Don’t make this just any summer. Every summer with your kids, and every summer with your friends and family is unique unto itself and special. Life is truly short. We are not even promised tomorrow much less another full year.
So, spend a few minutes and consciously work to make this summer the best yet. Here are a few ideas that may help.
Time passes far too quickly.
4 “Show me, LORD, my life’s end
and the number of my days;
let me know how fleeting my life is.
The apostle James accurately described life as a mist or a vapor, depending upon the translation you use. See James 4:14. Regardless, the thought is clear; life is short.
Using a short summer well requires a bit of planning, so start now. These thoughts about summer in Florida show why planning ahead is so important:
• You break into a sweat the instant you step outside at 7:30 a.m.
• The best parking place is determined by shade instead of distance.
• Hot water now comes out of both taps.
• You can make sun tea instantly.
• You learn that a seat belt buckle makes a pretty good branding iron.
• The temperature drops below 95 and you feel a little chilled.
• You learn that in July it only takes 2 fingers to steer your car.
• You discover that you can get sunburned through your car window.
• Your biggest bicycle wreck fear is, “What if I get knocked out and end up lying on the pavement and cook to death?”
• You learn and experience that asphalt has a liquid state.
• The birds have to use potholders to pull worms out of the ground.
• Potatoes cook underground, so all you have to do is pull one out and add butter, salt, and pepper.
• Chicken farmers are feeding their chickens crushed ice to keep them from laying hard-boiled eggs.
• The cows give evaporated milk.
Regardless of the heat, mosquitos, and the inevitable afternoon thunderstorms, summer in Florida is a great time; school is out and there are a couple of months to enjoy life in the Sunshine State.
Start with a plan; make a calendar
Set up a family calendar and plan ahead. The summer will slip by if you don’t. This calendar will start to get filled in as you move ahead through the steps of this post. How do you make that plan? Read on.
Ask everyone in the family what they love the most about the summer. Don’t settle for – “No homework!” Then ask for one thing that each family member would like to do. You may need to place some reality checks on those due to time and budget, there probably isn’t enough time or money to sail around the world.
When there is hesitation, offer a few suggestions to get helpful interaction.
1. Ask them to try something new
The good news is children are more flexible than adults and they have tried fewer things, so there are more opportunities for unique experiences for them. Here is a helpful site for nurturing creativity. Aha! Parenting.
The best part of this is that your children may come up with something new for you! Whoever comes up with the idea or ideas that are selected gets a standing ovation of thanks. That will encourage new ideas for the rest of the summer and into the future.
And work to make it more than just fun. This is an opportunity for you to plan carefully to help your children grow mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually and at the same time, grow closer to you. In your mind have at least one of the following as a goal with every activity that gets scheduled:
• Make God a part of you and your family’s lives and activities.
• Aim for connection between you and the family.
• Lead your children toward healthy interaction with their peers.
• Try some new activities and experiences that will expand their worlds – and yours.
• Allow each child to show skills and develop those skills.
• Build their physical activity levels, skills and strength.
• Develop teamwork and working together.
• Give them intellectual stimulation.
Overall, keep God in these activities. Outside in nature, it is God who created this amazing variety and beauty. Indoors, it is God who made us and gave us a safe home. He designed the original family and made all of this life possible. You get the idea. And include a daily devotion and prayer.
2. Keep it positive and upbeat
This is an adventure for them and for you. The minute there is negativity, they will spot it because children spot the attitudes of their parents (and reflect that attitude). If you show stress, they will be stressed. You deserve a great summer as much as your children do and being positive will make that possible.
3. Take pictures, a lot of pictures
Get your phone ready for some memory making pictures. The best pictures are the unstaged spontaneous ones, especially pictures showing facial expressions. But you have to be prepared. Likely your phone has camera capabilities that are unknown to you, such as a timer, video and some special effects, such as slow motion. Practice and get ready to capture some of the fun.
4. Unplug whenever possible
Except for using the phone for pictures, put it away or turn it off! That means children and parents. This is a hard rule to enforce, but essential to quality family time. It is also a hard one to obey. The latest email, text or news flash is likely nowhere near as important as your family’s sense of love and togetherness. Mankind existed to thousands of years without instant connectivity. You and your children will live life better with a few hours of no technology fun.
5. Include some rest and relaxation along the way
Even the kids need some downtime. You certainly do! Allow rest when needed.
There are some things that are every day and not just weekend days or summer days. One of those is Bible study time and another is prayer. A family devotion is a great way to start the day and a prayer before the activities discussed below is a great idea. Especially pray for everyone to stay positive and loving. A site with solid and helpful family devotions is www.sbc.net/devotions/. They are short enough to be manageable for any size family covering all ages, but they also leave you with challenges for everyone at every level.
Now, let’s plan a few good times. Here are a few ideas to fit the different days, weather and circumstances:
• Build your own mini-golf course
Your back yard offers challenging obstacles, trees, bumps, dips, fences and bushes. There is no need to make holes in the yard, use cups laying on their sides. Buy a couple of cheap putters and some range quality balls and play golf!
• Make and fly a kite
It isn’t hard to build a kite. But it is quicker and probably cheaper to buy one at WalMart or a Dollar Tree. Pick a breezy day and kite flying is fun.
• Fishing can be fun
In Florida, freshwater fishing requires a license, but do you really believe all those folks fishing on lakes and rivers have licenses? Probably not, but know that buying a license is easy and can be done online.
• Have a water balloon battle
Buy a batch of balloons, put on bathing suits or shorts and t-shirts, and have some fun. It will cool off a hot summer day. Alternatively, water guns cost more but can be endlessly refilled and reused.
• Can you still hula hoop?
Challenge the family to a winner-takes-all hula hoop contest. See who can keep it up the longest. When keeping one hula hoop up is mastered, try two and then three at the same time!
• Take up jumping rope
We all jumped rope as kids. Learn again, but start slowly; you aren’t as agile as you used to be. Learn some new jump rope rhymes and see how much fun it can be.
• Visit a new park
The Tampa Bay area is loaded with great parks. Many post scheduled activities, nature walks and picnic areas. For example, Lettuce Lake Park off Fletcher Avenue in Tampa has it all: boardwalks, nature trails, canoe rentals, picnic tables, open play areas, shade, and scheduled adventure walks.
• Play Frisbee golf
You can spend a lot and have decorated “holes” or spend a little and keep it simple. Make the holes longer or shorter, depending upon the skill of the players.
• Try croquet again
Most of us have played some croquet. Try it again. You can look up the rules, play using a rule variation, or make new rules up as you go, adding new twists and turns. For between $40 and $50 you can get a nice set.
• It’s time for badminton
It’s easy, inexpensive and a great family activity. Maybe you can have a family badminton tournament. Just be sure the children win! You can find an inexpensive set for $40 up.
• Try a new game
Go to Amazon or WalMart.com and search for “outdoors games for families.” You cab find many games, some familiar and some not. You can shop and buy in any price range that fits your budget.
• Try skipping stones
For a free and fun challenge, have a family competition in stone skipping across a lake. Let’s see if anyone can get to seven skips.
• Go tubing, kayaking, canoeing, paddleboarding
There are excellent places to tube, kayak, paddleboard and canoe all over Florida. At Rainbow Springs State Park there is a vendor with tubes for rent. They do pickup so after a few hours you don’t have to get a cab to get back to your car. Order online. The springs are beautiful, the water is chilly even on the hottest day. Don’t forget the sunscreen, hat and sunglasses!
• Buy or make a bird feeder
They aren’t expensive but they also are not too hard to make. Making a bird feeder could be a good family project with the kids. Then you get to watch the birds visit your yard. Start a list of bird sightings.
• Try bird watching
Now you can add to your chart of bird sightings. Take a hike and look for a few species you haven’t yet spotted. There are hiking trails all around the Tampa Bay region and bird books that can help you identify the birds. Take a few pictures when the bird is close enough and the lighting is good.
• Find a new beach
Florida has a wealth of beaches. There is always a stretch of beautiful Florida sand you haven’t seen. It breaks the routine to head for a beach you have never visited before.
• Pick your own fruit or vegetables
Find a farm with blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, vegetables, or flowers. They are seasonal but family farm picking is always fun. Or find a local farmer’s market and go first to listen and learn and then to pick fresh fruit and veggies.
Miniature golf is always fun, although it is getting increasingly costly. It gets you out, gets the kids out, and is a good and challenging time of family fun.
For additional ideas inside and outside the house, see the Age-by-Age Guide to Screen-Free Activities Your Child Can Do With Minimal Supervision. Many are solid ideas and the unplugged aspect is especially important.
For those rainy afternoons and all evenings
Outdoor activities are great, but Florida weather makes outside activities impossible on many afternoons and even a few whole days. Between the heat, the humidity and the thunderstorms, you might as well plan a few inside days and evenings.
• Breakfast in bed is always good
This isn’t a “one and done.” Breakfast in bed can go on all summer with everyone taking a turn on Saturday morning. Dad cooks and serves first, then the children, followed by Mom. Try some different breakfast foods.
• Read some
The starting point for reading should always be an age-level appropriate Bible. But don’t stop there. There are excellent reading materials for all ages in the Helen Enns Memorial Library at Idlewild. Set a reasonable goal for the number or books or pages to read before the summer reading starts and keep a list of books read. Have a good reward set for the child reaching the goal. But make sure the books were read with comprehension. Ask for a short book report including the key thoughts presented by the author(s) and the main points learned from reading each book.
One goal here is for your children to learn to love reading. For help on how to do this, visit Raise a Child Who Loves to Read.
• Fresh lemonade or sun tea is a welcome treat
Everyone loves fresh lemonade and fresh sun tea. Then you get to enjoy it with fresh cookies!
• Set up a Donor Advised Fund (DAF), a giving fund
Once the DAF is set up and you have funded it, hold a family meeting to decide how to give money away. This is a wonderful way to teach generosity and to start teaching stewardship. See Teaching Money to Children and Youth, Parts 1 through 10. Stewardship teaching and learning begins at home and should start early. Holding a family giving conference becomes a regular activity to see how to be generous.
• Try some writing
Reading is important, but so is writing. Combine learning and fun (which may help make learning fun by itself). One idea could be to interview an older aunt, uncle or grandparent and then write a short story about their life.
• Finish any summer school assignments
Many schools give summer reading assignments or other summer work so learning doesn’t stop over the summer months. Set aside time to tackle these assignments.
• Have a family cook-in
Get everyone together and assign a course to everyone. Needless to say, someone gets clean-up duty. It will be a challenge but everyone needs to learn how much work it is to cook a meal so they can really appreciate all the effort that went into years and years of meals.
• Create and bake a family pizza
Each family member gets to at least suggest an ingredient. Parents get a veto simply because some things are not meant to be on a pizza, but be willing to try some new things! Whoever suggests an ingredient that is used, gets to apply it before the pizza goes in the oven.
• Redo the ‘do, try a new hairdo
Join the children in trying something really new, a new hairdo. You can even go extreme and try a new color for your hair with a washable hair color. Just make sure it really does wash out completely! Try some extensions and gel!
• Watch a movie
A good afternoon or evening movie night is great so long as you can find a movie everyone will watch. Between DVDs, Netflix, Amazon Prime and several thousand available channels, you should be able to find a watchable family movie or two or three. Don’t forget the popcorn.
• Build a pillow and box fort
I learned this from a great nephew who went through some hard health times. He and his brother built a master fort using boxes and pillows. Empty Amazon and Walmart boxes never had a better second life.
• Look back
You have all those old pictures. Look back on days past. Have each family member pick a day, month or year that was a favorite. Then they get to say why. It will help you get a perspective on future activities.
• Hold a paper airplane challenge
See whose airplane goes the farthest, the highest, makes the most curves and don’t forget, has the best style.
• Play games
There are many old games you have played. Look up the rules and try them again. Maybe Uno, Canasta, Go Fish, Rook, Bridge, Scrabble, or Spades. They are inexpensive and challenging.
• Make homemade ice cream
Ice cream makers aren’t expensive, but you don’t need an ice cream maker; you can find recipes online. Now take it to the next level! With some wafer cookies, make some ice cream sandwiches, freeze them. and enjoy them over the next few days.
• Camp out inside
Florida heat and rain, not to mention mosquitos, make camping out tough. So, close the bedroom doors and camp out inside using sleeping bags, blankets and pillows.
• Play Once Upon a Time
Sit around a table, set a theme (such as one of the following; If I were a princess, a Knight’s life, a day at the beach, a day of rafting, this Halloween, or long ago when dragons walked the earth). The first person has to start talking with the words, “Once Upon a Time …” After one sentence, the speaking duty passes to the next person who continues the story. The story builds sentence by sentence but with each person causing turns and twists to the plot that can create many laughs.
If this works for your family, start adding new wrinkles. Have your children write down different (1) themes, (2) locations, (3) actions, or (4) names. Put them in a bowl. Draw one out and start a story revolving around it. Here are a few ideas of what you could write on these paper slips:
• A long, long time ago…
• A sailor’s story…
• Next year at school…
• In the mountains…
• In the deep woods…
• Next Christmas…
• If we had a new brother or sister…
• If I was Roadrunner…
• If I was Coyote…
Check out the site verywellfamily.com. It is filled with information and ideas, even if not from a Biblical eye gate. For even more indoor ideas, here is a great site, Prodigy.
Excursions, but not too far
Day trips are a good way to spend a Saturday. When relatives or friends visit, a day trip is one of the best ways to show off your hometown and surrounding communities.
• Go to a free concert
You should be able to find a few with a quick online search. If you can’t find one, put together a playlist of your old favorites and share them with the children. But be prepared to hear complaints, hopefully good-spirited ones, about your generation’s music tastes!
• Go to a flea market
There are fewer and fewer flea markets around, but they can be found. Check this out. If you can’t find one you want to see, then search for garage sales, especially community garage sales and check out a few on a Saturday morning. Let the children try to negotiate for something they want; they might be better at it than you!
• Check out a show or concert
There are options galore for every budget level. You do have to check for language and content, but see what is available at the David A. Straz, Jr. Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Tampa There are many other venues, but the content and language are often questionable.
• Take someone special with you.
I have seen a family take a gnome on a visit to ZooTampa and include the gnome in every picture. Try it, then create a digital or even a physical scrapbook with your gnome’s best photos.
• Go fishing in the gulf
Shop around online because prices vary, but often the ships sailing from Tarpon Springs are the best and most affordable. Do searches using “Tarpon springs fishing” and “Tampa Bay fishing.”
• Visit a local farmers’ market
There are quite a few farmer’s markets in the area, and their days of operation and hours vary, so do a search online for “Tampa Bay farmer’s markets.”
Art can be fun
• Start a rock garden
Gather a few good-sized rocks – a home supply or gardening store is a great place to look – and then have a painting party. See who can paint the coolest animal rock or prettiest rock, or anything else you can think of. They can become part of your garden. Be sure that each painted rock has the name of the artist on it.
• Try chalk art
Chalk for sidewalk art is cheap, try a Michael’s, Hobby Lobby or Ollies. And the work of drawing sidewalk art, sketches on the sidewalk that are not permanent is both challenging and fun. Have your camera ready because the chalk artwork won’t last through a good Florida rainstorm.
• Try different art projects
The variations and opportunities are almost endless. A quick online search for ceramic or art workshops in your area will turn up many available opportunities that will fit any budget. Try this link or search for Tampa Bay art classes or search for ________ classes (inserting the type of art in which you are hoping some of your children will develop).
Make a community by getting people together
• Bake cookies for a neighbor
This is a good service activity too, it is just closer to home. It also helps you learn more about a close neighbor and may start a new friendship.
• Hold a scavenger or treasure hunt in the neighborhood
There is a lot of room for creativity and variation here. You can make it a traditional scavenger hunt, although having kids knock on stranger’s doors or going around strangers is a bad idea. Now change it up. The hunt is for things readily visible from the sidewalk and it is a picture scavenger hunt. For example, in our neighborhood, one house has a ceramic frog in a visible garden. Another neighbor has a fountain, another has a flowering tree. Look for a black cat or a small dog. Find a red flower. You get the idea.
• Meet friends at a park
It can be a birthday, anniversary or holiday, but any day is a good day for friends to get together. Get out the badminton game, the croquet set, a soccer ball or whatever else you have for fun.
Hold a service day
Work hard to have one day a week or at least two days each month be a day to serve those less fortunate.
10 God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them.
• Visit a nursing home or assisted living facility
Call in advance or visit together with other friends and turn the time into an opportunity to play games, sing, speak with and maybe even have lunch with the seniors. Always remember to ask questions and listen. Nothing blesses those seniors more than having someone actually listen to them.
• Clean up a senior’s home or yard
Idlewild always has a list of seniors who would welcome a visit and who have work projects that they themselves can no longer do. It doesn’t have to be much to be a big help. Have you ever wondered how a home-bound or wheelchair bound senior cleans the top of fan blades?
• Serve meals
Serving meals with Metropolitan Ministries or Trinity Café can be good afternoon’s work.
• Pack food
Serving at Feeding Tampa Bay is both rewarding and educational. The incredible quantity of food donated and distributed to the hungry families of Tampa Bay will help every child realize how fortunate they are to have food at home.
• Serve through Idlewild
Just serving at Idlewild is also a blessing and the opportunities abound. Check with Idlewild Missions or get signed up through Connections so you can learn of the many service opportunities at Idlewild.
• “Spring-cleaning” starts at home
Have a Spring-cleaning day at the end of the summer. It’s been a long, active and prayerfully rewarding summer. But there have been many new activities and many messes made.
There are many opportunities here. One is in how you approach these “jobs” or “chores.” They really are neither; instead they are family service opportunities or family contributions. Some parents give allowances. Others consider family service opportunities part of the responsibility of all persons living at home. See Teaching Money to Children and Youth – Part 8.
Regardless, make these family service opportunities, jobs or chores fun. Make them a family affair; everyone pitches in and has a responsibility.
When you run out of ideas
There may come a time when you hear those dreaded words, “I’m bored!” The worst part is that it is never said just once; it quickly becomes a chant. Saying “watch TV” is possible, but certainly not the best response.
Fight fire with fire. Quickly come back at them with “Me too! What would you like to do?” When all you get back is a blank stare, hand out paper and pen and ask for three wild ideas, new ones, for things they might want to do within 50 miles. Don’t settle for just two. Three new ideas really means three. A quick Internet search for “Things to do (your area) will turn up Trip Advisor ideas, among others, with others for things to do in your area. Searching Things to do Tampa Bay turns up the following and more: the Florida Aquarium, ZooTampa, Busch Gardens, the Henry B. Plant Museum, Fort DeSoto Park, Sunken Gardens, the Ringling Museum of Art, Adventure Island, Alafia River State Park, Ybor City Museum State Park, Clearwater Marine Museum, Florida Botanical Gardens, Sarasota Classic Car Museum, the Glazer Children’s Museum, Florida Holocaust Museum, Hillsborough River State Park, the Manatee Viewing Center, and many more.
Have you been to the Leslie Hale Teaching Center in Tarpon Springs? They have a tabernacle display and a Tour the Bible Collection. The admission? Free!
Every community has hidden treasures that can be fun, educational and a blessing to visit.
Do this exercise at the start of the summer and check off the ones you visit. See how many you can see each summer. The ones you can’t get to become the weekend projects once school resumes.
There is another solution to the “I am bored” comment when it arrives. Remember those “jobs,” “chores,” “family service opportunities,” or “family contributions”? Have a list of those available and present them as an opportunity to cure boredom.
The first thing children want to do in the summer is stay up later than during school days. Stand firm. The schedule was reasonable in May and was as much for their health (and your peace of mind) as for them to be able to stay awake at school. Having a consistent routine is good for them and for you.
Make a few exceptions for special evenings, but in general, regular adequate sleep is good for everyone.
Always remember who made this possible, Jesus. Always think of the blessings you have of freedom, health, and life.
About the Author
John Campbell has retired from a 40-year legal practice as a trial attorney in Tampa. He has served in multiple volunteer roles at Idlewild Baptist Church in Lutz, Florida, where he met Jesus. He began serving as the Executive Director of the Idlewild Foundation in 2016. He has been married to the love of his life, Mona Puckett Campbell, since 1972.