When I was a child summer meant inner-tubes in the river, camping in the woods, and campfires beneath the stars. It meant chasing fireflies, picking wildflowers, and catching toads.
Summer was endless sunny bike rides, tangled tree branch forts, and calls of "be home before dark!" as we raced down the driveway.
But summer today – like much of life – seems increasingly busy for so many.
And while my family's life here on the farm feels pretty slow and old-school, I recognize that we're not the norm.
The norm, I suspect, is summer school and softball league. Overnight camp and enrichment activities. Full schedules from June through September.
And when you add to this the constant allure of our glowing screens, an old-fashioned summer feels like something that went extinct generations ago.
But what if…
What if we made a choice to resurrect that old-fashioned summer break?
What if we brought back just a little of the slowness, the magic, and the dirt-under-your-fingernails experience of a hands-on, real-live summer?
No, you don't need to give away your IPod, shut off the WIFI, or cancel your child's slot at camp (we won't be anyway). Because those things have a place in modern life, too. But what do you say we embrace our fast-paced lives while we remember what's worth keeping from slower days gone by?
And if you did, what would your kids never forget about this summer?
Yes, I do understand that not everyone has the luxury of spending their summers with their kids. Many of us have jobs and obligations and full plates of our own that don't slow down for summer.
But I recon that all of us – no matter how stretched or how busy have a little time this season to spend as we wish with our kids.
And what if we did that in the most simple, homegrown, no-budget and no-frills way possible? I suspect only good would come of it.
Below are 25 simple and free ideas to make summer a slowed-down, pulled-back, just-right experience.
Dig in for an afternoon, a week, or the whole season and delight in what unfolds.
Because these are the moments you will savor and remember.
25 Tips for (a delightfully old-fashioned)
1. Slow down.
There's no hurry to get anywhere, so let's savor where we are. You only have one chance at this day, this season, this relationship, this childhood.
Less on your calender means more space for the people you love. If your kids are accustom to a pretty full plate it might take them a bit to adjust. But when they do a whole world of possibilities will open up before them.
3. Make space for simple play.
I can't say enough about the magic that this brings.
4. Invite friends over for a picnic.
And don't clean first. Spread an old blanket on the grass and dig in. Memorable, real, and unplugged in the best way.
5. Have a campfire.
If only because it's high time you teach your kids what "I hate white rabbits" means. (Or as my kids say it (between coughs), "I don't like white bunnies!")
6. Build a quick and easy backyard fort.
It'll take you ten minutes and keep your kids entertained for the summer. No Pinterest perfection required. Just a bedsheet and some rope. Boom.
7. Make a habit of saying "yes".
Can we go swimming? Can we have dessert? Will you read me a book? Embrace the yes and see where it takes you.
8. Stay up late chasing fireflies.
Because what could be better?
And besides. Bedtime is over-rated. (Just ask your kids.)
9. Blow some epic bubbles.
I mean honestly. How could you not? These bubbles will captivate everyone, young and old.
10. Go swimming in a lake.
Or the ocean. Or a creek. But get your feet wet in nature. And if the water is cold I double dare you to dunk!
11. Sleep out in your backyard.
With or without a tent. Under the moon and stars, just you and your family. Summer was made for this.
If you want to take the sleep out even further, plan a road trip to a National Park. Because the Parks somehow feel like everyone's backyard.
12. Explore without agenda
Your block, a city, the forest, your home state. Make an adventure of it. On bike, on foot, by car, or by train, get out there and find new places to love.
13. Listen to your children's stories.
As Catherine Wallace brilliantly put it, “Listen earnestly to anything [your children] want to tell you, no matter what. If you don't listen eagerly to the little stuff when they are little, they won't tell you the big stuff when they are big, because to them all of it has always been big stuff.”
Don't wait. Start today.
14. Have less rules.
The world is safer now than it has ever been. Safer than when I zipped down the driveway with no helmet and was told to "be home before dark". Children learn best through freedom, and we adults thrive with less "should" and more "want to" in each day.
15. Churn some ice cream.
Tonight, tomorrow, everyday. Always churn ice cream. It's one of summer's simple pleasures.
16. Go outside and play.
Games without rules, just you and your kids. Sword-fight with pool noodles or toss the softball, grab your rollerblades or find that dusty bucket of sidewalk chalk.
Play feeds our souls. Especially when we do it together.
And remember, we deeply need nature. Let yourself go into the calm bliss of biofilia. It will heal you in so many ways.
17. Prioritize joy.
So often "joy" takes the backseat. Work? Yes. Commitment? Always. Responsibility? Bring it!
But joy? Oh. We forgot about joy.
Joy fills us in ways that nothing else can. Put it first this summer.
18. Dance in the rain.
Barefoot. With your kids or alone. It can't help but transform you. Note: dancing in the rain will cause epic laughter as well (which spins it's own healing magic).
19. Make some play dough.
Because you might not want to dance in every rain storm this summer. Play dough will fill the leftover rainy days quite nicely.
20. Do something you've never done before.
Dye your hair pink, head out without a plan or a map, or cook some Thai food. Surprise yourself and find joy in the unexpected.
21. Get gloriously, unapologetically dirty.
When was the last time you made mud pies or jumped in puddles? Feel this summer in every possible way. In the garden, the woods, or the river, be in it. Without hesitation.
As an added bonus, getting dirty builds healthy immunity. Who knew?
22. Fear not the unscheduled days.
For they are the most delicious days of all.
For an hour, a day, or a whole juicy week. Unplug.
Make eye contact with your loved ones. Play board games. Bake cupcakes. Tell stories.
And do it all without the distraction of technology. You'll leave your media fast feeling open, free, and deeply grounded.
No, technology isn't bad, but a break now and then can be a wonderful thing.
24. Fall in love with simple pleasures.
Because an old-fashioned summer is really about a return to simple. Simple priorities, simply joys, simple pleasures.
A meal on the porch, a bowl of hand-churned ice cream, a walk at sunset.
Make these your priorities this season.
25. And be nowhere else but here.
Because – honestly – where could be better than this?
This life of yours is more than enough.
Originally published in 2015.