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P is for Planning and Preparation

Preparation is the key to integrating the alphabet into your summer. Generating ideas ahead of time is a big part of the process that allows for lots of opportunity to get excited and educated at the same time. After you have created a structure to base your activities around, it’s easier to be flexible, spontaneous, and ultimately more adventurous.  You and your child(ren) will be amazed by how their vocabulary grows, their spelling improves, their friendships blossom, and their knowledge of the world around them both widens and deepens.
Step 1: Generate ideas
Half the fun of Alphabet Summer is coming up with all of the things you want to do.  Here are a few ideas for keeping track of the ideas you generate:
1. Use index cards with each letter of the alphabet and tape them to either the inside or outside of a closet door. Keep a pen, pencil, or marker nearby to write ideas as they come up.
2. Give your child a dictionary based on their reading and maturity level to help them come up with ideas and words.
3. Keep a notebook in a central location to write your ideas.  It works best when you write each letter in the top of each page of the notebook.  You may also want to keep another notebook to write ideas when you are out and about such as in the car, purse, or backpack.
4. If you are fortunate to have a library or even a system of libraries near your home, make a list of the names of each library that you would be willing to travel to on a weekly basis to check out book. Same goes for parks, pools, recreation centers, nature centers, favorite restaurants, and ice cream parlors.  This is the perfect excuse to be a tourist in your own town.  Make time for local attractions that out-of-towners are often times more acquainted with than residents.  Don’t forget your camera!
5.  Be sure to join at least one reading incentive program through your local library, book store, or even online if needed.  Often times, there are many prizes and awards given to children who read a certain amount of books during the summer.
6. Consider integrating daily, weekly, monthly, and seasonal household tasks and errands into your alphabet-based schedule.
7. Determine your summer budget based on your weekly and monthly financial needs.  By figuring out your financial abilities and limits on the front end, you are less likely to spend more than you intend.
8. If you’d like to expand your efforts and include friends and family in the fun, consider creating your own craft camps.

Step 2:
Keep it cheap
Alphabet Summer need not be an expensive endeavor.  It can be as simple as listening to a CD, watching a DVD, reading a book from your own personal collection or your local library’s, or even making a recipe that starts with the letter of the day or week.  Other ways to spend little or money is to take advantage of local resources such as libraries, parks, pools, and nature centers in your community.  Be sure to check the restaurant websites of the various destinations you intend to visit to see if they offer online discounts, coupons, or promotions.  Amazon Local, AAA, Groupon, Crowd Cut, KGB Deals, Living Social, Plum District,, Saveology, Steals from Star Tribune have also been very beneficial for our family if you are able to plow through a ton of unwanted email to find the deals you will actually use.
If you have access to a Chinook Book  or the Entertainment Book in your area, they are both well worth the small investment of purchase to save a substantial amount of money. These coupons books also provide many ideas for your list of places to go and things to see.
Check with your local craft supply stores (like Joann Fabric or Michaels) for online and in-store discounts and coupons. It’s also important to become well acquainted with their return policy especially if you will be doing crafts with a large group of children.  I’ve found that it’s best to over buy products then return the unused items within the allotted time limit with the original receipt.  Once you become more acquainted with your craft supply needs, you’ll find that shopping during the month before school begins will provide immense savings.
Step 3: Get Organized
1.  Start a three-ring binder to place all your ideas, coupons, and craft ideas in sheet protectors.  I rip out and file many of our craft ideas in magazines in magazines such as Disney’s Family Fun, Parents, and Martha Stewart. If you do not subscribe to these magazines and prefer not to spend the money purchasing them, check with your friends to see if they receive these magazines and are willing to let you have them when they are done.  You can also check with your local library or look online.  Most of the crafts that are featured in magazines are also on the magazine’s websites.
2. Make a list of A to Z list of friends and family members you wish to spend time with in alphabetical order by first and/or last name.
3. Alphabetize your personal collection of CDs, DVDs, video games, toys, books (alphabetize either by author or title), and recipes.
4. Place a plastic shoe organizer near the door you use to exit your home to keep your “Going Out Into The World” supplies. This will save you time when you gather needed items as you head out to explore the world.  I like to put socks, shoes, and seasonal supplies such as gardening gloves, bug spray, sunscreen, sunglasses, hats, swimming goggles, water shoes, bubbles, umbrellas, quarters for the bus or parking, plastic bags for picking up dog poop, and a cloth bag to carry all of this stuff.  In the winter I replace the summer items with gloves, mittens, and hats.
5. Keeping track of coupons isn’t hard when you have a system.  On the opposite side of the door, I store our coupon collection in several different colored plastic organizers that include: groceries, entertainment, restaurants, retail, and house/car related coupons.  Every Sunday, I pull the coupons that I think I’ll use and stick them in an open spot. If I stumble upon a coupon I may use at a later time, I stick it in the related compartment.
6. Create a space to place all of your craft and art projects.  I created this art hanger simply using a curtain I purchased at a thrift store.  I sewing several lines of bias tape across the curtain with little dashes of stitches so there would be holes to place clothes pins to hold the art up.  During one of our hikes at the nature center we found a good solid branch to pull through the curtain rod holders.  Lastly, I tied a ribbon onto the middle section of the branch and hung it on a nail.  The wall hanger is hanged at a level where Maddie can easily place her own art.  We tend to remove all items at the end of each season.  I then go through the items and ask Maddie if she’s attached to some pieces and not to others.  I also ask her if she would like to give a few of the pieces to her grandparents, aunts, uncles, friends, or elderly neighbors as gifts.  I usually keep one or two pieces to place in her portfolio.
Step 4: Create Your Format
Whether you spend all day every day with your child(ren) or have only a small amount of time between work and bedtime, you can easily plan your summer around the alphabet. Whatever you decide to do, you and your children are bound to be creating a fun and memorable summer. Follow these four simple steps to set up your Alphabet Summer:
1.  Use a monthly calendar to write down the days/weeks you assign each letter.  You will find a weekly schedule example and handout for your own use to organize your planned activities and preparation tasks on page ???
2.  Determine when your summer starts, ends, how many days and weeks your break consists of.
3.  Choose whether you will celebrate all or some of the letters of the alphabet.
4.  Choose the way you will assign letters to your days and weeks:  A to Z, Z to A, or cut up pieces of paper with each letter and pull them out of a hat randomly.  For our first alphabet summer, we went A to Z and started a new letter every Monday and Thursday.  The first letter would start on Monday and finish on Wednesday. The second letter would start on Thursday and finish on Saturday. Sunday was a free day and could be used for the past or upcoming week.  If you have limited time:  choose only one letter per week and one activity such as a game, activity, or destination. You may want to choose “easier” letters, i.e. letters that have lots of options (stay away from U,V, W, X, Y, and Z.

Step 5: Establish Your Rules

Although Alphabet Summer has very few rules and you can bend and shape them as much as you want, it’s important to establish some rules so confusion is avoided.
1.  Determine your format (see above). Figure out when new letters are introduced and on average how many activities and types of activities are you planning to do per letter.
2.  Will you allow make-up days if a scheduling conflict occurs?  If so, how far past the actual day or week of the letter will you allow make-up activities?  You may want to reserve make-up activities for weeks with letters that are more difficult to use such as U, V, W, X, Y, and Z.  We try to do all make-up activities due to scheduling conflicts no more than one week before or one week after the actual week the letter was allotted.  The last two weeks of Alphabet Summer, we try to make up a few more if there is room in our schedule.
3.  In order to sustain a sense of novelty and adventure, we avoid doing the same activity year after year. If it’s something we really want to do nearly every year, such as go to the zoo, we try to find another letter to use for that outing such as G is for giraffes and we put the focus of the visit on the letter G the next year.
4.  Another rule we use is that the activity must start with the letter we’re on and not just have the letter in the word.  However, we have had to make a few eXceptions for the letter X.  Also, this past year when we randomly assigned two different letters of the alphabet for our craft camp, sometimes we would do activities that used both of the letters in one word such as: flowers, guy. In retrospect, I wish I had been a little more aware of this little bend in the rule. I think we could have been even more creative.
Week  1:  Letters R & X – Real Life Rapunzel and a pirate party (Rrrrrrrr!) and X Marks the Spot
Week  2:  Letters E & V  – Elephants and Vincent Van Gough
Week  3:  Letters M & W – Melting crayons and soap into Wild Wild West shapes
Week  4:  Letters C & H – The Cat in the Hat
Week  5:  Letters F & L – Fairies and Lemonade (We also toured flower gardens)
Week  6:  Letters O & Z – Owls, zebras, and Zambia  (Could have celebrated The Wizard of Oz)
Week  7:  Letters D & T – Drum shop tour, decoupage dream diaries and treasure trunks
Week  8:  Letters N & P – Pixie Nooks
Week  9:  Letters B & Q – Bubble wrap painted butterfly book bags (Could have had a BBQ)
Week 10: Letters I & S – Smiley face ice cream sandwiches
Week 11: Letters A, J, & K – Being angels and making kindness coins
Week 12: Letters G, U, & Y – Goofy glittery glasses (and something with our favorite GUY, Dad)
Step 6: Allow for Flexibility and Spontaneity
Once you have your structure set up, it’s easier to be flexible and spontaneous.  Perhaps you can integrate daily, weekly, monthly, and season household tasks and errands into the mix as you think of the chores you need to work on throughout the week.  If you have a scheduled vacation time, you can simply look for words that describe your activities while on vacation to fit the letters of the week instead of structuring your vacation around the alphabet.  I’ve found that it’s the spontaneity of this venture that is often the most memorable aspect for the children and helps their vocabulary grow because they are the ones on looking out for the letters.

Step 7: Document Your Adventures

In the end, being in the moment, enjoying, and savoring each precious moment with your child(ren) is the point of this book as is creating memorable moments that will last a lifetime for your children.  You may want to document your adventures to share with others and remind you of all the fun you had in the future, but it’s important not to let the documentation process overtake the joy of the moment.  Here are a few suggestions for easy documentation that doesn’t interfere with the fun of it all:
1. Have your child use a spiral-bound or composition notebook to create a daily journal about their Alphabet Summer activities.  This notebook can also be a place where they answer the questions listed with the A to Z lists in the following section.
2. Take a few pictures for each letter you celebrate but don’t commit yourself to documenting every single activity and adventure. Some of our fondest memories have no digital foot print and that’s ok!
3.  Use a spiral bound notebook or journal to make quick notes to yourself at the end of the day to remember what activities you engaged in and what you and the child(ren) learned.
4.   My friend Amy uses a recipe box with plain white lined index cards and writes each day of the year on the top of each card.  Each day at bedtime, the kids come up with one or two things they’d like to remember about that day and she writes it on the card for the day.  You can use the same card for many years and it’s fun to look back and see what you were doing the year and years before on that same date.

Step 8: Stay in the Moment
Enjoying your time with your child(ren) should be a top priority and I believe that children need us to be present.  It helps them not only survive but also thrive just as much as the food, drink, warmth, and sleep we all need.  When we are stressed out and worried about all of the obligations we have to meet, children pick up on that even if you are not voicing those thoughts aloud.


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