For anyone with an upcoming road trip, here is a fun idea that may even keep your children off of screens for a short while (no promises). Create playlists for your car ride with a theme in mind. Themes like weather (songs that mention rain, sun, cloudy, etc..) or Colors, People’s names or States. Don’t tell them what the theme is, but let them listen to a few songs and guess. Once someone figures it out, listening to the rest of the songs can be about trying to find the “theme” word. -n
I remember the first time my daughter saw a ripe strawberry on a small plant we had in a garden box on the roof of our apartment building. She was so excited as she slowly and tentatively picked it and ate it. And then, I kid you not, she thanked the plant. While I wasn’t–and still am not–a knowledgeable gardener, I want my kids to know a little bit about where food comes from. I think it’s generally good to know and care about these things, and so each year we’ve planted a little garden.
Of course teaching kids about how things work is one of the jobs of being a parent–we are constantly helping children to make sense of their world and the things in it. Sometimes it’s with a short explanation, sometimes with an interpretation of a comment or joke, sometimes with a commitment to a garden for a few months, sometimes with a fun “lesson” on a theme.
One summer day, in need of a project and a goal, proved a perfect time to do such a “lesson.” This time our theme was ice cream. We made a day of it by going to the library and finding a couple of books on how ice cream is made (among them, Ice Cream: The Full Scoop by Gail Gibbons). We read the books together, then, woo-hoo! went out for ice cream. Simple. Educational. Extremely satisfying and fun, and a terrific way to spend the afternoon. A winning combination.
Does your child love buses? Make it a day with a trip to the library then a bus ride. Or maybe it’s trains. Or a bakery, a farm, even the airport to watch planes take off. Slower days of summer for parents can allow time for creating these kinds of experiences, where kids have the opportunity to learn and preview something in a book at a slow pace, then connect the information to something real in their world. –t
The sun is shining today after a long, long cold gray winter in New England. We get a little manic around these times, disproportionately thrilled at our sudden good fortune. It makes me think about getting out again into the world!
I live in the Boston suburbs, and one of my favorite family outings when the kids were younger was to take the T into the city, stroll through the Public Garden, and grab something tasty at a bakery or corner shop. Totally easy, and pretty low-budget.
For several of these outings I created simple scavenger hunts that kept the kids engaged along our low-key adventure. Not yet readers, I sketched out things that they could spot on the journey: the T logo, a Red Sox hat, a squirrel, a vendor cart…the kids loved it, a spark of magic each time something was spotted. There was no keeping score or tracking what was found, just noticing. Looking and noticing details.
I am a big fan of noticing details–really taking the time and explicitly noticing–which requires a certain kind of attention and focus. For children, nurturing that skill helps to develop increased ability to be aware of one’s surroundings (safety! beauty!), as well as tuning into others’ emotions and expressions (friendship! empathy!).
While every encounter with our kids needn’t be a “learning moment,” this activity tied to our downtown adventure was fun for all and educational, too. While I know it’s sometimes desirable to plug a child into any available technology–for even just 30 freakin’ minutes!!!–for everyone’s sanity (I have done it myself plenty of times), hooray for the moments when kids can look around and really take it all in.–t
P.S. This kind of general “find it” checklist can work for any adventure and for all ages. On a more recent day we set out with a list that included an afternoon coffee in an independent café; the wackiest candy we could find in a convenient store; and a photo in front of a random monument…so fun!
1. Pick something. Depending on your location, summertime usually offers pick-your-own opportunities, especially berries! It’s a good connection to nature, fun for a wide age-range and good eats while you pick. See these posts on strawberry picking, apple picking and what to do with the extras that don’t get eaten in the field or on the way home.
2. Get Cultured. At many museums kids are free and many have special hours when it’s free to all. Check with your local library for passes for free or reduced cost museum entry. As an alternative to a typical “Children’s Museum,” look for an outdoor sculpture park, a museum with art kids can get in and around, or traditional fine art museum or gallery. Read our post about making the most of a museum here.
3. Ride On! Find a mode of transportation that’s new or unusual and plan an outing. Think: bike, a subway or commuter rail, ferry, funicular, canoe, kayak. Could have a destination at the end, or not. A treat along the way—always a winner!
4. Find a Field. This works any time of year, but many fields are in less use by teams during August. Ask a few other families to join, maybe plan a potluck picnic or get pizza delivered, and stay late!
5. A Taste of Far Away. If you live in a place with some international restaurant options, pick one that is new to your family and head out or order up! (Anyone for Brazilian, Korean, or Ethiopian?) Go for the whole experience with a drink and dessert. If restaurants aren’t an option, stay in and try it yourself! Find some recipes online, plan a meal, and spice up your regular fare up with a taste of far away. (Note: I’ve always found it useful to tell kids that it’s OK if they’d like to spit out something unfamiliar into a napkin if they don’t care for it. I really think that more than a few kids have felt more empowered to try something new in our kitchen given the out of not having to like it and been handed a napkin in the event that they needed it! –t)
Following on our post from two weeks ago, I wanted to share one of my best childhood memories – the surprise ride. One Saturday morning my mom and dad said to my brother and me, “today we are going on a surprise ride.” My brother and I had a very contentious sibling rivalry, but on that day, riding in the back of my parents car, our shared excitement about the outing trumped our customary bickering.
And this may be hard to believe, but I’m not even sure where we went. I can guess that it was to Kennywood Park or maybe putt-putt or batting cages, but the destination wasn’t the point. The ride took us away from our house and the regular rhythms and roles that came with it. But the real strength in the memory for me was having my parents all to ourselves, and that together they had planned something just for us.
I share this now as we look to summer months that may hold a number of unplanned mornings or afternoons. Think of a new destination – a hike, a beach, a putt putt golf course in a town you’ve never been to – don’t tell the kids where you are going ‘til you arrive. Then sit back and enjoy the ride. –n
If you live in the northeast, the time is ripe for apple picking. Apparently with all of the heat from the summer, the apple-picking season is well underway with many varieties available. In our house, we always get carried away and return home with way too many apples. A great kid-involved project for post picking: crisp! And three kid-specific tools to make this really fun: corer, peeler, & chopper. All available at the small hands web site fairly inexpensively.
This apple crisp recipe is super simple and gets gobbled down in no time:
About 12 apples peeled, cored and chopped. Sprinkle with juice from ½ lemon and cinnamon.
Mix 1 C flour, 1 C sugar & 1 stick soft butter.
Combine ¾ of mixture with apples, put in casserole, sprinkle remaining mixture on top. Bake at 350 for 1 hour.
To help our young kids engage with trips to museums that could be overwhelming, I’d create a scavenger hunt of about 5 items of different kinds that might interest them. This project takes a little planning, research, and computer know-how, but if you’re going to have kids tag along to a museum and fear spending the day in the café, this could be your ticket to a pleasant outing.
Many museums have this kind of thing available for families, but you can make your own specific to your kids. Choose pieces that contain subjects or images that your child likes. Dogs? Dragons? Fashion? Horses? Ballerinas? Swords? A piano with crazy inlays? Mummies? Get pictures of each piece either off the web or from catalogs, and print them on a piece of paper. Add the title, artist, medium (e.g. oil painting on canvas, bronze sculpture) and date. You can learn about each item together in advance, and then when you go to the museum, they will be primed to look for the items and find things on their list.
Another option: If you know of a particular painting that has a lot going on, such as a city scene or landscape painting, you can make a list of things for kids to find — or details to look for — within a single piece. Think “Where’s Waldo?” or Hidden Pictures. A memorable trip for me was to the MFA here in Boston, where my kids spent a very-long-time-even-for-an-adult searching a Japanese screen of a scene from medieval Kyoto for dogs, shamisen, babies, a castle, different hairdos, long, layered kimonos and short summer yukatas, horses, drums, rivers, and swords! -t
In our book, we talk about the importance of one-on-one time with each of our kids. Many have asked “what do you do?” So here are some more of our favorites: a walk around a pond collecting acorns; pancakes at a diner; a ride on public transportation (they can sit on your lap – no car seat!); plan, shop for and bake cupcakes; throw rocks and float sticks out into a lake; spend library time reading themed books (dragons, construction vehicles, feelings, horses, ice cream); go to a new, further-afield playground; watch planes take off at an airport; try on fun shoes at a self-serve shoe department.
Like other “dates,” the getting out together makes it special. However, one-on-one time is not necessarily about a treat or extravagance, but rather about attention paid, honoring a child’s interests, and slowing down. (For many people, this requires getting away from the distraction of other family members.)
These are opportunities to know your child as he grows – what he loves, how he learns about the world, and what he thinks about. -t
The five of us have managed a few multi-inning baseball games – usually with a single, full-time pitcher and 3 infielders and each man/woman/child for themselves at bat. Add some big-league chew (gum) or snacks to have on the bench, water bottles and a post game treat and you have an outing. If you can, ask another family to join and then you’ve really made it to the big leagues!
For football, we’ve used 30 or so yards on a high school field and run some plays. Actually being on a yard-marked field is quite a kick. Speaking of kick, we’ve finished off our football outings with field goal kicking. Just getting one ball through the uprights is exciting for kids and adults alike! -n