Monday, July 11, 2016

Free Summertime Kid Activities for Moms Who Can't Even

I am a lucky woman. I have two healthy, smart little girls. They are beautiful and funny and they make my world go 'round. Don't know where I would be without them.....maybe a Greenpeace boat fighting whalers, maybe a tropical island establishing irrigation systems for villagers, or maybe on the Serengeti researching endangered species but the point is, I don't know where I would be without my two beautiful girls.

Seriously now, my kids capture and create much of the joy I am privileged to experience. They are my little lights........and they are also my little foghorns. They scream, and cry, and fight fairly consistently during summer break. Do you remember my typical morning sequence as described in my Winter Break post? Yes it's like that....only everyday, earlier, and for much, much longer. Queue Greenpeace-island-Africa daydreams.....

Now I know what you might be thinking. Jen, what is wrong with you. Get on board with the majority of working American parents and send your child to camp. And I have read about those beautiful summer camps and remember my time at camp and think to myself, yes, that would be amazing! They would love that! Then I see the prices and I die a little inside. Not happening. But neither is the work I need to do while my kids are playing "let's see who cries first" for the 100th time.

Hmmmm....where did I place that handy-dandy list of strategic, inexpensive summertime activities.....ah. Here it is.

Give your kiddo a spade, a packet of seeds, a cup, a designated area of the yard or even a pot, and let her go to town. Let her tear out the grass, shovel up dirt, play with spiders, and use the hose. Let her stick worms and leaves and seeds in her mouth. If you're worried about her getting poisoned, take a few minutes to teach her about her backyard flora and fauna. Kids (literally) eat that stuff up and will mimic your attitude. If you're scared of spiders, she will be terrified of them, too. Teach her to grab nature with her bare hands and use her senses to identify safe from dangerous, seedling from weed, food from foe....and watch her love for her garden blossom.

Public Services
Making use of your local parks and recreation centers is a summertime "given"....but I had to mention them anyways because you know what we didn't have when I was little? Splash pads. We had water parks that seemingly cost a billion dollars to go to and were always crowded with camp kids in matching colored t-shirts that clogged the slides and pools like giant rolls of screaming, sunburned toilet paper. We had the beach with its burning hot sand, swarms of poop-filled "swim diapers," and brown lake water that always, always had a hundred warm spots. We had the hose and the sprinkler. But we did not have these incredible, roomy, miracle-like splash pads, complete with towering water daises and interactive misters and sparkling, shooting streams of cool, fresh water. If you can find a free splash pad in or around your town (my town has two), take your children there. Bring a book. Splash pads aren't so large that you've gotta pay a ton of attention but they aren't so small that kids hurt each other trying to sit on the jets. Splash pads, oh how I love you.

Life Skills
So my ten year old, when provided with some simple instructions one or two times, can cook her own dinner. Her new thing lately is scrambled eggs. She wants to cook them all the time. She cracks them, seasons them, cooks them over our gas stove, and even adds chopped spinach. Yep. Knives and fire - and not a single cut, not a single burn, not a single piece of eggshell. I only had to show her once and act as reassurance when she cooked them alone for the first time. Kids love to learn new things....everyone enjoys feeling pride and empowerment. Take some risks and go outside your parental comfort zone to teach your kiddo some life skills. I can't even explain how incredible it is to take a night off from cooking because my kid volunteered to cook - the only thing that's better is the moment I actually get to sit down and enjoy the healthy, delicious dinner she produced.

Tell Their Story
My kids love, love, love to hear their birth stories. I use my suspense voice and hushed tones to describe the days leading up to their birthday and all of the craziness and uniqueness about the nights they took their first breath. My youngest loves to hear about how stormy it was the night she was born; my oldest loves the part of her story when mama's friend made her laugh while she was eating a hoagie. I describe the doctors and the nurses and who was there for each birth and how mama felt before, during, and after. They sit silently, if you can believe it, while I describe how they looked, the noises they made, the first time they opened their eyes. The best part about this activity? It can be as long or as short as you like, as detailed or as general, wherever and whenever you want. Plus I don't know a mom on this planet who doesn't like talking about her birth experience, amirite?

Kid Art
Kids can make art out of maxi pads and tampons, people. We've all seen it. How about we arm them with materials that maybe cost a little less and are a little less....absorbent? It is berry season and whether you grow your own or buy from a store, there's always a handful of berries that go bad before you can eat them. Turn them into art! Let your kids smoosh them on paper plates and squeeze all that bright, beautiful color into a masterpiece. Have some twigs and sticks covering your yard from the most recent summer storm? Task your children with picking the sticks up and allow the kids to build little homes or "fire pits" with their finds. Show them how to pick colorful flower petals, muddle them (smash them) in a little bit of water, and then give them a brush and let them decorate the side of your house with nature's watercolors. Mud, rainwater, grass name it, art can be made.

Freedom to Mess
It's ok for your kids to look like ragamuffins in the summer. I mean it. Knots in their hair, shoes missing laces, mud stains on their clothes, skinned knees, sunburns, mosquito bite rashes....if your kid looks like a woodland hobo at any point this summer, it means she has lived. It means she was allowed to play in the mosquito-larvae-filled mud puddle and sit in her clothes on the wet ground and jump off tree limbs and fall into holes because the uncut grass was too long for her to see and ride around in the truck with both windows down and stay up late eating garbage and watching fireflies wake up instead of taking a bath. It means she is experiencing life in it's purest, rawest form. Look at her face - does she even care that her hair is covered in leaves and she has a random welt over her left eye? No. No she does not. That right there is all any mama can ask for. Let her be free and messy!

Talk Time
I try and sit down with my kids to eat dinner every night. Sometimes it doesn't work out and I need to work late or their dad comes to grab them, but most of the time we share that one important meal together. That being said, it's not like in all the magazines where they tell you about the importance and meaning behind time at the dinner table.....we will talk about our days, sure, but eventually the conversation degrades into a chorus of loud, unintelligible noises. Someone yells at the dog who is chasing the cat and the cat who is eating the food the 4 year old dropped and the 4 year old who is crying because the cat ate her food and the 10-year-old who is saying she is full after one bite of vegetables even though the whole world knows she can put down an entire pizza in under 10 minutes and the mom who wants to be engaged in her kids but is secretly walking through her to-do-list in her head and wondering how long she needs to survive until she can lay in the bathtub with a beer. It's times like these I like to say screw magazines, live real life. Do what works for your family. If dinnertime is too chaotic to connect, take 15 minutes at the end of every night to give your kid undivided attention. She gets 15 minutes to talk your ear off, fill you in, ask any questions, and connect with you one-on-one. It doesn't take long and it does wonders to not only satisfy the needs of your kiddos but also quell that mommy guilt we so often feel when we can't do it all.

Leave Them Be
I saved my favorite free summertime activity for last. Let. Your. Kids. Be. Do not give them activities, or tasks, or playdates....give them nothing. Make them be responsible for finding their own entertainment. I promise I am not crazy - this can, and does, work. Think back to when you were a kid. Did your mom sit down with you each night and play game after game and read book after book and spend every free moment she had taking you places and making sure you had fun things to do? My mama sure didn't. She busted her ass every day to make sure my sister and I had food to eat, a healthy and happy home to live in, clothes on our backs, and presents under the tree at Christmastime. She made everything magical, but not by spending countless hours entertaining me and keeping me occupied. I was told to go outside. I was told to go to my room. I was told to go do something about 50 times a day. So I went outside. I went to my room. And I found something to do. It is not your job as a parent to entertain your children. It is your job to raise them into decent, productive, good human beings. Let them find their own fun. If you leave them alone long enough, they will. You may not like what they end up finding to do, but this is where compromise and boundaries all come full circle - maybe it's ok that they're climbing all over each other, as long as they're outside. Maybe it's ok to have a puzzle piece war, as long as they understand the puzzle may never look the same again. Maybe it's not that big a deal to pull all the pots and pans out, provided everything is cleaned up afterwards. Be flexible and open minded. Even a kid who knows her limits may still try and test them...but a kid who is never allowed to explore the boundaries of her world will never learn what she's fully capable of, either. Let her make mistakes. Let her be unhappy. Let her be responsible for herself. It is so, so hard for me to do this because I am ridiculously impatient.....but I've found when I leave my kids alone, they come up with their own creative ways to play, learn, and experience their world.

Kids are wonderful and terrible and beauty and horror all wrapped into one delicious and stressful bundle of love you would unquestionably die to protect. Summertime isn't always breezy and warm with when the going gets tough, whip up a couple creative, cheap boredom-busting activities and let the sunshine in.

What are your favorite summertime activities? Any foolproof anti-boredom methods you've learned and implemented already this summer? I'd love to hear about it in the comments down below and as always, thank you so much for reading!