By Rachel Baker, Crosswalk.com
Memories of my childhood are filled with the scent of seawater, the feeling of sand between my toes, and the tingling sensation of sun on my skin. I remember the taste of sweet watermelon and the sound of my siblings and me giggling. For me, summer is filled with the possibility of creating memories that will last a lifetime.
As a mother of two, I sincerely want to create joy and fun-filled summer experiences for my children. I hope that they'll look back at their summers with fondness and nostalgia—just as I do. However, I'm learning that in order to create these memories, I must first be intentional.
As my firstborn gets older, he seems to be content to laze around watching movies or tv, and while there are days during the summer that this is the best course of action, I don't want that to be our norm. Instead, I would love for my children to be drawn to adventure and the unknown, to engage with their environment, and to move their growing bodies. What better time to do this than summer break? If you're hoping to create intentional summer memories for your children this year, you're invited to try a few of these favorites from our home that are tried, tested, and approved by my kids.
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1. Facilitate Learning
Have you ever heard of the "summer slump"? This quirky little phrase refers to the loss of academic knowledge during long vacation periods for children. There are many different factors at play regarding this loss of knowledge; the economy, the availability of parental or adult guidance, and sometimes even our children's desire to learn or developmental stage.
When our son was in kindergarten, I attempted to reinforce what he had been taught during the school year over summer break through traditional methods like flashcards and summer lesson plans. Initially, he was resistant to any summer schooling that I proposed and instead wanted to spend hours sitting on the floor building Legos. That first summer, my son actually assumed the role of teacher, showing me that learning did not have to be traditional. I began to learn how my son—and now how my daughter—learn.
While I still value summer educational programs complete with math, handwriting, and language lessons, reading and hands-on play will always reign supreme in our home. We often pick a book during the summer that I'll read aloud as the kids snuggle into me. As the kids grow in their own literacy, they consume books almost faster than I can provide them. Reading has become the gateway for learning on all sorts of subjects, from cooking to geography to how to survive if stranded on a desert island. In my experience, reading not only facilitates learning and reinforces what has already been taught throughout the school year, but it also serves a deeper purpose of eliciting imagination in our young children.
I savor these slow days of summer when we retreat from the heat under a ceiling fan and read together. My son will still come close and listen to fanciful stories taking us to places like Narnia. My daughter will become a deep-sea diver or astronaut, all the while allowing me to stroke her hair and curl my body around hers. These seemingly long days have become a backdrop for growing deep bonds and making sweet memories.
Photo credit: ©GettyImages_evgenyatamanenko
2. Foster Imagination
While I love experiencing new places through the lens of a book, I've discovered that exposing our children to the places they are learning about brings those lessons to life. Our children thrive in hands-on learning situations; perhaps yours do as well. As our school year came to a close and summer started, I was informed by our son's teacher that he was going to need to work on geometry to prepare for the next school year.
We can find geometry in nature, art, architecture, and even within certain symbols of our Christian faith. A hike in the woods behind our home can set the framework for all sorts of learning, from geometric to spiritual. As we observe a fallen tree and the rings in its stump, the branches can become fortresses and bridges to imaginary lands. The summer season allows us to be unhurried and to take hikes without an agenda or determination to finish. We can stop and enjoy the bugs crawling on the ground or splash in the cool waters of a stream.
All of these activities foster learning and imaginative play while also creating moments that stand out in time. They remind me of Ecclesiastes 11:9 "You who are young, be happy while you are young, and let your heart give you joy in the days of your youth…" As parents, we often want to create joy for our children; fostering their imagination during summer break is such a beautiful way to do this. Our babies are going to grow up, but as they do, we can rest in the sweet solace of knowing that we helped create a childhood for them that was both beautiful and founded in our love for them.
Photo credit: ©Getty Images/Rachaphak
3. Explore the Unknown
A couple of years ago, my son discovered geocaching. Who knew that in our little town, there are treasures literally around every corner? Our hunt for hidden treasure has drawn us to areas of our community that we didn't even know existed. When I feel completely sapped for creativity during our lazy days of summer, an easy way to get out exploring is to "go treasure hunting."
Treasure hunting can be done in urban, suburban, and rural settings. Our 6-year-old's version of treasure is old bottle caps and anything shiny, whereas our sons are sticks and unique rocks. Taking the time to slow down and allow our children to explore creates space for their imagination to run wild and connect with their environment.
As we watch our children discover the world around them, we have an opportunity to relearn and reconnect with our environment as well. While we explore, we can also draw out what our children are connecting with. Next time you go exploring with your littles—or perhaps if you're exploring for the first time—ask them what they enjoy about the area they are investigating. Encourage them to move slowly through your adventure together; this allows us to capture these memories as a family.
4. Nourish Their Souls
During the summer break, we try to sneak off for a few family trips. We love camping or discovering a new town. We love visiting different churches wherever our travels take us. My husband and I both work for our local church, but getting to visit another church helps remind us of the larger body of Christ.
On a recent trip, we visited my mom's church. My son and the pastor's son made quick friends, later telling me that, "he's a pastor's kid, I'm a pastor's kid, and pastor's kids gotta stick together." My daughter emerged from her Sunday school class with ten new best friends and told me that "she hopes to see all her friends again on our next visit."
Visiting different churches reminds me of Hebrews 10:25, "not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching." These visits can help our children and us, for that matter, understand that there are many different expressions of the church. Even though we may be separated geographically, we are one body.
If you have the opportunity to visit a new church with your children this summer, engage with them in conversations about their experience in the children's ministry, ask them about worship and the lesson taught. Our children can teach us so much about faith; they see things with such purity.
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5. Cherish Time Together
A pastor of mine once preached a sermon on parenthood. He discussed how many summers we get as parents to love, guide, and help direct our children. "18 summers," he said. "But really more like 16." If his painful math is correct, my husband and I are down to our last six summers where our son will actually want to play and engage with us. As they say, it goes fast.
I want to seize every opportunity to help my children grow in faith, love, integrity, kindness, compassion, patience, and virtue. Summer break just happens to be when I have the largest chunk of time to devote to them and those lessons. During the summer, we do life right on top of each other. Sometimes the kids will do art projects right up against my laptop while I work. We juggle a lot during the summer, managing schedules and working while they sleep. While there are a few summer days that I am so ready for them to go back to school, I ultimately cherish these long hot days together.
Our days are numbered, even these sweet summer days. So, as much as possible, carving out time to focus on family, play games together, discover and learn together, and nourish our souls together—none of it will be wasted. These times tightening our familial bonds and loving on our children will speak measures as they grow. And who knows, we might even get adult children who still want to spend their summers with us, what a gift that would be.
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