The family vacation, the beach and the pool are well-known catalysts of summer fun, but as they are not always affordable, we keep searching for some other ones like crazy alchemists, especially when the kids are constantly complaining they are bored. While we don’t want them to spend all summer just watching cartoons and playing games on some mobile device, we can’t possibly spend all day entertaining them.
With all the products of modern technology that were supposed to help us, it looks like things are getting even worse. Just ask anybody, and you’ll probably hear that it’s becoming harder and harder to limit their kids’ screen time, compete for their attention with a variety of devices, and take their minds off expecting to get everything instantly. So can’t we have a magic elixir that will cure all ills?
The magic of togetherness
Just don’t fall into the trap of simply offering more versions of instant fun to your kids, and avoid anything that lets them get comfortable with the idea that someone is entitled to fun only, while the other one is always stuck with the chores. TOGETHERNESS is the name of the magic elixir, and if you want its formula, here are the ingredients:
- Doing, discussing, planning things together.
- Discovering, learning and practicing something new.
- Putting some effort in before you can enjoy the result.
Some families manage to find a perfect balance of these, of productive work and well-deserved fun, of everybody feeling rewarded for their contributions, however small or awkward these may sometimes seem. I can’t recommend how many measuring cups of each ingredient should be used for the magic to work, or what can possibly serve as a measuring cup even. But as for more detailed recipes of summer fun, here are a few ideas:
Inside and outside
Some claim it’s changing the usual rules and routines that makes summer so great. Perhaps so, but if you have to return to these rules and routines when summer is over, that may be difficult. I suggest a different, subtler kind of change – as we tend to associate many things with what is typically done outdoors or indoors, summer is the time when we can rethink these and easily swap the options. One day, you may need to work in the garden, or simply to get your kids outside so that they don’t watch TV for hours. The other day, you may need to stay in the house due to work or weather issues. By changing the “sides”, you can make your daily routines more flexible while adding new elements of fun to the usual activities.
Outside: The ways of having fun with sand in the yard (or if you are lucky to make it to the beach) don’t need lengthy explanations. To write messages and create pictures or patterns, you just need a stick, or simply your fingers. If you don’t have a sandbox in the yard, spreading some sand on almost any flat surface will work as special summer art “canvas”.
Inside: The idea of playing with sand indoors will terrify any parent because of the potential mess. However, kinetic sand is great for keeping your kids entertained and creative while you are doing some work about the house. It’s not loose, it is colorful, stretchy and perfect for making shapes or building something. Kinetic sand is not messy, but still not completely mess-free like the advertisements promise. While it won’t stick to fingers, it can stick to socks, bottoms of shoes and carpet fibers.
Sand art is another option of using sand creatively with a low risk of simply turning it into a mess. You can find instructions for DIY sand art lightbox online instead of buying one, as well as fantastic videos for your inspiration. Sand art and kinetic sand are actually fun at any age, and a wonderful anti-stress therapy.
Inside: It’s worth having one in the house, as it can be used for learning purposes, planning family activities, writing important or sweet messages, or just random art – by all family members, not just kids. You can also have a small chalkboard attached to one of your kitchen cabinet/closet/pantry doors, so that your toddlers can scribble something while you are washing fruit or setting the table.
While this is no substitute for child safety locks and won’t give you enough time to cook something (which is not safe to do with small kids around, anyway), a minute or two is often exactly what you need. I didn’t even buy a chalkboard because I had a black-colored dresser from my parents’ house, and we simply used its sides as chalkboards. I never liked its color, but it has given me many moments of peace when I could make myself a cup of tea.
Outside: perhaps because of this dresser, I’m absolutely comfortable with chalk drawings on the fence, garage doors and even walls of the house. If you like the idea of such graffiti in the yard (at least as long as it gives you a chance to sit down and have a drink), you can allow that. Chalk is washed off easily, anyway, and it’s extra fun to do this with squirt guns or when watering the flowers. If you don’t like chalk art all over the place, mount a large chalkboard to the fence – to be used by the whole family when playing games, outlining tasks or responsibilities, awarding stars or points, explaining and illustrating something, etc.
Picnics and camping
Outside: no doubt these are awesome, even if they take place in the backyard. You can’t have too many picnics throughout the summer, and kids would probably love all their meals served outside on a blanket. Backyard camping is also popular, especially because you don’t have to pack lots of things and regret forgetting something anyway. Still, if you don’t have a backyard, or it starts raining when your family is planning a picnic or camping, what can you do?
Inside: it isn’t easy to fit a tent into a room, but some people have gone this far. The smaller ones for kids are not a problem, and are usually enjoyed, but you don’t have to buy one. There are different ways of building something like a teepee in the room (though it’s easier to do outside, with a rope between trees and sheets hanging off of it). A picnic in the house requires just a blanket on the floor, and perhaps a disposable tablecloth to protect it from spills. Now bad weather can’t ruin your family plans, and it’s also a great idea for a party if you have a small apartment or don’t want too much fuss with cooking and washing the dishes.
There are many other things and ideas you can borrow from outdoor activities to bring them inside, and vice versa. Build and create together, plan and improvise, share and take delight in what you have, regardless of what the others may consider to be better. The most expensive vacation at the fanciest beach resort won’t work well if someone always feels tired and unappreciated. Believe in the magic of together, and take pride in it.