“Summer afternoon..Summer afternoon….the two most beautiful words in the English language.” – Henry James
Summer lives in our imaginations throughout the year because it nourishes our souls. The warmth….the fun…the sheer deliciousness. But mostly, the luxury of time, unbounded by school. Time to explore, to make new friends, to lie on your back and watch the clouds billow. The vivid aliveness and freedom of a child’s summers can change her forever.
Does this sound like the summer your child is having? Or is he glued to an electronic screen, or having to get up early for camp so you can go to work? Or has he gotten so used to constant stimulation that he’s complaining he’s bored?
You CAN reclaim summer for your family. In fact, you can make this the best summer ever with your kids. It doesn’t take travel or a lot of money. All it takes is your time.
That’s right, your time. If you’re anything like most parents, you have a long list of things that need to get done and you feel a little (or a lot!) overwhelmed. But it’s summer. Your kids won’t be kids forever. This is the stuff their childhood memories are made of. These are the experiences that shape who they become. Why not decide now to make the most of this opportunity to connect with your kids?
Of course, your kids also need plenty of lazy summer afternoons with not much happening. So finding that sweet spot of “just enough” activity without over-scheduling is the goal.
Here are eight simple tips to make this summer your best summer ever with your kids:
1. Set aside some time every day to have fun with your child. Whether it’s running through the sprinkler together on a hot afternoon or counting the stars on a blanket in the backyard before bedtime, do one thing a day to connect and have fun.
2. Find the “sweet spot” for structure. Research shows that kids get stressed during the school year from academics, homework, the social scene, and all the activities. They really need time to chill and relax. But sometimes when they’re released from structure, all those stressed feelings they’ve been carrying bubble up and they get grumpy. So be aware that you might have a few grumpy days, and plan to get your kids out of the house to run around. Plan for a few meltdowns. And plan some structure and down time into your days so kids know what to expect. For instance, every morning after we play, we do errands or pick up the house together for an hour, and after lunch we have reading time and then quiet time. Every afternoon we run through the sprinkler or go to the pool.
3. Commit to de-stressing and just enjoying your life this summer. Kids pick up our attitudes. If you’re still stressed, they’ll still be stressed, and they’ll fight with each other and drive you crazy. Even if you have to go to work, can you find a way to dial down your stress for the summer? And if you’re lucky enough to be home with the kids, don’t you deserve a delicious summer as much as your children do? Your positive attitude will create a relaxed, happy mood in your house
4. Help your kids develop a healthy relationship with time, one that includes the important life skill of being comfortable with their own company, without technology. Time is, after all, what life is made of. To help kids learn to structure their time, set up a Boredom Buster Jar.
5. Encourage your child to try something new this summer. There’s no time like the summer to dabble, experiment, and play with creativity. Maybe she wants to try painting, or self-defense classes, or horseback riding. Maybe she wants to write a short story or play. New activities encourage brain development and build your child’s focus, frustration management and impulse control.
6. Strictly limit technology to certain times of the day. When kids are bored and it’s hot outside, screen time has a way of swallowing up all their time. It may be a good babysitter, but we all know that’s not what kids need. The more you limit screen time, the better kids get at finding creative things to do with their time — and the less they bug you to watch TV or play computer games.
7. Institute daily reading time and biweekly library visits. Books open the imagination, make time disappear, and give kids a wholesome alternative to screens. (They’re also highly correlated with school achievement.) Read to your kids, and have them read on their own.
8. Plan some fantastic family memories, even if you don’t have the money or time to head off on vacation. Don’t wait. The key is to get out a calendar and schedule the things you really want to do.
Start at dinner tonight by asking everyone what they’ve loved most about this summer so far. Then ask each person to pick one thing for the whole family to do that will make their summer complete. Set parameters before you start. For instance, no hotel stays, and the total cost of each activity must be under $40 (or whatever your budget is.) Here’s a list of ideas to get you started:
- Buy a badminton set and have a weekend tournament for all your friends and family, complete with a potluck barbecue.
- Set up a water festival in your backyard that includes dunking, running through sprinklers, and a water balloon toss game, a slip ‘n slide and a water balloon fight. Let your kids invite all their friends, and invite a few of yours, too. Celebrate the end of the day with watermelon.
- Rent bikes and follow a local bike path you’ve never been on. Stop for ice cream cones.
- Go camping. Go hiking, catch fireflies, roast marshmallows, sing songs, snuggle on a blanket and watch the fire together.
- Go tubing. Or canoeing. Or rafting.
- Have a dinner picnic and watch the sunset (bring the bug repellant.)
- Go to the beach and spend the day body surfing. When you get cold, collect shells and use them to decorate your sand castle.
- Go to bed really early some night when you’re tired, and get up for the sunrise. Bring donuts and coffee.
- Make homemade ice cream. (You don’t need an ice cream maker; just rock salt and plastic bags, there are recipes online.)
- Buy a mess of crabs and cook them up with some corn on the cob. Invite a crowd and let the kids stay up late playing tag as it gets dark.
You get the idea. Be sure to toast the family member who chose the activity, and take lots of pictures.
The last week of the summer, print out all your summer photos and make a summer album. Have a little family celebration on Labor Day weekend where you look at the album together and talk about everybody’s favorite parts of the summer. Remind each other of the things that seemed like disasters at the time but are now funny (every family has some of those!) If you do this every summer, you’ll create precious family heirlooms, not to mention a family tradition that will have your kids bragging about how fantastic summer was in their families….and begging to look at the summer albums with you every Labor Day, even once they’re teenagers.
Dr. Laura Markham is the author of Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids: How to Stop Yelling and Start Connecting. She earned her Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from Columbia University and has worked as a parenting coach with countless parents across the English-speaking world, both in person and via phone. You can find Dr. Laura online at AhaParenting.com, the website of Aha! Moments for parents of kids from birth through the teen years, where she offers a free daily inspiration email to parents.