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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?

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.

14 outdoor toys your kids will want to play with beyond summer

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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9 products that will help baby sleep better (and longer!)

For many parents, attempting naps and bedtime can seem like a never-ending cycle of rocking, shushing and hoping for some kind of magic sleep solution.

How do I get my baby to sleep? This is one of the most commonly asked questions among new parents, and it makes sense, given that babies are born with their days and nights mixed up. For many parents, attempting naps and bedtime can seem like a never-ending cycle of rocking, shushing and hoping for some kind of magic sleep solution.

And while that might not exist (yet), we have found some of the best products out there that can help baby fall asleep faster and for longer durations. Because when baby is sleeping, so are you!

Dreamland Baby weighted sleep sack and swaddle

Designed by a mama, parents swear by this weighted sleep sack. It mimics your hug to give your baby security and comfort that helps them get to sleep faster and stay asleep longer. The detachable swaddle wing makes it easy to transition as they grow.

It's also super easy to get on and off, and includes a bottom-up zipper for late night changes, so you don't have to wake your baby in the process.

$79

Yogasleep Hushh portable sound machine

Yogasleep hushh sound machine

With three soothing options, this is a perfect solution to help your baby settle when naps are on the go and during travel! I love how compact this noise machine is and that it can run all night with one charge.

$30

Bebe au Lait muslin crib sheets

Burt's Bees Organic Crib Sheets

With a variety of print options to choose from, these breathable sheets are *so* soft and smooth, even through multiple washes. The luxury fabric keeps little ones warm without overheating—a formula that helps ensure more sleep for everyone.

$32

The Simple Folk perfect pajamas

The Simple Folk perfect pajamas

You know what's going to help baby have their best sleep ever? Some quality, super soft pajamas. The timeless (and aptly named!) Perfect Pajama from The Simple Folk are some of our favorites. They last forever and they're made from organic pima cotton that is safe on baby's precious skin. They come in a wide range of sizes so siblings can match and feature fold-over hand covers on sizes up to 12 months.

$37

The Snoo bassinet

Snoo

Designed by expert pediatrician and sleep guru Dr. Harvey Karp, the Snoo bassinet gently rocks your baby to sleep while snuggled up in the built-in swaddle. Not only does it come with sensors that adjust the white noise and movement based on your baby's needs, there is also an app that allows you to adjust the settings directly from your phone.

While this item is a bit on the expensive side, there is now an option to rent for $3.50 a day, which is a total game changer!

$1295

Hatch Baby Rest sound machine + nightlight

best baby sound machine

The Hatch Baby Rest is a dual sound machine and nightlight that will grow with your family. Many parents use this product with their infants as a white-noise machine and then as a "time to rise" solution for toddlers.

The thing I love most about this product is that the light it gives off isn't too bright, and you can even select different color preferences; giving your toddler choices at bedtime.

$59.99

Crane humidifier

Crane Humidifier

The only thing worse than a sick baby is a baby who is sick and not sleeping well. The Crane humidifier helps take care of this by relieving congestion and helping your baby breathe better while sleeping.

Personally, I think the adorable design options alone are enough of a reason to purchase this product, and your child will love watching steam come out of the elephant's trunk!

$46.99

Naturepedic organic crib mattress

Naturpedic Lightweight Organic Mattress

In the first few months of life, babies can spend up to 17 hours a day sleeping, so choosing a mattress that is safe (read: no chemicals!) and comfortable is incredibly important.

Naturepedic uses allergen-friendly and waterproof materials with babies and children in mind, making them easy to clean and giving you peace of mind.

$259.00

Happiest Baby sleepea 5-second swaddle

best baby swaddle

There are baby swaddles and then there is Sleepea. Similar to the brand's swaddle that is built into the Snoo, the Sleepea is magic for multiple reasons. First, it's got mesh panels ensuring baby never overheats. Second, the zipper zips from the top or the bottom, so you can change the baby's diaper in the middle of the night without ever waking them. Third, it's hip safe. Fourth, the patterns are SO cute. And fifth, the interior swaddle wrap that keeps baby's ams down has a "quiet" velcro that won't wake baby if you need to readjust while they're asleep.

$27.95

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10 photos to take on baby’s first day that you'll cherish forever

You'll obsess over these newborn baby pictures.

Bethany Menzel: Instagram + Blog

As you're preparing for baby's birth, we bet you're dreaming of all of the amazing photos you'll take of your precious new babe. As a professional photographer and mama, I have some tips for newborn photos you'll want to capture.

Here are the 10 photos you will want to take on baby's first day.

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