Free New Summer Reading Challenge Printables For Your Family

When my kids were little, we went to the library every week during the summer for the special Summer Reading Program they offered. This kept our boys excited about books and they loved the opportunity they had to win small prizes and meet challenges.

As most of our boys hit the upper grades and outgrew the library program, I saw that our younger two boys needed a little extra motivation to read during the weeks of summer they were home. (Our older two are welcome to participate also, but they tend to be gone more than they are home during June and July.) So we started creating our own Summer Reading Challenge here at home. I set up a simple reward system – tailor made to what I knew would motivate them! I wrote about this last year and offered some free printables. This year, I made more to share with you!

For you, Summer Reading Challenge Printables

Create Your Own Summer Reading Challenge

I’ll share how our family sets this up, then of course you can adapt it to meet your needs if the Summer Reading Challenge idea works for you!

1. Set up a system.

Decide how many minutes or hours your child needs to read before he/she earns a reward. Do the minutes/hours count if the child is being read to, or do they need to read on their own? How will you keep track of time spent reading? (I recommend using these charts!)

2. Talk to your child(ren) about what rewards would be fun motivation for them.

Our kids earn a prize after they have read for five hours. Typically our family’s prizes get a little bigger as they read more and more hours. Here are a few our kids came up with that they would enjoy:

  • Redbox movie rental
  • $1 ice cream cone from Runza
  • Choose something from the Dollar Store
  • Invite a friend for a sleep-over
  • $2 Happy Hour Big Pizza Slice at Pizza Hut
  • Drink from Captain Red Beard’s (our local coffee shop)
  • Still brainstorming :)

3. Put it all into a chart.

My oldest boys don’t care about a cutesy chart to log their hours, but Malachi (age 11) still enjoys one. (However, even the older boys need to at least log their hours in a notebook so they don’t lose track.) The rewards are usually listed on our fridge.

This year, Malachi will use the Pirate Chart I made. (For some reason he didn’t choose the Flowers and Butterflies Chart?!?)

Free Summer Reading Challenge Printable Charts

I’ve made these charts as generic as possible so that you can use them in whatever way your family prefers. The Pirate Chart and the Flowers and Butterflies Chart can be used a little differently than the others that are for writing lists and checking off goals. Consider writing prizes on each cut-out piece for your child to glue onto the chart once they’ve earned that particular prize.

Grab your free printables!

These are free for everyone and will connect you to our fun Heavenly Homemaker’s Learning Zone. It’s free, of course.

Enter your email address here, then check your inbox for download instructions. Print one, print them all, use them in whatever ways work best for your family to enjoy reading this summer!

If you are already subscribed to Heavenly Homemaker’s Learning Zone, you should have received an email yesterday giving you instant access to this freebie. Look in your inbox for the subject: FREE Summer Reading Challenge Charts!

A Day in the Life ~ Homeschooling Older Kids and Teenagers

Many have requested that I share what life is like for our family now that our kids are older. What is our homeschool routine? How is it that as the kids got older and more independent, Mom actually got busier? What does a day in our life look like?

Today, I took pictures and notes all day long. I’ve documented our Wednesday as best I can. Why today? I chose today because I finally remembered the post request this morning and decided to started taking pictures (and you thought I was so organized). You’ll notice that most of the pictures don’t include the kids. It’s a teenage thing and I respect it. I now present to you over 20 {mostly} kidless pictures.

After all, what could be more fun than looking at a picture of our overflowing compost bucket??

First I’ll fill you in on who we are – then I’ll share the specifics of our life today:

Matt and I are self-employed. I’m a writer-blogger (hi!); Matt runs a variety of businesses from snow removal/lawn care to rental property management to handyman/construction. Every work day is different for us based on the current deadlines and to-do lists. We tag-team the needs of the kids and needs of the household.

Our boys are now 18, 15 (almost 16), 14, and 11.

Asa (18) is a college freshman, living on campus at our local Christian college and juggling a very full academic and social life. Justus (15) is a high school sophomore; Elias (14) is an eighth grader; Malachi (11) is a fifth grader. So in summary, we have one in college, one in high school, one in middle school, and one in elementary. (And I question why I can’t keep up.)

Family Christmas Pic

For me, today began as it usually does with a cup of coffee and my Bible. I got up later than I meant to (whatever though, I needed sleep) – so that cut into my quiet time as Matt got the boys moving for the day.


The boys are typical teenagers, which means the first thing they like to do in the morning is grab their ipods from the living room table to see what they missed while they were sleeping. Sometimes I hate ipods and want to run them over with my car (like when the boys are so zoned into them they don’t hear me telling them to load the dishwasher or that the house is on fire). But this is our culture and this is how they keep up with their people and make plans, so I try to be okay with this (while still setting boundaries). After a few minutes, ipods stayed in the living room as the boys headed to the kitchen to find breakfast.


Everyone warmed up their own leftover French toast or pancakes and grabbed applesauce and/or blueberries. Matt read to us from the book of Romans as we ate. Today we ate in a hurry because Justus and Malachi had to be at their piano lessons at 9:00.


Teeth brushed, the two boys packed their piano books along with some school work so that while one boy was having his lesson, the other boy could read or do English. In the meantime, Elias tried to sneak back onto his ipod (as I pictured it being crushed under the van tire) and then got scooted upstairs to do his English lesson. Then, since he was the only boy home, he got on the computer to do his Algebra.

I used the quiet time to start writing this post, then shopped online to order Justus’ birthday presents and made a grocery list off

Matt took his truck to have the tires worked on, and they finished just in time for him to pick up the boys from piano. Good thing since I was still in my jammies. ;)


Once home, Justus went straight back to the school computer to work on his music. Malachi and Elias started playing soccer in the living room. (It’s winter. I don’t own knick-knacks. THEY WERE GETTING ALONG. Carry on, boys.)



What? Don’t you have a soccer goal by your front door?

I sent Elias in to empty half the dishwasher. Malachi played the piano for a while, then I sent him off to do his reading. Elias and Malachi began working on a video project together, while still getting along. Justus was working on Geometry on the computer. I finished tweaking an article to send into our local newspaper (I write a weekly column) and suddenly needed food. It was only 11:00, but I am always hungry for lunch earlier than anyone else. (I eat an earlier breakfast, plus I’m more of a five-meals-a-day kind of eater.)


I warmed up Taco Soup (working on a recipe for you!) and got out guacamole, carrots, and clementines.


Around noon, everyone else was hungry too, so they dug in. They chose kiwi instead of clementines. While they ate, I read aloud from our latest missionary book.



Lunch over, I had to head to Walmart to get ink for my computer so I could get a printed curriculum in the mail. I grabbed some price-match items while I was there, then ran to pick up Malachi’s buddy to hang out for the afternoon. While I was out, Justus completed his Physics and did some English and History reading. Elias read English and Science. Malachi completed his math assignment.


Once I got home, Justus finished cleaning out the dishwasher, Malachi loaded it with dirty dishes, and the rest of us put groceries away.


At 1:55 Matt, Elias, Malachi, and his friend headed out the door for an indoor soccer session. On the way, they dropped Justus off at the college campus for the 2:00 MWF Psychology class he’s taking. (You can read here about how we get dual high school and college credits for our kids.) I settled in for exactly 45 minutes of quiet work time before I needed to leave to pick Justus up from his class.

Everyone was back home by 3:15. I spent a silly amount of time on the phone tracking down a package that hadn’t been delivered. The boys found snacks to eat. Elias and Justus did their Spanish lessons on the computer. Malachi hung out with his friend. I closed my office door to write this post. :)

I checked on the boys a while later and found the door to the back room closed up tight. Why?? Usually it’s open a crack, but when it’s closed like this, it usually means “I’m recording so don’t walk in until I’m done or you’ll ruin everything!”


What are the boys working on in there? Well, Justus and Elias currently have four big music/video projects they are working on with their church friends. Our church is hosting a Youth Rally coming up in February, and videos are a must; plus the boys need to complete some videos for LTC – a leadership event coming up in April. They’ve spent hours the past few weeks (some on their own and some with as many from the youth group who can help out) writing lyrics and scripts, creating beats and tunes, recording voices, videoing the action, and editing their work to put it all together. I can’t tell you how much I love them doing this.


I snuck into the room later to take a picture of what is our “recording studio”/school-computer room/Matt’s office/guest room. The boys invested in that fancy microphone you see there, and Matt and I got them the mic stand and pop filter for Christmas.

The rest of the afternoon passed with me hiding in my office trying to get some work done. I hollered out at one point for each boy to scrub four potatoes for dinner. I came out of my office around 5:00 and made a big pot of Potato Soup. I had the boys work together on sides of sweet peppers, olives, raspberries, and pickles.

We headed out the door at 6:20 for Wednesday evening Bible study. At 8:15 we were back home, joined by a young couple who is getting married this March. Matt and I visited with them (pre-marital counseling/mentoring) until around 10:15. During that time the boys were sent upstairs to fold and put away the huge laundry pile. Once they finished that, they hung out in the back room and watched netflix until 10:00 when we headed them up to bed.


Now it is 10:54 and I am wrapping this up and calling it a day. Thursdays usually require a little less running around compared to Wednesdays, though the two middle boys have basketball practice tomorrow night. Never a dull moment.

So how was your day? Have you found your schedule changing as your kids get older?

Provide and Protect ~ a Prayer For My Children

Provide and Protect - a Prayer For My Children

It used to be me. Or so I thought.

When they were little, I was the one who provided everything they needed and protected them from anything that might hurt them. I set up their routines and walked them away from situations that were too much for their young hearts to handle. I set the boundaries, set the stage, set out the activities. I said yes, said no, said too much, said too little, said things wrong, said things right, and said it will all be okay. I was in charge. I was in control. I was the one.

Or so I thought.

They’re big now. They are amazing and skilled and smart and fun, and one by one, they are launching. Their steps are becoming their own; their thoughts and behaviors are less and less a result of my commands and instruction and more and more a brave leap of their own long-legged independence.

My prayer is no longer crafted out of the ideas on my own heart. Recognition of truth has left me with very few words. I know little about tomorrow. You are the One who knows your Kingdom plans for my kids. I’m simply the one whose heart longs for their good and for their walk to be on the path you’ve carved for them.

I’m not who I once thought I was.

I’m not their provider. I’m not their protector. I’m a huge part of their life on this earth, but I’m only their mother. I’m the one God gave them to show them love and guidance. But you, God. You are the One who knows what they need and how to provide.

This is what I ask of you:


Protect them, Lord. Protect them from people who do not have their best interests in mind, from people who are self-seeking and heartless, from people who will hurt them.

Protect them from apathy. Protect them from becoming self-centered, self-seeking, self-deprecating, and self-motivated. Provide them the heart to lay aside self in order to seek You.


Provide for them, Lord. Provide people to encourage and hold them accountable, to build them up and make them stronger, to inspire and challenge them to be more like Christ. It takes a village. Build it strong and high and full.

Provide my children with confidence and skill, tools and words to get themselves out of any situation that would be harmful to them in any way. Provide them with the confidence to do right and strength to flee from wrong.

Provide everything they need, because You are the One who knows precisely what that means.

Do what I cannot do. I trust you with my children.

Thank you for the blessing and honor of being Mom to my sons. How cool of you to give me my four favorites. How wise of you to grow me along with them. How gentle of you to hold us so gracefully. How perfect of you to love us so consistently.

To my boys:

“I pray that you, being rooted and established in love,  may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ,  and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” Ephesians 3:17-19


An Open Letter From My 42 Year-Old Self To My 28 Year Old Self Who Is About to Begin Homeschooling

Dear Much Younger Me,

How I wish we could sit for a while with a cup of coffee and chat about this homeschooling journey you are about to begin! That won’t work though because you are me – 14 years ago – and for some strange reason, you don’t like coffee yet. I do not understand this.

iced coffee

If it was possible, I would love to tell you a few things. First this:

You really, really need to chill out. I mean, your uber thorough lesson plans are adorable, but take a look at that baby’s face and realize that hello?! He’s five. I know he seems old to you because the others are so much smaller. But he’s not big – he’s little. He does not need to sit still for that long and workbooks for boys are almost always a disaster. I know you’ll figure this out by boy number 2, so God bless the oldest child. But really. Long school days with all the subjects and all the books and all the projects – they are too much. Your stress isn’t blessing your children. Keep plugging along for the next 13 years of his schooling, and I guarantee that while there will be holes in his education because there always are for every single kid in the entire whole wide everywhere, he is going to be prepared for adulthood. History is history, so if he doesn’t catch it now, he will catch it eventually because you teach it over and over, year after year. The same goes for science – and pretty much everything else you teach from K to 12. He’ll get it. In the meantime, if you could just reeeeeeeelaaaaaaaaaaax.

Now this one is important, so listen up real hard: The “ideal” almost never happens. In fact, what you can pretty much count on is that at the very moment you have gathered your chicks around you on the floor to learn something fabulous about the Bible or about the weather or about the water cycle…someone will have to poop. Please stop being angry about this and trying to figure out what you are doing wrong with your schedule. Poop happens and toddlers melt down and phones ring and UPS men knock on the door (usually all at the same time but it is okay because when you are weak, then you are strong).

It’s mostly best to stop listening to what everyone else is doing. Every once in a while, what you hear or see inspires you. But most of the time, it stabs you with guilt over everything you’re not doing. (Don’t even get me started about the Pinterest of the future.) The boys don’t need to do what everyone else is doing. They need to do what you – their mama – decides they need to do. Seek God’s direction and listen only to His voice.

You will love every single moment of homeschooling…except for all the moments that you don’t. You’ll feel bad for not loving all of it. I sure wish you wouldn’t. I wish you could see that all the stuff you consider to be a failure each day is really a big part of your kids’ success. This is what real life is made of. So when the day doesn’t go perfectly, recognize that you are teaching your kids to be normal adults who face and handle normal life situations. This…is success.

Most of what you think is important now really isn’t. Godly discipleship and training matters 10,000 times more than memorizing dates on a timeline. Of course you will often think you are failing at the boys’ spiritual training even more than their schooling, but remember God’s bigness. As long as you are in communion with your Savior and seeking his guidance, forgiveness, and recognizing His grace – oh dear one. That’s all you need to be doing. The kids will learn to seek Him too. Keep bringing Him into the conversation often – in the car, when talking about situations with friends, when shopping, when teaching, when cooking, when cleaning – all of it. Make God a part of every part.

You know how you’ve watched other families serve with their kids? Do that. The school work will get done because you are diligent and you understand the importance of self-discipline in learning and education. But truly, let service to others trump the rest of the to-do list. Keep teaching the boys to love God and love others.

They are going to grow up and become young men with weaknesses. Do not despair at this. Understand the power of God at work in their lives. Through their weaknesses, God will be at work in ways you can’t even imagine right now since they are so little. When they are teenagers you will watch in amazement at how God is growing them to become leaders for Him. You’ll see more than ever that God loves these boys and that your job is to trust Him. Like, really trust Him. Stop thinking that you must be perfect, or else. They are His – and His ways are perfect.

14 years from today, you will move your oldest into his dorm room with joy and tears. You will hug him and tell him you love him, and he has grown so tall that he has to practically stoop to his knees to hug you back. You will be amazed. You will watch in wonder at all God has done to grow your family. You will love this. Just you wait.

In the meantime, breathe in the faces of those babies, Mama. Take a lot of pictures. They are precious. While you can’t fathom it, your love for these boys will grow even more fierce. Yes, it is actually possible.

Enjoy your homeschooling journey, Mama.

These days are rich and exhausting, delightful and baffling, overwhelming and glorious. Breathe deeply and keep God first. You are going to survive this beautifully, because God equips and prepares His children. Trust Him.

Freely enjoy peace in Jesus.

Your 42 Year-Old Self

P.S. Maybe I shouldn’t spoil the surprise, but your future grocery bill is going to blow your mind. Enjoy the fact that they can all now share one apple for a snack and be full. This will make you laugh out loud in a few years (we call that lol, but I don’t have time to go into all of that).


Hey, I’ve got something for you. It’s free. And it’s fun. I promise.
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Some Of Our Favorite Books

This post was originally posted in October, 2013. Our kids are older now but this list of books is still our favorite!

Books, books, the magical fruit. The more you read, the more you…

Oh wait. Wrong poem.  Sometimes I get confused. Although I’m sure if I threw that poem starter out to my boys, they’d be sure to finish it with something creative. And by creative, I mean gross.

I am excited to share that all four of our boys are now all independent readers. It was a little slow in coming for our youngest, who is now a 3rd grader. But late this summer, it all clicked for him. He now loves reading! Last week he said, “I can’t believe math used to be my favorite. Now reading is so much fun!”  Awesome – just what I love to hear. (Although you still have to do your math, Buddy.)


Our Family’s Favorite Books

Boxcar Children Books
These books were some of my favorites when I was little. (You know I had my very own boxcar, right? Okay, it wasn’t my very own.  I shared it with my cousins.)  All of our boys have loved the Boxcar Children books, and now I am reading them to Malachi (age 8). Elias (age 11) has already read most of these books, but sits in to listen when he can, because who can resist?


Ralph Moody Books

We read through most of the books in this series (as a family) a year ago, and now I’m having my two older boys read the last few on their own. What I love most about these books is that they show how important it is to be a hard worker, how much fun it can be to work together as a family, and how if you put your mind to it – you can always find a way to provide. I am so inspired by these books, and my boys love the adventure aspect they include.

Books by Clyde Robert Bulla

These are the first chapter books our boys have read. We have about eight of them on Malachi’s shelf this year – and he’s made his way through two of them already. I love that Clyde Robert Bulla keeps his vocabulary simple and easy to read – all while teaching history and making his books fun and intriguing.  When I pulled these books out for Malachi, all three of his brothers said, “Oh, he gets to read those this year? Malachi, you will love them.”  I love hearing the boys talk together about books they’ve all read.


Ramona the Pest Series

Malachi pulled his first Ramona book off the shelf this year, too. So far he’s loving it, just like his brothers did. I read this series several times when I was younger. It’s so much fun re-reading these books with my kids.


Christian Heroes Books

I can’t say enough good about all of the Christian Heroes: Then and Now books by Janet and Geoff Benge. We’ve actually decided to use about 15 of these books this year to go along with our History/Geography studies with Justus, Elias, and Malachi. What better way to study the culture and history of a country than to learn about missionaries who worked there? These books are so well written and inspiring!

I also have to share that as we reach the end of each book, Justus (age 13) likes to point out, “You know Mom, this is the chapter when the missionary dies and you cry.”  Pshaw.  Okay, fine. So I cry at the end of all of these (and the Ralph Moody Books, and just about every other book I read aloud to the boys). I can’t help it.


In addition to these sets of books, our three older boys are all reading lots of books from the Sonlight reading lists for their grade level. Asa (a junior in high school) is reading some Shakespeare, C.S. Lewis, The Hiding Place (you MUST read this!), and quite a few others Sonlight recommends.

What books are you and your kids reading these days?  I know I’m not the only mom who cries at the end of a good book. Help me out here – do you get choked up when you’re reading books to your kids?


So…What Are the Cake Boys Up to Now?

Remember the Cake Boys? That series of videos, started by our little boys, was the beginning of what has become a passion of theirs: video and music creation.

cake boys

In fact, Asa (who is now 18) plans to make a career of videography. His chosen college major is Business Communication, which will guide him in the right direction for pursuing his own business as a videographer. He continues to learn, experiment, and develop his talent. He researched and used some of his savings to purchase a very nice camera as well as professional video editing software. The guy is well on his way. He even has his first professional video job later this summer (filming and editing a wedding video). Skies are the limit with how he can use his creativity in videography.

And Justus? He’s 15 now and while he also loves creating videos, he has also discovered a bigger passion and talent for music. He is taking both piano and guitar lessons, and he loves singing. Even more, he is gifted with the ability to compose music sound tracks on FL Studio – music creation software Matt found and invested in for the boys a few years ago.

Elias (13) and Malachi (10) join in with both music and video creation from time to time. We are anxious to see how God continues to grow all of the boys and develop their talents.

Cake Boys videos have given way to several varieties of videos – both fun and serious.

It amazes me. I cry like I’m their mom every time I watch something they create.

Here are two of their recent “Ace Video” productions, now being shown in Asa’s YouTube account.

NOTE TO PARENTS: The first video below, called “Refresh” was created with kids in our youth group to encourage and refresh a large gathering of teens we hosted for a youth rally at our church back in January. The struggles addressed in this video are real to life and important. However, some of the content is a little bit heavy for young viewers, so please use discretion. Matt and I are actually featured in this video (oh my) and you can be assured that nothing is actually being smoked. Video editing software is amazing, which makes the cigs look very real (oh my). I told you you’d need to use discretion. The video is powerful and had a huge impact at the youth rally. Note the sound track, as it was created completely by Justus, specifically to fit this video.


Below is the boys’ most recent video in which they took four of their favorite songs and recreated them into a music video “mashup.” No viewer discretion needed on this one! It’s awesome, music fun!

Brothas C Mashup

I’m offering you this show-and-tell for two reasons:

1. Many have asked about the Cake Boys. Sniff (and rejoice) along with me that the little boys in those videos are not little boys any more, but are instead becoming young men working for the Lord and following His leading. We get quite a kick out of watching the boys’ first video attempts – hearing their young boy voices that are now such deep manly voices. Now you know what the Cake Boys are up to these days!

2. I want to encourage you to be excited – as we are – to watch God develop the talents in your children as they grow. Not sure what your kids’ talents are? Pray. Ask God to bring them to light in His time, then watch Him do His work. You will be amazed at what our Father will do. Be prepared to foster your child’s talents, but most of all – be at peace, resting in the truth that the Lord will do His work.

Happy Gratituesday, by the way! I’d love for you to leave a comment to share what God is doing in your life – specifically in the lives of your children if you are a parent.

How I Plan To Keep My Kids Reading This Summer

All four of our boys enjoy reading. However, we often find that summertime lends itself to a more flexible or on-the-go schedule which sometimes makes us forget about important activities like reading books (and combing hair).

Last summer we tried offering a fun reading challenge that worked amazingly well. Why wouldn’t it? There were rewards involved.

How did it work? We kept it simple. For every five hours each child read, they received a reward. These were inexpensive and sometimes even free. But they are rare treats for our kids – so they picked up a book frequently.

Keep The Kids Reading This Summer

This summer, our three older boys will be gone more than they are home (mission trip, church camp, church camp, and church camp). During the few weeks they are home, they will be more than welcome to take part in this. However, it is our 10 year-old that is really diving in and taking the challenge. Summer Reading Challenge

I created a fun chart for Malachi – which he promptly put on the fridge. (Again, the other boys will take part too – they just don’t have enough weeks during the summer to warrant a chart.)

Here are some of the rewards we’re offering for 5 hours of reading time:

  • Pick a movie from Redbox.
  • Get an ice cream cone from Runza (89¢ – yes, I can handle that
  • Pick something from the dollar store
  • Go to Captain Red Beard’s with Mom (this is our local coffee shop)
  • Lego surprise ($4.00 mini-figure) You wouldn’t believe how much this motivates Malachi to get to the 5th week of reading 5 hours (25 hours total).
  • Choose a meal for Mom or Dad to make
  • Choose a dessert for Mom or Dad to make
  • Choose a board game (from our stash) for a family game night

If by chance Malachi reads more than five hours in a week, he will be allowed to move on to “the next week.” This chart is flexible because our summer is flexible.

I created two “open” charts for you to download, print, and fill in with rewards that will motivate your own kids if you like.

Summer Reading Challenge Printable Download and Print Summer Reading Challenge Printable 1

Summer Reading Challenge Printable 2

Download and Print Summer Reading Challenge Printable 2

Below is a chart without the “weeks” filled in so that you can make it work to meet your needs:

Summer Reading Challenge Blank 2

Download and Print Summer Reading Challenge Blank Printable

How do your kids do with reading in the summertime? Do they need extra motivation or do they naturally pick up a book and go for it?

6 (Dozen) Ways I’m Going to Keep My Kids Busy This Summer

We usually begin our school year the first week of August and finish the final week of April. Do you know what this means? This means our family has only one week of school left for this year! Summer break, here we come!

schools out

Raise your hand if you feel like I do: Summer break is really for mothers and teachers. The kids think it’s for them. They have no idea.  #lovehomeschooling #needabreather

Our older boys have big plans for several weeks this summer to go on a state-side mission trip and then to attend several weeks of church camp. We’ll go swimming as much as possible (hello, sunshine, I love you so much ~ xoxoxo). We have a family reunion around the 4th of July. We have friends visiting from out of state part of June/July. How is there any time free to do anything other than be on the run (and in the sun ~ xoxoxo)?

Oh trust me. There’s time. See, it’s my 10 year old and my 13 year old that have more downtime than the others. They spend time with friends and help out around the house, but I find it beneficial to…shall we say…put a little routine and creativity into their downtime. Otherwise my 13 year old who shall remain nameless would either:

  • find ways to torture his 10 year old brother which will thus torture me or
  • try to get away with sitting in a chair with his iPod playing games all the live long day.

The summer break rule is: No electronics until after 3pm and then there is a time limit (which varies depending on the day). What’s to keep the boys from getting on each other’s nerves? Oh just look at the ways…

6 Dozen Ways I Plan to Keep My Kids Busy This Summer

1. Summer Reading Challenge

We did this last summer and the boys loved it. Prizes for reading? What’s not to love? I’m working on another blog post to share all the (very inexpensive) details of this fun challenge. Stay tuned.

2. Service Challenge

With school work set aside, there are more opportunities to look outward. The boys will be serving at church camp with us later this summer, but while we’re home I plan to have them jot ideas and be on the look-out for ways they can help others. Will there be prizes for this like in our Reading Challenge? No. But sometimes “coming up with and executing as many ideas as we can” is incentive enough for my competitive boys. Hey, whatever helps them learn to see other people’s needs.

I got the idea when looking through the Ultimate Homemaking Bundle to have my 10 year old serve by putting together some of the pre-school printable activities for a 3 year-old buddy of his. Since we won’t be using these particular bundle items for ourselves, it’s just fine for us to share them with one friend. My favorites included in the bundle for this are:

  • Preschool Alphabet Packet
  • Pocket Chart Calendar Bundle
  • Animal ABCs Bundle

You can check out the specifics of each of those here. Why not have Malachi print, cut, package, and prepare these fun games and activities for his buddy? Besides, this mama might be a little nostalgic since there are no little boys left in this house to use those great items. So this is a way I could still get my hands on them. (Look at me – making service projects all about myself.)

kids service

3. Host Friends

I love that the boys are old enough to make plans with friends and execute the plans without much help from me. They can come up with activities like Movie Nights, Cook Outs, Flag Football, Watermelon Feed, Blow Up a Bunch of Money in our Yard (otherwise known as come over after church on Wednesday night during 4th of July week and bring whatever fireworks you want to shoot off) – the ideas are endless. We love it when the boys invite their friends over. The more, the merrier. Just keep the door closed so the mosquitoes won’t come in.

4. Get Creative in the Kitchen

I have found that summer break is the perfect time to let my boys tinker around with fun recipe ideas. It’s not always food, either. Sometimes they make non-edibles like homemade modeling clay or flubber. Or they make funky popsicles. Or they do something weird with chocolate bars or cheese sticks. Whatever gets them creative and keeps them busy.

Since I got so many neat new recipe and food eBooks in this year’s Ultimate Homemaking Bundle (available for only three more days, by the way), I’m printing some out that I know they’ll really like. My top three right now are:

  • Coffee Filters to Cheese Graters
    I am in love with this book. I’m learning tons of tricks for how to creatively use my muffin tins and cookie scoops (and many other kitchen gadgets too). Talk about creative, fun, and easy. Brownie Pops with a cookie scoop? Yes, my boys are going to love this book.
  • Not Just Tacos
    The beauty of this book is that it not only includes many authentic Latin American recipes, it has beautiful pictures and wonderfully laid out and fun to read facts about Latin American countries. My 13 year old loves reading facts like this, and he likes recipes. This book is a win-win for him.
  • Supercharged Food for Kids
    This one has great recipes kids will love. And if your kids are older like mine, they can make many of the recipes on their own.

kids kitchen

5. Craft Projects

My 13 year-old is very much not into making crafts. However, my 10 year-old very much is – crafts of the boy variety, that is. He tinkers with scraps of wood or cardboard, makes gadgets with clay or pipecleaners – he just likes to build and create. This is why the free Green Kid Crafts kit we got in the homemaking bundle is so perfect for him (and for girls, too). We are considering continuing the subscription if he works through this first one and we feel it is worth it. Beyond that, I’ll keep throwing out the popsicle sticks an duct tape as needed. :)

I may consider starting my 13 year-old on the Craftsy Photography class we got free with the bundle (instead of saving it for the next school year). You should know that you can also pick a cake decorating class, a sewing class, a card making class, a knitting class, and many others you and your kids may be more interested in.

6. Board Games

Our family loves games and has shelves full of them. During the school year, it’s hard to find time to play. I cannot wait to pull out our favorites and make up for lost time.


As you can see, the ideas within each of the ideas are limitless. And if boredom still creeps in, there are always windows to wash and gardens to hoe.

(The bundle sale is over now. If you want to be sure to be informed of other sales and great deals in the future, sign up to receive our free daily newsletter~)

How are you planning to keep your kids busy and productive this summer?

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Malachi’s Lego Party On the Cheap

How to Host a Lego Party (on the cheap!)

Malachi has been planning and dreaming of a Lego party with his friends for no less than two years now. We didn’t schedule it in though, because I figure, why act in haste? Also, there is the fact that planning and throwing parties is really not my gift and I very much do not enjoy it. As a result, every few hours during the past 730 days, Malachi would throw out a new Lego party idea to which I would respond with a look on my face as if he had just suggested we go lick the spoons of people who were currently running high fevers.

Poor kid. Such great ideas. Such a boring, non-party type mom. 714 days after Malachi’s party planning brainstorming began, I finally got over myself. He and I sat down, looked on Pinterest, found some fun ideas, and got to work. Surely there would be a way to make a Lego party fun, but keep it simple and inexpensive. Yes, indeed. (For the record, there are also many ways to make it complicated, elaborate, and spendy – just in case you feel like the 8 and 9 year old boys in your life will appreciate all the time you spent coloring individual, personalized placemats and notice all the tiny details on a cake which you have carved and decorated into a replica of a life-size Lego spaceship.)

One of Malachi’s biggest desires for his party was that we have a piñata. We agreed to fill the piñata with some of the Legos from his collection that could be played with together once the piñata broke open. Cost? Free. (Okay fine. Already paid for.)  We also agreed that it was a wise idea to put the Lego pieces into a ziplock bag so that they wouldn’t fly all over the yard with the final blow of the piñata.

Did you know that it’s very possible to make a Lego-looking piñata out of one shoe box, 8 bottle lids, and three pieces of tissue paper? Malachi decided I was a genius for thinking of this. I had to agree (with great humility.)

lego party 3

Who doesn’t love putting on a blind fold and swinging at air? Every boy got exactly two turns each, and then…

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…the rope I had strung through it popped out and the piñata flew into the grass. Did you know that if you blind fold a child, give him a wooden sword, and set him lose in the yard, he will eventually make his way to said piñata and give it a whack? We thought that was perhaps a better plan that having Asa hold the piñata in the air while the kids swung the sword. (You’re welcome, Asa.)

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We spent a few dollars on colored sacks, cups, and plates. My artistic ability is very limited, but drawing Lego people faces on cups I managed to pull off well enough.

lego party 1

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I am well aware that little boys at parties are not super interested in “come on to the table, children, and let’s make a craft!”  Still – Malachi and I thought it would be fun for everyone to make a personalized container for their Lego projects at home. 94¢ per container, plus some stickers and contact paper? No problem.

lego party 2

The boys had lots of fun and turned out great Lego storage containers. I’m very sure that now that they have these, they will each and every one do a very good job picking up all of their Legos after working on a project so no one in their households will ever step on a Lego. Again. Ever.

lego party 10

Party food included popcorn served out of a very thoroughly washed Lego bucket, and pieces of pizza that tried very hard to look like 1 by 2 Lego blocks.

lego party 11

See the jar full of Legos below? Each kid wrote down guesses as to how many Legos he thought filled the jar. The boy who guessed the closest got to take the first swing at the piñata. In case you ever need to know the following recipe conversion:  128 Legos equals 1 quart.

lego party 4

And possibly my favorite free game/activity:  Malachi gathered all of the pieces of two small Lego sets. He divided them evenly into 10 plastic eggs. Our older boys hid the eggs around the yard, then the party goers got to enjoy participating in a L-egg-o Hunt. It was super fun!  Once all the L-egg-o’s had been found, the boys worked together to put the sets together.

lego party 7

Malachi was flying high the entire week. Planning, creating, and executing the party was so much fun for him. I’m so thankful we were able to do this together. Maybe I shouldn’t wait so many hundreds of days next time to work with him on a fun project like this?

lego party 6

But wouldn’t you know it. Our party guests had been gone precisely 3.75 minutes when Malachi, gleam in his eye, asked, “So when should we have the next Lego party?”

Asa’s First Few Days in Ecuador

I mentioned a few days ago that our oldest son, Asa, is in Ecuador on a mission trip right now. It’s been fun to check our church Facebook page to see updates of the group’s work in Ecuador. Here are some pictures I grabbed to share…

This is the entire group of teens and sponsors. Asa is on the back row in a purple shirt.

asa ecuador 1

The first day, the men all worked to clear out brush and debris. Here’s Asa all decked out in work gear and eye protection, using what appears to be a machete. :)

asa ecuador 2

They seem to be quite proud of their work:

asa ecuador 4

Ah yes, now this is what I’m used to seeing:

asa ecuador 3

I loved seeing this next picture. Two of the girls are loving on some Ecuador children. If you look in the background, you’ll see Asa playing soccer with other kids. This was one of the activities he was really looking forward to doing while he was there. It was fun to see him in the midst of futbol with Ecuador children!

asa ecuador 5

If you care to pray for Asa and this group while they serve in Ecuador, we appreciate it. It’s great to see God at work in the lives of our teens!