Take some time during summer break for fun projects the whole family will remember.
Do any teachers still assign that September cliché, the essay on “What I did during summer vacation”? Whether or not they do, it’s worth thinking about what your children would write or say in response to that prompt.
Chances are that some fun things would have happened—visits to the beach, maybe some day camps, a family trip—or possibly a few not-so-fun things, like summer school for kids who need a boost academically. But the question is, what would they have gotten out of their summer that would be worth an essay? In other words, will this summer be nice, or will it be memorable?
I’m not bringing this up to disparage any of the many wonderful and helpful ways to spend those precious months off. Fun and play are worth experiencing in and of themselves, and kids don’t generally get enough of those, to my way of thinking.
But the memories we get out of an experience have a lot to do with the thought we put into them, and with a little brainstorming, “just another summer” can turn into an experience that the whole family remembers and talks about for years. What it takes is coming up with, and carrying through on, a summer project. You can make it something that fits into the other experiences the family has planned, or a side project that stands on its own.
What could it be? Pretty much anything.
This could be the summer that your family hangs different bird feeders in the garden and uses binoculars and a birding guide to learn about the visitors.
Or you could plant a garden to attract butterflies. You could use the milkweed that monarch caterpillars lay their eggs on (the native versions, available at such places as Roger’s Gardens and Tree of Life Nursery, are best) and nectar flowers that will attract them and many other butterflies.
How many county parks have you visited? This could be the summer when you see them all. Check out the different activities and calendars at each: You could picnic, take out a paddle boat, fish, camp, see fossils or a redwood mini-forest, hide in an old robbers’ cave, take a free archery lesson, bicycle, listen to a summer concert, ride a pony, visit a zoo or rank the best playgrounds. Create a little passport with a page for each park labeled at the top and buy an ink stamp. Outline a space on the page where kids can stamp their books each time they visit a new park, and include a few blank lines for them to jot down a memory or two, and leave a space for a small picture that they can draw or photo they can take and print, mini-size. An annual pass costs $55, which will give you free entry to all of the county’s regional and wilderness parks—and there are more than 20 of them. For $80, you can park free at all the county parks and beaches.
Or maybe this is the summer of creative good deeds. Here’s one that could be done in whatever spare moments you have: Figure out the many ways that your family could cut down single-use plastic. That gives everyone a chance to brainstorm, research and work together to figure out what they can do. It also can involve some creative crafts, such as making beeswax food wrappers out of old cotton clothing and food-grade beeswax (you can find directions online), to avoid use of plastic bags and plastic wrap. Little cloth or paper bags could be created to put your vegetables in at the market instead of all that filmy plastic.
How about summertime cooking together? The family could spend the summer exploring a cuisine—Italian food, perhaps, because who doesn’t love making their own pizza?—and look up yummy recipes to make from different regions. That could involve learning about the regions and the history of the food. Maybe the kids could grow some tomatoes and herbs such as rosemary and basil. This could work for any region’s cooking, or you could theme it by the kind of food, such as soups or (this always wins) desserts.
It’s always fun to revisit the “Harry Potter” books: The family could decide to re-read the whole series together, or as much of it as fits into your summer. After each book is read, you could rent the corresponding movie, make some popcorn for a movie night and then talk about the differences between the book and the movie.
Or re-read “The Secret Garden” and, if you have the garden space, “wall off” a section of the garden with bamboo reed fencing or something else inexpensive and easy. Within that private space, help the kids create their own little garden and include a special little lounging area for reading or dreaming.
Think ahead to the holidays. Kids love to give gifts they’ve made themselves, but they want to give something real that people will use and like. Adult intervention is needed to make walking or hiking sticks but there’s a lot that kids can do, too: sanding, staining, gluing on decorations.
Summer provides the weather for drying fruit or tomatoes. It’s easy to find supplies for making glycerin soaps or wax or paraffin candles. Don’t spread everyone too thin with projects, but kids will appreciate a variety of activities.
This could be just the starting place for your family to generate its own plans. The idea is to create a deep experience over the weeks that one day will lead your kids to say, “Remember that summer when we all … ?”
By Karin Klein