Making Summer Memorable
Summer's nearly over. Soon, your family will be packing up their swimsuits and tricycles. Now is the time to grab the picnic basket, unroll the tent or break out your hiking boots. How to make the most of these fleeting summer days? If they are old enough, "Get your children's input in planning activities by giving them a couple of acceptable choices." And remember, "Plan ahead, but be willing to be flexible," she says.
That in mind, here are five ways to make some summer memories today that will last all year:
1. Pitch a Tent
Spending a night or two under the stars – even if you're only in your backyard – is a fun experience for kids of any age. If you do go away from home, whether or not you're prepared to rough it can make or break your camping adventure. Consider choosing a location within easy reach of civilization. That way, if you've forgotten something essential (like sleeping bags!), your trip isn't a total loss. Then ask friends who have camped with children what advice they can give. For example, kids tend to get dirty – really dirty – when camping, so bring lots of dark-colored changes of clothes, plenty of baby wipes (even if your kids are out of diapers), and try not to fret about dirty fingernails.
Other considerations: If your child is an infant, where will you put him down? Where will he eat and sleep? Steve Reitan, a father in Castlegar, British Columbia, Canada, started camping with his daughter when she was just 5 months old. He used a playpen to keep his baby off the ground while she played and even brought along a highchair. "The highchair was great for keeping a mobile toddler at a campsite while doing necessary things like dinner prep or setting up the tent," his wife, Leanne, says. "Our daughter could color in her chair while we [set up camp]."
2. Take a Hike
Many parents think they have to give up long treks through the woods or exploring their favorite hiking trails when kids are in the mix. But hiking with your children can make the experience even more rewarding than hiking alone. Pointing out wildlife, sharing a picnic along the way and just spending time together outdoors all make taking a hike with little ones well worth the effort.
What's involved? A good baby backpack, like those made by Kelty, is essential to a successful hike with kids younger than 3. So are drinks for both Baby and parent and snacks to keep you moving. "The farther away your trip takes you, the more important planning becomes," says Bob Farley, a father of one son in Centennial, Colo. This means that forgetting sunblock, a hat for baby or, most important, a map, can quickly spoil your day if you're miles from home.
Finally, before you set out for a few hours on the trail, talk to your kids about dangers they may encounter, like poison oak and rattlesnakes. Stress the importance of respecting their environment by "packing in and packing out" – taking your trash with you. And establish rules about what to do if one of your children becomes separated from you.
3. Go Trolling
Love to fish? Even if you aren't an avid fisherman, teaching kids to fish is a great way to spend time together. For younger children, buy a "practice" rod – a plastic fishing rod with no dangerous hooks – to teach kids how to cast their line and reel in their catch. Or you can look for fishing kits designed for kids who are just starting out. According to FishingKids.com, these include tackle and a rod that may even depict a favorite cartoon character. "If you're not sure what size rod to buy, you should select one that is close to the size of the child or recommended for their age group," the Web site advises.
If the fish aren't biting, Kim Danger, a mother in Mankato, Minn., and owner of parenting Web site Mommysavers.com, suggests you "Remember that the goal of the outing is to spend time together talking, sharing and learning about each other. Don't worry too much about what you are doing; just enjoy the day."
4. Visit an Amusement Park
Strolling the grounds of a nearby amusement park can be a memorable way to spend a day this summer. Just be sure to set appropriate expectations for your children and yourself. For instance, if your kids prefer to sit under a tree and drink lemonade over riding the attractions, go with it.
Also, note that if your children are below 44 inches in height, their access to rides may be restricted. Check out the park's Web site in advance to be sure there are plenty of rides you can enjoy with your child or he can enjoy on his own in an area dedicated to younger visitors. If the park seems to be oriented toward taller riders, head for the carousel, spend time meeting the characters that are bound to be mingling with the crowds and share a special treat.
Take regular breaks to sip water or juice (pre-freeze water or juice bottles and pack them in your backpack where they'll stay cold for hours). Remember that if you're having fun, your child will likely have fun, too. "Basically, I find that whatever I enjoy, my son will enjoy," says Farley.
5. Dive In
Whether you're teaching your kids the backstroke or just splashing around in the shallow end of the pool, no summer is complete without swimming. Ryan Young of Oakland, Calif., agrees. He takes his son to a nearby "swimming hole," which is a "totally artificial, but totally wonderful" man-made pond with a beach, diving floats and a snack bar. "I love going there with my 5-year-old and his buddies," he says.
Swimming is not just a great way to cool off, it's also good exercise. Through swimming, "Kids learn that the family considers physical activity is important," says Charles Kuntzleman, adjunct associate professor of kinesiology at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. "Parent and child connect. Children learn motor skills, which will make them confident to use their bodies. Children learn to challenge their bodies. Just keep in mind that the activities are to be fun, largely non-competitive and geared toward the children."
"The best part of these activities to me is building positive memories," says Wayne Parker, father of five and guide for About.com's fatherhood site. "[Author] Stephen Covey talks about the 'emotional bank account.' I see summer activities as making deposits into those accounts for our children."
When summer's over and it's back to indoor playdates and chilly winter evenings, your kids will remember that afternoon you spent on the lake, at the park or in the woods – and so will you.