Often, our summer camp plans and spreadsheets contain no shortage of things to do in summer, but our memories are centered on things to feel. It’s these sensations and associations that define this incredible time of year, not necessarily the kids’ summer activities. Try some new questions: What could this summer feel like for us and our kids? What experiences could we enjoy together in between the various activities we had already planned for our team?
I sincerely believe that for the child, and for the parent seeking to guide them, it is not half so important to ‘know’ as to ‘feel.’ If facts are the seeds that later produce knowledge and wisdom, then the emotions and impressions of the senses are fertile soil in which the seeds must grow. — Rachel Carson
There’s no better time than this summer, when so many traditions and simple pleasures have been interrupted and cancelled, to streamline and simplify:
- Make use of the extra light. There will always be structure to our summer. That is the world in which we live. However, we use mornings and evenings for discovery and delight. I’ll never forget when my dad woke me up in the wee hours to fish on the beach before dawn. Mind-blowing stuff. Summer’s abundant daylight gives us the gift of hours before and after schedules kick in. We can make magic of them by doing things like waking up and taking a walk; seeing the sunrise; getting in our PJs and then going on a nighttime walk before bed; reading our goodnight books in the hammock.
- Play in the rain as much as possible. Water is universally appealing. Kids love water. Humans love water. However, we often race indoors when it’s raining, and so rarely do the opposite. Seems odd, doesn’t it? So, no better time than this warm, bare-skin season to make rain-play just part of what we do. We’ve designated a basket by the door for things that can contain or conduct water (containers, tubes, recycled bottles) and plan to head straight outside next time it falls. We’ve even thought about letting our kids “shower” in the rain—imagine how wild and fun that would be?!
- Embrace the heat. As long as we steer clear of the days that are just too hot to be safe, we can be outside nearly every day of the summer. Most of the days will still feel HOT, though, and we will undoubtedly remark (with palpable distress) about how hot it is. We all do it, but this summer we’re going to try to catch ourselves and switch from “Damn, it’s hot!” to “Wow, the sun is sending us some great heat today! What can we do with it?” So far, we aim to do things like: feast on sun tea and sun s’mores (thank you, NASA!); use a magnifying glass to burn holes in leaves; and use the sun as our own kiln, watching how our mud creations change in the heat.
- Teach kids to keep cool. We can go a step further to help kids learn to manage their own coolness. Plants and animals employ all kinds of strategies to stay cool; we humans don’t have to be different. And, for young kids, this is the time in life to solidify attitudes about the natural world. If we can give kids ways to keep in control of their own coolness, they can develop self-reliance and resilience. Here are just a few of our favorite ways to keep cool: experiment with frozen treasures; for a water play activity, fill spray bottles with cooled peppermint tea (the menthol in the peppermint actually activates the cold receptors in your skin, making you feel cooler!); make our own nature fans, or place ice cubes on pulse points to cool down all over. A simple play center (read here about how to set them up) is a perfect place for all of this water play.
- Leave space in the spreadsheet. Some of our sweetest summer memories were serendipitous. I love (and so rarely get to live by) the Ugandan proverb, “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there.” So, we need free times and spaces to take different paths and let magic moments emerge. Our tour guides will be our kids—they are our greatest link back to what makes summer really feel like summer.
That beautiful season, the summer! Filled was the air with a dreamy and magical light; and the landscape lay as if newly created in the freshness of childhood — Henry Wadsworth Longfellow