Summertime is here. That means many things to many people, but to those of us with young kids it means they are home all day every day. But that is no reason to fret. We get these three months to really connect with our kids and invest in their souls.
Hack #1: Play catch.
This sounds cheesy beyond belief. There are water parks in Frankenmuth calling for attention. Movies and malls promise air-conditioned bliss. And TV… well, screen time is the thing we are fighting against.
Growing up, I never played catch. Never. I don’t have a single memory of throwing anything back and forth with anyone. I was left to myself to wander and find fun things to do. I have seen in movies dads and sons throw the ball back and forth. Songs like Cat in the Cradle saw kids pulling on their dad’s shirt to share in this activity. I never understood it. It seemed so… rote. Like buying your girl flowers on Valentine’s Day. That’s just what parents do.
The other day, after finishing mowing the lawn, the kids were outside playing. I grabbed a Nerf football and gave it a toss. My daughter threw back a wobbly and weak mess. So I began telling her how to throw it. She is eight years old and doesn’t know how to throw a football. Because I never showed her how.
As we threw it back and forth, the spiral began to reveal itself. The boy poked his head out, saw us playing catch, and ran out to join us. I honestly thought that there was no way this activity could last too long. But we were out there for an hour just throwing it back and forth. A few days each week I go out and grab something to toss. A frisbee. A baseball. A basketball. And we are outside, together, moving and playing. It costs nothing. And it brings more joy than I could’ve ever imagined.
Hack #2: Bike Riding
The sun is out. This is the season for scrapes and bruises, falling and picking yourself up. Here in Flint a brand new trail system has been built out on an old Chevy plant. They tore up all that concrete, put in bike trails, planted grass and some gardens, redirected the Flint River, and created some green space.
Two of us are bike riders, and two of us are not so great. The youngest of our family is still on training wheels. Mama bear doesn’t love biking as much as papa bear does. But the main point is being together. We are out in the world, working up a little sweat, making our way around the city.
By the time we come home, we are stronger bikers. The kids are sapped of strength and go to bed easily. We have seen strange sights and sounds on our journey. Maybe a dead fish. Or we saw a hawk dive bomb a rabbit. We have stories to tell and have strengthened our bond as a family.
Hack #3: Quests
This is playing the long game. If your kids have a thirst for adventure, then you need to have goals to achieve. During the Spring, we had a goal of watching every single Marvel Movie before Avengers: Endgame was released. It was a fun way to break out of the grasp of winter. My sister has a goal with her daughter of visiting every single Michigan State Park. So they keep track of which ones they have gone to and which ones they are going to go to.
Two years ago my family had the goal to play on every playground in the city. Last year we were going to visit every water park in Genesee County. A lot of them ended up being free! We drove to Lapeer, Bay City, Waterford. And we gotta get wet and check things off our list.
The sense of accomplishment of fulfilling a summer goal is good for the kids. They learn the fun of having silly goals in life. They also learn the importance of finishing what they have started. Memories are made that are bigger than one event. There is this whole season of life they can recall. “Remember when we visited all those water parks?” “Remember when we saw all the lighthouses in Michigan?”
Your quests don’t have to be ambitious. Maybe your goal is to go on a picnic once a week. Maybe it’s playing in every rainstorm that comes your way. Just having these silly goals gives the kids something to look forward to and count on. It creates togetherness, costs next to nothing, and will be a part of what it means to be a family.