By Guest Blogger Karen Jacobson

When my children were six and seven, Phineas and Ferb was a family favorite and the theme song ran in an endless loop in my head. “There’s 104 days of summer vacation and school comes along just to end it.  So the annual problem of our generation is finding a good way to spend it, like maybe . . .” 

Imagine my dismay when I counted the days on the calendar and realized that, in Winston Salem, we only got 72 days of summer vacation. But 72 unscheduled days with a six and seven-year-old was still nothing to sneeze at. My husband worked long hours and traveled a lot for his job, so I needed fun things to keep the kids busy. I decided to make a list of summer challenges and rounded 72 days up to 75 items. The intention was not necessarily to do one a day, but to fill in some of the time when they might otherwise find themselves zoning out in front of the TV or singing the usual summer refrain, “I’m bored.”

That first year, it was a mixed bag of simple (catch fireflies), exploration (visit 3 new parks), educational (learn a phrase in 3 languages) and silly (wash your hair outside). We invented a new tradition (mystery ice cream alarm) and carried on an old (mystery vacation). We had so much fun and they loved getting to check the items off one by one, celebrating with ice cream when the list was finally done.


Every year since, we have had a theme to our challenge, some easier than others. Each year, I panic a little that we won’t finish by the deadline of the 1st day of school, but with one exception, we have always managed to do it. The one time we failed (visit a recording studio in 2017), we completed the missing item the following summer in Nashville while working on that year’s list, and then stopped for ice cream to celebrate finally checking it off.

Our themes included:

2013:   First Annual Summer Challenge
2014:   Scavenger Hunt (finding 75 fun and unusual things)
2015:   Retro Summer (stuff my husband and I would have done in the summer as kids)
2016:   Alphabet Game (3 things for each letter of the alphabet like waterfall, waterslide, water balloons)
2017:  Things to See and Do Before You Turn 12 (finishing up the book “101 Places You Gotta See Before You’re 12!”  by Joanne O’Sullivan)
2018:  The Great 48 State Road Trip (literally driving to all 48 contiguous state capitals in a month and half)
2019:  Summer by the Numbers (each item represents one number from 1-75 like “Hole-in-one at mini golf” and “3 strikes, you’re out at the Dash game”)

My kids are now teenagers with busier lives and less interest in doing these challenges, so while it hurts my heart to let this tradition go, I have decided to finish it up on a practical note.

My daughter has asked for something that I have been reluctant to give in on, so I decided to make it the reward for finishing our final challenge. The theme this year is “Life Skills”. I made a list of 75 Life Skills, some simple and some complex, that I think are important for them to know how to do like basic home repairs, budgeting and cooking. I didn’t make a poster, but gave each of them their own identical checklist that they can keep and work on at their own pace. Because the list is much more complex than those in the past, I gave them the list in the Fall to get started. Now with Covid-19 restrictions in place, we will be slowed down even further, but I have told them that completion of this list is up to them. I am here to help with any task, but they have to take the initiative to get it done.

And if we can get it done this year, I am secretly hoping I can convince them to help me make one more – “The Greatest Hits of Summer Challenges Past” where we each pick 25 of our favorite things from past challenges to do one more time.  Fingers crossed!

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