By Barbara Gruener
Part of our Counselor’s Corner series. Click to read other posts in the Counselor’s Corner.
As we slide into summertime, we might have visions of extended family vacations to explore new places, overnight adventures at summer camp, and day-long outings to a water park or theme park. Those classic activities are lots of fun, but families also need to find low-cost and no-cost ways to while away the many summer hours. Here are a few ideas.
Visit the local library.
One of our favorite things to do when our children were younger was to go to story time at the library. It typically included not only the introduction to a new author and book but also a craft activity and a snack for the kids. It was, in fact, the highlight of our week. Bookstores also host read-aloud events, so check out their schedules and mark your calendar. Many of them have a children’s area where kids can sit and read, or play with stuffed animals or train sets.
Plant a garden.
A wonderful way to keep your children engaged in the great outdoors while adding a little fresh produce to your nightly meals is to plant, tend, and harvest a garden. Encourage your children to research plants that might thrive in your soil, your climate, and your summertime weather conditions. Okra, for example, grows really well in our clay soil in the south. If you want to plant a vegetable or fruit that won’t do well in your soil, consider container gardening. Working hard to water and weed those plants can be an excellent source of self-esteem and pride for a child, with the added benefit of soaking up some vitamin D from the sun. Don’t forget the sunscreen!
Host a Bike Olympics event.
When our daughter was turning six, she asked for a bike birthday party, so we asked all of her friends to bring over their bikes and held a Bike Olympics in our cul-de-sac. It was great fun to watch those little cyclists—some with trikes, others with training wheels, and still others on their two-wheelers—as they wove in and out of the cones and raced to the finish lines. We set up several different courses and then encouraged the kids to set up their own challenge. Each child went home with a bike horn, some bandages, and a heart full of happiness!
Launch water balloons.
One of the best purchases we ever made was a water balloon launcher. Not only can you use it to launch water balloons into the yard for the children to try to catch, but you could also get creative and build something like a pirate ship in the backyard or park and let your little warriors shoot balloons at the bad guys. It’ll be fun target practice, for sure, and you’ll be amazed at the groans and giggles as kids take aim and fire. Have lots of balloon ammunition available, because kids will come back to this activity over and over again.
Create a time capsule.
This is a favorite end-of-the-school-year activity for the classroom, but have your children ever created a time capsule for the family? If they were going to bury one to be dug up some time in the future, what would they want to say about life in 2017? What is their family up to? What are they dreaming about? What do they hope for? What do they struggle with? What do they do well? What can they get better at? What are the artifacts they’d like to bury and preserve to share with the future? Have children collect, create, and curate their items, then decorate the box that they’re going to bury.
Research your family’s genealogy.
Summertime is the perfect time to do research, so why not encourage your children to figure out what your family crest or coat of arms looks like. If they can’t find one, encourage them to make one. What does your family stand for? What symbol would kids put on a banner to represent the family name? This might also be a good time to research your ancestry and figure out exactly where your ancestors came from, then encourage your children to draw a family tree. How are they similar to their ancestors? How are they different?
Schedule movie nights.
It’s no secret that going to the movies can be an expensive outing, so why not bring the movies to the house? Dollar rentals make it fairly affordable to host a movie night. Put on pj’s, pop some popcorn, make a fort out of blankets if you want to, and enjoy some family togetherness while you’re whisked away with a fantasy, comedy, or musical. Invite the kids’ friends, cousins, or neighbors to join you. For a fun twist, take the movie outside to re-create the drive-in experience using a projector and a white screen or sheet, and enjoy some fresh air while you’re watching. Our little village shows movies once a month throughout the summer in the amphitheater in the park. See if your town might offer something like that, too.
Spend time at the park.
Play is the brain’s favorite way to learn, so why not keep the learning alive at your local park. Our city park has a playground, a sandbox area, a walking trail, basketball courts, volleyball nets, a splashpad, even a community swimming pool. Yours might have some or all of these or other fun amenities. Watch for special events like art in the park, petting zoos, or jazz nights. Our parks and recreation committee hosts a myriad of events to keep children and families engaged and entertained all summer long.
Attend community education classes.
Community education classes can be an affordable way to keep the learning alive during the summer. Kids can take classes alone, or you may do something together as a family. Learn to knit or crochet, play the ukulele, or paint or draw. Take an acting class. Or try cooking. There are even classes for the yoga enthusiast. Many high school sports teams also host camps; learning from a teenager can be a nonintimidating way to pick up skills in a new sport like basketball, tennis, volleyball, baseball, or ultimate Frisbee. Need financial assistance? Many community education programs have scholarships available.
Look for ways to serve.
A therapeutic way to de-stress is to focus on helping others. How might your children engage with community partners to serve this summer? Do kids have a skill, like playing the piano, that they could share at a retirement center? Can they do chores around the house to earn a little extra money, then shop for some canned goods to help restock local pantry shelves? Can they help a neighbor put out the trash or bring in dumpsters off of the curb? Are there leaves to rake, weeds to pull, or flowers to plant? Can they care for the pet of a neighbor who is away on vacation? Can they offer to bring in that neighbor’s mail? Can they create cheerful get-well cards to deliver to their local pharmacy, hospital, or emergency clinic? Ask children what they’d like to do to help make someone’s summertime better.
Currently in her 33rd year as an educator, Barbara Gruener, a school counselor and character coach at Bales Intermediate School in Friendswood, Texas, has had the pleasure of working with kids from every grade level. Author of the blog The Corner on Character and the book What’s Under Your Cape? SUPERHEROES of the Character Kind, Barbara enjoys positively influencing change through her inspirational keynotes and interactive workshops. When she’s not working, you can bet Barbara is knitting, baking, writing, reading, walking, gardening, napping, or spending time with her husband and their three children.
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