School’s out! Now that your kids are in summertime mode, how are you filling their days?
Global News turned to a handful of parenting experts for their list of what every family should do this summer.
Here’s their ultimate list:
Spend time in nature: This was, by far, the most popular piece of advice doled out by the half dozen experts we asked. “Just looking at a natural scene activates parts of the brain associated with stress relief and happiness,” Dr. Shimi Kang, a Vancouver-based psychiatrist and parenting author, told Global News.
Kang refers to a 2010 study: being in nature increases your sense of vitality, positivity and energy, the study found. Being outdoors also encourages kids to climb, jump, run and tumble, promoting muscle fitness and flexibility.
Head to a conservation area, a friend’s cottage, or even the neighbourhood park. It’ll help your kids – and you – unwind.
Ride bikes (or get active with any physical exercise): Kids need to get into the habit of getting a daily dose of exercise. Bike riding, hiking, rollerblading or other activities may be the way to make this lifestyle habit fun and less of a duty.
“To help children develop healthy habits that will last a lifetime, an active, healthy lifestyle must start early in life,” Dr. Michelle Ponti, chair of the Children’s Paediatric Society’s Digital Health Task Force, said.
She also suggests enrolling your kids in organized sports, such as soccer or gymnastics.
Visit a farmer’s market as a family: Local markets are abundant over the summer and offer some of the freshest seasonal offerings.
“Exposing your kids to healthy, delicious, locally grown food can encourage them to be a little more adventurous in their food choices,” Ann Douglas, a Canadian parenting expert and bestselling author, told Global News.
On that note, go strawberry or apple picking, too. Your kids might feel more connected with their food, having a hand in gathering ingredients.
Spend a night under the stars: Camping is expensive, and not all families enjoy the outdoors. Instead, grab a blanket and, at night, sit under the dark sky to look at the stars.
“Everyone needs that moment of awe when we see the grandeur of the universe – our place in it – the miracle of it all,” parenting author Alyson Schafer told Global News.
Download an app on your phone and document the Big Dipper, the Milky Way and learn some summer constellations.
Have a picnic: Get outdoors and dine alfresco with the family on a sunny summer day, Jaclyn Pritchard, a registered dietitian at the Cleveland Clinic Canada, said.
Cut up vegetables to go with hummus, package grapes, cheese and crackers and wrap sandwiches. Let your kids pack the goodies into a basket.
“Eat lunch on your deck or put a picnic blanket down in the backyard. If you want, head out in the car to picnic at a nearby lake or park,” Pritchard said.
Be a kid: After homework, writing essays and studying for exams, your kids need a break. Let them decompress for a week and do what they want to unwind.
“Too many parents try to fill up every moment of every day for their kids, so sometimes it’s important for parents to back off a bit and let the kids do what they want or make up their own plans – even if it’s nothing at all,” according to Dr. Oren Amitay, a registered psychologist and Ryerson University instructor.
If they want to run through the sprinklers, build a fort or break out the arts and crafts, let them. Keep in mind, summer is a time for the kids to rest and recharge their batteries.
Have a game night (or a few!): Families rarely all play together anymore – for parents, it’s often seen as a chore to divvy up while the other cooks, cleans or runs errands.
“Now imagine everyone at home together playing charades, cards or Scrabble over a bowl of popcorn. With everyone laughing and playing together, you’re creating one of the best team-building experiences possible for bringing families closer together,” Schafer says.
Attend (or host) a family reunion, or visit family out of town: The summer is a great opportunity to plan a family reunion or pack up the car for a road trip to visit extended family.
“Nothing beats the magical connection that happens when you’re having a face-to-face conversation with your grandma at the family picnic or swapping ghost stories with your favourite uncle around the campfire,” Douglas said.
It shows your kids the value of making time for your relatives while making memories with loved ones.
Play video games with your kids: If your kids are glued to their Nintendo DS or Xbox, ask them to show you the ropes.
“It’s a good time to show some interest and curiosity. You are role modelling openness, respect for their interests and will have fun,” Kang told Global News.
Just make sure the game isn’t based on violence or brutality before you hunker down to play with them.
Plant a garden: Pick seeds for your favourite herbs, vegetables and berries and dig in the dirt with your kids to let them see that they can grow things with their own two little hands, Pritchard said.
You can even put them in charge of watering the plants and making sure they get enough sunlight.
Tackle a project as a family: Clean out the basement, hold a garage sale, or re-organize the living room – if there’s a project your family has been slacking off on, put all hands on deck.
“Fun is not the only way to bond. If the entire family tackles the garage re-organization or the creation of a vegetable garden, everyone gets the benefits of feeling like they made a contribution to the project and to feel proud of the outcome,” Schafer told Global News.
Read together: Reading doesn’t have to be homework – help your child fall in love with reading again by turning the activity into a family pastime that encourages bonding and connection, Schafer says.
“Curl up in a hammock or lie on a blanket in the backyard and read without having to look at the clock for tuck-in time,” Schafer said.
If you had a favourite book you couldn’t put down as a kid, grab a copy and give it to your kids, Douglas said.
“You’ll be helping your child to develop a love of reading and you’ll be creating – or continuing – a tradition in which much-loved stories are passed from one person to another in your family,” she said.
Take a break from technology…: That means no TV, movies or iPads, according to Dr. Nicole Letourneau, a University of Calgary professor.
Instead of checking your work emails in their company or handing them iPads, play with a Frisbee or try some water sports.
“Just be together, be curious about your kids. What interests them and why? Ask them and listen to their answers intently. They will feel valued and valuable,” Letourneau said.
Get some culture: Sure, your kids go on field trips but spend a day at the museum, the art gallery or even watching some classic movies.
Get to know the ethnic make-up of your neighbourhood and try local cuisines, Amitay suggests.
Create traditions: Whether it’s watching Canada Day fireworks, camping in Algonquin Park or heading to the beach all day, make family traditions, the experts say.
They could be as simple as a summertime Popsicle recipe the family looks forward to every summer or as extravagant as planning a vacation once July rolls around.
Encourage them to volunteer: With a months-long break, encourage your kids to give back to the community by helping others, from teaching little ones how to read at the library to volunteering at a hospital, old folks home or a food bank.
“Kids who regularly practice altruism develop a greater sense of personal worth, self-confidence, self-esteem, empowerment and meaningful connection with others in society,” Dr. Jacqueline Brunshaw, a Cleveland Clinic Canada psychologist, told Global News.
Let your children take the lead: Your kids may have a list of their own ideas of what they’d like the family to do. Give them an outlet to suggest activities for the group.
“Get your kids involved by having them write down several preferred activities on slips of paper. Put the pieces of paper in a jar and let each of your children randomly select an activity for the day,” Ponti said.
Schedule time for shared reflection: As summer wraps up, make a point of connecting for a good old-fashioned talk, free from devices, of course.
“Talk about what each of you enjoyed most about the summer and what’s on each of your minds as you start easing back into your family’s fall routines,” Douglas said.
This is a powerful way to hit the pause button and connect with your child and what he or she may be thinking before the busyness of back-to-school time.