Well, school is out just about everywhere now, and this post is for parents who are looking at a long summer ahead. My credentials: I raised four children, two girls and two boys. Between the oldest and the youngest was a 10 year gap. We all looked excitedly towards the last day of school, envisioning play dates and pool time galore. The problem became glaringly obvious quickly. Everybody got bored with this summer vision and, between the 10 year age gap and the difference in what girls and boys enjoy, summer could become quite a challenge. Out of pure survival mode, I developed a plan. It wasn’t hard and fast but it gave me structure. Pick or choose what works for you.
The first thing I did was decide what I hoped to achieve over the summer. For example, our school system like many these days, assigned summer reading and worksheets which had to be turned in when school started. If you let it slide, Labor Day weekend was spent in stress mode, trying to get it done by the first day of school. For me, I also wanted my young children to practice their handwriting, to get some exercise and to take part in some of the summer youth programs available in our area. These lead to the following:
- We found a cultural center offering weekly arts programs for children. You signed up in advance but the programs were free. (Tip: don’t wait to sign up.) We witnessed short stage dramas (one even brought the actress who was to be a witch on stage to put her scary make-up on so she wouldn’t frighten the children), puppetry, music and dance. The shows were timed for a child’s attention span and were perfect for children up to 6th grade. Cultural arts for free!
- We participated in our neighborhood’s swim team. Swim teams are fantastic for families because regardless of age, all of your children can participate. If your child is not a great swimmer, the daily practice will change that. Most swim teams also provide some occasional social activity which, again, works for all.
- Almost every area has some historic components. We live in an area rich with historic sites. Many people never take advantage of those near to you. I was guilty of that, going to see them mostly when family came in from out of town. See your town. Pretend you’re on vacation and tour it.
- Periodically, we had international night at home. Dinner was a non-complicated dish that was from a foreign country. Nothing fancy here, even spaghetti qualifies. Go to the library and get an easy travel book so you can learn something about the country and a “learn the language” CD. Then we would rent a movie from that country, subtitles and all. It was fun to hear the language and try it. Now renting is trickier so if you don’t have netflix, I suggest checking with the library. Many of them offer movie rentals, too. I don’t know if you can find them on Red Box for a $1. That would still be a good deal.
- Everybody had to write a letter once a week. The most frequent recipients were grandparents, who were thrilled to receive the letters and who took the time to write back. Children love to get mail. Sometimes they wrote to musicians or sports idols. My two sons once wrote to their biggest baseball idols. I won’t speak badly of the one who never wrote back or even had his people do it but a tip of a mother’s cap and a warm thank you to Cal Ripken, Jr. of the Baltimore Orioles who did respond and thrill my young son. Letters not only helped my children practice their writing but taught them about the world around them.
- Starting in July, we would pick times now and then to work away at required school work.
- School supply shopping always happened on the first rainy day in July. Trust me, its a lot less crowded than in late August.
- Speaking of that, if your children are small, summer is good for puddle-stomping. After one of those late afternoon storms, put the rain boots on your children and go for a walk. My neighbors used to love to watch my children as they joyfully stomped through ever puddle left behind after the storms.
- Our back-up plan: the “I’m Bored” jar. It sat on top of our refrigerator and was filled with folded pieces of paper, each bearing an activity to do if you’re bored. You never knew what it would be, unusual toys or games, a “call a friend” to play, something new to do outside or any of a large number of activities.
So, there you have it. I may have forgotten something but most of these ideas are either free or cheap, interesting for all and they help guarantee the children will have something to talk about in their “What I did on my summer vacation” paper. And don’t think our entire summer was planned. All children need some unplanned down time for their imaginations to grow. That can’t be scheduled. Happy Summer!