In the hustle and bustle of the busy summer months, reconnecting as a family is priority. While most of us recognize the significant value of creating family memories, American Academy of Pediatrics research reveals numerous other benefits including stronger parent/child bonds, greater trust between children and parents (extremely valuable as children enter the teen years); improved sibling relationships; greater academic success; not to mention the health benefits of lower overall stress and, of course, the cardio results from having an active lifestyle. Interestingly, research has also shown that a strong relationship with dad during the teen years helps them develop their self esteem, which has long term benefits in multiple areas, including adult choices and relationships.
Every family is different in the type of activities they enjoy pursuing together, and it seems sometimes we get into a routine-a dull, predictable routine—doing the same activity week after week. I encourage you to think outside the box! As a family, at least once this summer (or aim for once a week!) plan a new activity. You will find investing time and energy into a new activity may bring gales of laughter as you create new memories and reap the aforementioned benefits. Here is a sampling of ideas that my family enjoyed over the years.
Family Fun Outdoors
Weather permitting, spend time together outdoors. Build a fire and roast hotdogs or marshmallows and s’Mores. Musically inclined families could grab a guitar to strum and sing a few songs together around the fire. Have a tent? Pitch it and let your children sleep outdoors for the night. Not comfortable with sleeping outside? Set up a ‘blanket tent’ in the family room for an indoor camping experience. As the darkness settles around you, grab flashlights and play flashlight tag or hide and seek.
Children experience a new level of exhilaration using flashlights in the dark. Not a game playing family? Drape a white sheet across the shed or back of the house, grab your laptop and view family pictures or a DVD for a ‘drive in theater’ experience! If you are old enough to remember drive in movies, share your memories. Who can forget the squawky sound boxes that never stayed attached to the window? Feeling creative? Make cardboard box cars for your little ones and provide a more authentic drive in movie experience! Decide to spend time outside; you may want to remember the bug spray!
There are also some great daytime activities you can do as a family including bike rides, hikes on the beach or trails, or wading in a creek. Take it to the next level! Collect seashells, tadpoles or other critters. Summer is a perfect time to try out a nature study. During the heat of the day, our family used to love squirt gun battles, which grew into paint ball battles in the teen years. While not for all families, for my teens and husband, this provided a fun, physical activity and emotional connection. Although my children are grown (and one married), we still try to schedule a family fun event at least quarterly. One of our current favorites is Disc Golf (sometimes called Frisbee® Golf). The rules are simple: fly your disc into various baskets on the 9 or 18 basket Disc Golf course with fewer attempts than your peers. Similar to golf, each basket has a pre-determined number of attempts as your goal. There are some neat courses in our areas, but you can also purchase baskets and play this at home. Disc Golf discs can be shared or each member can own their own set.
Family Fun Indoors
While outdoor activities abound for fun family time, head indoors as well! Join your local library reading program. Summer is a great time to help children learn the value and pleasure of a good book or quality magazine. If your child is a reluctant or resistant reader, give them (relatively) free reign over their reading choices. Yes, I think most of us would rather see our children read classics like Swiss Family Robinson or Shakespeare. The reality is we want them to see the value of reading for themselves and if they prefer Ranger Rick or Sports Illustrated, allow them to immerse themselves in their interests to create life-long learners and readers. Another fun activity my children loved was meal night. Once a week, one child would plan and prepare a meal of their choice. Using this as a springboard to discuss balanced meals and nutrition, my children were allowed to use recipes or create their own recipe with just a few simple guidelines. Yes, sometimes, the meals were unique-like the meal of corn, nacho cheese dip, hotdogs and applesauce or the meal of soup with a side of rice and beans, but our children were thrilled to have the freedom and opportunity to prepare a dinner of their making.
It is my hope that you feel inspired to defeat the summer humdrums with your family and seek opportunities to create special memories. When it comes to the special bonds we create as a family, Winston Churchill sums it up best:
“There is no doubt that it is around the family and the home that all the greatest virtues, the most dominating virtues of humans, are created, strengthened and maintained.”