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No Summer Camp? No Problem.
My 6-year-old son Jack is out of school for summer. As a freelance writer working primarily from home, I can't justify spending big bucks on full-time summer camp. So, what will we do all summer long? I have it under control—and recommend you try these ideas, too.
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We have an amazing public library in our town with a fun, engaging summer program — and ding-ding-ding: It's FREE. The program for Jack's age group is super. The kids compete to see who can read the most books, and they really get into it. This probably has a lot to do with the prize incentives, such as free ice cream at a local place. The program also includes story time and an art project. Other free programs at the library include Lego Lab and Read to a Service Dog (OMG, it's so cute!). My son loves to participate in all the programs and just plain hang out in the library to play games on the computers and build with the Mega Bloks.
I'm pretty sure I don't need to explain what a pub crawl is, so just swap out the bars for parks. We love exploring parks in nearby towns, and my boy is great at making friends. As a single mom, I love connecting with parents and making new friends, too. Again, this is a free activity, so just pack lots of water, brown-bag lunches and snacks. I also make sure to bring Jack's bike, a soccer ball and sunscreen. And don't forget to have some cash on hand because parks are hot spots for ice cream trucks. Yum!
This seems like a no-brainer, but for SAHMs or moms who work from home, summer play dates can be life-savers. We have a standing play date on Thursdays with our close friends. The moms take turns hosting. Sometimes, moms stay and hang out, but it's understood that we can skip out and run child-free errands—or, in my case, work. I usually host play dates at our pool. I order pizza for lunch and basically let the kids enjoy the day at their pace. There's a lifeguard on duty, but the kids who are still learning to swim on their own wear vests or floaties. I break up pool time with a fun activity the kids absolutely love: "painting." I fill up a pail with pool water, and the kids "paint" the patio area by pouring out the water and darkening the pavement. Even though the water dries up, it's still so much fun for them. They also love to play car wash with toy cars and relax in the shade with ice pops and coloring books. One friend doesn't have a pool, but she lives in a lake community, so it's awesome to build sand castles, have a picnic and swim in the lake. I suggest sending out an email to your mom friends and initiating a summer play-date club.
Day trips allow you to take advantage of warm weather and blue skies while doing something extra special with your child. We love to visit New Jersey treasures like Van Saun Park in Paramus, which offers giant playgrounds, a carousel, a train and the Bergen County Zoo. Splash parks are also a fun and cool way to chill out. Don't forget about all the gems in your city. Ours is New York, and we love the Central Park Zoo, but are also fans of museums, Books of Wonder, the Lego store and sidewalk dining at Big Daddy's on the Upper West Side. The key to a day trip adventure, wherever you live, is to make it sound super cool, so your kiddo will feel like you're going on a mini vacay.
On the many days when we don't have anything major planned, I like to fall back on structure and routine to keep the day moving. I allow time for breakfast on the deck, lazy TV time, drawing on the sidewalk with chalk and a bike ride, lunch on the deck, a dip in our pool and then down time until dinner is ready. After dinner, it's time for an evening walk with our dog, then soccer in the courtyard or basketball in the courts. The rest of the night plays out as usual: ice cream, shower, TV and reading before bed. My kid does well on a schedule, so although we have unplanned, go-with-the-flow days, it's also nice to follow an easy plan.
Farmer's market run
Take your child to a farmer's market and give him his own basket to fill up. My son loves to fill his with watermelon, grapes, peaches and oranges. When we get back home, we either make fruit salad or fruit kabobs. This project is a great way to encourage healthy eating, promote color and shape recognition and exercise fine motor skills. Speaking of fresh fruit, if you love apple picking in the fall, you will enjoy peach and berry picking in the summer. Do a simple Google search to find a farm near you.