Tuesday, May 24, 2016

20+ Ways to Keep Summer Fun, Relaxing, and Easy (for Parents and Kids)

The countdown to summer is on! In our area, school ends next week. For most people around the country it will end sometime in the next few weeks. For me summer means looking forward to a lot of fun activities--pool time, playing outside, and family trips.

However, if you are a stay-at-home parent like me you know that summer can also be kind of exhausting. I'm used to being at home with my 3-year-old, but somehow the addition of just one more child (age 7) really ups the activity level around the house. My older son will be doing a few day camps for some weeks this summer, but the majority of the time it will just be the three of us during the day, exploring and trying to stay busy.

I glanced at some of the day camp agendas for some of the full-day camps for kids in our area. At first glance, they seemed like every kid's dream day every day of the week. Days were filled with visits to museums, splash parks, movies, tours, amusement parks (!), and pools. If you are like me, I thought, maybe I should just send my 7-year-old to some of these camps. Besides being price-prohibitive for a single-income family,
I realized the underlying reality of this idea--a summer of over-stimulation. 
My kids, probably like many of yours, can get over-stimulated and "overdone" pretty easily.
I think this points to an unseen but present feeling in our culture right now.
We often feel the need to entertain, direct, organize and otherwise "enrich" our kids lives to the point of exhaustion. 
I have caught myself in this trap all too often. I attempt to create a great weekend outing to some big kid-friendly attraction, only for it to end in tears and frustration (theirs and mine). In reality, many of the best times we have had as a family were as simple as flying kites at the park. The kids love it and they love spending time with us (although they may not always admit it). They more we try to distract and entertain, they less cooperative they become.
That being said, this summer my goal is to not be the "cruise director" for my children's summer. 
I'm more than ready to retire from that job. Yes, we will do activities, we might do some crafts, but it's going to be at a pace and style that is all our own. If we decide to spend most of the summer with friends, playing by the neighborhood pool and really doing much of "nothing" then I'm okay with that.

So I am included some ideas for activities and crafts in this post, but they are just ideas. If you're kids are feeling creative and want something to do, these might be fun ideas, but there's no pressure.
This is not one of those "bucket list," we-must-do-everything-before-summer-is-over kind of posts. 
Let's all make this summer one of relaxation, free play, and fun memories.

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Old-Fashioned Classics

Lemonade Stand--this can turn into a great lesson in entrepreneurship (earn extra money for treats). But you could also use it as a great example of charity as well by supporting Alex's Lemonade Stand to end childhood cancer.



Tie-Dye T-shirts (or dresses)--easy, fun and you have something wearable at the end. You can't beat that.

Shaving Cream Extravaganza--when my older son was a toddler, this was one of his favorite activities. Anything that can keep a toddler occupied for more than 10 minutes is a miracle in my book. We often spread the shaving cream on a slide in the backyard. Fun!

Mud Pie Kitchen--okay I admit I haven't done this yet, but it's on the top of my list. My little guy loves mud and earthworms so I think this is a must this summer.



Ice Cream in a Bag--it's not summer without ice cream. Plus this little experiment actually teaches a bit about science.

Board Games/card games--all the classic ones are still great. We love Monopoly, chess, and checkers. Some popular newer ones include Robot Turtles, Bounce Off, or Three Little Piggies.


Camping (backyard or elsewhere)--even if you are not into camping in the forest, you can set up a tent (real or made of sheets) in the backyard. Kids love cozy little places in the shade. Bring in some books, snacks, card games and make an afternoon of it.


For the Creative Crowd

Water Balloon Pinata--these look so fun! I just have to find water balloons big enough to make it work.



Marble cards--lovely project, plus kids learn a little color theory along the way.



Puffy Paint--cool little project that's easy and it involves a neat transformation in the microwave.

Perler Beads--some people love them, others can't stand them, but we have fun with these at our house. You can find a lot of cool patterns online for new ideas. These saved me last summer when my then-6-year-old would spend hours working on new projects.



Field Trips

Museums--look for museums you may not have visited before. Here is a helpful list of museums across the country. Keep an eye out for free days or special summer programs for kids.

Library (summer reading progam)--this is another classic activity we do every year. Even little kids can sign up for the summer reading program. Many libraries have lots of fun summer activities like concerts, magic shows or game time.

Local Farm or dairy--summer is the perfect time to check out what's harvested locally in your community. You might be surprised at the variety of fruits and vegetables grown close to you. Somehow when kids pick out a vegetable themselves at a farm stand, they seem more likely to actually eat it.


Zoo--of course summer is not complete with at least one trip to a local zoo. Some zoos offer special programs for summer, even overnights at the zoo.

Bowling--check your local bowling alleys for Kids Bowl Free. It's a great summer program that makes bowling more cost-effective. It's a nice way to cool off when the summer heats up.


Off-the-Wall

Theme day--for a fun change of pace, how about let the kids pick a theme day. It could be superhero, backwards day, funny hat day or anything else you can think of. You could read books around that theme, dress up, and/or make fun food.



Ice skating--if you are lucky enough to have an indoor ice skating rink in your city, take advantage of it during the summer. I just realized our local YMCA has one, so this is definitely on our list for the summer.

Chef day--need a break from cooking? How about let the kids "cook" or prepare the food for the day. Of course, you may need to set a few limits (candy is not a major food group) but it could be a great learning experience for the kids. I found these great kid-safe knives that actually help them learn some useful slicing skills.



Keep the Learning Going

Reading Log--we do try to keep the "summer slide" at bay by doing some school-like learning activities during the summer. Reading is a priority. My 7-year-old has just become a real reader and I'm hoping we can keep up his skills over the summer. Reading logs or reward cards seem like a good approach to make it fun with a little reward at the end.



Educents--I'm also planning to do some paper-and-pencil learning activities too. I just ordered one of these workbooks for my rising second grader. I know he won't make it through the whole book, but it's a good start. We might plan a fun outing (ice cream?) if he finishes the majority of it.

Coding Workbook--I just saw these at a store the other day and I'm thinking it might be a good investment. My son likes video games and he says he wants to make his own. What a better incentive to learn some computer coding. Good thing my husband is an engineer so he can help him!


Bramble Box--these fun boxes involve learning, but your kids will just think they are having fun. Unlike some subscription boxes that involve crafts that you will likely throw out in a few weeks, this box focuses on pretend play. Pretend play is such a crucial part of children's development and it is so fun (for them and us). The themes include play scenarios that most kids love--doctor, mail carrier, ice cream shop. Learning fun!



I hope you all have fun and relaxing summer with your kids.

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