My grown boys like to tease my wife and I about all of the “free manual labor” we received from so wisely having three, strapping boys, all born within a 4.5-year span. While help around the house and family property certainly did not drive any family planning, I won’t lie to you—those boys were pretty darn helpful. In the fall, they would assist me in raking and bagging what seemed to be endless piles of leaves. Winter would realize each holding their own, bright, red, snow shovel diligently plowing paths (often in racing format) on not only our driveway, but those of nearby neighbors. Springtime signaled the weeding of the flowerbeds, followed by the spreading of bark chips. And summer? Summer, especially for the years we had acreage with a fairly large body of water—mowing, weed eating and treating the pond took up many a Saturday.
But, here’s the thing: With the work, came the reward. And even the grown-ups know, reward can be quite fun.
Don’t get me wrong. We didn’t just bless our children, when they did things for us. I mean, just typing that feels wrong. Children deserve our unconditional love, regardless. But, the reality of life is that a whole lot of work goes into making way for play, and we just tried to seize every opportunity we could to model both for our boys.
Summer was especially easy to do so, what with the kids out of school, and the weather most often cooperating for activities that could take us outdoors. Oh, we found fun rewards during the winter months, but those could very well require additional drains on the family budget, such as the admission of a movie ticket or renting bowling shoes. The advantage of being able to expand the spaces, in which we can enjoy our fun, makes summer the perfect time to reap the rewards of jobs well done.
Now, some of you may be thinking, “Wow. This guy couldn’t just have fun with his kids, for the sake of having fun?” Of course, I could, did, and still do. But, while we want to make our kids’ childhoods as blissfully happy and memorable as possible, we also want to set them up for even longer, just as blissful happy and productive adult lives. My boys knew that I would rather be at a theme park with them than at my desk at work. But, they also knew that being faithful at my job was what provided the means for us to go have fun at the theme park.
So, how does the thought of an expensive stay at the Magic Kingdom (or your choice of summer activities) tie in to finding ways to have inexpensive, summer, family fun? We can do things on an inexpensive, regular basis to show our young that work and play can happen every day. We just have to be intentional and strategic.
Each family is unique. I had three boys, you may have one daughter. I had children close together in age, you may have four kids spread out over a 15-year span. I mostly worked days, you may work nights. We love history and sporting events; your family may love musicals and art museums. It is not a competition of outward activities. Rather, it is a common goal of inward engagement—connecting with our kids on a deep level that will last a lifetime. Summer fun can help make that happen. It seems the key is to find the right activities that your whole family can enjoy. I know . . . easier said than done.
So, even though you will have to find your fun that works best for your family’s tastes, I will share just a few things we found to be particularly rewarding and memorable.
- After a hot day of yard work, we would often find a swimming pool, a lake, or simply set the sprinkler under the trampoline and “bounce in the water.” Pre-trampoline days, we once even fashioned our own “poor man’s Slip-n-Slide” from large, black, yard trash bags, and you would have thought we had given the boys the best gift, ever.
- Sometimes, we created our own ice cream sundaes or, in the case of our middle son, experiment with some of the weirdest (and grossest) smoothie flavors known to man.
- Other times, we headed to a local park, or nearby hiking trail.
- If the days were particularly scorching, but we were short on cash, my wife would search out the “dollar movie matinee” opportunities in the area.
Find your version of simple, inexpensive, summer fun. But, don’t be afraid to let your kids see the work that paves the way for the “fireworks.” Bottom line . . . it’s really all about quality time with your kids. They will treasure that for a lifetime.
Kevin Weaver, CEO of Network211 and father of three sons, lives with his wife KyAnne in Springfield, MO. He enjoys spending time with family, hunting and watching University of Kansas basketball with his boys! He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org