The school year is at an end, and stay-at-home parents and caregivers now have the company of their school-age children all day long for nearly three months.
I love summer for road trips, relaxed mornings and run-through-the-sprinkler weather. I love Popsicles and barbeques and fireworks.
However, there are also a lot of days when I have to resist the temptation to let the kids park themselves in front of the nearest screen for hours at a time. It's time to make a plan.
Summer is a great season to become a tourist in your own community. Summer field trips not only beat boredom, but they are often educational and promote physical activity. A trip to your local zoo, museum or library will help keep young and grown-up brains active. It's an opportunity to visit the places you've wanted to see for years or search out the little-known, and often free, activities in your neighborhood.
To begin, start by answering some basic questions:
Who? — Are you going alone or with other families?
When? — How often do you want to go? Every week? Every month?
How much? — What are you willing to spend?
Where? — Where do you want to go?
When my first-born was a toddler, my sister invited me on an early June trip to the Tracy Aviary in Salt Lake City. I joined a half-dozen other moms from her neighborhood and happily socialized as we strolled around the park and ate a picnic lunch afterward. I was given a list of field trips they had planned for each week of the summer. I didn't attend any of the other adventures, but they inspired me. The next year, I made a field trip plan of my own with a neighbor. We had a lot of fun all summer and our families became close friends.
The advantage to organizing a large group is the activity will go on regardless of individual disruptions like vacations or illnesses. When you go with just one or two families or on your own, you have the flexibility to change the date or activity for a given week to accommodate disruptions.
How often do you want to go? Once a week was about right for us, but you could go more or less often. One big monthly adventure for the whole neighborhood might work best for getting the most families together at the same time.
Plan outdoor trips like the zoo or hiking during June when temperatures are milder. Save museums and water activities for the hot days of July and August.
How much are you willing to pay for these activities? Weekly trips to museums or zoos are fun and educational, but they can add up. One way to keep costs under control is to purchase an annual membership to one of your favorite attractions and then plan field trips to reciprocating attractions. On that first field trip with my sister, they started the summer at the Tracy Aviary because of the reciprocal benefits of its annual membership that included weekday admission to the Ogden Dinosaur Park and Red Butte Garden, along with free first Thursdays or discounts to Thanksgiving Point Farm, Ogden Nature Center, Hogle Zoo, Ogden Union Station and Discovery Gateway. All of those places were on the schedule.
You might make it your mission to find all the free activities in your area. Splash pads, nature trails, libraries and historical sites are all good possibilities. If you live in an urban area with many public playgrounds, you could visit a different one each week. Last year, our local library hosted a series of free programs, including animal, magic and puppet shows. Free community activities abound if you look for them.
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