Parenting Blog

The official blog for Ann Douglas, parenting book author and weekend parenting columnist for CBC Radio. Ann is the creator of The Mother of All Books series and the author of Parenting Through the Storm. Her latest book, Happy Parents, Happy Kids, will be published by HarperCollins Canada in February 2019.

The Recipe for a Perfect Childhood Summer

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There are only so many summers of childhood—and they tend to fly by in a flash. One minute, your child is hopping off the school bus on that final day of school, practically intoxicated by the heady sense of freedom and possibility. The next, she's gearing up to head back to school—and wondering where on earth the summer went….  

But here’s the good news: we’re still only a few weeks into the much-anticipated gift that is summer. We still have time to hit the pause button to consider the kinds of memories we want our kids to carry with them from the summer of 2017.

This is something I've been thinking about a lot lately and I've come up with a recipe of sorts for the perfect childhood summer.

Like all good recipes, the ingredients are simple, readily available, and generic enough to allow for substitutions—and the list of ingredients is short (just three!) 

  • The first is “food”—because you can’t talk about summer without talking about food. 
  • The second is “family and friends”—because that’s the active ingredient in our most powerful summer memories. 
  • And the third is “freedom and fun”—because summer is also a time of year for testing limits, sidestepping everyday routines, and otherwise embarking on new adventures.

Food

When I was thinking back to my own most memorable childhood summers, I was struck by just how many of those memories are somehow anchored in food.  The rich charcoal-y taste of anything cooked on my parents’ 1970s barbecue grill. The crunch of corn on the cob served at late-summer corn roasts: a sure sign that summer was winding down. And, of course, the sticky deliciousness of a marshmallow that’s been allowed to catch on fire for a couple of seconds over a campfire, thereby achieving marshmallow goo nirvana.

This is something that food writer Bee Wilson talks about in her recent book First Bite: How We Learn to Eat. She argues that our memories are deeply anchored in food—and that this is especially true when it comes to the foods that we experience in childhood. “You may not be able to remember what you had for lunch last Tuesday, but I bet you can recall the habitual meals of childhood, the breakfast you were given for a weekend treat, and the way bread tasted in your house. These are the memories that still have emotional force years or even decades later,” she writes.

These memories are both anchored to celebrations and tied to ordinary moments—think potato salad at the family reunion versus going berry picking or hitting the farmers’ market as a family. So you definitely want to look for opportunities to build some of these food memories into your kids’ summer.

Family and friends

The great thing about summer is the fact that we tend to have a bit more wriggle room when it comes to scheduling. Most of us take at least a little time off, which allows us to venture a little further afield. It’s the time of year for picnics and barbecues and family reunions: a chance to spend some relaxed and unscheduled time in the company of people we love (and who love us right back). The families we are born into as well as the families we create for ourselves…. 

These kinds of get-togethers give kids the opportunity to reconnect with aunts and uncles and cousins that they might only see once a year—members of an eclectic off-stage cast of characters in the ongoing story that is their life. They are reminded that they belong to something so much bigger than themselves by virtue of their connections to these people. They are rooted. They belong. 

My Grandma Bolton worked really hard to nurture this sense of family. We’d get together to celebrate each of her milestone birthdays and she’d organize sleepovers at her house for various grandchildren, in the hope that at least some of us would go on to become life-long friends. I’m happy to report that she got her wish. My relationship with my cousin Karen is still going strong more than four decades after the first of many grandma-initiated sleepovers. The gift of my cousin’s friendship is her lasting legacy to me.

Freedom and fun

Kids need the opportunity to learn and grow—and summer is the perfect time of year for the unscripted, unstructured play and exploration that fuel self-discovery.

This is something Eileen Kimmett, a Peterborough, Ontario, mother of three school-aged kids thinks about a lot. Her advice to other parents who are wondering how to allow time for the magic of childhood summers to unfold? “Keep it simple. Do schedule field trip days, but don’t overbook or overschedule. It’s okay to stay home and do nothing. I’m certainly learning that this year. You don’t have to go to every event. It’s really, really neat to explore places that you’ve never been to – and you can do it with the kids.”

So, it’s about leaving enough time in your kids’ schedule for them to learn how to create their fun—as opposed to feeling like it’s somehow your job to make the fun happen for them. Because, really, isn’t that what a childhood summer is supposed to be about—being given license to make your own fun? Having the freedom to build your own tree fort and having the time to simply float around on an inner tube, staring up at the clouds while your mind wanders and your cares drift away? 

Instructions

So there you have it: the three key ingredients in the recipe for a perfect childhood summer. And now a few parting thoughts that can double as recipe instructions!

First, don’t make this harder than it has to be. Take advantage of ordinary moments as opposed to feeling like you have to do something hugely complicated or expensive. Less important than what you’re doing is the fact that you’re doing it together—and forging some powerful summertime memories along the way.

Secondly, don’t make the mistake of thinking that you have endless time. There are only so many summers of childhood. Don’t let this one pass your kids by. Think about the types of memories you want your children to carry with them from their one-and-only childhood—and then do what you can to help them start making those memories, starting right now. Seize the summer, moms and dads….

How to Savour What's Left of Summer

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Turning the calendar page to August is a poignant reminder that summer won’t last forever. In just a few short weeks, we’ll all be diving into the hurricane that is back to school. So how do you make the most of these final few weeks of summer? How do you fill them with the kinds of memories that you'll want to look back on in months and years to come? Here are a few tips.

Revisit your summer wish list

Remember that list you made (on a piece of paper or maybe even just in your head), back when summer was just a vague and abstract idea: how you came up with a list of all the things you swore you would do this summer? Well, there’s no time like the present to revisit that list and to zero in on the things that matter most. Maybe it’s taking a day trip to an area attraction or planning an out-of-town getaway to visit friends and family members for a weekend. Or maybe it’s simply deciding that you want to spend more time having fun together as a family, here at home. Sometimes the most ordinary events get translated into the most spectacular memories, after all.

Be spontaneous

Find yourself with an unexpected block of time? Seize the moment and do something spontaneous and fun. Toss around a Frisbee. Head to the park. Whip up something delicious and decadent on the backyard grill. It’s amazing what a difference just an hour or two of unanticipated joy can make in your life and your kids’ lives, too. It's a chance to really connect with your kids in a powerful and far-reaching way.

Create time

Are there some tasks you could put off until fall so that you can make the most of summer? The basement will still be there to organize come September or October, but the lakes and rivers won’t be warm enough to swim in anymore. Here’s an idea: think about hitting the pause button on social media, if only for a couple of hours or a day at a time. Social media is great—but it can be all-encompassing. Don’t be afraid to unplug from technology temporarily so that you can plug into other opportunities and experiences instead. Give yourself and your kids the chance to harvest a few more summer memories by making intentional choices about how you’re choosing to use your time.

Savour the moment

When you’re having an amazing time with your kids, pause to really drink in every detail of that moment. Imagine that you’re trying to download this moment into your brain. Don’t be afraid to take a snapshot or two to capture the moment. Reflecting on a photo of this special moment can, after all, help you to relive it down the roadBut don’t allow the act of taking photos to interfere with your enjoyment of the here and now. (Yes, it’s a fine line.) You can squeeze more joy out of each and every moment by learning to anticipate, savour, and then remember that moment. (Do the math: we’re talking three times the fun.)

So there you have it: some practical advice on making the most of these final days of summer. And if you do decide to put one of these tips into action, let me know. I'd love to hear how things worked out for you. 
 

Ann Douglas is the author of numerous books about parenting, including, most recently Parenting Through the Storm. She is also the weekend parenting columnist for CBC Radio and a mom of four.