade slushies and popcorn every single day and blame it on “the kids” and “hydration.” Be selfish with them and their time. Treasure them.
As my husband and I say after it takes two hours to put away all the outdoor toys and clean up after the dinner, “We are making memories.”
How do you make outdoor living a priority in your family?