5 Things a Working Parent Can Do to Cultivate Summer Joy

Summer can be total bliss. On the other hand, as a working parent who doesn’t get to slow down simply because the temp rises, it can feel a little daunting.

I remember the feeling as a child – mid-June rolls around and the world is your oyster because IT’S SUMMER! Time for sprinklers and popsicles and visits to Grandma’s. Life was easy.

Now that I’m a working parent, the arrival of summer means that I have to figure out how I’m going to juggle our work schedule with our kids’ lack of schedule for a total of 55 long summer days.

I’ve been staring at a calendar for the last three months jotting down notes about which child will be where with whom on what day. While it’s not quite enough to make me long for winter, it is enough to make summer feel more like a rat race than Mother Nature ever intended.

With summer’s official arrival, I’m acutely aware that this amazing season could end up feeling like a vacation that we spent more time planning than enjoying, so I’m trying to cultivate a new approach to unscheduled time this summer. Instead of freaking out, over-scheduling, and planning our days down to the last minute, I’m going to make every effort to be more mindful of the time we have. I want to remember the joy of my childhood summers and open the doors to welcome its return. 

Here are the promises I am making to myself and my family this year:

1 | I will play. 

It is all too easy to sit back and watch our children play, perhaps using this much-needed time to prepare dinner or weed the garden or check our work email. Watching them certainly brings vicarious joy and the pleasure of seeing our children happy, but this year when my kids are throwing water at each other or building a fort in the woods I am going to join in as much as I can. 

Creating memories together is one way of showing our children how much we love and treasure them; it can also help us to experience valuable reconnection with our kids, making more room for them in our busy lives.

2 | I will let my children play. 

After researching the importance of free play for kids, especially in nature, I’m doubling my efforts to create the space for this to happen for my own kids. Rather than scheduling a different camp every week, I’m working with other like-minded parents to arrange alternating play dates and testing out a mother’s helper so I can occasionally work from home. On these days, my children can create their own adventures with their friends and we all find joy in watching the self-reliance, creativity, and physical growth that comes with free play. 

3 | I will set my away message (and actually be away). 

Whether I’m on an actual vacation or just one of my days off from work (I am lucky enough to have negotiated a few extra weeks off during the summer), I will stop incessantly checking my phone to see if an email has come in that I need to address. I will put down the technology and actually be present with my family. I’ll pay attention to the silly face my daughter makes when she finds a bug on the deck; I’ll notice when my son is feeling hot and tired and suggest that we lay down under our sprawling maple to look at the branches against the sky; and I’ll dig my hands into the soil in the garden, nurturing my own need for physical movement.

4 | I will nurture connections with other families. 

Families that can play together, at both the kid and adult level, are a valuable asset to modern life and summer is the perfect time to foster these relationships. These are the families we can invite over (or drop our kid with) at a moment’s notice; the people with whom we can laugh about our crazy parenting mistakes; and the people with whom we can sit and talk for hours while the children jump on a trampoline until their legs turn to Jell-o. 

It can be easy to let weeks pass in the middle of a school year without this kind of laid back gathering, but in my humble opinion it should be at least a weekly event during the summer.  This is our tribe. These are our people. Having them in our lives helps bolster our spirits for the more challenging moments. 

5 | I will re-read this article every 3-4 weeks..

…to make sure I haven’t forgotten my promises to myself and to my kids. After all, just because it’s summer doesn’t mean I’m any less likely to get caught up in the neverending hamster wheel of life. 

7 True Reasons I Hate Summer, But Not Really

Summer, you’re our favorite! But seriously, you’re killing us. We can’t keep up with every single awesome thing we’re supposed to hurry up and do before it’s cold, okay? WE CAN’T.

1 | C’MON. I don’t actually hate summer, I’m not a MONSTER. Just stay with me.

2 | Mosquitoes. Obviously. Hey mosquitoes, we all still hate you. I’ve done zero research on this and I am completely confident that mosquitoes could be wiped off the face of the earth and nothing – not one single thing – would be negatively impacted.

Imagine how sweet. Sit under the stars and just think of it. Oh wait, NO! Don’t sit outside! You are covered in mosquitoes. You are BLEEDING OUT. Congrats! You have malaria.

3 | The ice cream truck. When at first you come singing It’s A Small World After All, when you come to us just as we have closed on the longest, darkest months of the year with your hopeful playfulness and sweet delights…oh, how I love you. And you when you come back a second time, I am amused: Ok kids, have another ice cream, life is short.

But when you come back eery single night exactly at dinnertime? When you come back just as I’m about to triumphantly deliver some (albeit questionable) hot dog-type protein to my mildly nutrient-deficient offspring? When you do that? Well. You can go fuck yourself, Ice Cream Pusher-man.

You can take your type-2 juvenile diabetes on wheels and… DRIVE AWAY. You’re a heartless drug-dealer and you’re not even dealing the good kind of drugs. You’re not like: Hey, hey, hey, lil mommy, here’s a margaritttaaaaa!

No. You are dealing Sponge-Bob popsicles with gumball eyes, black gumball eyes, licorice gumball eyes. Because black licorice is terrible and we are all dead inside.

4 | The Farmer’s Market. Why? Because those stinky dudes are here again doing some kind of partner/circus/flying-trapeze yoga. What is even happening there? Is that your dog holding you up? Why is your cat outside on a leash?

Stop it. Please.No one cares, bro. I am trying to eat this organic, vegan samosa and your effort to be the whiter than I am is highly distracting.

Also, your toddlers are dirty. Wash them.

5 | Guess what? Everyone on Facebook is having a better summer than you are. Than I am. Than anyone has ever had, or will ever have. Seriously, LOOK. It’s right there for the world to witness and it’s perfect.

There are pics of boats, beaches, cabins, sunsets, picnics, festivals, outdoor movie nights, bouquets of flowers, glasses of wine, date-nights, perfectly camp-fired s’mores, and beach books hovering above bronzed thigh gaps through which you can see the sparkling and beckoning surf.

People are only and eternally #blessed and #grateful and #sandinmytoes. No one is fighting, no one is crying, no one is poor, no one is working weekends, no one is not getting laid, no one is languishing for hours playing Minecraft, no one is stressed out, no one is throwing a tantrum, and no one is ever trying to accomplish actual work while children lurk and watch with vacant eyes.

On Facebook, the entire world is a dream-board of expertly executed summertime memories. Yeah. Go there. See it. Feel bad. Your summer sucks.

A girl has fun running in the water spray of a sprinkler on a hot summer day to cool off from the sun. Nostalgic childhood outdoor fun.

6 | The perennial and relentless pressure to have the best summer ever. I mean, have you done all the things? Well? Have you?!

Have you been to the farm? Have you been to the other farm? Do you have a garden? Is it picturesque? Will you can it, jam it, pickle it? You DO have a farm-share though, right? RIGHT? Have you hiked? Canoed? Kayaked? Biked? Camped? Have you been stand up paddle-boarding? My GOD, have you even done yoga on the paddle board? Have you been to the river? The pond? The lake? The ocean? Do you have a hammock? Are you in it?!

HURRY UP, PEOPLE. It’s gonna be mind-scrambling COLD in less than two months and/or tomorrow. There are memories to be made. ALL the memories must be made.

7 | And finally: summertime rolls. So fast, too fast. I hate this part the most. It comes rushing like vernal rivers swelling and urgent, and it’s gone again too soon. Somewhere inside the fleeting warmth of these long, light days are moments of unadulterated perfection. Perfectly imperfect. They’re not the moments you planned for, or fretted over, or dreamed of. But here they are – moments translated into memories forever imprinted on your family, your squad, your tribe. Memories that brand you, and write your story.

Like that time you quit work early and ate gas station salami sandwiches driving on a back road with all the windows down and nowhere to be.

Or that time a dip in the lake turned into an epic water fight, a battle to dominate the last raft floating – the one still not popped – kids clawing, clamoring, exhilarated by the shocking sound of a mom yelling, “Hold your fire, you little shits!”

Or the time you bought the drugstore kite and tried to fly it in the cemetery and fell backwards over a gravestone while your kids clutched their hearts laughing at you, directly AT you. And you thought this must be what success feels like: the sound of their joy alive in your blood.

It’s that heavy eyelids, sticky forehead, still-a-baby, sunburned nose of a growing eight year old boy fighting sleep to tell you that he had fun today, that it was a good day today.

And his love is all you’ll ever need, his love is all the summers coming and gone pressed together, shot through with wonder, and set ablaze in your heart. So full it might explode. So full you can’t breathe.

Because here it is, and there it goes. Another summer, another year, another collection of days caught like fireflies in a jar and let go again. It’s nothing we planned. It’s everything we hope for. Light slanting, days shifting, circadian rhythms tick-tocking.

And it rolls.

6 Outdoor Family Activities For Non-Outdoorsy Parents

Being outside has many health benefits. But not everyone wants to be swarmed by bugs in the woods. These less outdoorsy alternatives may be more your style.

Common sense tells us that kids should spend time outdoors. I’m sure most of us have vivid memories of our parents telling us to “Go out and play!” when we were children.

Studies have proven the many benefits that being outside can have on our physical and emotional well-being. According to the National Wildlife Federation, spending time outdoors can increase fitness levels, lower stress and improve sleep. It’s important that we continue to encourage our children to step away from the iPad from time to time and enjoy what nature has to offer, just as our parents did for us.

That being said, not everyone is the nature type – myself included. While I love being outside and enjoying the sunshine, I do not enjoy getting dirty, being bitten by bugs, or “roughing it” in any way.

However, this does not mean people like me can’t plan (and enjoy) family activities that take place in the great outdoors. There are many fun things to do outside that do not involve hiking Mt. Everest, bathing in a river, or sleeping in a tent.

Here are some ideas to try with your family this summer:

1 | Attend sporting events.

Summer is a great time to take in a ball game. Whether it be a major league game, a local college match up, or even a little league tournament, attending a sporting event is a great way to log some outdoor hours and support your favorite teams, as well.

2 | Spend time at the playground.

Kids love few things more than a good playground. Swings, slides, and monkey bars – what’s not to love? Do a little research to find out where all the great playgrounds are in your area. One of the best ways to do this is just by chatting with other local parents to hear their favorites. Playgrounds are always being built, and are now more often accessible for children of all abilities. NPR recently put together an extensive list of these all-accessible playgrounds that you can view online.

3 | Take a walk around the block.

Walking is excellent exercise and when done outside it is even more beneficial. This does not have to be a rugged hike in the wilderness. In fact, a simple walk around your own neighborhood is all you need. Make a time for the whole family to do this together, including your furry friends. An after-dinner stroll together can become a healthy tradition and regular bonding experience.

4 | Browse farmers markets.

Farmers markets are popping up everywhere. Not only can you buy local fruits and vegetables at these venues, but often you’ll find fun (and free!) activities, as well. These can range from live music and cooking demonstrations to all kinds of children’s activities. Join your local market’s email list and “like” them on social media to get updates of what is going on.

5 | Find local fairs or festivals.

Nothing makes it feel more like summer than attending a good old-fashioned county fair or local festival. From the Maine Lobster Festival in Rockland, Maine to the Sussex County Farm and Horse Show (New Jersey’s State Fair) in Augusta, New Jersey, there are events everywhere to fit all interests.

6 | Explore local parks.

Of course, let’s not forget about our local parks. Many parks have a little bit of everything – paved walking trails, playgrounds, picnic areas, and even forest hiking trails, if you’re so inclined. You can find listings of parks in your area with a quick internet search. The National Park Service has a directory of national parks listed by state.

Hopefully something on this list will spark your interest for some outdoor summertime enjoyment. There are plenty of ways to get your daily dose of Vitamin D without channeling your inner Bear Grylls. Enjoy, and don’t forget your sunscreen!

How to Take Your Kids Camping Without Losing Your Mind

Camping with kids can be the opposite of tranquil. But with these tried and true tips, it can also be a whole lot of fun.

I love camping, but my idea of a great trip has evolved over the years.

In college we hiked into the national forest, pitched a tent, and sent somebody back for the cooler of beer. As young adults we were equally as suited to backwoods minimalist, as parties in the woods. We once fit four adults in a Camry and drove 12 hours to a multi-day camping festival.

Things have changed. These days we take two cars to camp 30 minutes away. It’s worth it, but making the most of the adventure requires some know-how.

Here’s what to do:

Find your compromise

Camping with small kids is an entirely different experience. We have left behind the days of hiking in with just the packs on our back, and have embraced car camping. For us, that means camping somewhere with a bath house and water. We still prefer not to have our cars right on top of us, and to have room to really spread out. Group camping at state parks usually fits the bill perfectly. And we have traded our packs for fully-packed cars. We look like we’re moving into a dorm room or small apartment, but I can guarantee that I won’t get cold at night.

Friends make it better

For the past five years the same core group of friends have been going camping together several times each year. Today we have ten children between the four families, and the kids currently range from age one to age 10. You can imagine how much things have changed! Our toddlers are now big kids and there are new babies to snuggle. It takes a lot of pressure off the parents when the kids have friends, and when everyone knows the expectations and boundaries of the group. Someone is always willing to hold the baby when I need a break.

Get the kids involved!

Teach them how to find the right firewood, and how to build a fire. Help them learn what is OK to put in the fire, and what is not. Quiz them on poison ivy. Encourage them to find the perfect marshmallow stick. There are a million possible lessons disguised as fun when you are in the woods. Imagination has no bounds in nature, either. This past trip I took a bunch of old-fashioned clothespins, some pipe-cleaners, and some watercolors for the kids to make fairies. Then they searched the woods for everything a perfect fairy garden would need. Boredom doesn’t exist when you are camping.

Organize, organize, organize

This is possibly my most practical tip. Get plastic containers and organize your small camping gear. Mine is filled with things like my first aid kit, flashlights, baby wipes, weather radio, cooking accoutrements, glow sticks, batteries, trash and sandwich bags, washcloths, and much much more. Collecting all of these little items the night before the trip is maddening, and I save so much time by having it all stored in a closet and ready to put straight into the car. So go down your packing list and add anything that makes sense. Speaking of your packing list, I suggest keeping an ongoing list that you update as needed. I keep mine in a spreadsheet.

Make safety an on-going conversation

I ask my daughter safety questions in different ways in the days leading up to our trip, and really drive it home on our way to the campsite. Your group dynamic, and location, will inform what questions you ask, but ours go something like this:

  • What do you do if you get lost? (Answer: Sit where you are and yell.)
  • Do you go to the lake without an adult?
  • What should you do before you go off with another adult? (Answer: Tell your parents.)
  • Can you go to the lake with the bigger kids without an adult?
  • Do you eat berries you find in the woods?
  • Should you run near the fire pit?
  • And then I make her repeat these ideas back to me as complete statements.

Pack a great first aid kit

  • Bandages
  • Burn cream
  • Anti-itch cream
  • Sting reliever
  • Tweezers
  • Pain reliever (child and adult)
  • Antihistamine (child and adult)
  • Saline solution or other eye wash
  • Antiseptic wipes
  • Hand sanitizer

Glow Sticks

I have tons of products that I love for camping — far too many to include here. But there is one that is indispensable: glow sticks. We buy the tubes of 15 bracelets for a couple of dollars each, and dole them out as night falls. They are useful for more than just keeping track of the kids. I attach them to the guy wires for tents, around major tripping hazards, and around the leashes and collars for the dogs.

Pennies for trash

No matter how conscientious you may be, there is going to be trash around the campsite at the end of the weekend. Save your aging back and get the kids to clean it up. A favorite in our group is to give each kid a bag and tell them they will get one penny per piece of trash they find. Suddenly they are fighting each other over who gets to pick up that banana peel. It’s literally worth every penny.

I love unplugging for a weekend and removing the temptation to let the TV do the babysitting. I love watching my kids and their friends explore, and learn, and create their own fun. It’s a measuring stick of sorts, all of our pictures from five years of camping. 

So, we’ll continue to do it for as long as we can, or at least until we have teenagers who’d rather sit in the campsite bathroom with their phones plugged into a wall than be lured back to nature. Or maybe, just maybe, we’ll give our kids enough reasons to want to unplug from electronics, and get into a more organic sort of  trouble. Like, hiding beer from the rangers. Not that I would know anything about that.

6 New Zealand-Inspired Activities That Will Make Kids Crush Summer

Been there, pinned that. Get past the same boring summer suggestions and crush this vacation with some new ideas from our Kiwi friends.

Summer holidays are on the horizon. Some parents are anticipating them with glee; balmy evenings spent flying kites on the beach with the whole family. You find these people on Pinterest and on stock photos- they are often wearing white and every child has brushed hair.

Other parents are looking at the approaching school holidays with a sense of great doom.  Edvard Munch’s The Scream is more the image that comes to mind. In this parent’s summer the sky is on fire, hands are raised to the face in an expression part horror, part extreme boredom. And there’s not a kid in sight – lost, every single one of them.

As a homeschooling mom I only know when school vacations happen because my Facebook feed gets filled with parents asking what the jeff they are meant to do with their kids every day for the next 60 days.

Being at home with my kids day in and day out, though, does mean I have a LOAD of ideas for activities that pass the “Time Input by Parent x Time Spent on Activity By Kid” equation.

The ultimate summer bucket list is comprised of these kinds of activities. Ones that can be set up quickly and inexpensively that keep children occupied for hours. Lots of these activities capture the imagination and end up evolving into games all of themselves.

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Here we go:

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Summer Activity, tree mud faces
Photo by http://sibylnutmeg.co.uk/mud-faces/

Mud Gargoyles

Ages 1- 12

Find a tree and a small area you have permission to dig up, in your yard or a friend’s yard, perhaps. (Try to avoid the local golf club/prize winning rose gardens.) Dig up a bucket of mud, add a little water to make it moldable.

Press lumps of mud onto the trunk of the tree into heads and shapes. This activity can go in all sorts of directions. Ending with mud slinging target practice is a winner!

Note: You also probably need a hose at the end of this one.

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Out summer activity, Ice Hacking

Ice Hacking

Ages 3- 8

Take some plastic dinosaurs, or other waterproof miniatures, and put them in small containers of water (plastic jars or Tupperware) and freeze them overnight.

The next day, give your child some tools and utensils and suggest they rescue their dinosaurs from the Ice Age. We have given our young children small butter knives and rocks and they have loved smashing out their little toys.

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Summer outdoor activity for kids, ice hill sliding

Summer Sledding

Ages 2- teenagers

There is a hill fairly local to us that provides the whole community with entertainment.  If you turn up on a sunny day, you will hear laughter ringing out as people of all ages sit upon a flattened out cardboard box and slide down the hill.

I don’t know if it’s just a local thing, or a New Zealand thing, but I haven’t seen it in any other place!

Find a hill of a smooth, steepish gradient and this summer sledding could be yours to enjoy, too!

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Summer out activity, stick weaving
Photo by: http://www.sunhatsandwellieboots.com

Giant Woven Sculpture

Ages 2- 10

This takes a little bit of preparation from the parent, but once up it is an activity that has the potential to stretch over the whole summer.

Take 10 bamboo stakes and dig them into the ground, in a line with eight inches between them. It will look like a gappy fence. Now take a long piece of string and, beginning from the top, tie the string horizontally from the first bamboo stick to the last, weaving in and out of the stakes. Take another piece of string and do the same thing, eight inches below the first string. Do it again until you have completed a grid.

This is the frame for your summer sculpture. Weave in weeds, grasses, flowers, sticks, driftwood, shells. Wherever you go this summer bring back natural materials to weave into your sculpture. As the days go by, your empty frame will become a masterpiece. Ideally, your children will take on a sense of ownership over this giant artwork and will spend hours weaving natural treasures in and out of the grid.

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Outdoor Summer activity, sand castle battle

Sand Battle

Ages 5- 10

Sometimes days spent at the beach go by in a whiz, as children just enter the zone of play with all the sensory opportunities available. Other times they need a little help. Try this.

Ideally you need a bit of beach with an estuary.

Build a sand castle (* yawn * – wait, wait!!!) that is out of the way of the trickle of water, but downstream from it.

Then, take on the role of an attacking enemy and, a few meters up, try to dig channels in the stream to direct the water towards the sandcastle to take it out. Encourage your children to build dams and other channels to keep the flow away from their sandcastle.

Swap roles.

If you are anything like me, you will get right into this and will enter the zone of play so thoroughly you won’t even want to slip away and leave them to it after a while!

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Out summer activity, ice block sledding
Photo by http://pueblopulp.com

Ice Slide

Ages 2- teenage

Many years ago I ran a youth club. It was the easiest job ever because I let the young‘uns come up with their own activities. One of the things they came up with was the ice slide. It sounds improbable, the sort of thing that only works for people on a Coca-Cola advertisement, but I can tell you it’s legitimate!


You do need quite a large freezer – a chest freezer is ideal. And then you need large square Tupperware boxes or the vegetable trays out of the bottom of your fridge. Fill these with water – 3-5 inches- and freeze for at least a day. It needs to be solid.

Chuck the slabs of ice in an ice box and head to a hill. It needs to be fairly smooth grass and of moderate gradient. Bring winter gloves and have the kids wear jeans.

You’re getting the picture now, aren’t you?

Take your slabs to the top of the hill and slide away! Depending on how hot the day is the slabs will last up to an hour, surprisingly, and your children will be SO DELIGHTED with this fun that they won’t need any more entertainment for the rest of the day.

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*Bonus Tip*

One of the things we like to do is write new activities we’ve discovered onto slips of paper and put them into a jar. At the start of each week we’ll pull out an activity and plan to fit it into our week. It keeps things fresh and fun and adds a bit of sparkle.

For more outdoor activities check out 80 Outdoor Activities for Rain or Shine.

What are some of the things you plan on doing this summer that no one has heard of? We’d love to hear your ideas!

30 Simple Ways to Make the Most of Summer With Your Kids

There are only 15 weekends between Memorial Day and Labor Day. That’s just 30 summer days. Here are 30 photos to show you how make the most of them.

I’m not trying to give you hives or anything, but I’ve checked the calendar, and (maybe you should sit down) there are only FIFTEEN weekends between Memorial Day and Labor Day. That’s just 30 weekend summer days.

The good news is, the days are long, (try telling my kids it’s time to get ready for bed at 7:30 when the sun is shining directly into their eyeballs) and the best weekends can cram in a months worth of awesome memories.

Packing it all in takes a little planning. Here are 30 things to put on your summer bucket list and get cracking.

1 | Take in a movie at the drive-in

kids at the drive in

Find a drive-in near you!

2 | Run a lemonade stand

lemonade-stand

Skip the powdered stuff, make it look fancy and be the best stand on the block.

3 | Take a trip to the beach 

little girl beach silhouette

An epic vacation or a day close to home. Just make sure you get some time with your toes in the sand.

4 | Make smores over a fire

smores

Don’t be afraid to break the rules.

5 | Go camping/camp out in the back yard 

beach hut

We’ve been pinning ideas for a trip for months now. (The raccoon couple that lumbers through our yard makes me nervous, however.)

6 | Go to a concert

kids-concert

Outdoor music events are the cornerstone of our summer.

7 | Go hiking

Hiking

8 | Perfect your bubble recipe

boy blowing bubble

Option one. Option two.

9 | Go fishing

Fishing

10 | Do some stargazing 

shooting-star

Find a field in the country or even your backyard (the darker, the better) and watch the stars come out. Identify constellations with the kids Star Walk app, or find an observatory that is open to the public and blow their minds.

11 | Watch a fireworks display

ferris wheel lights

 

12 | Pick your own berries

strawberrypicking2015-10 copy

Lessons I’ve learned in 7ish seasons of berry picking: strawberries usually come first and go quickly. Blueberries last longer and are easier to pick a lot of fast. Raspberries have thorns and make people cry. 

13 | Water fight! 

little girl with hose

Fill 100 balloons in one minute, or just turn the hose on them. Giant wet sponges make great ammo as well.

14 | Go to a baseball game

baseball

Major league, minor league, to kids (and let’s face it, most adults) it doesn’t make a difference. As long as there’s junk food and (relatively) good-natured yelling, everyone is pretty stoked.

15 | Go miniature golfing 

mini golf

Bonus points for going to one of the “craziest courses on earth“.

16 | Go to a fair 

kids on carousel

Go hungry. Leave loathing yourself.

17 | Host a popsicle party

popsicle in hand

A friend hosts an annual end of the school year popsicle party. From this amazing sugar laden gala I’ve learned two important things: Don’t waste time on cute labels and printed die cut popsicle garland because NO ONE NOTICES ANYTHING AFTER YOU SAY THE PHRASE UNLIMITED POPSICLES. Also, liquor freezes. (Pro tip: Borrow a second freezer for the adult popsicles.) Holy recipes.

18 | Organize a giant game of adults vs. kids capture the flag 

little girl fourth of july

We do this with a group of friends every year and it’s becoming increasingly unfair. The kids get faster while the adults, well, let’s just say, it isn’t pretty. Need a refresher on how to play?

19 | Visit a state (or national!) park 

campingwknd2015-17 copy

Find a National Park here. Find a state park.

20 | Watch caterpillars transform into butterflies

little girl with butterfly perched on hand

We found black swallowtail butterfly caterpillars on our dill plants last year and we became caterpillar foster parents for a month. I am not exaggerating when I say it was the highlight of the summer.

21 | Play tourist in a neighboring town 

boys walking

Lunch, shopping, and strolling in an unfamiliar place close to home is an often overlooked but fun way to spend a Sunday.

22 | Hit up a farmers market 

farmers market flowers

Find one near you, or while on vacation via Local Harvest.

23 | Visit a farm 

boy with horse

Cow milking not necessarily required.

24 | Watch a parade 

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Or have your own. Kids love banging on stuff and walking around the neighborhood.

25 | Give a winter kid a half birthday party 

little girl with balloons

As a January birthday, I can tell you there’s nothing more alluring than a birthday party that involves in season watermelon and enjoying the sunshine.

26 | Take a family bike ride 

little girl on tricycle

27 | Build an obstacle course 

Obstacle Course Outside

As a kid, my friends and I took turns setting up challenges for each other for hours at a time. You can use props or simply a playground with lots of equipment and few other kiddos. A few ideas to get you started thanks to Martha.

28 | Organize a talent or art show 

kids art show

Cousins showcasing their singing and dancing skills in the backyard, or a really planned out Porch Idol. It’s up to you.

29 | Set out to master one new skill or talent

little girl hula hooping

Whatever it is- hula hooping, rolling on a skateboard, riding a bike, diving off the diving board, write it down, make it known, and conquer. (Parents, you too.)

30 | Take the long way

family sunset on bridge

Early last summer we set out to scooter toward home for as long as we could go without someone having a breakdown. Instead of catching the bus along the route eventually, as we had intended, the kids got into epic quest mode and did the entire 4 miles. It’s an adventure they talk about weekly. (Which isn’t totally impressive until I mention that one of them was 2.)

What else would you add?

Cherish the Last Month of School With This Spotify Playlist

Cherish the last month of school with a School Playlist that will have you wishing you could go back to homeroom.

As Alice Cooper famously put it, “school’s out for summer!” Well, almost… But while Summer means lots of free time for our little ones, it can sometimes in turn mean less free time for us. So why not cherish the last month of school with a School Playlist that will have you wishing you could go to homeroom too?

Night Shift, Summer Shift

September. Back to routine and structure; back to reasonable bedtimes for kids and adults. Light years away from the nostalgia of a summer that’s passed.

September. Back to routine and structure; back to reasonable bedtimes for kids and adults alike; back to resuming my role as the night cop: “Twenty-minute warning…. 10-minute warning… Five-minute warning… BEDTIME!” Then bracing myself for a litany of put-offs.

“One more snack… one more book… one more LEGO castle to build… one more sip of water… one more tinkle… one more snuggle… one more kiss. One more minute! Just one more!”

I give up my goal of washing the dinner dishes and sit on the kids’ polka-dotted rug, equal distance between their beds so neither complain of the other getting more of me. Maybe in five minutes I can slip out. Maybe I’ll watch something on Netflix or start the book that’s been on my nightstand for months. Maybe my husband and I will… maybe not. I’m asleep.

The struggle to shift back to a normal bedtime is real, thanks to those long days of July and August spent outside, the kids running wild, indulging in too many hot dogs, and too many s’mores, the adults enjoying too many summer ales. The evenings we’d forget about bedtime books and teeth to brush and sublimely let the rules dissolve into dusty pink sunsets. The nights spent in our meadow making fires, parading along our firefly path, playing night ball, doing long-exposure camera tricks with flashlights, camping with friends.

Photo by Dylan Griffin
Photo by Dylan Griffin

Then, under the black wide-open, the kids like caterpillars sit in sleeping bags on our laps, gazing at the light of dying stars until God knows what hour of the night. Silhouettes of bats darting overhead while ghost stories are clumsily told, punctuated by the howls of a coyote in the distance (or was it just the neighbor’s dog?).

The mornings, waking up in tents with the sun, unzipping the door to dewy grass or sometimes to the fall of rain and everyone’s a little tired, a little stiff, and a little worse for wear. Cranky kids with campfire-scented hair and bug-sprayed skin scratch constellations of mosquito bites on their limbs (because that all-natural stuff never really works), and beg for a 6 a.m. marshmallow. Then, slowly, making our way back to the house to pee because the woods are so yesterday and it’s easier to make coffee in a kitchen.

September. I awake drooling, my face in the rug, a polka-dotted imprint pressed into my cheek. The eldest is asleep but the youngest is lying in his bed, eyes wide toward the window. How long will this take? I still have dishes to do, and my own teeth to brush. I sit up from the bedroom floor with a kink in my back. My son points out the window.

“Look at the moon, mommy.”

Light years away from the nostalgia of a summer that’s passed, he’s mesmerized by tonight. I lean in, kiss his forehead and watch his eyes close. Finally. But I stay. I stay, watching him sleep because the damn dishes can wait. I want just one more minute of this, this moment… Just one more.

Photo by Dylan Griffin
Photo by Dylan Griffin
Photography by Dylan Griffin.

Back to School Blues: A Poem

The first day of school has come and gone, but I bet you’ll still relate to the wonderful poem “Back to School Blues,” sent to us by poet Diana Whitney.

(The first day of school has come and gone, but most parents will relate to “Back to School Blues,” sent to us by the author Diana Whitney. “I love you so much now get on your way” is my new parenting mantra. Enjoy. – Edward Shepard)

Back to School Blues

Sad summer day, I lost my seven-year pen
My neighbor’s fired up his ride-on mower again
Roaring round in circles while the crickets keep time
I got weeds in the garden and towels on the line

Wish I could lace up my walkin shoes
Got a bad case of the back to school blues

Kids on the trampoline, kids on the porch
Sisters fighting over tiny legos and such
I’m frying quesadillas and picking curly kale
Slouching to the box and waiting for the mail

Wish I could lace up my walkin shoes
Got a bad case of the back to school blues

Dog days of August keep bringing me low
Want that big yellow bus to rattle down my road
Here’s your backpack, here’s your PB & J
I love you so much now get on your way

I’m ready to lace up my walkin shoes
Got a bad case of the back to school blues

Apples and peaches, pears and plums
Orchard full of quiet, gonna get me some
Maybe write a book or an email or two
Let my chrysalis open into something new

I’m stepping out in these walkin shoes
Had a bad case of the back to school blues

Summer Lessons: What We Learned

We’re just a few days away from the first day of school. It feels like school just ended; it also feels like forever ago. Summer went by so fast – too fast for many of us.

While summer is still hanging on, we asked some of the friends and family of Parent.co to share what they learned over the past few months.

Nicci Micco

We could all use a little more free-range fun.

As a full-time working parent (with a full-time working husband), I was quick to schedule my kid into camps most every week. He seemed to enjoy all of the camps but loved his time at the lake with his grandparents and farm camp (whittling sticks, playing with animals, exploring with friends) best. Next year, with two school-aged kids, I plan to intersperse some weeks with a fun sitter to enable less structured play time and dates with friends. 

Angela Arsenault

I wish I could tell you that I learned something this summer…  I mean, I could make something up.

Perhaps that’s the lesson: I already know a whole lot about how this parenting thing works. I know that time will pass much faster than I anticipate; I know that there will be 100 things left on my “to do” list at the end of the summer/week/day; I know that my kids will eat burgers, hot dogs and creemees for every meal if I let them; and I know that every day I’ll feel slightly nostalgic for the day that came before. So yeah, I suppose I didn’t learn a new lesson this summer, but the old one was reinforced: “Be present. Stay here while it’s happening because this is all that’s happening and all that matters.” 

 Phew! Thanks for granting me the opportunity to realize that I know everything about everything.

Laura Latka

The biggest lessons learned this summer are:

  1. Honing my creemee game (I’ve got a five y/o sprinkle aficionado).
  2. Kids never need as much stuff planned as you think they do. Boredom is when the magic happens, especially outside.
  3. All meals should be eaten outside.
  4. Get in as many swims as possible, even if the sun is setting and you can only get one jump off the dock
  5. Swimming doubles as a bath.
  6. Cuts your plans in half; all the BBQs, hikes,, trips and parties are fun, but it’s exhausting for kids. A quieter weekend that involves the farmer’s market, bike ride, swimming, and grilling our dinner is pretty ideal.

Read the rest of Laura’s awesome list here

Erika Lowe

One lesson I learned is that while summer is a carefree time for kids, it can be a stressful time for parents. I used to be a teacher, so I had summers off. Now I recognize the challenges that families with two working parents face in juggling the cost of summer care and inconsistent schedules. I’m curious how other families navigate this issue, especially families who come from low-income backgrounds.

Another lesson we learned as a family is that you don’t have to travel far to have a summer adventure. This summer we tried a lot of new things right in our own neighborhoods like new hiking trails, swimming holes, campgrounds, parks, museums, and recreation spots like mini golf and roller skating.

Mike DeCecco

  1. Not all sunscreen is created equally… some give kids rashes.
  2. Cousins from NYC are much more interested in the lake than a kid that sees it 3x per week.
  3. Camping with your 3yr old kid alone is not relaxing.  It’s best done with another family so the kids can play together to tire themselves out and you can sit and enjoy cocktails.
  4. A $20 pool from The Christmas Tree Shop got more use than any of the other more expensive crap we bought to entertain the kids.
  5. Owning your own $200 bounce house is miles better than renting one at $200 a pop.

Justin Martin

  1. Sleepovers are much better when they happen at the other kids house.  
  2. We learned that fishing is a great way to entertain two boys.
  3. Yes the water in Lake Champlain is still wet.  Best swim of the summer is that one right before bed at gramma and grampa’s house.
  4. Camping out is great family time. Best done with a friends family.
  5. Play hard during the day, get the kids to bed early so they can wake up early the next day and do it all over again.

Sara Goldstein

  1. Some bugs sting. Even when you’re not messing with them. They’re just jerks.
  2. My children and I have differing opinions on what dirty feet look like and when washing them before bed is appropriate.
  3. Head Lice do not take summer vacations.
  4. Two wheelers go much faster (and are far less work) than tricycles.
  5. Everyone bikes farther when bribed with snacks.
  6. The four-year-old will touch bugs so long as their name sounds cute. Butterflies, ladybugs, fireflies. Spiders can go straight to hell.
  7. Babies come out of “baginas.” (Just because it’s summer, we didn’t skimp on the big lessons.)
  8. “Nobody likes mosquitos. Not even mean people.”
  9. Puddle Jumpers are worth their weight in gold.
  10. Sometimes the day just calls for double ice cream.

Edward Shepard 

  1. This was not a rebound year for the Red Sox.
  2. In a three-person family, the one person who hates AC always loses (me).
  3. Car camping rules.
  4. Also, dad pack rules –  some of my most-fun moments happened because of Dad Pack.
  5. This sounds corny, but truly the best thing I did this summer was sit outside at dusk with the kid and slowly watch the planets and stars light up, one by one. I was grateful to learn that she’s as fascinated by the stars and constellations as I am.
  6. Here in Burlington VT, the best adventures are close to home. Why go anywhere else in the summer? Within 200 miles we have six or seven mountain ranges, the ocean, rivers of all sizes, lakes massive and small, towns and cities full of history and culture, thousands of acres of hiking trails, and millions of acres of green forest. This is the best place on Earth June – October.
  7. Here in New England, summer is like the last episode of the Sopranos: it meanders on and on, then it suddenly ends, BAM!
  8. This was my favorite summer yet. I was busy, spent most of my time at a desk or behind a wheel, didn’t take much time off, didn’t rake in a billion dollars. But somehow I found a way to enjoy the time I did spend on summer experiences. It was alchemy – just the right ingredients at just the right time.
  9. This isn’t a lesson, but something that’s true: September is the best month where I live, and fall always beats summer.