Ahhh summer! The days are long, schedules relax, and it’s time for everyone to have fun. Sure you want your children to have a great summer, but planning a few family summer activities that everyone looks forward to can mean the difference between a good summer and a summer to remember. Some summers it’s easy to plan something the whole family enjoys – a new movie everyone is looking forward to, a plan to attend a big family reunion or an influx of friends and visitors to show around your town. Other summers, it’s a bit trickier – your budget might be tight, the kids might be at ages where they cannot agree on an activity or unexpected work projects interrupt the usually laid-back schedule.
Let’s approach the summer as if money is scarce and your schedule is fuller than you like. (It’s easier than convincing you that, yes indeed, family reunions ARE fun.) Here are three ideas to get you thinking!
You do not have to hike the Appalachian Trail to say you’ve been camping as a family. Camp on the back porch, in your back yard or at a campground 10 minutes from your home. One night, build a fire, make s’mores and tell scary stories if your kids are old enough. Also be prepared to de-camp should anyone big kid, little kid, or mom flip out. Take a hike, take pictures, and promise each other you will do it again next year as you eat a giant camper’s breakfast at the local diner the next morning.
Take a day or two and pretend that you have never been to your own town. Beforehand, pick up brochures at your local chamber of commerce, library, and/or local hotels. Drive out of town or a short distance from your house (gas isn’t cheap and I did say free activities, right?), turn around and drive back in pretending you’ve never been there. Avoid your favorite places and discover some new favorite places. If you live in a tourist town, set limits up front! A family from Orlando could try this experiment and spend several thousand dollars visiting theme parks! Go to the places you’ve always wondered about or meant to see. Ice cream should be involved.
Become Star-Gazing Artists
Invite a few neighbors to join you as you discover the joys of summer star-gazing. Line up blankets and chairs in your backyard or patio (if you have neither, parks usually close around 10:00pm or 11:00pm – enough time to bring a chair and enjoy the night sky for at least an hour even with the longer days). Have an array of small flashlights, glow necklaces, and bracelets for the kids (snag ‘em at the Dollar Tree, 99 Cents, etc stores). Stock an adult cooler and a kid cooler. The adult cooler, well, you know. The kid cooler should be decaffeinated, but fun. Have some portable, easy snacks, and binoculars available. Don’t have binoculars and short on cash? Use a magnifying glass from the dollar store. While this might get the side eye from your oldest kid, the 4 and under set might just go along with it. My three year old uses one because binoculars are hard for him to manage. Bug spray and a citronella candle are a good idea as well. And, just chill.
Watch the stars with the grown-ups. Watch the kids not watch the stars. As much as possible, let the kids settle things on their own, you stay in your chair. When more than two of the kids have melted down completely, it’s time for everyone to go in. Just like camping, promise to do it again. As everyone is dragging their kids home, take a quick vote on who hosts the next Neighborhood Star-Gazing Event. (Hint, don’t vote for yourself.) Aside: Famous astrophysicist Dr. Neil de Grasse Tyson (my favorite nerd) decided to become an astronomer after visiting Pennsylvania and viewing the night sky (he lived in The Bronx, NY at the time). Tyson recalled that, “So strong was that imprint of the night sky that I’m certain that I had no choice in the matter, that in fact, the universe called me.”
So, while these are just a few free summer activities to share with your family, don’t underestimate the impact they can have on your child’s life.