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Here’s what your kids REALLY need this summer

And it's got nothing to do with camp, technology or childcare.

meaningful summer activities for no-camp summer

In some ways, summer still means what it's always meant: warmer weather, extra family time and a more relaxed schedule than the rest of the year. But this year is undeniably unlike any other summer before.

For many families, summer usually means 8-10 weeks of time spent at home or at camp, but this year many camps are closed and most families have just survived 12 weeks of togetherness due to school closures. How on earth can you keep kids busy and engaged all summer when you've already used up all your fun ideas trying to get through the past few months? How can you possibly help kids fill the next few months in a way that isn't overrun with boredom and complaints?

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The trick to surviving summer is helping kids find meaning in their days.


What gives a day meaning can vary from family to family, but in general the idea is to have a shared sense of working towards something. When kids are able to see themselves reaching a goal, bit by bit, it helps their days have meaning.

While we're limited by social distancing, closed camps and restricted activities, we still have the ability to create meaning and purpose—along with plenty of fun—this summer. Things definitely won't be "summer as usual" this year. But the good news is, even though things are different this year, there are still plenty of ways to make summer meaningful for your kids.

Try the following five tips to help your kids have a meaningful summer, even while being limited by social distancing.

1. Set summer goals

One of the easiest ways to give your children's summer meaning is to encourage them to accomplish something that feels worthwhile. In order to make that happen, you need to help your children figure out what they want to accomplish.

Depending on your children's ages, you may create a list of goals primarily set by you (for younger kids) or by them (for older kids). Generally, it works best to set a range of goals—some daily (read for 15 minutes each day), some weekly (help cook dinner) and some for the whole summer (learn to ride a bike). Goals can also encompass a range of skills and ideals, including personal goals, social goals, academic goals and community service goals.

Once you have a list of goals, make a checklist so kids can check off items as they're completed, helping them see progress towards their end goal. At the end of the summer, they can look back at all they've learned and accomplished!

2. Find ways to connect to peers

For many kids, summer is about free time and friends, and a summer spent without that feels pointless and frustrating. It's important to help kids stay connected to peers in whatever ways feel appropriate to your family.

For some families, that means using videoconferencing apps to call friends or using Netflix Party to watch movies while chatting with friends. For other families, it means picking one or two "safe" families to socially distance with—limiting social interaction to just a few families to minimize exposure.

Peer relationships and safety are both important right now, so try to find a balance between helping your child feel connected and what feels right for your family.

3. Create family rituals

In general, activities gain meaning when they're about something more than just ourselves; we find meaning in tasks when we see a connection to something bigger. One important way to help kids feel connected to something bigger than themselves is to strengthen their identity as part of your family—and family rituals help kids do just that.

Summer, with all its endless time together, is the perfect time to create family rituals. Make Friday night "family movie night," and let children take turns picking the movie for everyone. Make Saturday morning your standard time for a family walk, and check out different places to walk together. You can have everyone cook dinner together once per week or build in time for board games each night after dinner.

Choose whichever rituals work best for your family, and remember that having the rituals is far more important than what you actually do during the rituals. Rituals help develop connections and consistency, which are both so important right now.

4. Create daily schedules

Another way to make summer feel more meaningful is to build a structure and plan for each day. Many kids feel overwhelmed and lost when their days are completely open, with no sense of a plan. Creating a schedule (even a loose one!) can help give kids direction and meaning.

Having a schedule doesn't have to mean you're all bound to the clock 24/7. Your schedule can reflect the more relaxed nature of summer (later bedtimes and wake times, free time before getting dressed in the morning, and so on), but it's still important to have daily expectations. Build in a predictable schedule for waking, dressing, meals and exercise.

And because it's summer, build in plenty of chances for free time, while ensuring the major transitions of the day are included. When kids have daily expectations, it lends a sense of purpose to their days.

5. Build self-help skills

Finally, give meaning to summer by helping kids learn how to be more independent. One of the great gifts of summer is time. You can let your preschooler spend 15 minutes putting his pajama shirt on all by himself because it's okay if he gets to bed a few minutes late. You can let your 6 year old spend 20 minutes tying his shoes because there's no school bus he's going to miss.

Because summer gives you time, it's a great chance to help kids of all ages master self-help skills and developmentally-appropriate chores. Elementary aged kids can learn to prepare simple snacks and meals or help run the dishwasher and washing machine. Younger children can work on dressing, hygiene and toileting. If you have middle-school or high-schoolers, help them develop job skills or more advanced cooking skills. Summer is the perfect time to let your child master a new skill that he or she will have for a lifetime.

Summers often feel long and lazy, but this summer could feel especially long since families have already spent the past 3 months cooped up together! Rather than viewing the next few months as an endless battle against boredom, work toward giving your children's summer a sense of purpose and meaning—it might just be your best summer yet.

In This Article

    14 Toys that will keep your kids entertained inside *and* outside

    They transition seamlessly for indoor play.

    With Labor day weekend in the rearview and back-to-school in full swing, most parents are fresh out of boxes to check on their "Fun Concierge" hit list. It's also the point of diminishing returns on investing in summer-only toys. So with that in mind, we've rounded up some of our favorite toys that are not only built to last but will easily make the transition from outdoor to indoor play. Even better, they're Montessori-friendly and largely open-ended so your kids can get a ton of use out of them.

    From sunny backyard afternoons to rainy mornings stuck inside, these toys are sure to keep little ones engaged and entertained.

    Meadow ring toss game

    Plan Toys meadow ring toss game

    Besides offering a fantastic opportunity to hone focus, coordination, determination and taking turns, lawn games are just plain fun. Set them up close together for the littles and spread them out when Mom and Dad get in on the action. With their low profile and rope rings, they're great for indoors as well.

    $30

    Balance board

    Plan Toys balance board

    Balance boards are a fabulous way to get the wiggles out. This one comes with a rope attachment, making it suitable for even the youngest wigglers. From practicing their balance and building core strength to working on skills that translate to skateboarding and snowboarding, it's a year-round physical activity that's easy to bring inside and use between Zoom classes, too!

    $75

    Detective set

    Plan Toys detective setDetective Set

    This set has everything your little detective needs to solve whatever mystery they might encounter: an eye glasses, walkie-talkie, camera, a red lens, a periscope and a bag. Neighborhood watch? Watch out.

    $40

    Wooden doll stroller

    Janod wooden doll strollerWooden Doll Stroller

    Take their charges on a stroll around the block with this classic doll stroller. With the same versatility they're used to in their own ride, this heirloom quality carriage allows their doll or stuffy to face them or face the world.

    $120

    Sand play set

    Plan Toys sand set

    Whether you're hitting the beach or the backyard sandbox, this adorable wooden sand set is ready for action. Each scoop has an embossed pattern that's perfect for sand stamping. They're also totally suitable for water play in the wild or the bathtub.

    $30

    Water play set

    Plan Toys water play set

    Filled with sand or water, this tabletop sized activity set keeps little ones busy, quiet and happy. (A mama's ideal trifecta 😉). It's big enough to satisfy their play needs but not so big it's going to flood your floors if you bring the fun inside on a rainy day.

    $100

    Mini golf set

    Plan Toys mini golf set

    Fore! This mini golf set is lawn and living room ready. Set up a backyard competition or incorporate into homeschooling brain breaks that shift focus and build concentration.

    $40

    Vintage scooter balance bike

    Janod retro scooter balance bike

    Pedals are so 2010. Balance bikes are the way to go for learning to ride a bike while skipping the training wheels stage altogether. This impossibly cool retro scooter-style is built to cruise the neighborhood or open indoor space as they're learning.

    $121

    Wooden rocking pegasus

    plan toys wooden rocking pegasus

    Your little will be ready to take flight on this fun pegasus. It gently rocks back and forth, but doesn't skimp on safety—its winged saddle, footrests and backrest ensure kids won't fall off whether they're rocking inside or outside.

    $100

    Croquet set

    Plan Toys croquet set

    The cutest croquet set we've ever seen! With adorable animal face wooden balls and a canvas bag for easy clean up, it's also crafted to stick around awhile. Round after round, it's great for teaching kiddos math and problem-solving skills as well.

    $45

    Wooden digital camera

    fathers factory wooden digital camera

    Kids get the chance to assemble the camera on their own then can adventure anywhere to capture the best moments. With two detachable magnetic lenses, four built-in filters and video recorder, your little photographer can tap into their creativity from summertime to the holidays.

    $179

    Wooden bulldozer toy

    plan toys wooden bulldozer toy

    Whether they're digging up sand in the backyad or picking up toys inside, kids can get as creative as they want picking up and moving things around. Even better? Its wooden structure means it's not an eye sore to look at wherever your digger drops it.

    $100

    Pull-along hippo

    janod toys pull along hippo toy

    There's just something so fun about a classic pull-along toy and we love that they seamlessly transition between indoor and outdoor play. Crafted from solid cherry and beechwood, it's tough enough to endure outdoor spaces your toddler takes it on.

    $33

    Baby forest fox ride-on

    janod toys baby fox ride on

    Toddlers will love zooming around on this fox ride-on, and it's a great transition toy into traditional balance bikes. If you take it for a driveway adventure, simply use a damp cloth to wipe down the wheels before bringing back inside.

    $88

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    Tips parents need to know about poor air quality and caring for kids with asthma

    There are steps parents can take to keep their children as healthy as possible.

    When wildfires struck the West Coast in September 2020, there was a lot for parents to worry about. For parents of children with asthma, though, the danger could be even greater. "There are more than 400 toxins that are present in wildfire smoke. That can activate the immune system in ways that aren't helpful by both causing an inflammatory response and distracting the immune system from fighting infection," says Amy Oro, MD, a pediatrician at Stanford Children's Health. "When smoke enters into the lungs, it causes irritation and muscle spasms of the smooth muscle that is around the small breathing tubes in the lungs. This can lead to difficulty with breathing and wheezing. It's really difficult on the lungs."

    With the added concern of COVID-19 and the effect it can have on breathing, many parents feel unsure about how to keep their children protected. The good news is that there are steps parents can take to keep their children as healthy as possible.

    Here are tips parents need to know about how to deal with poor air quality when your child has asthma.

    Minimize smoke exposure.

    Especially when the air quality index reaches dangerous levels, it's best to stay indoors as much as possible. You can find out your area's AQI at AirNow.gov. An under 50 rating is the safest, but between 100-150 is considered unhealthy for sensitive groups, such as children with asthma. "If you're being told to stay indoors, listen. If you can, keep the windows and doors closed," Oro says.

    Do your best to filter the air.

    According to Oro, a HEPA filter is your best bet to effectively clean pollutants from the air. Many homes are equipped with a built-in HEPA filter in their air conditioning systems, but you can also get a canister filter. Oro says her family (her husband and children all suffer from asthma) also made use of a hack from the New York Times and built their own filter by duct taping a HEPA furnace filter to the front of a box fan. "It was pretty disgusting what we accumulated in the first 20 hours in our fan," she says.

    Avoid letting your child play outside or overly exert themselves in open air.

    "Unfortunately, cloth masks don't do very much [to protect you from the smoke pollution]," Oro says. "You really need an N95 mask, and most of those have been allocated toward essential workers." To keep at-risk children safer, Oro recommends avoiding brisk exercise outdoors. Instead, set up an indoor obstacle course or challenge your family to jumping jacks periodically to keep everyone moving safely.

    Know the difference between smoke exposure and COVID-19.

    "COVID-19 can have a lot of the same symptoms—dry cough, sore throat, shortness of breath and chest pain could overlap. But what COVID and other viruses generally cause are fever, chills, vomiting, diarrhea and body aches. Those would tell you it's not just smoke exposure," Oro says. When a child has been exposed to smoke, they often complain of a "scrape" in their throat, burning eyes, cough, shortness of breath, chest pain or wheezing. If the child has asthma, parents should watch for a flare of symptoms, such as coughing, wheezing or a tight sensation in their chest.

    Unfortunately, not much is known about long-term exposure to wildfire smoke on a healthy or compromised immune system, but elevated levels of air pollution have been associated with increased COVID-19 rates. That's because whenever there's an issue with your immune system, it distracts your immune system from fighting infections and you have a harder time fighting off viruses. Limiting your exposure to wildfire smoke is your best bet to keep immune systems strong.

    Have a plan in place if you think your child is suffering from smoke exposure.

    Whatever type of medication your child takes for asthma, make sure you have it on-hand and that your child is keeping up with regular doses. Contact your child's pediatrician, especially if your area has a hazardous air quality—they may want to adjust your child's medication schedule or dosage to prevent an attack. Oro also recommends that, if your child has asthma, it might be helpful to have a stethoscope or even a pulse oximeter at home to help diagnose issues with your pediatrician through telehealth.

    Most importantly, don't panic.

    In some cases, social distancing and distance learning due to COVID may be helping to keep sensitive groups like children with asthma safer. Oro says wildfires in past years have generally resulted in more ER visits for children, but the most recent fires haven't seen the same results. "A lot of what we've seen is that the smoke really adversely affects adults, especially older adults over 65," Oro says. "Children tend to be really resilient."

    This article was sponsored by Stanford Children's Health. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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    Do you need a family emergency kit? (Hint: Yes, you totally do)

    It only takes a few minutes to be better prepared for emergencies.

    Right now is understandably a time for concern, but the same message applies: Prepare, don't panic. We parents have a responsibility to care and provide for our children, ensuring their well-being before and after any disruptive event, whether it's a natural disaster or an outbreak that forces temporary shutdowns and closures in our community. When it comes to emergency preparation, I always tell parents one thing: You want to have a plan just in case the worst really does happen.

    As a mom of three young kids with a firefighter husband, I'm constantly anticipating potential problems—and thinking ahead about how to cope. Thinking ahead and planning has saved me many nights of pacing the floor, and has made me feel more confident as a parent.

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