Ah, summer. Time to take it slow, put your feet up and relax —that is, unless you have kids!
If you’re the parent of a little one (or two… or three!), there’s no arguing those carefree days of summer are over. But when you’re looking at this much-loved time of year through the eyes of your child(ren), you get to experience the wonders of summer on a whole other level.
Here at League, we’re certainly pro summertime fun, but we’d be remiss not to remind you of the importance of encouraging healthy habits in your kids over the summer months.
Eating healthy, staying active, and sticking to (somewhat of) a schedule is the best way to keep your kiddos happy, healthy, and to avoid a sticky thing called summer learning loss. Because — yes — the new school year is just around the corner.
STICK TO A (SUMMER) SCHEDULE
Summertime is often synonymous with playing well past bedtime, sleeping in late, and eating breakfast at noon. While this can be as a special treat now and then, the truth is, children crave consistency. (Sure, they may fight it tooth and nail, but routine helps children — and families — thrive.) So here’s how to keep your routine going while school’s out:
- Mealtime: A busy summer schedule might lead to skipped meals or eating on the go. With that in mind, try creating a schedule that gives children the opportunity to get in much-needed nutrients (that will fuel their play) at the same time each day. Just as importantly, commit to eating together as a family at least once a day. This gives you the chance to learn about what’s going on in your kids’ lives. (Are they in love? Being bullied? Hanging out with the wrong group of kids?) Plus, numerous studies have shown that kids who eat meals with their parents eat less junk food, get better grades, and get into less trouble.
- Screen time: Kids these days — they always seem to have their noses glued to one device or another. This is why creating a schedule for technology use and screen time is such a good idea. Maybe you’ll choose the hottest time of the day (when it’s recommended to stay out of the sun) to let them play some video games — just make sure you’ve clearly communicated when technology time is up! (A great tip is to set a timer. When they hear it go off, time’s up… no arguing with that!) Or maybe you’ll let them cool off after an afternoon outside with a bit of TV while you prepare dinner. Whatever the case, experts recommend no more than 2 hours of screen time a day — and in the summertime, we recommend even less!
- Time outside: Unlike childhoods of summers past, it seems that more and more kids need to be encouraged — nay, pushed — to get outside even during the summer months. Whether parents today are consciously enrolling their kids in outdoorsy summer camps, or scheduling time spent outside each day, we say: Make this one a priority! Just be sure they’re slathered in sunblock and are well hydrated. For a cool activity the whole family will love, try committing to a family walk right after dinner. (Yes, the dishes can wait!)
- Reading time: This might not seem like a very summer-like activity, but think back to the days of your youth: Remember sitting under the shade of a tree, reading your favorite book? Fit a weekly jaunt to the library into your schedule, and encourage your kids to lay in the grass and read — preferably without their shoes on. If your kids aren’t the bookworm type, audio books might just be the next best thing. And if they’d rather spend their time outdoors playing, a few books before bed is a perfect way to incorporate reading into their day while nicely easing them into their bedtime routine. Another bonus is that reading over the summer months helps ensure their reading skills are kept nice and sharp, readying them for the school year ahead.
- Bedtime: While it can be tempting to forego bedtime battles and let the kids stay up until they’re too tired to keep their eyes open, the reality is that kids need the proper amount of sleep for brain development and overall health. Here’s a trick: You can still let them feel like they’ve ‘won’ by pushing bedtime back by 30-60 minutes over the summer. But stay strong, fellow parents. It can be tough for kids to want to go to sleep when it’s still light out. Note that having a proper bedtime routine in place can work wonders, and can be another opportunity to bond with your child after a busy, fun-filled day.
Rather than give you the usual advice — Join a sports team! Go swimming! — we’re here to share some outside-of-the-box ideas for getting outside as a family.
- DIY scavenger hunts: Whether the hidden treasure is tucked away in your backyard or is waiting to be discovered in a nearby park, a DIY scavenger hunt is a great way to get your kids moving, thinking and having a blast. And not to worry, you don’t need to be an artist for your “pirate’s map” to be a success… and the loot doesn’t have to be expensive. This is one of those activities that’s more about the journey than the destination, anyway.
- Walking bingo: A great motivator to get your kids out walking, all you need to do is tape a 5 x 5 grid onto the back of some cardboard, then depending on your kid’s age and reading levels, fill the squares with words or images (drawings or pictures you cut out of magazines) of things they might see along the way. From a bee drinking nectar from a flower, to a bird flying to its nest, to a busy construction site, your kids will have so much fun seeking out stuff that they’ll forget to complain about the family walk you forced them to go on.
- Obstacle courses… with the sprinkler on! Transform your yard into an obstacle course using items that are lying around in your shed or backyard: from pails and buckets to plastic kids’ toys to even your patio furniture — just make sure everything is waterproof since the sprinklers provide an added element of squeal-worthy fun. Plus, having your kids run through hoops while getting sprayed by water is a great way to get active but keep cool on a hot summer’s day.
During the hotter months, there are so many reasons to convince ourselves to eat junk food: We need an ice cream or soda to keep cool or quench our thirst. It’s BBQ season, so we’ve just got to eat hamburgers every week! It’s raining, so sure, the kids can enjoy some popcorn and chips with that movie. It’s too hot to make dinner — pizza night! Do you see where we’re going with this?
We don’t want to be labelled fun-killers, but all this junk food adds up. The good news is that there are a ton of fun alternatives that are both healthy and delicious.
- Cool treat and cold drink alternatives: Frozen yogurt, homemade smoothies, or DIY popsicles made from 100% juice are just a few ways to treat yourself to something cool when you’re feeling hot. Thirsty? Make water fun by throwing in a new fruit (or veg!) each day. Turn it into a game by having your kids compare the different flavors and feelings on their tongue: How does lemon-infused water compare to cucumber, strawberry, or mint? And, of course, a plate of pretty pink watermelon is the perfect way to quench your kid’s thirst in a way that is fun and delicious.
- A new take on BBQs and summer snacks: Lean meats, veggie kabobs, and fruit skewers for dessert — why not? There are many ways to make your next BBQ “heart healthy” and delicious. Having a picnic? Bring along some cheese and crackers, sweet melons, or other finger foods that aren’t full or sugar and salt. When it comes to the perfect snack for your rainy-day movie, forget chips and popcorn! You and the kids can still enjoy a satisfying crunch with a bowl of grapes, carrot sticks, or assorted nuts.
- Lazy lunches & easy dinners that aren’t take-out: Kids love foods they can eat with their hands — and so do their parents. They’re fun to eat and simple to prepare. The best part? Plating your kids’ meals creatively means no more bribing them to eat their veggies. Try: funny faces, underwater scenes, goofy animals, or wherever your imagination takes you! At lunchtime, encourage a picky eater to eat more than a pb & j sandwich by presenting them with a platter or fillables: things like thinly sliced cuts of leftover meat, lettuce, tomatoes, onions, beets sprouts, cheese, hot peppers, pickles, and a variety of condiments. Then have fun building a “monster” sandwich together and see how many items they can layer on before their little mouths can’t open wide enough to take that first bite.
See? There’s lots of ways to make summer healthy AND fun for the whole family! Want more ways to avoid summer “brain drain”? Find some great ideas here.