As any parent knows, summer can be both the BEST and the worst. All the things that make summer great – long hot days,  lots of activities, relaxed schedules, a break from routines – can also make it tricky. As I former full-time working (out of the house) mom now turned work-from-home mom, this summer has been a big adjustment for me. This is the first summer I haven’t had any hired help with the kids, so we’re still trying to figure it all out. We’re not really doing camps or much traveling, so it’s all on me to supply entertainment and activities. I’m loving it, but (in all honesty) there’s not much actual work from home being done. That’s been tough on me (Enneagram 3). 

While not everything runs smoothly, there are some things that are working well for our family this summer. Here are my top 5 summer parenting hacks that are working really well for us right now. I hope some of them will help you figure out ways that your summer might run a little more smoothly too! 

1. Alphabet Days

The kids and I are doing alphabet-themed adventures this summer, which is helping us explore our surroundings and check out places we might not have otherwise tried. About once I week we brainstorm all the things we could do that start with that letter. This includes activities, as well as visiting places that start with that letter, or eating food that starts with that letter.

For example, for “B” day we went bowling (fun!) and tried boba tea (yuck!). We also considered going to the botanical gardens or the butterfly house. Or, we could have chosen to go boating or have ice cream at Baskin Robbins. You get the point. 

What’s great about this is the kids get to help brainstorm and pick the activity, so they’re vested. I’ve heard way less complaining about what we’re doing. Sometimes I make an executive decision about our daily activity and they have been great about going along with it.

It’s also been a great way to compile a huge list of all the fun things to do in our area, which I’ll keep and refer back to when we need ideas. Anytime we’re out and think of something fun or discover a new place, I add it to our list.

Here’s what we’ve done so far (and you can see photos from all our alphabet adventures on my personal Instagram feed – @sara_mccarty): 

  • A = Aquarium + Andy’s
  • B = Bowling + boba tea
  • C = City Museum & Circus Flora
  • D = Dinner at the duck club
  • E = Echo Bluff in Eminence
  • F = Foraging at Forest Gully Farms
  • G = Grafton
  • H = Horseback riding + Hi Pointe hamburgers
  • I = Ice cream farm tour

2. Sunscreen battles

First of all, I’ll start by saying I despise sunscreen. Like, hate hate hate it. The kids and I are fair and freckly, so we need it, but I hate putting it on myself, I hate putting it on the kids, I hate how it feels, I hate that it always breaks me out, I hate reapplying, I hate wrestling and fighting with the kids about it, I hate that it’s so expensive, I hate all the chemicals. HATE. 

It’s no fun to hate something that much that you have to do every day. It was making me cranky and constantly putting me in a bad mood, so something had to change. For the last couple of years, I’ve been slowly collecting tips and tricks to make this whole sunscreen process a little easier. What used to send me into a fit of rage now is only mildly annoying, so I’m going to call that a win.

Here are a few things that have changed my attitude on the sunscreen situation:

Find a sunscreen you don’t hate

After hearing everyone rave about it, I finally made the switch from the crappy sunscreen I bought at Target to the good stuff. I now use BeautyCounter sunscreen on myself and the kids. And I love it. 

Yes, it’s spendy, but it takes away a few of the things I listed above that hate about sunscreen (no nasty chemicals (reef safe), feels light, doesn’t break me out), so that makes it worth it to me. This is slightly embarrassing to admit, but I love it so much that I signed myself up to sell it (mainly so I could get it myself at a discount, if I’m being honest). I love it that much. Get yourself some right now. (Oh, and the BC deodorant is also life-changing. I’ll stop now.)

Use a sponge to apply to faces

This is another game changer. I bought these cheap makeup sponges and use them to apply sunscreen to the kids faces. It SO much easier than using your fingers. It applies evenly and doesn’t leave the kids faces white (which they hate). 

Wear a rashguard

Less skin exposed means less skin to apply sunscreen to. I’m a huge fan of rashguards and try to put my kids (and myself) in them as much as possible. It’s not always their favorite, so if they want to wear something else, I bring them along, and they can put them on later. This a win for them because they’d usually much rather put a rashguard on than get out of the water, dry off, get sunscreen reapplied to them, wait for it to dry, then get back in the water. 

3. Meal planning and snacks

Ugh, does just the thought of making another meal make you want to cry, too? It’s a never-ending battle to keep up with meals and snacks over the summer with the kids home all.the.time. and always hungry. If we’re home, someone is asking me for food. It drives me bananas. Again, I knew this going into summer, so I tried doing things a bit differently. Not everything has worked (I’m still schlepping snacks out left and right), but here are a few things that have helped.

Snack station

I’m not a big fan of giving my kids unmonitored access to snacks because they will go hog wild, but I also don’t want to have to dole out every single snack they have all summer long, so I needed a compromise. I went to Trader Joe’s and stocked up on “healthy-ish” snacks that I didn’t mind them eating on their own (applesauce, dried fruit, fresh fruit, granola bars, pretzels, popcorn, yogurt, cut veggies, trailmix, cheese, crackers, etc.) and then set everything up in a spot in the basement fridge that’s easily accessible to them.

I also added glass flip-top reusable water bottles that I run through the dishwasher and refill a few times a week (like these). I’m always looking for more goodies to add to this list, so if you have any ideas, let me know. 

Hello Fresh meals

I signed up again for Hello Fresh meal kits. Each week, I pick four meals (dinner) and get the ingredients delivered, which has been a huge time saver for me when it comes to meal planning, grocery shopping, and meal prep. I order the meals for 4 people (even though there are 5 of us) and usually add extra meat to the meal (because my husband eats enough for 3), which gives us plenty for dinner and a little leftover for lunches.

I switch up the orders each week (although we do have favorites – lettuce wraps, moo shu pork, street-cart chicken bowls), and it’s seemed to work really well. I wouldn’t say they’re the fastest meals to make each evening (probably around 30-45 minutes from start to finish), but I like the cooking part (just not the planning part), so this saves me from having to figure out what to each multiple nights each week, and thus, saves my sanity.

There are a lot of these types of meal kit services out there (pick your favorite!), but if you want to try Hello Fresh, this link will get you some free meals. 

4. Summer reading

The kids and I are all doing a summer reading challenge through our local public library. I’ve been plowing my way through some great books lately, but I’m trying to be more intentional about sitting down and reading a physical book in front of the kids. I’ve heard over and over that kids will read more if they see parents reading. I read a ton, but I realized I wasn’t really doing it in front of my kids.

I’m always reading multiple books at once. I’ll be listening to an audiobook (although some may not consider this reading) in the car or doing chores around the house, and I also have books downloaded to my phone (which sometimes just looks like me playing on a screen to my kids). My physical books sit on my bedside table and I read every night before bed (which the kids don’t see because they’re asleep). I realized this needed to change, so I’ve been trying to be more intentional about reading during the day in front of them, whether that’s at home, at the pool, at the farm, or creekside. If I have a few minutes, I read. 

I don’t know if it’s making any difference yet, but I’m enjoying it! If you’re interested, you can see what I’m reading here. I’d love to hear what you’re reading! 

5. Sober summer

This one’s probably not going to be for everybody, but in early May, I decided to cut out all alcohol for the rest of the summer. Yes, I know, it sounds awful (and sometimes it is), but for the most part, I’m so glad I did this. I was really tired of feeling SO.TIRED. all the time and wondered if my evening cocktails were making feel worse in the long run, despite feeling better in the moment. What I was thinking was a stress reliever was actually causing me more stress because I was just feeling cruddy all the time. Here’s what I’ve noticed after 2+ months of not drinking:

  • I feel better, but I’m still tired. I know I’m sleeping more (going to bed much earlier than I was) and sleeping better (according to my SleepNumber sleep score), but I’m still exhausted all the time. I think this is just normal for being mid-40s and trying to keep up with 3 little kids. I’m old, I’m working through it. Ha!
  • My skin looks much better and I (finally) lost a couple pounds. These were unexpected side effects that have been pleasantly surprising. I’ve noticed I haven’t been breaking out as much (even wearing sunscreen every day!) and (after two months) I’m down a few (around 5) pounds. I mean, I’m not anywhere close to pre-baby weight, but at least moving in the right direction again. 
  • Social situations are a bit awkward, but not that bad. And it’s totally me being awkward, not others. For the most part, when I tell people I’m not drinking for the summer they’re super supportive. Although, I do get a lot of “good for you, but that’s not for me” responses, which is totally fine! I’m not trying to push this agenda on anyone and I certainly don’t care if people around me drink. I already know I’m socially awkward, so (again), I’m just working through it. 
  • I’ve swapped out my evening cocktail for spa water (I use that term very loosely). Whatever fruit I can find in the house or garden I throw in this infuser pitcher with  some water (or sparkling water)  and viola! I’m plowing through my rouge mint patch from the garden and trying to figure out how to grow a lemon tree! Strawberries, watermelon and lemons are great (bananas, grapes and apples…not so much). 

About Sara

Sara McCarty is the Founder of Run Wild My Child (, a resource website, online community and podcast all about getting kids off screens and outside, one adventure at a time. She’s a mom of 3, wife, and a corporate securities lawyer. She grew up in the country, but now lives in St. Louis and is determined to raise her city kids to be as wild and feral as possible. You can usually find her family exploring a creek, fly fishing, hiking, duck hunting, camping, canoeing, biking, or geocaching. She’s passionate about reading, photography, plants, coffee, cooking, and key lime pie.