May 22, 2015

10 Summer Activities to Do With Your Kids

‘Twas the first week of summer and all through the land
Not a Mom was still signing folders, not even a Dad.
The backpacks were slung in the garage without care
In hopes that some Clean Out Fairy soon would be there.
The children were nestled (super late) in their beds
While visions of NO HOMEWORK danced in their heads.
Mama in her yoga pants and I in my jorts
Are scheduling summer playdates, vacations, and sports.
When out in the playroom there arose such a clatter
We yelled (from the couch) to see what was the matter.
The children were arguing, restless, and I was floored
To hear the young cherubs declare: I’M BORED.
“Well hail no,” said Mama, “bored kids get chores.
You can clean out your closets and baskets and drawers.”
When what to my wondering eyes should appear?
A bunch of Bored Kids who ran the heck out of here.
Now Gavin! Now Sydney! Now Caleb and Ben!
On Remy! On all the kids till the neighborhood ends!
To the park, to the courts, to the pool and the mall!
Now dash away, dash away, dash away all!

It’s nearly summer, parents and teachers…WE’VE ALMOST MADE IT. Amen, hallelujah, and cheers! The children have been educated another year, and we all deserve prizes. My zip code is somewhere left of a rigorous schedule that kills joy but right of unstructured anarchy. If it smacks of rigid systems, I’ll give up on the third day. If it’s all loosey-goosey, no plans, no direction, no momentum, and no order, I lose the will to live.

I’m no Pinterest Mom, people. My life is pinnable about twelve days a year. I’m not precious and sometimes I think summer sucks, but after seventeen years as a parent and five kids up in this hizzie, I think I’ve found our family rhythm. I don’t organize every minute of my kids’ summer AT ALL (they free range a lot), but twelve weeks is loooooong and sometimes I look at the clock and cannot believe it is only 3:15pm and these people will be awake another 6-7 hours. We’ve got to have a few tricks in the bag. So here are 10 things to do with your kids this summer.

  • Find out what is free: Look for activities like theaters offering free kid movies (usually older movies but still fun because POPCORN!), Kids Eat Free days at local restaurants, Summer Reading Challenges with your local library or bookstore to win a free book or two, tours through local fire stations/bakeries/theaters/museums, outdoor concerts and plays, and local beaches or trails or bike paths. We live in Austin, and we love our city like a fat kid loves cake, so it’s super fun to trot around the city for free, because we are brainwashing our kids to never move away.
  • Throw a “Read In” and let your kids invite their friends. Set up pillows and blankets and fun snacks all over the living room floor, light some candles, put on some Pandora, and feel really good about yourself for upholding literacy. Post on Instagram for additional bragging. (They could also read the same book and have a Book Club discussion, but don’t give them wine like our grown up book clubs and maybe they won’t totally derail off topic.)
  • Let your kids make videos or movies with your/their iPhones (here are 10 movie making apps: most free or cheap). I cannot believe how electronically savvy my kids are. They are incapable of turning their socks right side out but can somehow produce incredible mockumentaries (we are a sarcastic people), all edited and everything. Then pop some popcorn, pile on the couch, and have Family Movie Night starring your kids. Public child star emotional breakdown optional.
  • For the exercise people, kids are totally down with Family Boot Camp. Make a big deal out of it. Get new water bottles, wear wristbands, make playlists. Set up an exercise tract with your kids: jogging, bike riding, lifting light weights, yoga, Pilates. Ben and I use an app called RoundTimer for interval workouts (30 seconds on, 30 seconds off…okay, fine, 26 seconds on, 34 seconds off…RoundTimer is not my boss). Got big kids? Go to the gym together. Record your times and work at besting them all summer. Take it to the high school track, which somehow seems extra fun. Do not hate on moms like me who man the stopwatch while the littles run in circles.
  • Go to your grocery store and grab a bunch of boxes from out back. Big ones, medium ones, weird ones. People, I have bigger kids, and I can still put them on the patio with a bunch of boxes, and they will play for days. Mine drag out pillows and blankets and flashlights, they connect boxes with duct tape, they create cities. It’s too fun. I sit out there and read, and yes, that fits my definition of “Things to Do With Your Kids.” If I’m next to you, that freaking counts.
  • We do “Mystery Thursdays” (Thursday is not a sacred cow, it is just the day of the week I’m about to snap.) The kids know we’re going somewhere fun, somewhere cool, but it’s a surprise. We’ve gone to every lake, river, park, exhibit, concert, and attraction in a 150-mile radius. If my kids don’t applaud this initiative in my eulogy, I’m coming back to haunt them.
  • In the spirit of my book “7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess,” summer is a great time to go through toy bins, closets, and playrooms and donate some great stuff. We particularly love connecting with an actual family or organization rather than generically dropping off at Goodwill, because human care matters so much, and we all belong to each other. Call the counselor at the poorest school in town, email a children’s shelter, or ask a local nonprofit to connect you with a family in need. You won’t believe how your kids will get behind this.
  • Cook! At the start of every summer, I drag out my cookbooks, my kids select 3-4 new recipes each and make a shopping list, and we tick them off one at a time. The recipe chooser is the kitchen helper, which isn’t as precious as it sounds, but nonetheless, an hour with one kid is a prize around these parts. My daughter and I made homemade meatball subs that were so delicious, we’ve never stopped talking about them, and by we I mean she and I and everyone else is over it, but just whatever. They were good, y’all.
  • Throw a “fancy” brunch for your kids’ friends. Use your good dishes. Put their apple juice in wine glasses. It doesn’t really matter what you make; this is all about the accoutrements. Eat at the good table. Cloth napkins? Brang it. Candles, place cards, dress up, all of it. Then have them change into bathing suits and stick them in the backyard with the hose, because seriously? We’re lowbrow.
  • Take a class together! Baking, crochet, cross-stitch, guitar, painting, bread-making, illustrating, pottery, archery, kickboxing, creative writing, sculpting, acting, braiding, cake decorating, weaving, anything. Tons of local colleges, restaurants, craft stores, trade schools, and culinary institutes offer one-day classes or more. Such a fantastic way to connect with each other over a new skill. Plus you can harness their new skills for your own personal gain. Fresh bread, anyone?

So Mamas and Daddies, let’s make the memories, because the days are long (oh my gosh) but the years are short. These aggravating, fighting kids will be gone in just a few years. May your summer be filled with laughter, adventure, and Non-Bored Kids. But should they risk their lives and utter the b-word, a few hours of scrubbing baseboards will cure what ails them. Mama may be fun, but she don’t play.

[I originally wrote this post for Barnes and Noble two years ago, but HERE WE ARE AGAIN, SUMMER.]

What are your summer ideas? How do you fill the hours? I’m serious: share your ideas because I am always looking for new additions to my Summer Activities List.

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