Planning a Back-to-Basics Summer with the Kids

As my kids get older and more independent, and their days of day-long backyard play seem far behind us, I find myself longing for a return to that unstructured downtime – simple joys that don’t cost a lot but offer a high return in fun and memories.

So now that the hustle of June is almost over, with all the recitals, plays, sports tournaments and school days nearly wrapped up, I’m looking forward to drawing from my own childhood for a little inspiration on classic summer fun we can all enjoy. My criteria for activities are fairly simple: activities need to be outside, low- or no-cost, and definitely little or no fuss to plan.

If you’re similarly looking for ways to bond with your kids with a blast from your past, here’s my own bucket list of back-to-basic summer activities we’ll be trying to keep the simple joys front and centre this summer vacation.

Picnics

Picnics are one of those things we don’t do enough, but always enjoy when we do. This summer, I’m going to be prepared for spontaneous picnic opportunities by keeping a basket or bin packed with the basics (cups, plates, cutlery, napkins and a blanket) in the car or by the door, so we can eat outdoors and under the sun whenever the mood strikes.

One thing I’ve learned over the years is that nothing kills my mood for a picnic faster than making the sandwiches ahead of time. Instead, I throw open the cooler and throw in all the fixings for a grab-and-go picnic spread – less prep time, less fuss and more time outside relaxing equals the perfect picnic for everyone.

And just like we did as kids, I’m planning on making a few long bike riding days part of our summer: with no particular destination, and a simple picnic in my bike basket, we’ll be stopping for whatever park or playground catches our eye and spreading out the blanket. 

Berry picking

As a kid, I spent a lot of time in my grandparents’ backyard garden, picking and eating raspberries off the bush and sneaking their baby carrots out of the ground. And some years, we spent hours in the hot BC sun gathering wild blueberries with my great aunt, then helping her make jam in the evening with our bounty.

With just a patio flower garden in my life now, I’ve embraced berry picking in recent years as a way to recreate those idyllic summer days with my kids. Strawberry season is nearly upon us, and for less than $20 at a local farm, we can fill up a generous basket with fresh berries plus eat as many as we can at the same time. We have also spent some fun afternoons raspberry picking outside of Toronto on hot July days, and yet I don’t recall ever having enough berries to make any jam by the time we got home.

Up here in Northern Ontario, wild blueberry picking is a tasty summer tradition. We’ve passed many an hour eating and picking the tiny, sweet berries from fields of wild bushes in mind-blowing abundance. Of course, buying a basket or two from a roadside stand is just as nice, and make a great treat to eat on the way home from other summer fun activities.

Lemonade Stands

Is there really anything more quintessentially summer than a lemonade stand? When my kids were little, they liked to just set one up in our own backyard for the family, but have now moved on to bigger operations for the neighbours. One year, my daughter and her best friend donated all their profits to their favourite cat rescue shelter, while others years they pretty much gave away the lemonade just for smiles. Either way, it’s fun to sit outside and offer up a cool drink and a chat with people walking by – a great community-building kind of activity for all ages.

But running a lemonade stand is only half the equation for me this summer – I also want to make more of an effort to stop at all the ones I see. And, if the lemonade stand is at or near a yard sale, we’ll really be in perfect, old-school summer day territory.

Neighbourhood Ball Game

This spring, my youngest tried softball for the first time, and somehow I ended up co-coaching her team along with another mom and friend. Two things became quickly apparent: kids love baseball, and I haven’t spent nearly enough time playing the game with mine.

We certainly toss the ball around in the backyard or at the park now and then, but compared to my childhood, we have never pulled together a group of family and friends and played a leisurely game on a weekend on an empty field. And now that I’m out playing twice a week or more with my daughter and her team, I’m reminded of how much fun the game is for kids and adults alike, and how it really brings people together.

So this summer, I’m hoping to get some other families out to join us, for probably very few hits or runs, but a whole lot of laughter and good times.

Bonfires

I have a lot of great memories of late summer nights under the stars and around a crackling fire with friends and family and a whole lot of marshmallows. Not just for camping trips, the backyard bonfire is in many ways just as rewarding. The littlest kids and most worn-out adults can sneak away to comfy beds under dry roofs, and the night owls can star gaze and bond under blankets around the fire.

No backyard fire pit? No problem. There’s a tradition where I live of reserving a nearby city campsite for a night, then gathering with a group of parents and kids to roast hot dogs and make S’mores, and play a little guitar or sing some favourite camp songs while the sun goes down. Best of all, we all head back to our own houses for a good night’s sleep with no tents or air mattresses required.

So as my middle age nostalgia continues to creep in, I’ll be holding onto my kids’ fleeting childhoods with these favourite activities from my own childhood – passing on some traditions and creating new memories with summer fun that never gets old.

Carmen Kinniburgh

Carmen Kinniburgh is a freelance writer and editor exploring topics and ideas about parenting and families, Canadian science and research, health and medicine, as well as travel and lifestyle. Born and raised in Alberta, Carmen has also lived in Southern Ontario and Manitoba, where she worked in professional communications for a university and a national health charity. Currently living in Thunder Bay, Ontario, she gets all her best ideas and insights for Parentwise from her own three delightfully precocious children.

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