Last month my husband and I took our family on our first real family vacation. The logistics made us sound crazy to some but the reality was a fantastic time of refueling and refreshment. We had such a great time away and praise God for that gift to us. But as I thought about vacations – and how long we’ve wanted to take one but haven’t been able – I thought back to some of my favorite memories as a kid.
Though there were a few “big” memories, most of my favorite memories were in the everyday rhythm and routine of living — lazy summers spent at my grandparent’s pool, catching fireflies in the evening, camping out in the backyard — those things that don’t require a lot of time or money or even effort. Yet now as a parent, it’s easy to forget how powerful those everyday memories can be.
As school ends and summer arrives, I want to encourage all of us to plan little moments with the kids. Sure throw some big memories in there, too, but don’t underestimate the power of being present.
I recently attended a conference and heard Dr. Jim Burns and Doug Fields share about a Harvard University study stating that “the number one contributing factor to anger, rage, and hostility in kids is perceived inaccessibility of one or both parents.”
Sobering isn’t it? One of the things that struck me about this finding is that the inaccessibility is perceived. My mind raced to all of the times I’ve been thoroughly distracted by a book, my smart phone, or the television. All of my hang on a minute’s and mmmmhhhhmmmms while I’m really not paying any attention came racing back to my mind, and of course I rushed home and shared my angst about this finding with my husband!
This certainly isn’t a post to heap any more guilt onto the shortcomings we already feel so strongly as parents. Rather, I hope it is a gentle reminder that our presence and our attention and even our simplicity matters!
While vacations are wonderful, vacations aren’t what sew the fabric of our families together — it’s the everyday moments that do.
I need that reminder often because in this exhausting season of littles and busy and oftentimes feeling overwhelmed, my push for structure and obedience and making it through the day, I often forget about just having fun. I forget about how powerful the small and simple and ordinary activities are, and in that forgetting (and when I feel mommy guilt creep in), I react and can be tempted to outsource fun to all of the summer programs that are offered.
So before I jump to the conclusion that we need another family vacation and before enrolling the kids in every day camp, VBS, sporting opportunity, and library gathering to keep them busy this summer, I’m planning out a few simple activities to anchor our days and our family together.
Pinterest has a million great ideas but can overwhelm me, so I’ve written down a few of our favorites — things that are doable for us in this season — in hope that it sparks your ideas of simple, everyday moments you can create with your kids.
Keepin’ it Simple at Home
- Water days — We are fortunate enough to live near tons of lakes and right down the street from my grandparents who have a pool. Our water days are a staple in our summers and rarely a summer day goes by where we’re not swimming somewhere!
- Picnics — Snacks, lunch, dinner on the porch – we’re big fans of picnics in the yard (or at the park) as a great way to enjoy being outside together.
- Bonfires and fireflies — with s’mores!
- Messy art – My kids love art and they love messes. Me? Not so much, but I handle the chaos much better in the summer where we can take the mess outside, spread out, and clean up more easily.
- Indoor family nights — game night, movie night, favorite books night. We especially love these after a day spent outside at the pool or the park.
- Sprinklers, slip ‘n slides, and water tables — We’ve even been known to fill up some storage containers with water, just for the fun of pouring, dunking, and immersing ourselves in water!
- Family camping — at a campsite, in the backyard, or in the living room! Though we love a good camping trip, our most popular camping spot has been the backyard, possible even on nights when Daddy has to work the next day.
- Camp Mom! — ideas for a fabulous summer right at home
- Family yard games — Some of our favorite memories are playing ladders, bocce ball, or bags after dinner. The best part? All of us can play, even our toddler.
- Lemonade stand — We started our lemonade stand tradition last year and plan to continue it this year. We make it fresh-squeezed and enjoy the whole process from picking out our lemons to sharing with our neighbors.
- Early-morning fishing trips
- Fun packs like Kiwi Crate or Pley
Out and About
Getting out and about is not always easy with 3 little ones, but we have a few favorite local summer outings that have become a tradition for our family, and I threw in some other ideas that are favorites of our friends. (Bonus: I always check Groupon or similar sites before purchasing tickets because we can often find deals there!)
- Berry picking — strawberries, raspberries, blueberries — we pick a ton and store up for winter!
- Forest preserves — Walks, bike rides, nature watching, and exploring give us lots to do at our local forest preserves.
- Farmer’s market
- Local parks, water parks, and splash parks
- Pajama runs — Bedtime? Not yet! Once the kids have their PJs on and think they’re heading to bed, buckle them in the car and head out for ice cream or a movie or a special outing in jammies!
- Botanical gardens
- Petting zoos — One of our favorites in the area not only has animals to pet, but we’re able to milk a cow, ride the ponies, and enjoy about 10 outdoor play activities for kids!
- Amusement parks
- Local fairs or carnivals
- Local parades
- Library days
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