As an 80s kid growing up in the suburbs of New York, summertime was all about play. On sun-splashed days we would play kickball in the street, ride our bikes, do cannonballs in a friend’s backyard pool, or take a 10-minute car ride to the beach with our parents, where we’d spend a whole Saturday in the water or building sandcastles in the sand. Every day ended the same – sun-browned, spent and content.
I still get nostalgic for the good old days when I catch a whiff of a certain brand of sunscreen, and feel a little bit cheated on a beautiful day when I’m walking towards the train and headed to work … instead of heading to the beach or playing at the pool with my own young kids.
As a working mom, it’s important to me that my children get to experience the same carefree summer days that I had as a child. But evoking the lazy days of summer without actually being lazy during the week is no easy task! That’s why I try hard to make our time together as a family count.
Making sure my kids get the opportunity to play takes a little bit of planning and a good dose of spontaneity. Here are some of my top tips for turning the dog days of summer into memories you and your little ones will cherish forever:
1. Break or Bend the Rules
Instead of rushing home in the evenings after work, plan play dates or meet up with friends at a local park. Have a picnic or grab some pizza. Let your kids run around barefoot and burn off some energy until it’s time to go home to bed.
2. Create New Memories
Put the iPhone down and leave the household chores for another day. Bond with your child over one of your favorite childhood summer memories. Teach them how to play kickball – or build sandcastles together at the beach. They’ll appreciate the time you’re taking out of your busy day to play.
3. Be Less Scheduled
Some of the most fun you’ll ever have happens organically. Go to the park, explore a new neighborhood, or hit up a local festival or concert. Give your day some flexibility to add in a bit of what your child wants to do, whether it’s face-painting, getting ice cream or playing a game of tag. And if they are having fun, it’s okay to linger!
4. Team up with Like-Minded Families
Let’s face it, as much fun as you may be, kids of all ages like to meet up with friends. Plan to play with families that have similar interests. A trip to the beach or a local amusement park becomes even more magical for kids when you factor in their best friend!
5. Always Have Something in Your “Back Pocket”
The lipgloss in my purse has long been replaced with some snacks and a few toys that are easy to take on-the-go – including water toys, chalk, and a favorite book. Be prepared to play (and to fuel up your kids) at all times!
Summertime is about bending the rules and giving kids a chance to be less scheduled and more imaginative – and play is at the root of all of that. This summer, the Toy Industry Association is encouraging parents to “Pledge to Play.” By committing a set amount of time each week to play with your kids, you are giving them the best gift you can – the chance to learn, grow, and dream. And maybe take a minute to thank your own parents for gifting you with those playful, lazy days of summer so many years ago.