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The Summer Jar

Summer Jar

Summer! This is my first summer as the mom of a school-aged kid, and I was honestly so psyched at the thought of having Henry, my five-year-old, back with us during the day after nine months of kindergarten. I was also pretty happy about not having to rush to school for drop off and pick up, and not having to make any more lunches. I was mostly thinking about the long, sunny, leisurely days with all three kids, all of us playing together and going on adventures.

Yeah, that reverie lasted about twelve seconds. Three kids! Long days! And, let’s face it, while I love playing with them, it’s not like I want to do it all day long. Part of the whole reason I have three kids is so that they can entertain each other. I needed a plan.

I looked online and found all kinds of crafty mamas with their elaborate summer calendars made out of burlap and recycled plastic and embroidery and oh it all looked lovely. And there was no way I’d ever get around to doing anything like that. We needed something simpler, especially as summer vacation was coming fast. We needed something quick, and we needed something free.

What I came up with is what I call a Summer Jar. I grabbed an empty jar off the shelf, and a cracker box from the recycling bin. On the inside of the box I started brainstorming ideas for things we could do this summer – go to the beach, bake a loaf of bread, memorize a poem, hike a mountain – and then I cut these ideas into little strips and put them in the jar. Every day I came up with a few more ideas until I had roughly a summer-full.

The concept is that every day we pull an item out of the jar, and we do what the jar tells us. Most of the ideas take half a day (or less), and so my thinking was that I would spend a few hours focusing on the children, and then we would all do our own things during the rest of the day. I made a rule that we have to do what the jar tells us, because my children are notorious for begging out of strenuous outdoor activity, and I want to toughen them up (and blame it on the jar). The items in the jar generally fall into four categories: baking and food, art projects, outdoor adventures, and in-town jaunts (like going to the park or visiting the museum).

As of this writing, we’ve done two weeks of The Jar, and so far it’s worked brilliantly. We’ve had a mix of activities, and the kids completely trust in the Wisdom of the Jar; I’ve had no complaints about what the Jar tells us to do. And the Jar does seem to know what it’s doing: I loaded in a bunch of outdoor adventures, but it has been pouring for weeks here, and the only day so far we picked a hike was one of the only dry days. Not only that, but for the first time my boys were genuinely enthusiastic about climbing a mountain. It’s the first time we’ve done something like this without whining or requests to be carried. I think it might be because the Jar told them to do it, so they can’t complain to me about it.

Picking out of the Summer Jar each day has become sort of like opening the door on an advent calendar, and it has also done wonders for getting us out of the house each day. I also have to say that not only has it gotten the children to do things they wouldn’t normally vote for, but it’s pushed me outside of my comfort zone too. The first thing we picked was visiting an art gallery, which had us going to the small galleries in the arts district of Portland, Maine. There was something a little uncomfortable about bringing three small children into a fancy tiny gallery where we had no intention of buying anything. But every gallery owner was incredibly welcoming. On another day the Jar had us building a cardboard stool from, and I was doing things on a level of building and analytical thinking that I usually hand over to my husband completely.

This idea took me about four seconds to come up with, but it’s amazing how much it has transformed our summer. Now we always know there’s something to do. Believe me, I’m carefully saving every item we take out in a different jar, so we can do it all again next summer!

For those who are interested, here’s the full list of what’s in the Jar:
1.    Shiny Japanese mud balls (this is from a Craft magazine article (, I was royally intrigued…basically you make balls out of mud, let them dry a bit, and then burnish them with fine dirt…it said kids love it, and they looked cool in the photo)
2.    What sinks? What floats? (
3.    Make popsicles
4.    Make deviled eggs
5.    Felt beads (
6.    Try a new food
7.    Invent a recipe
8.    Bake cookies
9.    Learn to embroider (something I want to do…this might be a total bust but thought it would be fun to try)
10.    Playground
11.    Get ice cream somewhere new
12.    Make leaf rubbings
13.    Make pretzels
14.    Bake bread
15.    Make multicolored crayon blocks out of old crayons (have a clipping for this somewhere…you put crayon bits in a muffin tin and bake to melt, and then let them harden and pop out new block crayons)
16.    Bradbury Mountain
17.    Smiling Hill Farm
18.    Paint rocks for garden decorations
19.    Visit an art gallery
20.    Falmouth Nature Preserve
21.    Gilsland Farm (Audubon)
22.    Make recycled paper
23.    Mackworth Island
24.    Make graham crackers
25.    Memorize a poem
26.    Winnick Woods
27.    Cardboard stool (
28.    Royal River Park
29.    Pineland
30.    Make hand-sewn monsters (
31.    Portland Museum of Art
32.    Robinson Woods
33.    Beach
34.    Maine Wildlife Park
35.    Make pinwheels
36.    Fore River Sanctuary
37.    Mosaic collage (I’m thinking cutting up magazines)
38.    Wolfe Neck State Park
39.    Mast Landing Sanctuary
40.    Spring Point
41.    Take bus downtown
42.    Feed the ducks
43.    Deering Oaks
44.    Tie dye
45.    Scarborough Marsh
46.    Bake a pie
47.    Bake muffins
48.    “Bark” painting (Check it out here!)

Author: Julie Falatko
You can view her blog here: World of Julie

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