Things to Buy Instead of Curriculum for the summer

So many things you can get for the summer don't let it be JUST a text book- Things to Buy Instead of Curriculum. List of lots of creative ideasAll school year long many children have written on sheets and used textbooks as their main source of learning. Depending on where you live in the world the summer break from school can be a slim 5 weeks to a crushing- what-are-we-going-to-do-with-them-for-10-weeks? The go to answer often is text book but what if there are many things to buy instead of curriculum?

Whatever your preference for summer work and summer fun here’s a list of things to buy instead of curriculum for the summer. These are things we’ve enjoyed, like the look of or want to do. Each of these things is a playful way of summer work without always going to the pencil and paper method.  I have a middle schooler and two elementary boys.

Things to Buy Instead of Curriculum

Bananagrams is a great grab and go game. We play it like scrabble and like to leave it on a table so we can add to it as the days goes. During the school year we often use it for a break from learning spelling by writing instead they need to find all the letters to make the word.

Quiddler  another game similar to scrabble. There are 8 rounds which means there is an end! There are cards and it’s really easy to use on trips in the car or waiting at a restaurant.

Things to Buy Instead of Curriculum | 10 days in Europe, Ticket to Ride Europe, Suburbia and Catan ( Seafarers shown)Ticket to ride Europe is a board game that’s a lot of fun getting to know places around Europe. The aim is to build routes from one city to another. Nice one for Geography. ( see it in action)

10 days in Europe  are you seeing a theme with Europe…? Few more rules but a lot geographical fun as you try and again travel around Europe by sea, air or car trying to link to each place in your hand. It’s a fun game with risk taking and strategy. There are others in this series.

Things to Buy Instead of Curriculum : Historical Conquest Card game Suburbia Plan and build your own city. I haven’t been keen on this one myself but the boys love it and said I needed to include it. Often they are quite cooperative and helpful with each other and other times ruthless.  A game where the youngest or oldest can shine! ( Never a bad thing when you have a group of children)

Any of the Catans: we were shown this by friends and it’s been a family favorite ever since. We have too many expansion packs and add ons to mention here ( We have many of them) They are all great in different ways. Although we love Seafearers and Settlers of America the most. Each game takes 2+ hours so this is played for a while.

Snap circuits junior There’s a book of ideas and very quickly they will try creating their own circuits. Who knew there could be so many combinations? It’s been a great calming activity especially after a busy day.

Agricola  New game that we’ve played a handful of times. The boys love it. I like that there aren’t lots of rules to remember and the game doesn’t last forever. We’ve used the two player version.

Things to Buy Instead of Curriculum for the summer | Hue Knew or Quoridor(Mindware) Hue Knew even though this is a junior game it is portable and it is easy to play with adults of children. It’s hard to say a color name when it in a different color. e.g. RED 

Quoridor is a fun strategy game for two players

Chinese checkers and Chess- share a small fold up dinner table. Perfect for playing over time.

Forbidden Island : We like this game on family night . You have to work together to get off the Forbidden island without sinking and coming a cropper!

Historical Conquest  I picked this up at a homeschool conference and we all love them! I just like looking at the history and the boys play them like all the other cards games like Magic. But there’s no magic it’s historical characters.

Maccano can’t beat the manipulatives of trying to make something stand or lift. There are so many different set that when you have a group you can mix and match.

Potato clock we’re fans of building one thing items like the potato clock because there’s a goal and something to end with. We’ve had the tin can robot too. Working within instructions is a good skill and while there was a lot of frustration the happiness at the end was worth it.

Lego  we just add and add to this year on year. They used to have a giant tub to share but now they are into different things we’re slowing building their own collections. During the summer they often combine forces for something epic.

Audiobooks from the Library use them for downtime and calm down activities as well as filling out a much loved book. At the moment the boys like to read half the series and listen to half the series on audio. It keeps them engaged.

Things to Buy Instead of Curriculum for the summer | Agricola + Forbidden island Watercolor paper There’s not been much opportunity for experimenting with watercolor at school and the boys have tried it a few times before so having the right type of heavy paper makes a difference. We’ve kept the paper to postcard size for experimenting on but there are many different sizes.

Prisma coloring pencils I started bible journaling this year as a New Year project and met and fell in love with these pencils. I’d never spent that much for pencils before and now I have a set I can see they are totally worth it. When we’re coloring, shading or doodling I share my pencils. Since then the boys have inherited a different set of coloring pencils that are better than the basic ones they had.

Large sheets of paper You can’t go wrong with lots of different sizes and types of paper. Their favourite is the huge butcher paper as it’s become part of a new game, a town, backdrop for LEGO, cut for Kites, shredded for paper mache and once some paper trousers!

Sakura Pigma Micron Pens in different sizes- we’ve been big fans of zentangle. Part of the fun of this type of work is using different sized pens to get the patterns you want. They’ve taken quotes, verses and titles and been really creative with pen sizes and not just color.

Space to leave things up like on a table or in a room or corner. Having a nook is a major plus during the summer. Games and activities can develop over time when you can leave them out. Long games eventually end and you’ll find your children standing over games and activities planning their next move.

There are so many other things like outdoor activities and STEM projects to add but we have to stop somewhere. Some of the links in this post are affiliate links.

Leave a comment below with your go to things to buy instead of curriculum.

Overhauling reading when they read just one type of book

Getting the children to read is a step but getting them to read a range of books is another matter.  It’s been my fault. Once I raised a reader I think I just assumed with all these books around they would read a range of them.

I see they don’t.

I know it doesn’t happen to every reader but for some readers once they find an author or book series they can get stuck there. While I’m happy I have boys who read and love to read there’s definitely more to this reading journey than cul-de-sacs.

Pin and save for when they get stuck reading one type of book. One way to change.

Although we read there’s more to explore just up and over the horizon. As their guide, I need to guide.

The care is to not switch them off to books by forcing them to read also not give the impression it’s wrong to read everything by an author or a series. I guess  it comes down to this: you can’t say you don’t like animal books if you’ve never read one. Once you’ve read an animal book now you can tell me why you don’t like that one.

Here’s one idea we’ve done as a family to try and bring some diversity into our range of books.

[Read more…]

Back to School: Family Values for the Month


Starting with family values as you start the school year. Let's get talking!

Family values help glue our families together. Yet we don’t often talk about it openly within our family or to our children. Our children learn our values from seeing what we do and watching others. It’s not until we see something happen right before our eyes that we realize that maybe we haven’t shared this value very well. A lot of what happens within family we just hope the children will just pick it up, get it and do it. The conversation though is what counts.

This school year we’re taking a closer look at character and values. We’re taking a whole month where we focus on a value we really want to see.

  1. the value goes on the electronic calendar so everyday I’m reminded of the value and how I can try and show it.
  2. the value will show up in our family roundtable discussion
  3. the value will show up as a dinner time conversation through a Character Conversation Card.( Buy a pack from my store)

Character Conversation Cards- a sample

Download your Character Conversation Card

How often?

Not everyday or all the time. But there is lots of opportunity to bring values into the open with video, news reports and recalled stories from the day.

One of our core family values is time and simplicity. There’s always time to stop and have a chat. Over a cup of tea and an English biscuit of course. Spending time together is important. It doesn’t mean it happens all the time. But we make time to find time because it is during this time with each other that we listen, laugh and learn.

We learn to be kinder, have more empathy, vent and disagree appropriately ( well we’re on our way- still not there yet!) Keeping family life simple and holding that space allows you to decompress during the week without a full timetable of activities. There will always be weeks where activities ramp up, we adjust but we become a lot more deliberate about holding us back to what we want to be.

Wonderfully we all have such different families.

We are swept along. We are influenced. We stumble.

We choose our direction.

Next steps…

Take a moment now to think of a value for the coming month.

Don’t make this hard.

Choose one from the printable that best fits your family. Sometime in that month talk about that value and in twelve months time you’ll have shared your values intentionally a minimum of twelve times spoken about things you wanted. It feels good to be ahead instead of catching up.

Talking about values helps us get ahead. Imagine how friendship groups with our children would be if you knew the families of your friends talked about friendship, being a friend, generosity, firmness, speaking up, speaking out, tolerance?

Celebrating Family Values. Which one is your focus this month?

Download this printable


Back to School Series

  1. Back to School: Figuring out the Family Media Plan

Create a Family Playlist for Clean Up

Cleaning up is way more fun when you have clean up music.

Create a family playlist and clean up will be so much easier

Ask your preschooler. Clean up music makes all the difference to get things done.

Some of my clearest memories are of my parents singing and getting down when a favourite tune came over the radio. That sounds so old school now but when you didn’t control the music and your jam came on. Phew! Sometimes you had to stop and just rock out. Seeing my usually very straight laced parents cut loose, in their way you must understand; smile big and sing is a memory I cherish.

We sing a lot in our family. We mimic Lyle from Veggetales and sing instructions. Usually when we’re starting to get tense. It’s our way of trying to calm ourselves down as we’re rapidly moving through 7 and 8 on the way to 10!

Used positively we love to sing, dance and rock out while we wash dishes and clean up the kitchen. After the meal explosion of dishes, plates, cutlery, pots, pans there’s the sweeping up and setting things back straight. With a family of three boys we try and do this together so it doesn’t take as long and frankly I want the boys to not just arrive eat and leave. So it’s a family affair…clean up.

I don’t know about you but I’m tired after a full day of work, kids, cooking and life and the kids can be a little niggly, pick on the slightest thing, not want to be here and yes be tired too. All of us in that tight space can add up to snappy turtles after usually a lovely peaceful pleasant meal. Boo!

Music changes the mood and we all can shuffle, smile, laugh at the new lyrics we all are sure the singer says and GET THE JOB done in a smoother simpler way. Creating a family playlist happened because it’s too hard to keep finding the individual songs. We have ipods and an ipod station so we just load up onto our family playlist and keep on going.

What gets on the Clean up Family Playlist?

Some or all of these in no particular order:

  • upbeat anthem
  • Something from the past ( so mummy and daddy tell a story about it!)
  • Something new ( the kids can choose)
  • Family sensitive lyrics ( or lots of explanation)
  • something you nod your head to, jiggle, do a little dance, hold your hands in the air… know the score.:)

Like all good radio stations we have a fun DJ played by one of us. We have all request live where each one in the family can request from the playlist one song. That’s five songs for us already and after that we shuffle songs or let the songs play on.

So here’s your mix tape.  It’s just a selection from our clean up family playlist. Load up your own family playlist of music and play play play.

You know you need this because….

We’re all about creating memories and smiley times. Turning a potential hotspot of cleaning up after dinner and grumble time into laughing, singing tidy fest. You can’t beat good times like this! Connecting with our kids in a positive way after all the other stuff we have to do as parents.

I hope they have those good memories of mum and dad laughing, singing and smiling to balance out those discipline memories when we need to parent.


  1. We Built This City  by  Starship
  2. Paradise  by Coldplay
  3. Everything Is Awesome!!! from LEGO soundtrack
  4. Amazing Grace (My Chains Are Gone) by Chris Tomlin
  5. You gotta be by Des’ree
  6. Something inside so strong by Labi Siffre
  7. Just Give Me a Reason by P!nk feat. Nate Ruess
  8. Dancing in the Moonlight by Toploader
  9. The Bare Necessities from the Jungle Book
  10. Seasons of love from Rent Soundtrack

What would you have on your clean up playlist?

If you enjoyed this post about family atmosphere,  follow my Pinterest board Family Atmosphere and Simple rhythms and schedules in the home

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. When you buy through these links, I’ll earn a small commission, which helps to keep this site going so that I can continue to offer free and useful content, so thanks!

Being prepared: Fighting back when you are in that dark place

Fighting back when you are in that dark place. 4 things to lift you

When you’re in your darkest moments.

We feel the most alone.

No one else can truly understand where you are. Often it takes us to get us out of this funk. Sometimes it will take other interventions. ( I’m not covering mental illness, depression nor am I giving medical advice)

The day in day out of life with children isn’t always a walk in the park. We all get down sometime. and snapping out of it isn’t the issue. We’re in a groove and it’s just hard to find a way out.

I’m going to share my rescue kit that’s helped me many times ( and still does) when I’m feeling low and blah to get back up and continue on. Because misery loves company and it’s easy to get stuck here.

We can help ourselves in those low times by being prepared in these higher times.

Getting it out ideas

Journal- writing down all the thoughts on paper is freeing. Screwing up that paper and throwing it away- magic. You get to have all the imaginary conversations you want to have but know it’s not right to have. You know the ones I’m talking about. Remember don’t send them. Something about getting it on paper changes these particular feelings. You’re not stuck with them.

Change of scene- If you can get out into nature and walk, run or cycle things will begin to feel different. Maybe you need a new park, new town to explore, new trail to find. Join a walking group or a outdoor preschool. Hearing sounds in nature is calming and fills most of us up.

Being prepared for it again

Keep a running record in one place- journal, Evernote, on your phone, in your bag- Only record things that make you happy, bring a smile, memories, phrases, doodles, fragments of conversation, overheard funnies in this special place. As you feel the dip. Bring out your secret weapon and read through. It will change your mood.

Have other voices than the echo of your own thoughts. Podcasts are quick and easy audio listening. Stitcher radio for your phone . You then pause and play your way through categories. Below you can see shows for parenting family and kids.


stitcher podcasts

Look to the right and you see the other categories.

The app is free and so are the programs- many of your radio shows are there already and you’ll find many new ones to try. There are lots of podcasts apps for your phone. Check them out.

Another good place to look is iTunes. Check out the categories or try your luck with new shows in the New and Noteworthy or popular category.

iTunes new and note

When you’ve found a podcast you like you’ll see other shows beneath it that you might like also.

iTunes related shows

Hearing other stories, lives and hearing about other places changes our perspective on our own situation. We get a little proportion and perspective back. We’re better able to tackle, confront, manage and deal with issues that previously had blown up in our eyes.

I’m a big fan of podcast here are a few recommendations They range from two or more hosts chatting and us listening in to their lives to interview shows with special guests on particular subjects. You’ll find something that fits. Not just perspective- sometimes we need just a big belly, pee our pants laugh. Podcasts do that too.

I like to be positive and being prepared is often half the battle. So while those of you that are feeling OK to great now – go start your”Being prepared for it again” ideas so when that time comes ,and it will, you’ll be ready for it.

For those of you that are in the midst of this season. My big cyber hugs to you. You’re not alone when you find yourself low. Chances are there are others that feel just the same way. Reach out to a friend you’ve not seen in a while. Invite them out. Share a podcast that’s spoke to you with a friend Try a new show.

Keep taking action even though you’re not back to where you want to be.

What’s part of your rescue kit when you’re low? 

Three things you should embrace as a new mother

3 things you should embrace as a new mother.jpg

New beginnings!

So exciting………. I remember being a new mother. If I could go back and talk to me. What would I say? There are so many things spinning around in your mind. Let’s quieten that and get a little focus. What three habits will help the big picture?

Get this bit right and everything else seems easier to manage.

[Read more…]

7 Family Habits worth building and How to

7 Family Habits worth building and How to

If I were a fly on the wall in your home on a good day what would the atmosphere be like?

It’s interesting how much our family atmosphere or family culture goes up and down. There’s definitely a rhythm to it.

Now when you think of those golden moments and good times- is it loud dinner time conversations or snuggly book reading? It’s interesting because when we think about family culture and family atmosphere at home we all think differently.

What I think is cool, you may not and that’s okay. Now the question is how can we get more of the atmosphere we want at home and does it really matter.

Turns out it does.

Happier families are ones that intentionally make choices. That’s not to say that every decision they make will be right but when we keep an eye on something, pay attention to something we notice and can respond better.

Why build family habits?

There are a lot of really practical things we share and teach our children like don’t touch it’s hot. Look before you cross the road.  These are our mantras the kids can finish for us. Then there are habits we would love to see but are a little tricker to do.

  • Habits make us productive.
  • Habits give us time to have fun.
  • Habits give rhythm and structure to a day that otherwise would be spent reacting to everything that’s happening.
  • Habits give us welcome pauses.
  • Habits are a must have for moms and families.

These tricker habits are more about how our family runs, the temperature of it. When you visit some homes, there’s just calm peaceful atmosphere. There’s likely structure, order and more than a side order of fun. The way they speak to each other, how they resolve problems, relate to each other is clear.

It’s not perfect, nor is it supposed to be but you noticed it.

Building family habits is as easy as noticing it and making the intention to follow through and do it.

Which 7 habits are worth building in my family?

There are many habits to try and where we fail is that we don’t make them age appropriate and we sometimes focus too much on the long term outcomes.

If my 5 year old does a 2 step direction I’m happy. It doesn’t always happen and I hoped by now he would be able to but he’s working on it. I have an age appropriate response compared to my 10 year old. Instilling the habit of a clean room is good for him now and later. But breaking it down into small steps and doing well with each step and building on each step. This is better right now than the final focus although in view, it is not the sole aim.

Here are our 7

Cheerfulness  My mum sang while she moved around the house, as she ran up the stairs, as we headed out in the car. Some people are just cheerful. Her mood was and still is catching. Cheerfulness is catching.  How we greet each other and our children we set the tone for cheerful interaction.  Our face doesn’t always show are sunny happy feelings ever to our children. We do spend a lot of time looking stern and exasperated.

Determination   “Just keep swimming”  the famous Dory from Nemo said. Perseverance and determination are just budding in our families. So many times we hear, ” I can’t do it!” followed by wailing and emotion. It’s so easy for us as parents to just do it ourselves. It’s quicker. There’s a time and place for everything. Encouraging our kids to have grit is good for them now and for the future. Life is not a sprint. Family time is the place to cultivate and nurture this ‘muscle’.

Diligence   Haphazard and slapdash if you’ve ever asked the kids to do something saying, ” Put all those toys in the box and then we’re going to  { insert your fun thing here}.” What happens? The activity doesn’t get done well. Kids are easily distracted. Jo from Organized Chaos talked about in a recent Montessori interview on Raising Playful Tots, that a task is taking it out, doing the activity AND putting it away. It’s paying attention to the details and showing our children they can do it that matters.

Listening   So many misunderstandings happen because we didn’t listen.We misunderstood. Life is busy, work all consuming, children constant… waves of tiredness threaten to take over yet we can listen fully. Listen in two ways. Listen to others. Get good opinions. Cultivate a home where we let each other speak. Interrupt less and not cut each  other off when we think we know what they are going to say.

Patience   Things don’t always work out when we think they will. That note to school took longer to write. The laces to longer to tie and that zipper too. In a calm home there is space for patience. “We’ve got time….try again.” “It’s alright to get it wrong here….why don’t you try again…this time….”

Reflection  When life moves at such a pace we don’t get a chance to look back and reflect on what went so well and what you’d never want to happen again. Not just an activity for New Year’s a family that looks back is able to build on their strengths. Take different directions and work to the needs of the family than feeling tossed around by the sea of life.

Self control   Being able to put off things now so that later you can have it is hard. Not doing something even though every fibre in your body is willing you to do it. Knowing to think first act next. Self control not a popular or easy idea when you can get almost everything instantly.  Children need the time and space to develop self control at home.  It’s hard. But there’s space for waiting and getting a reward.

How can we build these family habits?

Well this is the place that most of us get stuck. We want to do these things but somehow days turn into months and then years. New challenges come our way.

First we need to become more intentional. Focus on what’s important and decide to make it happen in our family. What is important? We need to have regular discussions and make sure we’re staying on track. Working in our family is not the same as work where we have trophies, promotions and bonuses to track our success. Working in our family has its rewards but it’s not the same. Yet we see later on the choices we made and in how things work out.


Let me help you get unstuck and excited about family time again.

Creating a family haven

Creating a family haven is a 7 week online class for busy, playful moms who are passionate about family but feel miserable about what happens in there sometimes.  You want to have better family habits and grow a family haven so your family can thrive, not just now in this stage but as the children grow.

Together in a private community of likeminded moms  we together build an intentional plan so that your family can thrive.

Registration is open

Find out more. I’d love to support you.

I want to create a family haven so my family can thrive


TED Talks for Parents- Self Control

Understanding the neuroscience when that tantrum happens and how we can teach ourselves and our children self control. Dr Becky Bailey shares simple examples

When you’re at home with young children your world can sometimes feel like it is shrinking. With the change of circumstances everything that used to happen is likely to be different. Different for a while and maybe even changed for good.

It’s not always easy having a discussion, when you have a newly crawling baby or pushing toddler while you are out with friends or at the local playgroup. We lose track. It’s not always the best time and we don’t see their body language as much as we’re busy resucing our child, bringing them back, seeing where they’ve got to or off to change a messy bottom.

It can feel isolating if you’re at home and everything has changed. A new area to navigate many would say but it’s not easy for everyone to learn how to navigate being a new parent with our need to talk about the rudimentaries of childcare along with our need to talk about topical issues, news and inspiration. Sometimes it’s just not possible.

Solutions to the brain fog

I love TED talks because you can listen and watch the video.

You can pause.

Invaluable ( see above)

They are often short.

Short enough to get a simple point across that you immediately have an opinion on and want to talk to your friend or spouse about. There are a huge and wide range of topics and directions of TED talks. I want to share a few of my favourites that I believe give great value to us as parents. They make us think and give us something to do differently perhaps and many times challenge or prod us gently to look in another direction.

Top of my list is this one from Dr Becky Bailey.  I love what she does over at Conscious Discipline. If you’re curious about more then listen into a show  on common behavioural actions that derail our play with the kids and their play with us.  There’s refreshing answers, scripts and time for reflection.

I believe we ALL can relate to kids throwing tantrums on the floor.

Full on.

In public.

And us desperately trying to find a way through clenched teeth to get going and hoping no one is really seeing this.

Our child has lost the self regulation and self control and we are on the edge of losing ours.
When you see the neuroscience behind how we can help ourselves ( stay calm) and help our child…’s pretty amazing really.

After you’ve had a watch let me know what’s your favourite TED talk. I’ll be adding a few more. If you can’t wait then check out the TED talk board on Pinterest.

How can we hear our children better?

Today I'm going to listen with my mind eyes and fingers when my child speaks



My son sometimes has trouble saying words.

As he tells his story, asks his question he gets stuck saying a word. Enough so now that we are seeking help. But this is not why I’m writing this today. It’s what I’ve noticed that’s happened because of him stopping on the initial sound of the particular word and the impact on me.

I stop and pay attention to him.

I notice we all do it much more. Somewhere along the line we’ve gotten very used to as a family carrying on doing while someone is talking to us. But when this son talks and gets stuck we’re all stopping too.

Instead of all those thoughts running through my head, I can’t talk for the rest of the family, I try and put them aside and look at him.

Instead of looking for the next thing I should be doing my eyes try to stay focused on him.

Instead of continuing to hold, do, tap, press, scoop, smooth, write, I try to put it down.

We’re working on whole body listening with our boys and now we must remember to listen fully ourselves.

What’s your mind, eyes and fingers doing when your child is talking to you?

I know it’s not always possible. It can be more possible than it is though right?

Where I do this for one I’m going to try and do it for more of the family. I’m going to have a not so secret quest. Well not secret because you know but secret from my family. I’m going to try ( really hard) to listen fully- eyes, mind and hands. I’m not going to say when but I’m picking a day.

You pick a time period and go!

Connect with your kids with that smile as they finish sharing their precious message.


Getting into that routine, rhythm and flow

Getting into that routine, rhythm and flow

After the long hazy days of summer we all tighten up and start focusing on routine, rhythm and flow.

Over breakfast we talk about after school activities with very different expectations for the 10, 7 and 5 year old. Ranging from no activities to the magic three activities limit for each child.

Okay there’s no magic three activities limit.

It is though what we as a family feel is manageable this year. After all we want to still have down time, project time, play time, contributions and childhood memories of good times. Anything more than this would leave one or more of us, I think you can tell who the first person to be would be ( ME!) frazzled.

It’s not the enduring memory I want for the kids, being shuttled back and forth with a frazzled mum.

I remember having a few activities and loving the freedom to do or not do after school. I got talking about how our family approaches after school activities or clubs on Kathy’s Bliss Beyond Naptime’s Podcast  #6.  It was a lovely chat where we swapped notes about how we try to keep things simple and how we do this well sometimes and not so well other times.

The easiest thing is to fall full headlong into the Fall season, school, after school activities without a concscious plan.

I’ve gathered together some resources to support your transition as you test and trial these ideas on your family.


Routines Around Play and Parenting

Small steps to an easier morning exit

Evening Activities That Keep Kids Busy Playing


Simple Steps To Family Rhythm And Ritual


For more ideas on routine, rhythm and flow check out this board


Raising Playful Tots Note

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