Summer afternoon, summer afternoon; to me those have always been the two most beautiful words in the English language.
The anticipation leading up to summer is palpable. The last two weeks of school involve daydreaming about freedom: no early morning wake-up calls, no schedules, no packed lunches, and no homework. And that’s just what the parents are thinking. Children across the country spend those last precious days bubbling with eager excitement for the fun-filled summer that awaits.
Then, before you can blink, most of your summer is behind you. With only a few fleeting weeks before school starts, that old Sunday-blues feeling kicks in to overdrive. You and your kids start to feel the weight of the first day of school sitting on your shoulders. You go shopping, and school supplies everywhere—a visceral reminder of summer’s imminent demise.
If you’re like me your first impulse may be to recapture summer joy by kicking back and showing your kids what an old-school, relaxed, unplanned summer vacation means. But then you have that terrifying moment when you realize that other kids are still busy with camps, lessons, or vacations. The only reason your old-school laid-back summer worked was because all the other kids in your neighborhood were doing the same thing you were.
If you’re like many families these days, your street isn’t alive with the laughter and mischief of children frolicking outside from morning till sunset, designing new games and creating whole new worlds in their imaginations. Your street may be so quiet that all you can hear is the sound of your children’s enthusiasm waning.
Fear not. You can create some last-minute summer joy without sacrificing your nostalgia.
1) Visit Pinterest
Pinterest is not for the faint of heart; many pins can simultaneously inspire creativity or inadequacy. Should you choose to brave the craft-loving, make-your-own-cheese world of Pinterest, you must be wise and dig into only those pins that fit your lifestyle! I was able to find a pin that beautifully articulated a roadmap for easy, semi-planned, kid-friendly activities. From this pin I created a loose summer “schedule.” Each day of the week my kids have some general idea of what our main activity will be: crafts (Make It Monday), trips (Take a Trip Tuesday), boredom (Wing-It Wednesday), learning (Thinking Thursday), and play dates (Friendly Fridays). Our weekends remain completely unplanned—unless, of course, we are invited to an amazing party. Always have time for parties.
You don’t need to be Martha Stewart to craft with your kids. I am frequently amazed at what my kids can create using Dixie® cups, toilet paper rolls, straws, and coffee filters. No matter what they create—a parachute, a building, a futuristic flying car—it’s almost always better than what they come up with when using store-bought materials. The more primitive the materials, the better. Their neurons start firing, they brainstorm with each other, and they look for other great crafting “finds” around the house or backyard. All you need are some basic staples like pencils, crayons, markers, glue, tape, and scissors. Voila. Instant fun.
3) Fun with friends
As a mom of four, I’m often convinced that my kids can entertain each other. It’s a poor assumption. Kids need time with their peers to create lasting memories—especially as they get closer to their structured school year. I appreciate how hard it can be to find the time to make these play dates happen, but try to pick one day a week to plan play dates for your kids. They will thank you for it, and on occasion, it will bring you the added bonus of having a house that is child-free.
4) Bring back the joy of the day trip
Never underestimate the memory-making wonder of a quick family excursion. You don’t need to plan in advance, and you don’t need an elegant picnic. Just be spontaneous—check the weather and hit the appropriate spot, whether it’s your local zoo, splash park, museum, movie theater, or bowling alley. Many local attractions will offer free events or admission over the summer. It’s worth your while to do some online research to find out when/where and make those your “Take a Trip” days.
5) Embrace the boredom.
At least one day a week, let the kids fend for themselves. These are the days that build character. Sometimes your kids simply need to have a day without someone handing them an itinerary. I have found that the “Embrace your Boredom” days are those when creativity and giggles come out in droves. So far, my kids have used this day to write and illustrate their own comic books; create items to sell in their own economics fair; and play board games—they seem to have rediscovered a love of Monopoly.
Rest is not idleness, and to lie sometimes on the grass on a summer day listening to the murmur of water, or watching the clouds float across the sky, is hardly a waste of time.
As summer winds down and you and your kids start having those intense end-of-summer blues, try to make those last days even more special. Tack on a few more friend play dates. Plan some special nighttime swims or unplanned family outings. Squeeze in as much last-minute fun as you can to avoid the end of summer slump. Most of all, be sure to find time for yourself to kick back and enjoy your kids on those lazy summer days. You’ll be back to early morning wake-ups, packed lunches, and homework before you know it.