Article by Wendy Hinote Lanier
School is out and summer has officially begun! Summer stretches out before you with endless possibilities. For the next eight to ten weeks, you and your kiddos will enjoy lazy days and uninterrupted family fun.
Ok, ok. I know. Summers aren’t always lazy or fun nowadays. For many kids, the summer is filled with organized sports and other scheduled activities. For working parents it’s hard to find suitable supervision for your school age kids (especially those who are too old for daycare but not old enough, or mature enough, to handle being on their own). And for stay-at-home parents, it’s always a challenge to find activities that can compete with screen time. Add to that the fact that kids are so scheduled most of the time, they have no idea how to entertain themselves when there’s no schedule.
What you wind up with is a recipe for a long, stressful summer that is anything but lazy and carefree.
I can’t offer solutions for most of these issues, although I wish I could. But what I can do is offer some suggestions for making memories with your kids this summer that will last a lifetime. It doesn’t have to be big. And it doesn’t have to be on the schedule daily. It just needs to be purposeful.
As far as I’m concerned, the best activities start with books. A shared reading experience that leads to a shared activity is the stuff memories are made of. Kids will remember the books and the time spent together long after summer is over. And every time they reread a shared book; they’ll remember again. You might even find they attach such significance to the whole thing that, someday, they will share the same book and the same activities with their own children.
First, choose a book appropriate for your children’s age level. It might be a chapter book. It might be a picture book. It doesn’t matter. It’s the shared reading that’s important. You can read it aloud. Your child can read it aloud. An older sibling can read it aloud to a younger sibling. Someone can read aloud while dinner is being prepared. The important thing is to find a time when everyone, the whole family, is present.
As you read, take note of the activities in the book you are reading together. What sounds fun? Could your family do something similar? Use the books you read as conversation starters. Discuss what you’ve read over a meal. Then you can plan family activities based on what you’ve read.
Here are a few ideas to get you started:
|And Then Comes Summer by Tom Brenner (Candlewick Press, 2017) is a picture book about all things summer. It’s chock-full of summertime activities that you and your family could easily do. You don’t have to schedule every single activity in the book. Just pick one. And when you do that activity (even something as simple as getting ice cream from the ice cream truck or playing hide and seek), you can say, “Remember? This was in the book we read!”
Family activities tied to shared reading make for great memories. They don’t have to be elaborate. They just require your time and attention. Your undivided attention. (That means no phones except to snap some pictures.)
|Another cute summer themed book is Chris Van Dusen’s A Camping Spree with Mr. Magee (Chronicle Books, 2003). In it, Mr. Magee and his trusty dog, Dee, set out to enjoy a camping trip to the mountains. While a camping trip in the mountains might not be in your budget this year (although wouldn’t that be a great family memory maker?), you CAN roast marshmallows over a fire in the backyard just like Mr. Magee and Dee. You could look up interesting facts about bears. You could even camp out in the backyard. And as you read the book, don’t forget to enjoy the artwork. Van Dusen is also the illustrator for another favorite series—the Mercy Watson books by Kate DiCamillo.
|For a longer read I highly recommend any of The Happy Hollister series, and especially those with warm weather emphasis. The Happy Hollisters on a River Trip and The Happy Hollisters at Seagull Beach are both full of ideas for summer family fun. Although written under the name Jerry West, the author’s name is actually Andrew Svenson. The series was originally released in the 1950s, but the last couple of years have seen them make a big comeback. (For more information you can visit their website at https://thehappyhollisters.com/.)
The five kids in the Hollister family always find lots of ways to entertain themselves. Fishing, kite making, camping, treasure hunting, beach combing, and “Let’s Pretend,” are just a few activities that are part of the Hollister family fun. Reading a chapter together each evening is sure to spark lots of family discussion about differences in daily life then and now, historical topics such as pirates, geographic locations that may be unfamiliar to you, and much more. Each book will very likely give you a myriad of ideas for fun things to do together.
|And, since everyone knows summertime is swim time, may I also suggest Too Many Pigs in the Pool by yours truly (Sleeping Bear Press, 2022)? As the title suggests, the book includes swine and swimming along with a few surprises. It’s a STEM title that involves doubling the number of pigs in the pool each day. By the end of the week, well, let’s just say the results are catastrophic. Reading the book together is a good chance to talk about numbers and days of the week as well as a few water games you could play together.
Summertime CAN be fun time for you and your kids with a little effort on your part. It doesn’t have to be highly organized. Just start with a book, and then take your cues from the conversations that come from that. You’ll be developing readers while you strengthen family ties and create meaningful memories. What could be better than that?
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