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Making It a Great Summer (by guest blogger, Deneitra Hutchinson)

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I recently participated in a fantastic Twitter chat hosted by children’s author Terri Trenchard and life & wellness coach Trisha Chason. Everyone participating had one goal in mind: making this a productive and positive summer for the entire family.

Here, in my opinion, is the best of that conversation. Be sure to add your favorite summer tips in the comment section below.

With the end of the school year, comes summer break. Will summer be like a Country Time lemonade commercial or a time of planned activities — or both? As parents, our youthful days of summer have long passed. We played all day with friends and family. We spent the day in the woods, exploring. When we stayed home, we read until our heads hurt. We made-up games, rode bikes, and visited each other’s homes.

But what about our children? What do they want?

CHALLENGE 1: Ask your child to describe a healthy, summer day. Do they want regular “chill” activities or do they want BIG, ELABORATE plans? How much is enough…one weekday, and one weekend activity, with the rest of the week laid back? Whatever they imagine a good summer to be, have them write it down and then post it in a place when they need a reminder.

SUGGESTIONS: Surprisingly, our kids still want downtime to relax, read, and chat with friends. Since some of those friends may not live within walking distance, you may want to register for a service like Skype. Can’t make it to visit the grandparents this summer, Skype is a great way to stay in touch with extended family.

Movies also rate pretty high. Whether watching home videos that you’ve taken over the years or watching feature films at home, this was a winner, especially on rainy days. And don’t forget the exercise; kids still need it even when there’s no formal PE. Why not visit your local YMCA or keep it simple. Take a bike ride or go hiking in a nearby park.

CHALLENGE 2: Screen Time. I mentioned movie-watching earlier. But how do we keep our kids from watching movies or playing video games all summer long?

SUGGESTIONS: If there are no summer activities planned for that day, limit media/screen time. Two hours per day was the suggestion. That includes phone, computer, video, and all hand-held electronic devices. Within that two-hour window, 50% of the time should be spent on quality programming (something that makes your child a better person). The remaining 50% can be junk. Another option is to balance 30 minutes of reading to earn 30 minutes of tech time.

CHALLENGE 3: Day Trips and Local Outings

SUGGESTIONS: As we considered things to do and places to go during the week, we took a look at some family-friendly, local destinations in our area:
Terrapin Adventures
American Visionary Art Museum
Baltimore’s Museum of Industry
Underground Railroad Experience
C&O Canal
Camden Yard Museum
Patapsco State Park
Berry picking at Larriland Farms
Digging for fossils on Brownies Beach
Tubing in Harper’s Ferry, West VA
Ferry ride to Camp May, NJ

CHALLENGE 4: Getting a healthy and simple dinner on the table after being away from home all day.

SUGGESTIONS: Here are some of our favorite summer meals.
Quiche, that you make ahead of time;
Frittata, with eggs and whatever veggies you have on-hand;
Salads;
Leftovers – make more than you eat the first night and have leftovers the second night;
Multi-purpose – one meal (chili) turns into chili cheese baked potatoes; remaining chili can top off tacos;
Grilled meats, prepared one day of the week but enough to last throughout the week;
Grilled fruit: pineapples, peaches – drizzled with Balsamic Vinegar to bring out the sweetness;
Grilled fish, corn on cob, tomatoes, mozzarella;
Grilled vegetables;
Gazpacho, Caprese salad, avocado, crusty bread and sangria;
Grains, such as quinoa and rice grits;
Tuna salad, quesadillas, spinach salad with hard-boiled eggs and bacon; and
Breakfast for dinner – pancakes and sausage, or omelets.

Our kids will certainly be hungry in-between meals, here is CHALLENGE 5: healthy snacks.

SUGGESTIONS: Summer is a great time to get kids in the habit of eating healthy. These snacks made the list:
Lettuce wraps filled with sandwich stuff;
Cheese toast;
hummus and pita or veggies;
banana with peanut butter;
nuts and raisins;
grapes or other fresh fruit combinations;
string cheese and crackers;
Hydrating snacks like homemade fruit (banana, mango, and tangerine) popsicles can be made with Dixie cups and popsicle sticks.
And of course, have lots of water and Gatorade available.

Another thing parents worry about during the summer months is CHALLENGE 6: Combating Brain Drain. Experts say that kids can lose up to two months of their grade level over the summer. How do we find balance?

SUGGESTIONS: Establish a reward system
According to teachers, reading and free writing are among the best things to do. If your child does not like to write, or doesn’t know what to write, have him try journaling or writing to a pen pal. If your child isn’t a big fan of reading, try workbook assignments that break-up the reading. Establish a point-earning system throughout the summer that can be redeemed for treats, like ice cream, technology time, or a trip to the arcade.

Enrichment camps can be another great way to fight brain drain. CHALLENGE 7: Do you let your kids chose the summer camp or encourage them to try something new?

SUGGESTIONS: Many parents who send their kids to overnight camp say their kids return as more responsible children. If your child is a bit older and you’d like him to become more responsible, you may want to give overnight camps a try. How old should your child be? Some children are ready as early as 8 or 9. Just be sure that they are comfortable spending nights away from home. Age 11 is probably about right, depending on the child.

As far a day camps, a mix of enrichment and physical activity is available: sports and recreation, STEM, language, arts and crafts. Elkridge Furnace Inn offers a wonderful cooking camp for kids. In return, your child will be able to make breakfast, lunch and dinner.

If you chose to forgo paid summer camp, CHALLENGE 8: Find chores that keep kids busy and encourage them to build new life skills.

SUGGESTIONS: Focus on those chores that you should be teaching them all year, but are too busy for. The summer months provide more time to organize closets and drawers. Chores like doing laundry, yard work and making dinner are all great skills to have. If your child isn’t quite ready to cook she can prep for dinner or make a simple dessert like fruit salad. Taking turns cooking, with a parent teacher, can be an excellent way to learn.

If your child likes being outdoors, gardening is both relaxing and rewarding. Over the summer, your children can easily grow lettuce, squash, peppers, tomatoes, beets, strawberries, beans, cucumbers, and zucchini. As a bonus, these summer veggies can be the start of a tasty dinner.

CHALLENGE 9: We are taking a “REAL” vacation this year. Any ideas?
SUGGESTIONS:

Swim with the dolphins at Discovery Cove
Kayak with the dolphins at Virginia Beach
Amusement Parks
Niagara Falls
Lake Michigan
Camping with the wild ponies at Assateague, Chincoteague
National Parks

If you’ve decided not to travel this year, here’s a FINAL CHALLENGE that can involve the entire family. Research and plan next year’s vacation! It’s a great to foster organization and planning skills.

What’s on your Summer Bucket List?

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