Thursday, May 28, 2009

Summer Fun With Kids

A good friend of mine recently posted a request for ideas for summer fun if you don't plan to send your kids to summer camp. I started thinking about the fun things my mama did when we were kids and what kinds of things I want to do with Abigail now. I have fond memories of our summers, and we never went to camp and rarely went to amusement parks. I clearly remember summer being a wide stretch of time to just relax and be after a busy school year.

I believe that kids should be outside as much as possible especially after months spent inside a school building. Fresh air is good for you, and interacting with nature builds gray matter (that's the brain, in case you've spent too much time inside). Many of these activities can be done sitting on the back porch or on a blanket out in the yard.

So here are some (relatively) cheap ideas for summer fun:
  1. If you don't already have a pool or a membership to a pool, get a small kiddie pool just to splash in. For small babies, an ice bucket can work (I got one on clearance at a department store for my 18 month old last year). I grew  up with the molded plastic ones that are $5-10, but the blow-up kinds are lots of fun too.
  2. A lot of parks now have water features for kids. I'm a little hesitant to go to the fountains at public parks because of sanitation concerns (but mostly because they're so far from my house), but use your own judgement. I plan to go to the splash park at the Louisville Zoo almost weekly this summer though (water spouts, water slides, dunking buckets). Check your local listings for something similar.
  3. Get a family membership to a local attraction that you'll enjoy once a week or so. Does your area have a zoo, science museum, wild animal park? A lot of attractions have education departments that plan kids activities throughout the summer. Take proximity and your family's interests into account, and join.
  4. Grab a copy of your local library and bookstore's activities calendars and plan to attend several children's events.  I used to bulk up our children's activities during the summer when I was the activities director at a bookstore. Most bookstores and libraries will also have a summer reading program with free gifts for reading a certain number of books.
  5. I think summer reading is important enough to list twice. My school didn't have a summer reading program when I was growing up, but I took it as a personal challenge to read lots of books during the summer. Many schools now require kids to read a certain number of books or certain titles before returning to schools. While I think it's important to keep kids engaged in education during the summer, it could be frustrating for a child to know they have homework during the break. Personally, I used to make a list of books that I thought sounded interesting and tried to make it through all my titles before school started. If I got distracted and found something else interesting, that was ok too. I always kept a list of the books that I'd read during the summer. Summer is a great time to get free reading done when there isn't a lot of homework and after school activities to take up time.
  6. Stock up on craft ideas and supplies. There are lots of great craft books out there (check the sidebar for a few), and craft stores have entire aisles devoted to summer crafts for kids. Plan one day a week to do arts and crafts with your kids.
  7. Have a "learn something new" summer. Have each child choose a topic to research and become an expert on. When we were kids, one of my brothers decided to learn more about primitive living and it ended up influencing the course of his life. (Incidentally, this was inspired by a book that he read and enjoyed: My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George).
  8. Put on a play, a puppet show or film a movie. Decide as a family how to divide the roles. Will each person have a different job (writing, directing, designing costumes and props) or will it all be a group effort? Make sure to invite friends and family to view the performance (if you do a play or puppet show try to record it - what fun to watch again in a few years!). If you prefer not to write your own story, there a lot of skit books available for kids.
  9. Design a treasure hunt or a mystery for the kids to solve. This can be pretty tricky, but so much fun. The kids can even design the treasure before you hide it as part of craft time.
  10. Be a tourist in your hometown. Explore inexpensive (or free) landmarks that make your home unique. We live not far from Abraham Lincoln's birthplace, but in the nearly ten years I've lived here we still haven't visited! Make a travelogue scrapbook/photo album of your favorite places, and include descriptions of why you enjoyed the visit.
  11. Build a fort, hideout, clubhouse or playhouse as a family. There are lots of books available with plans, but it doesn't even have to be that hard. My youngest brother build at least two forts when we were kids, one using leftovers from a local builder (be sure to ask permission for the supplies!) and another using limbs and sticks found on the ground and a box of nails. A friend and I once designed a hideout using a bale of hay (although that got itchy around August). Use your imagination. The less you buy for this project, the better. Check out the movie The War for inspiration (an early Elijah Wood movie, I recommend it for pre-teens, and you may want to review it first - it's pretty intense at times).
  12. Start a small garden. We built a small raised bed for about $20 (lumber, soil and seeds) to grow carrots in for our daughter. It's so important for our future generations to know that food comes from the ground and not the grocery store, and that food means vegetables and not Twinkies. You can talk to your kids about the victory gardens during World War II, or about self-sufficiency and independence (there's nothing more independent than growing your own food).
  13. Make sure to build in "free time" for climbing trees, reading, exploring and just being a kid.
These are just a few of my ideas for summer fun. I tried to make sure they were suitable for most age groups. What fun things do you plan to do with your kids this summer?


Michele said...

Thank you for some really fun summer ideas! I really enjoy your fun Mama blog. Not only is it great for us, but what a wonderfull thing for Abigail to have and look back on one day. Can you imagine how great your Moms blog would have been and how much fun you would have had looking back on all the fun you had as a child! Anyway thanks for some great ideas we will definatly be trying some out soon :)

Melissa said...

Thanks for stopping by my blog today! I'm so glad I clicked over and found this link - my twin nieces will be here for a week this summer so I can teach them to ride their bikes without training wheels. This article has given me a few other activity ideas - thanks!