By: Tanya Ward Goodman
When I think about the beginning of summer, I think of loose-leaf paper blowing like leaves down the outdoor hallways of my high school. Paper tossed this way is a kind of celebration, a make shift ticker-tape parade. This kind of exuberant chaos is summer. Pages that are normally held in place, have been let loose. Summer is the season of loosening. The heat slows us. We give up cooking hot meals, figure that time spent in the pool is just as good as time spent in the bathtub and watch more television than usual. Summer is for playing and running and sleeping late. Summer is for fun.
The thing is, when you have kids, fun doesn’t always just happen on its own. It’s possible that without some sort of structure, your summer will turn into one long sibling fight punctuated by the plaintive whines of boredom.
I have a friend who says that kids don’t really know what boredom is. She claims that when they say they’re bored, they are really saying “I can’t think of anything good to do.”
To keep my summer calm and peaceful and as fun as possible, I am going to try to think of something good to do each day. That thing doesn’t have to be huge, it doesn’t have to last all day, but it will give the day some structure. And structure brings peace.
Pack a picnic and a soccer ball and head to your local park or, better yet, check out a park you’ve never visited. Practice riding without training wheels on the wide, shady path around Lacy Park in San Marino or splash in the ceramic tiled fountain at Mayor’s Discovery Park in La Canada. Dip little toes into the wading pools at Glendale’s Brand Park or check out more watery fun at Robinson Park in Pasadena.
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More to do Outdoors
Even though we live in a gigantic city, we are lucky to be less than an hour from some great outdoors adventures. Take advantage of the June gloom and head out to Vasquez Rocks before the weather heats up. Climb enormous rock piles, chase lizards, enjoy the views. In the Santa Monica Mountains, check out Peter Strauss Ranch – this glorious property boasts a big meadow for relay races or cloud watching, a short hiking trail suitable for all ages and a nearby river. In Altadena, take a hike up to the waterfall in Eaton Canyon. Or check out the trails in Griffith Park. The Old Zoo picnic ground is a great launching spot for numerous hikes and walks. Fern Dell is especially nice to visit on a hot day because it’s shaded and you can fortify your troops with “Snake dogs” and homemade pie at Trails Café.
I always enjoy Summer Sounds, the music festival for children at the Hollywood Bowl. An hour of kid friendly music is followed by themed arts and crafts. For indoor fun, check out the amazing Bob Baker Marionette Theatre, where a musical extravaganza is followed by an ice cream party. Free concerts at the Santa Monica Pier, Hollywood & Highland, The Autry National Center in Griffith Park or the Levitt Pavillion in Pasadena are a great way to get your culture under a sultry summer sky.
There is almost no place in the Los Angeles area that I love so well as Descanso Gardens. Whether you make the whole loop up the hill to the recently refurbished Boddy mansion or simply circle around the fountain in the rose garden or spend an hour watching turtles lift their heads from the duck pond, Descanso is always an easy and fun day. During the summer they are also open in the evening for concerts. In addition, they have a roster of fun classes for toddlers and older kids.
The Japanese Garden in Van Nuys on the site of a water reclamation plant is one of the area’s hidden wonders. Koi fish, rock gardens and numerous bridges and tea houses make this a great place for a ramble.
You don’t have to leave your house to have fun. In fact, some of our best days start and end at the picnic table in the back yard. We paint pictures, make leaf prints or create houses out of egg cartons for my daughter’s collection of plastic animals.
Tie a craft project to a favorite book. “Frederick” by Leo Leonni has instructions for making paper collage mice. The “Fancy Nancy” series is chock full of inspiration for tea parties, dress-up and theatrical presentations. Read “My Father’s Dragon,” by Ruth Stiles and then draw a map of your own fantastical island.
A trip to the nursery can provide an afternoon’s worth of entertainment. Simple terracotta pots are great fun to decorate with acrylic paints and look wonderful with petunias spilling over the top. If you have more space, plant a cutting garden for your child. My daughter loves to pick flowers, but I hate to lose all the color in my borders. Giving her a little plot to call her own was the perfect solution.
We like to pour concrete into aluminum pie pans and create decorative stepping-stones. This project is a great way to consolidate all the odd little plastic items that accumulate in the bottom of the toy box. Broken action figures, spare buttons, orphan marbles and Barbie shoes all make wonderful collages.
Make lunch fun. Pick a theme – Morocco? Blue? — and create a menu together. Let older kids make their own sandwiches and cut up their own vegetables. It’s amazing how many carrots my son will eat if he’s peeled them himself.
For craft project ideas I rely pretty heavily on a very worn copy of the “Zoom-Do” Book first printed in 1975. If you’re feeling nostalgic, this relic of my youth is often available on E-bay. You can also check out the new Zoom info at PBS Kids
My son has gone through many gallons of white glue and vinegar and still loves the projects detailed in “The Ultimate Kid Concoctions” by John E. Thomas and Danita Thomas. “Wonderplay, Too” by Fretta Reitzes & Beth Teitelman is another great resource.
When in doubt, put everyone in swimsuits, pour yourself a tall iced tea and drag the hose around. Water is the ultimate entertainer.
Whatever you do, wear sunscreen, bring a hat and don’t forget to have a good time.
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