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by Jen Hutson, CDA mom


The Proverbial Summer

What does a good summer require? Some of us can answer instantly, drawing from the nostalgia of our own childhood. (For the writer – videotaping homemade dramas with your best friend.) Perhaps your summers were a disappointment that persisted into adulthood. Or maybe you’re a kid who attends camp all day and feels little ownership of your summer destiny.


Don’t despair! There is a way into the classic summer experience for everyone!



For the sake of summer, I’ve borrowed an analogy straight from the summer playbook. 3 bases and home. You can head to first, second, third or home, based on your time and interest. And there is no wrong base. Just step up to the plate at least once or twice! A ceremonial American summer is part planning and part spontaneity and flow. Keep them balanced. And in addition to quality family time, encourage your children to have alone time, and experience boredom. Keeping company with oneself is a wonderful skill for life.


First Base:



Baby pool, inflatable, neighborhood or waterpark. Running around in a rainstorm and/or playing with mud are also highly recommended. PS: Did you know you can float down the White River in a tube? And they have special tubes that hold your cooler? Your kids will remember that epic float! Another option is renting a paddle boat downtown on the canal.



Buy a balsa wood plane, assemble a kite, or buy an inexpensive drone. The blue skies of summer were made for flight. And with older kids you can make it a game or experiment.



Not just for the 4th, these are the perfect excuse for staying up late as a family.



Summer Treats

Bonus points for making this one a surprise. Just tell everyone to load up into the car and drive to your favorite place for ice cream! Or make your own popsicles and try different recipes during the summer.



Obviously. But find a new park. There are ziplines, archery, creep stomping, Indian artifacts, preserved animals, spray features, skeletons, fishing and more at our local parks. Older kids could research the park system online and make a suggestion themselves.



Go hiking, please. Not just a neighborhood walk, but an uphill, through the trees, tripping over roots and climbing stumps hike. You might want to make it a regular part of your family life. And be ready, sometimes with walking, the kids will start talking.


Found Treasures

Give your child a shoebox to decorate. Then encourage them to collect finds over the summer – a feather, a sparkling rock, acorns and walnut shells, pressed flowers, a letter or photo. One further step is to make them into a collaged picture at the end of the summer.


Second Base:




Look into some old-fashioned games or something new to your family. One of the author’s favorites is Throw Throw Burrito. Summer is also the perfect time to setup a long-term game. Play Catan over several weeks when there is time. Summer is not for rushing. And of course, for the CDA kiddos, keep up on your chess skills.



Choose a puzzle as a family and leave it out for free time throughout the summer. Finish it before school starts and celebrate with dessert.



It’s never too early for kids to start assisting with meal prep. Have the kids help create a menu and cook, or if they are old enough, task your kids with creating a surprise meal for the entire family.


Pen Pal

Life is still busy in the summer and we don’t always see our friends as much as we had hoped. Go analog and have your kids pick a friend to be a pen pal for the summer. They could write to grandparents too. Get out the pencils, crayons and papers and go old school with letter writing. Writing letters and thank you cards are a lost art, and this is great practice for kids of any age.


Books & Movies

The classic read-the-book-then-watch-the-movie is made for summer! Finish the book before school begins and then celebrate with a decadent movie night. There are so many options – Lord of the Rings, Narnia, Harry Potter, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Star Wars, Treasure Island, Jungle Book… Also, the author highly recommends hammocks for drawing in readers or listening ears.


Outdoor Concerts and Movies

They are around! Plan a simple or ornate picnic – make it plastic or glass and enjoy!



The Children’s Museum isn’t the only place around town. Don’t forget about the Eiteljorg, the Art Museum, Rhythm! Discovery Center, Indiana Historical Society, Connor Prairie or even the Museum of Miniatures in Carmel. Drive an hour or two and you can find train and several aeronautics museums as well. Join a family and head to the Creation Museum in Ohio.



Third Base


Block Party

Host a neighborhood block party. Find someone with a projector and use a sheet to have a backyard drive-in movie night.



Your backyard works or try a nearby campground. Not a camper?  Just try a campfire and meal, then head home for bedtime.


Nature Study

Pick a theme for your summer – birds, rocks, flowers, animals. Print off information or free worksheets from the internet and join your kids in a study over the summer. At the end of the summer, ask your kids to present or share the information with friends and family. Posters, sketches, PPT, photos etc. are all great ways to share interesting facts!


Nature Journal

Sketch books and journals are not limited to artists. A 5-year-old or an artistically challenged adult can have one of their own. Take time periodically to sit in a place and draw what’s around you. You could also pick some destinations with your kids. Make a sketch, watercolor, pastel etc. and write the location and date. This is something your child might want to continue after the summer. And get one for yourself – setting an example is always a great way to encourage engagement!


Become a Birder

Birds are entry level nature watching. If you don’t want to invest in a feeder, you can make your own feeders using household items and food ingredients. Buy a nesting box or build one yourself from a kit and wait to see who moves in. You will see birds you never knew were in your yard. Don’t forget some binoculars, or this author’s favorite – a monocular.



Give your kids a night to stay up extra late. Lay out blankets or chairs and watch the sky for a shooting star. You can also check this weekly schedule of night sky events. There are also several star apps that will help you identify constellations, or even satellites and space trash.



Home Run


Family Journal

Keep a family journal of the summer. Kids can work together, or each child can be assigned to journal on a particular day or week. Sketches, photos, stories, quotations, ticket stubs or pressed flowers are all possibilities! And any age can participate.


Art Show

Plan to have several art projects during the summer – inside or outdoors. Sketch your backyard, make a self-portrait, take photographs, paint a giant drop cloth mural, or collage. Collect these works of art and have a family art show at the end of the summer. Make some drinks and snacks and invite friends and neighbors. You could offer a few pieces for reasonable purchase too.


Go Boating

Rent a boat! Pack a picnic and head out for a watery cruise. See your kids watching the foamy wake, jump in and take a swim, or just enjoy a drink and find your favorite house on the water. Eagle Creek offers boat rentals. You can also head to the White River and paddle a canoe or kayak.


And now the bases are loaded with ideas! So, step up to the plate and take a swing!

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