Some of my favorite childhood memories are from summer: Playing in the pool, carnivals, road trips to Vermont with my family. As a parent, I’ve tried to create those same summer memories for my kids, and then some. I grew up in an apartment and didn’t have a backyard or deck, but we’ve made good use of ours. One of the joys of summer: It doesn’t take all that much effort to have a whole lot of family fun.
These are some of the things I’ve done with the kids in summers past and plan to do this season, too — stuff they often bring up, unprompted, as some of their favorite activities ever.
1. Camp out on your deck or in your backyard
A couple evenings every summer, we put our sleeping bags on the back porch on top of egg crate foam. We roast marshmallows over a mini grill, read books by flashlight, tell a ghost story or two, and fall asleep under the stars. Then we all wake up when my husband starts to snore and marvel over how much louder he sounds outside.
2. Sell lemonade
A couple summers ago, at the end of the season, I picked up a Discovery Kids Lemonade Stand Kit on sale at CVS. We set it up on the street one afternoon last July, and my kids made a killing peddling lemonade (they would have made more except that my son drank some of the profits). They gave half the money to charity. Business lesson, do-good deed, fun: win, win, win!
3. Organize Water Balloon Wars
All you need: A stockpile of balloons, a water hose for filling them, a parent to tie them, and a big old bucket to hold them. And then, let ‘er rip! In our family Water Balloon Wars, we pair into sides and compete in a variety of Olympic level games, from seeing who can hit various body parts to who can toss water balloons to the top of the swing set slide and get them to roll down without breaking.
4. Do a farm stay …
We’ve done a couple in the last two years, including Liberty Hill Farm in Rochester, Vermont and one in Pennsylvania Dutch Country. Unless you already happen to already live on a farm, this is fascinating for whole family. My kids have milked cows, gathered freshly laid eggs, and hung out with pigs, goats, and barn kittens. And they got to see cows pooping, one of the highlights of their trip. So wowed have they been by the great outdoors that they didn’t even notice their rooms lacked TVs.
5. … or just road trip to nowhere
At least one Sunday a summer, we pick some random town to visit that’s within an hour’s drive away, jump in the car and then roam around. Half the fun is hunching over the computer in the morning, trying to decide where to go. One critical factor: Whether or not there’s a good ice-cream parlor.
6. Have a breakfast picnic in the park
We’re usually the only people in the park near us on early Sunday mornings when our family arrives armed with egg-and-cheese sandwiches, chocolate milks, a picnic blanket, a ball to toss around … and a thermos of mimosas.
We have a cheap oscillating sprinkler from Home Depot that I attach to a hose reel in the backyard; the kids can play in it for hours, and the lawn gets fully watered. They also love the Banzai Wiggling Waterpillar Sprinkler.
8. Make a shaving cream slide, while you’re at it
Step 1: Spread a big plastic tarp over the lawn. Step 2: Squirt on shaving cream. Step 3: Let the kids roll and slide to their hearts’ content. Step 4: Retreat to your deck and read the Sunday news.
9. Blow bubbles in the dark
Just grab a few flashlights and some cans of bubbles. Turn off your patio and deck lights and position the lit flashlights on a table so they’re aimed upward, then have the kids blow bubbles. It seems kind of magical, and the kids think you’re kind of genius.
A good way to put all that farmer’s market bounty to great use. Melon ballers are super-fun, and kids can carve out their initials on the watermelon basket or make special designs. We like to do this on days when we’re having friends over for a BBQ.
11. Play flashlight tag
My kids play this version of hide-and-seek at dusk with the neighborhood kids. Whoever is “it” holds a flashlight and counts to ten as the other kids hide. Then “it” goes to find them, shining a light on each hider to “tag” him or her. Only one challenge: Getting your kids to come inside for bedtime. But then, what the heck, it’s summer — let ‘em stay up way too late.
Image source for watermelon basket: Flickr/debbilytle