If your summers are anything like ours, they are packed to bursting with projects we’ve not had time to finish during the school year. We have found that we must be very intentional about how we spend our vacation if we want to make much headway on all we want to accomplish. Which is how our “Family Fun in the Sun” bucket list came about.
One of our traditional goals for summer is to build memories with our children that’ll be cherished for years to come But unless we specifically set aside time to do this, the opportunities will slip by and our kids will grow up while we’re busy cleaning closets or trimming hedges or repainting the garage. To ensure that doesn’t happen, we involve our kids in as many of our summertime projects as possible and reward their hard work by interspersing our chores with fun activities and outings.
We post this “Family Fun in the Sun” list on our bulletin board at the beginning of summer and do just those things that appeal to us at a given time, aiming to do three or four activities a week. Our purpose is to balance work with play and to have fun together as a family, not necessarily to complete every activity on the list.
Simple Steps to Serve Up Some Summer Fun:
JOIN A READING CLUB
Check the public library or local bookstores for available programs, or create a family summer reading club using our charts and your own reward system. Tyler Public Library, Barnes & Noble bookstore, and Lifeway Christian bookstore all offer incentive programs to encourage elementary-aged students to read through the summer. Chuck E. Cheese even offers free tokens to kids who complete their reading chart.
HONOR MEMORIAL DAY
Display Old Glory, thank a vet, adopt a soldier, or attend a Memorial Day service at a local cemetery to place flags on veterans’ gravestones.
LEARN A NEW CRAFT
Summer is a great time to teach your kids how to cross-stitch, paint, quilt, etc. Home Depot and Lowe’s offer free monthly “Kids’ Clinics” where children get to build a project in wood. Michael’s craft stores periodically offer free craft times for kids, as well. If you don’t know how to do something your child is interested in learning, then check out a book from your local library that gives good step-by-step instructions or visit the crafts section of our website, which we’ll expand as time allows.
Make time for extended family this summer, if only for a short visit. Be sure to get them talking, maybe even with a tape recorder: children especially love to hear stories of when parents were growing up.
STAGE A “FOREIGN FILM FESTIVAL”
Gather the family around and watch a good, subtitled movie. One of our favorites is Life is Beautiful, which manages to be very funny and very sad at the same time. Dad is also fond of old martial arts films, which the rest of us watch to humor him. Alternatively, you can watch an American film in a foreign language. When our family was studying French, we would watch Disney animated classics like Beauty And The Beast in French to reinforce what we were learning.
HOST AN ICE CREAM SOCIAL
Invite some friends over to eat ice cream sundaes. Hot fudge, fresh strawberries, golden caramel, marshmellow cream, toasted almonds, candy sprinkles: Tell them you’ll provide ice cream if they’ll bring their favorite toppings.
Families have been using this idea to have fun in the sun for ages. Kids never get too old to enjoy a rousing game of tag, especially when the parents play, too! Little ones will just enjoy being chased around the front yard, but if your kids are older, try one of our variations on the game.
VISIT A SPRAYGROUND
GO TO THE ZOO
The zoo is always a great choice for family fun in the sun! Pack the camera and some bottled water and take a walk on the wild side. Be sure to bring money to buy animal feed for the petting zoo or snowcones for the family. If your kids really love the zoo, consider investing in a family membership, which will get you in free for a full year and also offers reciprocal benefits to zoos all across the nation. Caldwell Zoo in Tyler keeps getting better and better. Check it out with your own family this summer.
HAVE A “SLOW” BIKE RACE
This is another of our family favorites. On your mark, get set, go! The LAST one across the finish line WINS, but there can be no stopping along the way. Your feet must stay on the pedals and the bike must keep rolling through the entire race. No doubling back, either, or you’ll be disqualified.
REMEMBER FATHERS’ DAY
Serve Dad breakfast in bed on his special day. Fix his favorite foods. (At our house, that means lots of maple flavored bacon, sliced extra thick and fried crisp!)
DRAW FAMILY CHALK PORTRAITS
Grab a bucket of sidewalk chalk and head out to the driveway. Mom and Dad can outline all the bodies, then let the kids fill in the details. Be sure to take a picture when you’re done!
GO BERRY PICKING
Blackberries grow wild around here, so we take our berry baskets, hike through the woods to the nearest patch, and pick them by the pint. If you don’t live close to a wild thicket, check out this website for the closest pick-your-own farm. That’s how we get our blueberries during the summer. Be sure to go in the cool of the morning and bring plenty of water. You can freeze what you can’t eat right away.
BAKE SOMETHING SWEET
There’s nothing like the smell of warm chocolate chip or oatmel-raisin cookies wafting from the kitchen. Make sure that is one memory your kids take with them when they leave home. If you double (or triple) the recipe and bake them together, you can use the opportunity to help your kids brush up on their multiplication facts and fraction equivalencies. If you have a freezer full of berries you picked yourself, you can use some to make make fresh blueberry muffins or blackberry crisp. Serve it with plenty of cold milk and ice cream.
GO ON A PICNIC
Picnics are another go-to activity for finding family fun in the sun. Fill a basket with fried chicken, pasta salad, cold watermelon, and fresh lemonade, then spread a quilt on the ground and eat under the trees. Our family picnics in the treehouse during the cooler months, but in the summer, we take our dinner to the pool almost every night to eat in the picnic pavillion. Paper plates and cups makes clean-up super easy, and after an evening swim, the little ones don’t even need baths before bed.
HAVE A SEED SPITTING CONTEST
Line in the driveway and take turns spitting cherry pits or pinching watermelon seeds as far as you can. Use a measuring tape to check distances and see who can set a new family record. (None of us have yet best Dad’s 1996 record of 39 feet. If you manage to beat that, be sure to write and let us know!)
ENJOY A DAY AT THE LAKE
Hold a family canoe and/or paddleboat race. Take a hike through the woods. Teach the kids how to skip rocks off the water and compete to see who can skip theirs the farthest. Dig your own worms and go fishing (make sure you have a license to do so if you are at a state or public park). Build a campfire and roast marshmallows. Catch (and release) fireflies in the moonlight The lake offers lots of opportunities for family fun in the sun!
HOLD A DIVING EXHIBITION
Our guys love to try and outdo one another doing front flips, back flips, dives and gainers at the pool every summer. Be sure to video your kids’ tricks off the diving board at least once, they’ll enjoy critiquing their moves at home, and seeing themselves in action can help them improve their performance.
Kids love this game. Try playing boys against the girls. Don’t know where to begin? This charades website will generate ideas faster than you can act them out.
MAKE HOMEMADE ICE CREAM
I just finished reading Farmer Boy aloud to the kids for about the tenth time, and everytime I read it, it makes me hungry for homemade ice cream (as well as fried apples and onions). If you don’t have an ice cream maker, at least make some homemade popsicles. Fill small paper cups or a popsicle mold with apple juice, banana pudding, strawberry jello — use your imagination — then add a stick and freeze. Or cut a banana in half and put it on a stick. Once it is frozen, you can roll it in chocolate syrup and crushed nuts and enjoy.
GO TO THE BEACH
Bring shovels and pails for building castles and burying each other in the sand. Let the kids hunt seashells along the shore and feed bread crumbs to the seagulls.
FLY A KITE
You can make your own and fly it at the beach or at a nearby park. Stay away from the trees!
HAVE A FAMILY MOVIE NIGHT
RUN A 5K
Lace up your running shoes and train for a local charity 5K as a family. Little ones can ride their bikes during training to keep up with the bigger ones. On race day, you can run in two groups: tortoises and hares. (In our family, Mom always volunteers to chaperone the former, and Dad does his best to hang with the latter.)
HOLD A FAMILY TOURNAMENT
Whether you’re playing spoons, speed, four-square or ping-pong, tournaments are lots of fun for everyone involved. Be sure to have prizes on hand for the winners!
Although we don’t play very often, our kids have always enjoyed going to Putt-Putt. Miniature golf is always a great choice for family fun in the sun — unless you’re playing at an indoor course, of course.
Skate around the park or at a local rink. Be sure to do the “Hokey-Pokey” before you turn your skates in. In Tyler, Rose Rudman trails are perfect for roller-blading (great exercise, too!) or beat the heat and skate indoors at .
BYOB (Bring your own ball) and head on over to Sonic for a game of sand volleyball. Don’t forget, drinks are half-price during happy hour, daily 2-4 pm.
GO TO A WATER PARK
Spend a day at the water park. Tyler has a brand new indoor park at The Villages that’s a blast! If you’re swimming outside, remember to bring plenty of sunscreen.
HAVE A BLOCK PARTY
We use to do this every Fourth of July. We asked the neighbors to bring their lawn chairs, a 2-liter soda, and a package of franks. We’d grill them on the driveway and serve them on buns we provided, with plenty of potato salad, barbecue chips, and sliced watermelon. The kids would all decorate their bicycles in red, white, and blue, and we’d all parade around the block after lunch. Great memories!
Stay up long enough to see the fireworks on Independence Day. If you live outside city limits, you can put on your own show. Otherwise, check your newspaper for local displays. Be sure to bring a CD or MP3 of patriotic music to listen to while you watch. John Philip Sousa, anyone?
EAT AT CHICK-FIL-A
If you dress as a cow on the 2nd Tuesday in July, Chick-fil-A will give you a free meal, so get out those horns and udders and mosey on over to celebrate “Cow Appreciation Day” in style!
Isn’t it fun to sleep under the stars? Even if you just pitch a tent in your own backyard, camping out can build great memories for your children. We love to snuggle up after dark and listen to Dad read stories by lantern light while we listen to the night noises from the safety of our sleeping bags.
SEE A DRIVE-IN MOVIE
We were so excited when Sky-Vue opened here in Tyler. We surprised the kids by loading lawn chairs and quilts in the back of the trucks and taking them out for a double feature. Even with all the parked cars, there was an expanse of open field just perfect for tossing a football or frisbee during intermission.
VISIT THE MUSEUM
Summer is a great time to check out the museums in your hometown. Art museums, science museums, children’s museums, historical museums. Check your city’s online directory to see what’s available. Many offer free admission on certain days of the month, so call first and find out. Additionally, if you buy a family membership at one, you often get reciprocal benefits at others all across the country, which is especially nice if you do much traveling.
Get involved in a service project this summer by volunteering at a local food pantry or soup kitchen. Even if you can’t work, you can donate non-perishables. Bring your children with you when you drop them off. We donate to PATH, but you can google “food pantries” with the name of your town to find something closer to home.
VISIT A NURSING HOME
Bring your instruments and give the residents an musical recital. Contact the activities director at any senior facility near you and ask how you can help. Our guys have helped with crafts, bingo, and put-putt golf, given violin recitals, pushed wheelchair bound residents around the zoo, and dished up ice cream for rootbeer floats. The seniors love them, and the blessing goes both ways.
HUNT GARAGE SALES
When I had fewer kids and they were all younger, I used to take them shop garage sale shopping every Saturday morning. Such second-hand sales were a necessity during those lean years when my husband was in medical school. But I don’t want my current crop of little ones to miss out on the thrill of bargain hunting, so I try to take them to shop the sales at least once every summer. Some like it better than others. To make it more fun, let them bring some of their own cash, or give them a dollar each to spend while you’re out. Once it’s gone, it’s gone, so warn them to use it wisely.
VISIT AN AMUSEMENT PARK
Six Flags over Texas in Arlington opened the year I was born, and I have fond family fun-in-the-sun memories of my own parents taking me and my sister their every summer. We’d pack a picnic to eat at the designated area outside the park, and spend the entire day, open to close. Our family now only goes every few years, usually on “Home School” day or when the children have earned free passes in the Six Flags “Read to Succeed” program, but we still have a wonderful time when we do. Check online for admission discounts.
PLANT A GARDEN
Whether you’re raising flowers or vegetables, give your kids a patch to call their own. Let them prepare it, plant it, weed it and reap it. Letting them get their hands dirty is the best way I know to raise a new crop of avid gardeners.
PREPARE A BRUNCH
For years we have hosted a mother/daughter “Back to School Brunch” at the end of the summer. The girls help craft handmade invitations and cook the food, and a good time is had by all who come.
HAVE A “SPLASH BASH”
If you don’t want to leave the boys out, you can sponsor a father/son “Splash Bash”. Tell your guests to bring their water guns and let them have a blast. Party games can include a water balloon toss, a bucket brigade relay, and—for the grand finale—coat the dads’ faces with shaving cream and let the sons race to clean it off with from a distance using hand-held water pistols. Don’t forget to take pictures! Mom and sisters will want to see this at home!
GO TO THE FARM
When we lived in Dallas, we’d visit Samuell Farm pretty regularly. That’s where our kids learned to dip candles and shuck corn. We’ve not been back in years, but this summer we are determined to spend a day at a working farm somewhat closer to home. Take a family vacation at a working farm, and you too can milk cows, gather eggs, go on a hayride, and feast on fresh, hot biscuits with homemade jelly.
I’ve made it my goal to read every picture book in our library aloud to my little ones this summer. We’re marking our place on the shelf with an index card and work from left to right. This keeps me from reading the same few favorites over and over and over, and gives my pre-readers the opportunity to discover some new favorites.
MAKE A PIñATA
My elementary school used to hold an annual piñata making contest, but the task seemed so daunting back then that I never entered. It’s really quite easy, albeit a little messy. Just cut or tear newspaper into strips and use a little flour paste (equal parts flour and water) to glue it to an inflated balloon. Let it dry thoroughly, then add appendages (like arms and legs or fins and a tail)using rolled up papers and masking tape, then cover with another layer of pasted strips. Once it is dry again, decorate it with paint or tissue paper, fill it with candy, and have a party! Kids never get too old to take a swing at a piñata, but stand back until it’s your turn. We don’t want to crack open any heads!