How do you make summer fun? For the kids AND yourself? Here are some ideas for creating unforgettable summer memories, based on my favorite Amish childhood activities.

I grew up Amish, which meant that summers were all about having fun outdoors. I couldn’t wait until it was warm enough to go barefoot, spend all day playing outside, and raid the garden as soon as the peas were ripe. In my world, electricity, computers, and the internet didn’t exist. Nor did music, movies, and TV.

It’s been nearly 25 years since the night I escaped––for a chance to go to high school. But looking back, after a life of modern conveniences and opportunities that I would never trade for my less-than-fulfilling upbringing, I still appreciate the good parts of how I was raised. Even though I don’t have children of my own, I would want them to have some of the same summer memories I have.

I realize that for many parents, my childhood experience isn’t possible to replicate. For one, I grew up in a rural area with a huge yard and access to fields, woods, rivers, and lakes all within less than half a mile of the house. My summer activities don’t necessarily translate to urban living. I also always had at least one full-time stay-at-home parent. In the age of Covid, many parents have gotten a taste of what it’s like to be with their children 24/7. But unlike Amish mothers, that was or will be a very brief experience for the majority of pandemic-bound parents.

So, despite the environmental and cultural differences, here are five ways to help create fun memories with your children this summer based on my experiences:

  1. Gardening. You will likely not have planted rows up on rows of vegetables outdoors this spring, but you can still give your children the opportunity to learn how to grow a garden no matter where you live. These days it’s very easy to find organic herb and veggie kits that can sit on a windowsill. You can even buy indoor mushroom kits. Those are a hit with the kids I teach, because the mushrooms grow so fast.
  2. Play dough. Playing with modeling clay is one of my most favorite memories of being an Amish kid. My mother made the clay from scratch, and watching her make it was as much fun for me as playing countless hours with the end product.
  3. Coloring books. Coloring books aren’t just for kids. There are so many beautiful (and humorous) coloring books available for adults to inspire calm, relaxation, stress relief, or just as a creative outlet. They’re worth a shot for Covid-stressed parents (and their kids!).
  4. Sprinklers. I think sometimes as adults we forget just how much that little, simple things mean to children. I was rarely allowed to play with sprinklers just for the heck of it, but when they got turned on to water the garden, we kids couldn’t get enough. Running through the sprinklers’ arc and getting soaking wet during hot summer days was pure joy.
  5. Berry picking. If you have access to a pick-your-own farm, this is worth a trip. My favorite memories as a little kid was going to the strawberry farm. I could never get my fill of strawberries. Coming home in the evening to celebrate a day of picking with homemade vanilla ice cream topped with freshly mashed strawberries was the perfect way to cap off the night.

I hope that some of these ideas will help bring you and your kids more summer joy and make this crazy year a bit less stressful––even if it’s only for a brief moment during the day.