Summer Activity with Kids Redux: Academic/Creative/Organizing

We are doing our academic/creative summer activity for the third summer in a row, and we have added two new features.

First new feature: a new activity option to choose from. We still do just two 30-minute segments (or just one, if it’s a busy day, or none if it doesn’t fit at all), but now we can choose academic, creative, or organizing. I added this for a couple of reasons. One: some of us (Rob, Elizabeth, me) want to organize stuff, and feel happy when it’s done, but we have trouble making ourselves do it; this made me think of it as a candidate for our summer project, because the whole thing started on a concept of “these are things we want to do, but we can’t make ourselves do them.” Two: after two summers of this, I am having a hard time finding creative things I want to try, and would REALLY rather spend that time working on the bathroom closet or undoing what Paul did to the pantry.

Second new feature: Life Training. Rob’s upcoming departure is making me panic about all the things I maybe forgot to tell him. Also, this means I get a head start on the other kids. I have been adding almost daily to a list of things I want to cover:


short showers
take hair off the drain after a shower
rinse toothpaste-spit down the sink
check toilet rim/seat after using, and remove anything left behind
boys: periodically use toilet paper to wipe dust/moisture off lidless ring
clothes out of bathroom
hang up towels
put out a new roll of toilet paper when the old one is getting low
use your own towel or the handtowel for hand-drying
if the bathroom smells bad, put on the fan and/or use air freshener
turn off the lights when you leave the bathroom

pick up things that fall on the floor
throw away wrappers
if you miss the trash, try again

if a piece of laundry is wet, hang it on the edge of the laundry basket to dry

hang up coat/backpack

plug phones in after use

check pockets before putting things into laundry
turn clothes rightside-out before putting into laundry
put socks into their natural state before putting into laundry
stain-treat if necessary

clear dishes
remove liquid from cups
remove food from dishes
soak if necessary
follow-up on dishes left soaking
wash outsides/backs of dishes/pans as well as insides/fronts
put dishes into dishwasher
wipe up spills you make

bring things up from the pantry when supply is getting low
put things on the list when pantry is getting low

if you use up something refillable (some hand soaps, for example), refill it
if you use up something non-refillable (other hand soaps, for example), get out a new one
if you don’t know which one something is, ask someone who does know (Mum, for example)
some things can have a little water added to them to stretch them

if you take something away from where it belongs, put it back afterward
if you use something out in the yard, put it away afterward

fold bags multiple times before clipping

chew with your mouth closed
please / thank you
sneeze into elbow
use a handkerchief or tissue / don’t pick your nose publicly
close doors quietly



This is not in any way a COMPLETE list: it’s just the things I want to emphasize this particular summer. And for almost all of this list, this is not the first time we’ve been over it: I have been instructing/nagging about these things for YEARS. But some stuff is new, like refilling hand soaps and adding water to stretch things: I always handle that, and it occurred to me that they might not even know it’s being done, let alone how to do it. And with the stuff I’ve been instructing/nagging about for years, I’m not sure I’ve told EVERY child the why and how of it, or carefully/patiently showed them what I mean, or PUT IT IN WRITING SO THEY CAN’T SAY I DIDN’T TELL THEM. I can feel as if I’ve said something A MILLION TIMES when actually it turns out I explained it to three of the five. Also, some of the items have a new why/how element now that Rob is going to be living with people he isn’t related to.

Some things, like loading the dishwasher, are going to be ongoing throughout the summer: I will keep calling the children in to show them how to do it, and then I will keep having them try it themselves. For the smaller/shorter items on this list, we are adding them to the academic/creative/organizing schedule. Here is how we do it:

30 minutes academic/creative/organizing
brief gathering to discuss what we did
30 minutes academic/creative/organizing
brief gathering to discuss what we did
one life training lesson

Yesterday, for example, we reviewed handshakes and making eye contact and saying “Hi, I’m _____” and then saying “Nice to meet you!”; we practiced it for when you’re the one starting it and for when someone else starts it.

The whole batch of activities takes approximately an hour and twenty minutes, and I’m finding it very satisfying. We don’t have a very busy summer this year, so this gives me the feeling of Doing Things, and also helps with general summer restlessness: the kids might be bickering and I might be irritable, but then we do this and everyone feels better afterward. And the bathroom closet is looking great.

39 thoughts on “Summer Activity with Kids Redux: Academic/Creative/Organizing

  1. Teej

    I need to attend a life training lesson because I don’t know what “fold bags multiple times before clipping” means!

    1. t

      It took me a few minutes, but i think it’s for bags of chips or cereal. Fold the top 2 or 3 times before you put the clothes pin/chip clip on so that it creates an actual seal and the chips/cereal/etc. doesn’t get stale as quick. Please correct me if I’m wrong :)

      1. Swistle Post author

        You’re right! We have a problem around here with kids folding the top of a pretzel/cereal bag once, and then putting the clothespin on; this means there are still big gaps where air can get in. I’m trying to teach them to keep folding/rolling the top down until reaching the top of the remaining cereal/pretzels, THEN put on the clothespin.

          1. Teej

            Oh, ok, I get it now! Oh, and Shari, we fold the corners in too, and I actually CLEARLY remember my mom teaching me this method. Yay, for life training lessons!

  2. Sadie

    Life skills is great and reminds me of my mom’s “it’s my job to teach you EVERYTHING” philosophy – a lot of stuff i learned on my own too, I think it’s a good combination.

    Your kids might be in situations where they don’t own a dishwasher, so maybe even basics on handwashing/drying/cleaning the dryer and sink so everything isn’t gunky all the time. Oh also switching out dish sponges!! People use those gross things FOREVER.

    How do they take to LIfe training lessons?

    1. Shawna

      I was coming to say the same thing about the dishwasher. When you live with roommates and no dishwasher, putting things in the sink makes it less usable by others. This has held over in my post-roommate life as a rule, especially because we do have a dishwasher – if something is dirty, put it in the dishwasher right away, not the sink.

      In various living situations I’ve seen stack your dishes out of the way until you can wash them (within 24 hours) if there aren’t too many dishes and lots of counter space, wash your dishes right away and either leave them on the rack or dry and put them away (the first is more common, and often you put away the previous person’s dry dishes just before you wash yours), or sometimes there’s just an arrangement where people take turns doing all dishes on different days/meals.

      1. Ruby

        I second this. Also, empty the dishwasher (if you have one) ASAP after the dishes are done, or come up with some sort of taking-turns system. The same goes for the drying rack. I had roommates who were generally good about washing their dishes or putting them in the dishwasher, but then they’d just…leave them there.

  3. Angela

    Don’t forget laundry! I was amazed when I was an RA by how many freshman in my dorm had NO IDEA how to stain treat clothes and throw them into the washing machine with some detergent. Some of the more affluent girls would just throw away their stained clothes rather than try and wash them which made me crazy. Also sewing on a button, hemming pants, and ironing dress shirts are commonly unknown skills among college freshman.

    1. Alara

      I would love more information on stain treating clothing. I have a toddler and my skills are not sufficient for this.

      1. dayman

        90% of stains can be banished by scrubbing with Fels-Naptha soap. Occasionally even if it gets thru the dryer first, but really, for the 90% success rate, it needs to be before the dryer. I prefer it to oxygen bleaches like Shout because it won’t ruin anything, worst case scenario, it just doesn’t work. scrubbing, soaking for a long time, then scrubbing again if it’s extra stubborn. I promise you, it works.

        Except greasy stains. use Dawn dish soap for greasy stains.

    2. Gigi

      Yes!! Laundry know how is a must! Along with the knowledge of how to cook a little – something my mother neglected to do.

    3. Maggie

      My freshman year in college I went to do my laundry and found a befuddled boy student lost and confused as to how to do laundry and I though even then, long before I even believed I wanted kids, that I’d never have a kid who went to college not knowing how to do his own laundry. Fast forward 27 years and I made Oldest start doing his own laundry at age 12. At first he was crabby about it, but now he does it all on his own. I don’t monitor how often he washes stuff, whether he folds and puts stuff away, or if he has clean stuff for sports. That’s all on him. Still working on washing/rinsing dishes and putting them in the dishwasher and lots of other life stuff. Sigh.

  4. Ernie

    This is impressive. First, I’m jealous that your summer isn’t very busy. Second, I wonder if your system works better than just hollering things like ‘stop leaving shit on the bathroom floor!’ ‘Put your dishes in the dishwasher!’ ‘Who spilled this?’ After I’m done losing it, I’m faced with blank stares, pointing fingers, shrugging shoulders, and mumbled remarks like: wasn’t me.

  5. Joanne

    I have been telling my kids, before you leave a room, look around! Have you dropped anything on the floor? Pick it up! Did you bring food in? Return the dishes to the kitchen! Are you leaving the bathroom? Is there toilet tissue on the ding dang floor? PICK IT UP AND GET RID OF IT! TURN OFF THE LIGHT! FOR THE LOVE OF GOD TURN OFF THE LIGHT! It’s not going that great, ha!

    1. Maggie

      THE LIGHTS! For the love of god! It’s modern electricity, just flip the dang switch as you go out of the room. ARGH!! Sorry, you’ve hit a nerve…

    2. Shawna


  6. Celeste

    I’ve been working on Courtesy.

    Hold the door for others, especially elders or bosses.
    Don’t crowd your way to the front.
    Ask how you can help.
    Look for ways you can help without being asked.
    Greet people.
    Introduce yourself first.
    Offer to get others a cold drink when you are getting your own.

  7. Shawna

    When you’re away from home at school, all you and your friends will have is each other, so if someone gets sick, do what you can to help them out. Bring packets or cans of soup and maybe some juice and/or vitamin C to people with colds. Ask if you can pick anything up for them, including food or class assignments. It will make them feel cared about.

    Check in on people who seem to be seriously sick to see if they need intervention of some sort. I know people who got rather precariously ill when they were students who didn’t have anyone to call their moms for them / take them to the doctor or hospital / call 911, and usually they could have gotten better faster and more easily if friends had been looking out for them. And for goodness sake, don’t leave a friend somewhere in any condition they can’t take care of themselves! My brother’s friend would have literally frozen to death if he had just turned and left like the other teenagers did when the friend couldn’t get up from the snow where they’d been sitting. He walked to a nearby house and had them call an ambulance, and saved that kid’s life. (Also, friends don’t leave drunk friends in the company of any sketchy or unknown people – I’m sure you can put 2 and 2 together as to why on that one.)

    On the flip side, I was so grateful to have friends make me tea and bring me crackers when I was recovering from a migraine, or take me to the health centre when a migraine got so bad I couldn’t even climb the stairs to go to my bed. I still remember those kinds of favours many years later.

    And don’t forget to wash your hands after going near anyone sick, or you’ll be the next one depending on the helpfulness of others! :)

    1. Becky

      This is SO true.

      A girl on my dorm floor freshman year ended up having her appendix removed. Her roommate was the one who urged, prodded and finally took her to the ER, where it was caught just in time before it burst.

      I had my wisdom teeth surgically removed my senior year when I was living in an off-campus apartment with 2 friends. I will forever remember those who were helpful, particularly a sorority sister (not even a close friend) who volunteered when everyone else was tied up in class to accompany me and was so extraordinarily kind in the process and never made me feel like a burden. Unlike my own roommate, who while I was still recovering, would consistently bring home shakes/ice cream for herself – and then eat them in front of me – without ever checking to see if I needed anything. I still feel rage.

  8. laura

    Ooh- for boy (and girls maybe) please add rinse the sink bowl after shaving. Every woman I know who had a co-ed floor in college dorms had the experience of an idiotic dude who constantly left his shaving nonsense in the sink– including one story where the man claimed that the 30 seconds it takes was too much of a drain on his time.

    1. Mommyattorney

      I repeat. Can I send my DH to this school? I’m so glad we have separate sinks….

    2. dayman

      Found this in the bathroom at work today. shaving remnants. In the communal bathroom sink. At. Work.

      I swear to god some people were raised by wolves.

  9. Ruby

    I love this whole idea, and I especially like the addition of an “organizing” category. I WANT to have an organized home (and I’m moving soon so I could stand to get rid of some clutter before I have to start packing), but I never feel motivated to organize areas that people rarely see (drawers, closets, etc.). Thirty minutes seems doable, though. Perhaps later today I’ll set a timer. Or hey, maybe I’ll even do TWO thirty-minute sessions, and use the other for academic or creative time!

    May I make a suggestion for the Life Training category, if it’s something your kids don’t already know? Ordering in restaurants. I was a teenager the first time I ate in a sit-down restaurant without an adult, and I remember being perplexed by some of the nuances of the process. For example, what if I don’t have exact change for the tip? What if I’m splitting the bill with someone? How do I tip if I’m paying with a card? How do I politely get the waiter’s attention if I need something? How does the process differ with counter service versus table service? Things like that.

    Another life skill that will be useful for incoming college students: writing emails to other adults. My dad teaches at a college, and he takes his students’ emails a lot more seriously when they’re written in a polite, professional, grammatically-correct way. It’s surprising how many college students have clearly never learned how to do that!

    1. Annie

      As a college professor, I heartily and pleadingly endorse the suggestion to teach kids to write functional emails. The vast majority of them… can’t.
      Also, please don’t let them get to me incapable of a) googling or asking a friend for basic life/non course-material/tech related issues, or b) how to keep track of due dates, or c) how to read and follow instructions. I feel bad for my students, who are technically adults, and who care and are trying, but haven’t had anyone teach them how to be an adult, or a student, really. These skills don’t just emerge out of nowhere.

  10. Jane in Pa

    For the bad smelling bathroom: My college dorm freshmen year had a “suite” design where you and your roommate had a sink in your room and then a shower/toilet that ajoined with another room. So 4 girls sharing 1 shower/toilet. One of my suite mates had a large box of matches that she placed on the back of the toilet on day 1. If you make the bathroom stinky, you would simply light a match, blow it out, wait a moment then drop the match into the toilet and flush. Leave the fan on. Better/cheaper than any air freshener.

    1. Shawna

      My roommate and I had a set of matches too! I’d totally forgotten about this! And it seemed like the match book never, ever ran out until I had to ask her about how crazily long it was lasting and it turned out she’d gotten, like 200 identical match books super-cheap from a business that was closing.

  11. Alison

    I think it’s great that you’re doing the life training (and all the discussion of money/investing too). I didn’t get much practical training at home and my Dad had some weird ideas about privacy which streched to include money, politics, religion, relationships, grooming, etc etc. I left home with a good academic education but I was basically the most naive and clueless person on the planet when it came to anything remotely practical/interpersonal. I cringe to think of my college-aged self floundering around unaware and completely unaware of my own unawareness.

  12. Alice

    For life skills, I’d go beyond asking them to put things on lists when they’re getting low. I’d actually have them “drive” meal planning, grocery purchasing, prep, and clean-up from start to finish. With you along for the ride to do the actual purchasing and to provide basic advice if need be. I’m thinking this mainly because my husband was utterly clueless when we married and is now at about the level I’d expect of a 10-year-old. To the best of my knowledge, he has yet to plan a series of meals, go to the grocery store one time to get needed ingredients, make the food, and clean things up afterwards. Even when he says, “give me a list,” and I do, he will only come back with at best 1/3 of the things. And he believes that he has “cleaned” if he’s put his dishes in the sink and left everything else lying out. We’ve done some recipes together and I was quietly astonished when he didn’t know the difference between liquid and dry measures at first. He’s improving, but anything related to the kitchen… I have no idea how he survived his post-college single years. I have to believe that he ate out all the time.

    Also on a life skills list, albeit one that I’m very shaky on myself– do your kids know how to change a tire? Drill a hole in a wall? Spray a wasp’s nest? Change the battery in a smoke detector? Climb a ladder safely? Change a lock? Fix a slow-draining sink? Reset a circuit breaker? Deal with a car that’s sliding on ice or stuck in snow? Properly wash a car by themselves?

  13. Homa Lewis

    Loved this post even though my kids are grown and parents themselves. Each of my kids finished high school knowing how to do laundry, clean a kitchen and bathroom, load and empty a dishwasher, shop for food, cook some basic dishes, check the air in their tires, jump start a car, and order in a restaurant. My younger daughter even knew how to replace her car’s battery. This made her very popular in college!

  14. elembee123

    Life Lessons/Skills is one of my hills to die on! Everyone needs to know how to do laundry, fold fitted sheets 😄, wash/dry dishes, put gas in their car (my 1st experience as a 16 yr old was a bit nerve wracking!), change a tire, use basic tools (screwdriver, pliers, etc), clean house, sew on a button, iron, etc.
    But I’m also going to add basic banking skills (how to write a check/balance a checkbook/reconcile a bank statement), and Study Skills as things I think all humans need to learn at some point.
    Basic banking skills: I remember very vividly my Algebra teacher my freshman year in high school (yes, I know they teach Algebra in Kindergarten now; I’m old) handing out sheets of copied blank checks and teaching us how to write checks. Then she had us balance a checkbook register and finally reconcile a bank statement. Seems silly, right? When my mom died, she still could not reconcile her bank account(s) to save her neck and was consistently making overage errors because she couldn’t keep track of what was in her account. I remember thinking, “MOM! Just use the blank form thingy they include in your statement! It’s all spelled out there step by step!” But she just couldn’t get the hang of it; it intimidated her. She would have benefitted from a simple banking skills lesson. (I tried to teach her, but by then she felt that she was too old to get it. ARGH!)
    (I also realize most young people nowadays do their banking/bill paying online, or with credit/debit cards, but there are instances where check writing is a needed skill – paying rent, etc.)
    Study skills: This one drives me crazy because I wish I had been given a chance to learn HOW to study more effectively! I struggled mightily in school because I didn’t know other study methods were available. So I did the only thing I knew how to do – Outlining. Turns out, it’s not the best method for my learning style, which I didn’t figure out until I went back to school as an adult. Flash cards and motion (walking around while I went through my flash card decks) for me all the way!
    My daughter took a Study Skills class as an elective in 8th grade. In this class they covered a large variety of study methods (outlining, brain mapping, flash cards, mnemonics, etc) and actually used them in other classes as assignments to see which ones worked best for each student. They learned how to effectively outline, how to write essays, how to do book reports, how to use the library’s research tools, and on and on! It helped her figure out which methods worked for her and which didn’t. She learned how to make effective use of her time (study for 20 mins, take a break for 5, study for 20, take a break, etc). And she used the skills from this one-off class throughout her school career until she graduated from college. It made a huge difference for her, and if I were the king of the forest it would be a mandatory class at some point in grade school…most likely junior high.
    *cough* Apparently I have a lot of feelings on this topic! (Sorry for the lengthy comment!)

  15. Dawn

    How about how to use a phone book? How to address an envelope, put a stamp on it, and then get it into the mail?

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