Summer Sanity Kit

by Rebecca Underwood

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It's that time of year when kids and most parents, especially stay-at-home moms, can hardly wait for school to be out. With thoughts of lovely sunny days, children running through the house, and warm evenings with no homework, summer just can't come soon enough!

Somehow we forget from year to year that summer isn't quite as idyllic as we envision. Some days, the pitter-patter of elementary school feet starts to drum on every nerve, and if you have to break up even one more argument you'll consider selling the kids to the circus. With that in mind, now is the time to start assembling your Summer Sanity Kit.

What's a Summer Sanity Kit, you may ask? It's just a box filled with odds and ends that will help you and the kids make a summer day seem special. If you leave it within reach for the kids to raid at will, they'll go through the contents in less than a week. But if you pull out one or two items at a time throughout the summer, it will feel like a treat!

Choose a medium-sized box and hide it in a closet right now. As you shop garage sales, dollar stores and flea markets, pick up items to toss into the box. Include scavenged items from family and friends, and even stockpile some everyday used items. Then, periodically throughout the summer, bring out one or two treasures for some unexpected fun.

You can put almost anything into a Summer Sanity Kit, but some of the best ideas will probably come from your own childhood. For the most part, today's kids are still fascinated by the same kinds of things you played with as a child. While toys are an option, items that encourage exploration are even more fun because kids can use them in ways that really interest them. In case you're having trouble making a list of your own, here are a few suggestions for your kit:

  1. Stopwatch/timer: Check garage sales and dollar stores for an inexpensive kitchen timer or stopwatch (minutes and seconds). Kids will want to find out who can run faster, who can hold his breath longer, whose boat will sink first, and much more. Once you get them started, they'll be busy for the whole day. Encourage them to record and chart results, and you're helping them build math skills.
  2. Plastic dish pan: For a few cents at the thrift store, you can get a plastic dish pan or small tub. Kids can spend hours in the back yard filling the pan with water and floating boats, constructing bridges, or growing tadpoles. Want an even cheaper alternative? Recycle an old roasting pan that's no longer suitable for cooking.
  3. Magnifying glass: There's nothing like a magnifying glass to make the whole world look different for a day. Even a small one from an eye-glass kit will entertain the kids. Encourage them to collect leaves, bugs, flowers, etc. and compare the tiny details we usually miss. Just be sure to monitor younger kids while using magnifiers in the hot summer sun, and educate older kids so they can use the magnifier safely. To minimize risk, reserve the magnifying glass for use indoors or on a rainy day.
  4. Egg cartons: This one's a freebie! Stockpile a few for sprouting seeds, sorting coins from the piggy bank, or organizing a rock collection. Wash foam cartons thoroughly with soapy water, snip apart cups, and cut out plates from lid portions to make a new tea set; decorate with non-toxic markers. Cut apart cups, trim edges, and use a dull needle and double thread to string them together. Kids can float the new snake/worm/train (use your imagination!) in the dish pan above.
  5. Sidewalk chalk and/or brushes: Pick up odds and ends second-hand, or watch for rock-bottom pricing on a bucket of it at the dollar store. Play hopscotch, draw masterpieces, or have a giant game of "Hangman"; it'll wash off with the water hose or the next rain shower. Want an even cheaper alternative? Thoroughly wash out old paint brushes and let the kids paint with water on the sidewalk and watch their results disappear as the water evaporates. If you have smaller brushes, let them put on their yuckiest clothes and paint each other with mud!>
  6. Empty containers: Plastic mayonnaise jars, margarine tubs, etc. will make wonderful homes for caterpillars and insects. Clear containers can be used to sprout seeds and watch plants grow. Foam meat trays (thoroughly washed!) will even make wonderful picnic plates for the back yard, and you won't have to worry about breakage or return. Remember terrariums from your own school days? Save the biggest jar to make one with your kids!
  7. Cork collection: Assemble a variety of corks and other objects that will float. They'll be fun in the water by themselves, or add other supplies like construction paper, toothpicks, Popsicle sticks, and/or glue so kids can build boats or even floating cities.
  8. Grown-up stuff: Drop cast-off curlers and other hair styling items into a plastic bag. Add a large garbage bag with head and arm holes cut out to make a beauty shop in the back yard. An old ice cream scoop and some brightly-colored cups can become a wonderful mud sundae shop. Discarded football helmets, tool belts, purses, hats, boots, etc. will stir a child's imagination. Your kids will love nothing better than pretending to be grown up just like you!

My Story is a regular feature of The Dollar Stretcher. If you have a story to share please send it to with "My Story" as the subject. You don't need to be a writer. Just someone who's learned about saving money and is willing to share the information with others.

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