“Schoooool’s. Out. For. SUMMER!” In the long lost and much beloved days of our childhood, this meant sleeping in, lazy mornings with cereal in front of The Price is Right, popsicles, and blissful boredom.
Then in the working years, summer was just another season that we spent mostly cooped up…but at least the days were long and the weather was nice. Now that we have kids, summer is synonymous with one word: entertainment. Non-stop, morning-’til-night entertainment. And while this is the thing that childhoods are made of, for us parents these couple of months can be just plain exhausting. Sometimes the most exhausting part is actually the planning and not the doing. It’s hard to come up with good ideas all the time! We feel you. That’s why we’ve compiles some of our tried and true activities to do with (or even without) kids during the summer. Though they may never be lazy again, here’s to hoping your summer days are filled with tons of fun.
Just Add Water
Nothing says summer quite like sunshine, bathing suits, the smell of sunscreen, and some refreshingly cool water. If you live on a coast, the beach quickly comes to mind, but water play comes in all shapes and sizes. Sometimes you just need to be a bit creative.
Beaches and Lakes (natural and manmade)
As mentioned above, if you live near a coast or even a lake (Chicago beach life is very highly regarded!), this is a great option for outdoor play, tons of fun, and a great way to tire out the kiddos. Between the sand and the waves, you have the potential for many hours of entertainment. If you have a smaller tyke, we’re a big fan of puddle jumpers. They’re suitable for kiddos who weigh at least 30 pounds and no more than 50 pounds, and they’re better for larger (and less predictable) bodies of water than the more common arm floaties because they help keep your head above water. Just be sure to apply some high-powered natural sunscreen (we love the water resistant, TruKid Sunny Days Sport, Mineral Sunscreen SPF 30).
If the beach isn’t your thing, or if you simply live too far away, pools are another great option to get in some splashes and get out some energy. Because water safety is of utmost importance, summer may actually be a great time to enroll your child in swim lessons. Babies as young as 6 months old can begin water-safety and familiarity focused parent-and-me swim lessons. This is a great way to introduce your child to water, teach them some basic skills, and bond. The classes advance with the kids and eventually move to semi-private or private lessons. You can choose between going to a facility that holds these classes, but there is also the option of a private instructor who will teach at a local community pool or even come to your pool.
Water Tables, Sprinklers, and Water Balloons
Beaches, lakes, and pools are the most commonly thought of water-themed activities that we think of. However, there are lots of other water fun that you can participate in…without even leaving your home. For toddlers and younger kids, water tables can provide tons of backyard entertainment. Add a few rubber duckies to the mix, and you have yourself a full-on party. Some tables, like the one we link to above, include a separate section for sand and even come with an umbrella and cover.
Whether using the tool that is really meant to water your grass or water sprinklers specifically designed for kids’ play, sprinklers are another way to entertain your kiddos in the yard with just a hose. Heck, let them spray each other with the hose, fill up plastic kiddy pools or buckets, and even take refreshing drinks of water from it. There are few things as fun as a good, old fashioned water fight. And with the new-age water balloons that secure themselves (no longer hours of filling individual balloons, breaking half of them in the process, and finger-pinching balloon tying required), the game is only a couple of minutes away.
All Things Nature
There’s no way around it: we need to be outside more. Nature is good for our health—physical, mental, and emotional. And these benefits may be even greater for kids. Now, don’t get me wrong, I loved watching some cartoons or a good movie on a long summer day as much as you; and it’s important to have this down, snuggle time on the couch as well. But the more time we spend outside, the benefits only increase.
Increased in nature has been shown to have these amazing results (just to name a few):
- Contact with nature has a positive effect in reducing the impact of attention deficit disorder (ADD).
- Even just a view of nature helps to reduce stress among highly stressed children.
- Myopia, or short-sightedness, seems to be affected by time spent outdoors. More time outside seems to protect against it.
- More time in nature fosters more love and respect for the environment and being good stewards of the earth.
- Living close to a green space is significantly linked to reduced risk of physical ailments, including: cardiovascular disease, musculoskeletal disorders, respiratory disease, neurological disease, and digestive disease.
- Living close to a green space seemed to have the strongest reduction in anxiety disorder and depression, and is especially strong for children.
- Children are more creative when exposed to nature: they use all of their senses instead of just sight and sound, they are more imaginative, and they are more alert and have a higher ability to focus and concentrate.
- More time outside means more movement and exercise, and lower rates of obesity.
These results are both amazing and compelling. And, if that’s not quite enough, here’s one more incredible thing about the great outdoors: it’s F-R-E-E. Whether picking flowers or playing hide-and-seek, there isn’t any admissions fee. So go explore some new parks in your area and allow your kids to swing and climb to their content. Or simply take a hike and find some cool new rocks. The best part is that our kids are vastly more imaginative than we are. So you likely won’t have to come up with the activity… you just need to get everyone out of the house.
For more structured outdoor activities, maybe take a bike ride as a family. Got littles that aren’t big enough to bike or trike around? Consider getting a bike trailer or a bicycle child carrier. Just make sure, with all of these biking activities, that everyone has properly fitting helmets. Another great summertime activity is berry picking. Whether from a local farm or if you’re lucky enough to live where berries grow wild, picking deliciously sweet berries is both fun and tasty. Or, if you live near a farm or even local petting zoo, kids love the idea of farm animals. Many offer the option to pet, brush, and feed them.
Local Summer Events
A lot of times, a great resource for fun and often free events can be found through your city or county. Check out their quarterly mailers, websites, or even Facebook pages for various summer events. Many that I’ve seen include movie nights on the lawn, free concerts, festivals and county fairs. Fried twinkie anyone? Besides what you would typically think of at a fair, we love the more hidden gems of art and photography displays from local artists and kids, animals, gardening, and local artisanal items and crafts.
If you have budget for a vacation or outing, theme parks are an exciting choice. If you’re close to Disney, they have so many options for kids and adults of all ages. But many other parks have entertainment options for everyone. Even those primarily geared at roller coasters usually have kiddy rides and fair-like games. If you don’t live near a huge amusement park, there are many smaller-scale places to visit. Most cities have science centers, zoos, or aquariums that are likely to keep your family entertained for multiple hours. Even consider checking out children’s museums that have exhibits and activities specifically geared towards tots.
Take It Old School
With the light-up gadgets, endless video games, other electronic entertainment options, many of our kids have never even heard of hopscotch of four square. Show them how we did it, old school style! Go to the dollar store and pick up a jump rope and teach them double dutch. Or grab a bunch of hoola hoops, turn on some Hawaiian music and do your best Moana. For under $10 you can get a huge box of sidewalk chalk and let your kids be Picassos. Or you can show your littles how to draw hopscotch and then have a competition. Grab a rubber ball and teach them how to play four square and wall ball. If the weather’s not good or you just feel like spending some time indoors, play cards or a board game, put on a puppet show, or play hide-and-seek. There’s a good chance I’ve missed something, and that’s where you come in: dig into that memory of yours and pick out the favorite things you did as a kid.
Back to the boredom we once knew…
As parents we want to make life as happy and easy for our kids, as possible. But that’s not always the best thing. As I mentioned earlier, children are way more imaginative and creative than adults. Boredom allows their little minds to wander into worlds of adventure and fantasy. Out of such boredom come hobbies and short stories and the next great idea! A healthy amount of boredom also instills a sense of initiative in children, forcing them to come up with their own ideas and figure out how to make it happen. By allowing our kids to face boredom, we teach them that we’re not going to do everything for them and, more importantly, that they’re actually capable of thinking of and doing things on their own.
As Dr. Michael Unger, PhD. says, “The antidote to boredom is to provide children with an environment that lets them experience autonomy (the ability to work a little on their own), control (the right to have a say over what they do), challenge (a small push beyond their comfort zone), and intrinsic motivation (the motivation comes from inside them). Notice that the antidote to boredom is not an environment that programs children or removes responsibility from children to solve the problem of under-stimulation themselves.” Read more of his article to get his take on boredom and how to use it to your kid’s advantage, whatever their temperament.
So, good luck out there mamas and papas. Summer is fun, but it can also be more exhausting than it should be or than we ever realized it could be…especially since summer is supposed to be all about rest and relaxation, right?! When all else fails, there’s always Grandma.