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Written by:  Sue Henninger
Date: July 1, 2011

The hazy, hot days of summer are here, along with the promise of relaxed schedules and longer days stretching into later nights. Unfortunately, summer doesn't always play out the way some parents fondly remember from their youth. When parents work outside the home, children are often shuttled to a steady stream of camps, leaving them too exhausted by nightfall to even contemplate roasting a marshmallow or catching fireflies, leaving parents feeling as if summer is passing them by before they have a chance to enjoy it. What's a parent to do? Here are some tips for making the most of your weekends with your kids and enjoying the lazy days of summer the old-fashioned way.

Revel in one thing together. Plan some Saturdays and Sundays going to one place at one time and staying there together for the day. Running from activity to activity like you do during the school year does little to soothe frazzled nerves or build family rapport.

Discover scenic spots. Our family of five discovered some local state parks about 15 years ago, and we have been loyal fans ever since. We even have gone so far as to jokingly refer to them as "our summer cottage with no taxes and no mess!" Most parks have picnic areas, swimming spots, playgrounds and hiking trails. Many also offer guided interpretive walks, fishing, boating and nature centers or naturalist programs — something for everyone.

Ban electronics. This may be easier said than done, and if electronics make the drive to your destination more bearable, allow them until you arrive. But once at your destination, find the strength to turn off the cell phones, smartphones, MP3 players and handheld games. This means Mom and Dad, too! Not only will you feel more relaxed without the constant noise and messages to respond to, but you'll also be able to talk to each other without any interference or interruptions.

Pack a picnic. A summer Saturday is the perfect opportunity to introduce your children to your favorite childhood summertime foods, such as deviled eggs, pickles, various salads, watermelon and s'mores. Whether you are at home or at the park, use picnic time to teach your kids some new skills, including how to build a fire and grill burgers or corn on the cob. You can also teach a lesson in environmental protection with the concept of "carry in, carry out" for trash and recycling that many parks practice.

Let the kids choose. A day at the park can involve setting up "home base" by putting the basket of food and a cooler with drinks on the picnic table, spreading out lawn chairs or blankets, and making sure entertainment is easily accessible. Bring along board games, cards, Frisbees and balls, and encourage everyone to do what they feel like doing when they feel like doing it. Let kids entertain themselves instead of relying on Mom and Dad to structure the day. Make it a real day off: Allow the kids to make their own lunch and mediate their own disagreements whenever possible. Be sure to model a balanced, healthy lifestyle for your children by hiking, swimming, relaxing with a book or magazine, and nibbling on fruits and vegetables (with chips and cookies in moderation).

Take photos or videos. Let everyone get behind the camera and capture the memories of your relaxing weekends. Recalling how much fun you had will help ease the tension when times get hectic once again. You can also share these memories with grandparents and other older relatives, who might find it easier to talk with the kids about fishing and swimming than the latest Nintendo game.

Invite others to join the fun. If you've really wanted to do some summer entertaining or throw a party, but have lacked the energy to cook and clean for guests, host a park get-together instead. Invite friends to join you and have everyone bring food to share. This has the added benefit of allowing kids and adults with similar interests to form new bonds or stronger relationships with others. (For more tips on outdoor entertaining, see p. 16.)

You still might be inclined to think, "This is all very nice, but what will I have to give up or change to make it happen?" If so, consider deciding this summer to clean less or go grocery shopping and do laundry after work during the week. Think back to your childhood summers and recall the memories of fun in the sun you cherish. Don't your children deserve the same? Remember, too, that teaching kids how to relax and stop time for a while will help them grow into healthier and happier adults.

Sue Henninger is a freelance writer and the mother of three teenage boys.


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