No guilt, bribes or cajoling: five mom-approved summer activities



Oklahoma City family fun doesn't always look the way we imagine. 

Summer means different things at different life stages. This year, I have a variety of ages and a new baby. It's a time of transition for everyone with school's end but we're really feeling it this time.

I look forward to summer every year, especially during those last weeks of school we just finished up. There's always the thought that we'll get so much more done without a school routine, no more drop-offs/pick-ups, hours for my three boys to play outdoors and read together, lie back and spot cloud animals. 

The daydream of summers to come is idyllic. 

The reality of summer days, though, is a lot less Instagram-worthy. A sea of unwashed cereal bowls, sofa pillows on the floor and kids in pajamas watching "Trolls" for the millionth time on Netflix isn't pretty. Instead of humming "summer breeze makes me feel fine," I find myself yelling things like "Pick up your towel!," "Don't hug that cat," and "Close the door! We aren't air conditioning the neighborhood." 

Everything can start to feel like a complex negotiation, with screen time dangled on a string and everyone's happiness hanging by a thread.

Evening comes and the doorbell starts ringing. Kids want to know if my 11 year old can come out and play, if they can come inside, if I will walk them over to the park to spot fireflies as dusk falls, if we have popsicles. I always wanted to be in charge at the house where all the kids wanted to go, the mom who hands out Rice Krispie treats and lemonade. I haven't made either yet this summer. 

I did not want to be the mom that always says no. Isaac, who is 6, proclaimed recently that I am the person who kills the fun. What he doesn't know is that I wish I could let them stay in the park after hours, jump on the sofa and stay in pajamas without end. I can't host sleepovers every weekend or take my children places every single day; that's not our reality right now. It is not fun to be the rule-maker but I fear what they would become without discipline and that is the real work of being a parent.

Here are five summer routine ideas I can say yes to this summer without guilt, bribes or cajoling:

  • Summer reading: The Metropolitan Library System's summer reading program starts today. I love that the incentives include more books so kids are guaranteed a prize after reaching certain easily-attainable milestones. Stopping the summer slide where kids lose knowledge over the summer is one benefit to reading with them every day but I'm more interested in experiencing the same book together. We chose a chapter book, "Hank the Cowdog" by Oklahoma native John R. Erickson after meeting him last weekend at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum's Chuck Wagon Festival. If you can go meet an author, any author, that does help spark their interest; otherwise, just allowing the child to choose the title as a special purchase is enough of an incentive. "Stuart Little" by E.B. White is next up for us.
  • Quiet hour: I've been reading about the benefits of quiet time for kids. My oldest did Monday Meditation during the school year. I think just putting on some chill music, pulling out photography books and allowing everyone an hour at the same time each day without other background noise could be good for all of us. If they fall asleep during that hour, I won't wake them. 
  • Oh, those chores: My soon-to-be sixth grader wants to work for neighbors. Our family rule is that he has to show us that he's responsible enough to do a job well before he offers that service to other people. I have a list of chores he can complete without an incentive offered  and that's just the way it is; backtalk isn't allowed because no. My husband is in charge of doling out extra tasks in exchange for that coveted screen time but there's a basic standard of living Sam is old enough to help maintain. I'm not a fan of the chores-for-screens system but it does help for additional things that need done. When you're a tween and there's a pile of laundry next to you while you play iPad, I'm going to help you set your priorities sans an immediate reward. #lifelesson. Twenty alternatives to screen time are posted here too.
  • Park time: I do believe in mud and dirt for kids. My sons are calmer after they've had a chance to run outside, kick rocks and see who can swing the highest. I have no problem sending them out the backdoor with tick spray and sunscreen. It's really hot during the day but six-ish is a good time to hit the park. E.C. Hafer was just redone and it's worth wrangling everyone into the car to go once a week. Find a list of parks here. We're going to try the new Barnett Field Splash Pad one of these days too.
  • Something to look forward to: Community events are all around us and my June calendar is full to the point I don't think we can add one more thing, from the classic Winnie the Pooh-themed Myriad Botanical Gardens' Children's Garden Festival to volunteering at the Regional Food Bank. If you're looking for something to do, find an event near you here and sign up to get 10+ delivered to your inbox each Thursday. July Fourth will be here soon too so we're already making plans. I am willing to get everyone out of the house to change things up at least once a week.

Summer camps will start for us in a few weeks but until then, all of these summer resources have their place. And if you do happen to be looking for summer camps, check out this list of the ones that still have room.

I hope we find our routine and start loving summer soon. Our new baby reminds me how quickly it'll be over so I don't want to miss out on now.

Enjoy this time with your children too! We'll all be back to the drop-off line before we know it.

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