From holidays, family reunions, summer camps, and lake days, our short summer slips away all too quickly.

After cancellations due to the coronavirus and social distancing regulations to prevent the spread of COVID-19, our summer may look different than we first envisioned. But no matter your children’s age, as moms we can get back the basics and still savor what the season has to offer.

In these next few pages, Tracy Briggs, Melissa Davidson, Mary Jo Hotzler, Paula Quam, and Danielle Teigen consider ways to slow down, soak up the sun, and discover memorable yet simple pleasures that you and your kids will never forget.

Wee ones [0-18 months]

Little ones are the perfect audience for developing a love of all things nature because every experience offers wonder and engages the sense. Though we may think we need perfect weather to take a wee one outside, consider instead the safety first and the learning opportunity second. The best part about encouraging a love of nature is that research shows time spent outdoors can help your baby sleep better. Who doesn’t want that?

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Here are some ways you can nurture an appreciation for nature in the littlest of explorers:

  • Encourage touching: Put your baby’s bare feet in grass and watch him realize the feeling of those blades on his soft skin. Or put a crawling caterpillar on your daughter’s arm and watch her face light up as it makes its way up her arm. These experiences allow babies to make connections about the things in nature and how they interact with them, so don’t hesitate to keep them clean (just safe) and let them get those little hands dirty, literally.

  • Talk to your baby about his senses: Did you hear a bird chirping and your baby turned his head? Explain what that is to him. When raindrops fall, don’t immediately rush inside. Instead, let those drops delight your baby as you talk about how the water comes from the sky (bonus if you chat about all the different ways precipitation falls). Do you smell a campfire or grill nearby? Talk to your baby about using her nose to explore what’s happening in the world around her.

  • Visit a zoo or dog park: If you have a local zoo, check out all the great animals living nearby and identify them for your baby. Don’t forget to make all those awesome animal sounds too! If you don’t have a zoo (or it’s closed) find a local dog park. You might have fewer animals to identify and imitate, but you’ll definitely have some sights, sounds and even smells to talk about with your baby.

Tots [18 months to 3 years]

Let your toddler find fun outside using his own toys hidden around the yard. iStock / Special to On the Minds of Moms
Let your toddler find fun outside using his own toys hidden around the yard. iStock / Special to On the Minds of Moms

The toddler years are all about exploring and now that the days are warmer, that discovering can extend outdoors. Here are some fun activities your little adventurer can do this summer while learning about the world around them.

  • Rock hunt: What kid doesn’t love collecting rocks? The feeling a child gets when discovering a neat rock must be similar to an archaeologist discovering dinosaur bones. So let your little archaeologists explore. Grab a collection bucket and start hunting. Bonus activity: paint your rocks!

  • Nature color hunt: Experiencing nature, learning colors, and having fun — a nature color hunt includes everything. Grab an ice cube tray, egg carton, or something similar and place colored paper at the bottom of each section so your little one knows what colors they’ll be hunting. As they walk around outside and discover something of each color — a flower or a leaf for example — they can place them in the corresponding section of the tray.

  • Toy hide and seek: Challenge your toddler to a game of outdoor toy hide and seek. Place some of their favorite toys and tchotchkes around the yard and let them hunt. You can also make things a little more exciting by hiding a few tasty surprises.

  • Unearthing treasures: We all know kids love getting dirty. So why not let them indulge sometimes while appealing to their inner explorer? Hide toys (preferably some you don’t mind getting dirty and are easy to clean) in dirt or sand and let your toddler use his or her hands, shovel, or whatever to unearth their “treasures.”

Preschoolers [3 to 5 years old]

Encourage peace and physical activity by hosting yoga outside. iStock / Special to On the Minds of Moms
Encourage peace and physical activity by hosting yoga outside. iStock / Special to On the Minds of Moms

But if anyone knows how to tame the squirrel, it's us moms. Here are some ways we can help our kids to expend some much needed energy.

  • Outdoor yoga for kids: Now is the perfect time to begin developing healthy coping skills, and yoga is one of those. There are countless videos online that can help our tiniest little wild people find some major zen. So get a beach towel, find a nice spot outside and start with the downward dog.

  • Build a fort: This can be an inside fort or an outside fort, but as long as you don't get caught in any hot lava, it's a fun, creative way to pass the time. Let kids stretch their brains as they roam the house looking for items to "build" and decorate with. Sleepovers in those forts are always an added bonus.

  • Learn a few magic tricks: Get some black construction paper, make your own little top hat and wand, and get ready to rock. From disappearing coins to "spoon-bending", even the tiniest little magicians can learn to amaze audiences. And voila! The whole family is entertained.

  • Include outdoor photography in letters to grandparents: Send kids out into the backyard to take “nature” photos to develop and share with grandparents. Not only will this help kids this age practice writing their letters and numbers, but it can help them see the beauty in their own backyard and connect the little ones to the older folks they may be missing. Plus, children feel a sense of importance if they know their letters and colorful pictures will brighten the day of somebody else.

  • Start an indoor/outdoor herb garden: With a handful of little containers, some soil and seeds, little thumbs can start turning green. Sage, rosemary, basil … little ones can learn how they can single-handedly grow beautiful plants that they can then help clip and throw into some soups and salads. And just like that, they helped make supper.

Big kids [6 to 9 years old]

Have fun in your very own backyard with even the simplest of activities. iStock / Special to On the Minds of Moms
Have fun in your very own backyard with even the simplest of activities. iStock / Special to On the Minds of Moms

The warm glowing sun of long summer days is upon us and as a mom, you know that also means so are those dreaded words all too often uttered by kids — “I'm bored.” Be ready to fire back with these backyard activities that will keep them entertained and engaged.

  • Backyard Twister: This classic game is always a fun activity for kids and they’ll think it’s even more fun creating an outdoor version. Make a circle stencil from cardboard and use chalk spray paint to create the board. Grab a spinner from the boxed game or make your own using a board and paperclip.

  • Giant matching game: Who doesn’t love playing the matching game? Making the large yard cards for this game is easy and a task your kids can handle. Have them draw pairs of shapes on heavyweight paper or if you’re looking for something that will hold up a bit more, you can spray paint stencils on pieces of square corkboard.

  • Obstacle course: Children in this age group thrive on taking ownership of tasks. Having them make their own (safe) obstacle course is a great way to tap into that while letting their imaginations run wild. Anything goes: wood, outdoor pillow cushions, pool noodles … you get the idea.

  • Water balloon pinata: Throwing water balloons at your siblings is pretty gratifying, but so is smashing them with a bat. Just tie the balloons from an elevated space, such as a playground, tree or gazebo and let ‘er rip.

  • Water blob: The water blob. It’s been all over Pinterest for some time and if you haven’t tried one yet, this might be the year to give it a go. It’s fun to lay on, it’s fun to slip and slide on and it’s relatively easy to make. All you need is plastic sheeting at least 3.5 mil thick and duct tape. You can also find tutorials online on how to seal the edges for less risk of leaking.

Tweeners [10 to 12 years old]

Get tweeners in on the fun in the great outdoors by enjoying a simple but delicious treat. iStock / Special to On the Minds of Moms
Get tweeners in on the fun in the great outdoors by enjoying a simple but delicious treat. iStock / Special to On the Minds of Moms

What tweener doesn’t like a good challenge? Not just any challenge, of course.

We’re talking about the fun, friendly YouTube variety. The ones where kids record themselves biting into sour candy or playing a game of jelly bean roulette. Will you get a lime jelly bean or one that tastes like boogers?

This summer, you can have fun with your tweens and make your very own family-friendly challenges, YouTube-worthy or not, from the comfort of home.

Here are a few ideas to get started:

  • Summer photo scavenger hunt challenge: Make a list of summer items that might be found in your house or in the yard or neighborhood. For example, a bottle of sunscreen or a yellow flower. Next, issue a family scavenger hunt challenge to find all of the items on the list. As you find them, take photos of the items. To add a little competition to the mix, have it be a timed scavenger hunt. Whoever finds the most items in a timed session wins. Mix it up with a new list every week.

  • Ice cream taste test: Who doesn’t love ice cream on a hot summer day? For this challenge, get yourself a few different flavors of ice cream - be creative and look for a few unique ones - and place a scoop of each flavor in its own bowl. Each person takes a turn with a blindfold and taste tests each ice cream. The person who gets the most right, wins. If you all ace this test, time to branch out with some new flavors of ice cream.

  • Popsicle stick builder’s challenge: This one is simple. Eat a lot of popsicles, save the sticks. Use the sticks and ask each family member to build a “summer home” out of the popsicle sticks (and glue). Secret ballot voting will determine the winner.

Vocabulary challenge: Feel free to throw a little learning into the mix this summer by challenging your tween to look up and learn one new word every day this summer. Merriam-Webster makes this easy through its word of the day site: www.merriam-webster.com/word-of-the-day. Challenge your tween to use the word three times that day in a sentence. If you want to up the ante, for every day they succeed in this challenge, drop a quarter or some change in a bucket. By the end of the summer, your tween will have earned enough money to buy his or her very own dictionary. Or at least, enough money to treat the whole family to Dairy Queen. And really, what could be better than that?

Teens [13 to 18 years old]

Instill the value of hard work by encouraging teens to get an all-important summer job. iStock / Special to On the Minds of Moms
Instill the value of hard work by encouraging teens to get an all-important summer job. iStock / Special to On the Minds of Moms

“What time is it? Summertime. It's our vacation.What time is it? Party time!”

Today’s teens might have sung those lyrics from the Disney movie, “High School Musical 2” when they were young children. Now that they are teens themselves, how will they fill these precious days away from school? Some will get jobs, others might hibernate in their room on social media, but encourage your teenager to think outside the box.

Here are five ways for teens to make the most of summer:

  • Earn some money: Sure, it’s easy to say “get a job.” But earning money doesn’t just mean getting a job. Think about all of the stuff your teen has accumulated through the years. Their room is probably packed. Why not hold a yard sale with their friends where they all sell their things and they pocket all the money - like an older version of a lemonade stand.
  • Have an outdoor sleepover: It’s easy to sleepover in front of the TV and watch movies. But how about camping out under the stars? Have them sleep in the backyard, on your trampoline or in their old childhood playhouse. Just pick a nice night and don’t forget to give them insect repellent.
  • Do a weeklong social media detox: It might be the toughest week of the summer for them. But studies have shown that high social media usage is linked to anxiety in teens. See just how good they’ll do with a week away. Teens who’ve tried it say they experienced a little FOMO, but they slept better, stopped comparing themselves to others and actually found new ways to enjoy their family and friends.
  • Act like a tourist and see what your town has to offer: The entire family can do this. It’s a proven fact that when you live somewhere you don’t always take the time to check out what your town has to offer. Do it. You’ll learn a lot and have fun.
  • Savor these years: Help them soak in their last few years of childhood before adult responsibilities take over. Consider keeping a “Summer 2020” scrapbook documenting five things you tried. Remember actually printing photos? Do it and put them in a real book and not just online.

See this story and more in the summer On the Minds of Moms magazine on stands this week in area grocery stores in Fargo-Moorhead, West Fargo and Grand Forks.