Flip your summer with these exciting ideas

Hey, parent to parent, let’s have some straight talk. Think about last summer. How was it? Did you embrace some quality time with your kids? Embark on a long-awaited vacation? Take time off to visit somewhere new? Did you make lots of wonderful memories?

Or was your summer more like mine was—an all-too-short blur of working too much, interspersed with driving kids to swim practice, camps of every stripe (basketball, cheerleading, dance), and yelling at them to get off of their ever-present screens?

Join me if you want to “flip the script” and change things up, at least a little, this summer. Our brief quiz will help you figure out what may be missing from your summer plans and give you some ideas about how to make the most of this long-awaited season.

1. Think back to last summer. Are you happy with the way you spent your time, overall, last year?

  • A Yes, I am.
  • B Not really.
  • C Nope…it went by way too fast.

2. How much trouble do you have getting your kids off of their screens (smartphones, tablets, TVs, you name it).

  • A None at all! I have to remind them about screen time. (Really? Tell me your secret.)
  • B It’s a challenge sometimes.
  • C They and their screens have become one. Much like the Borg on Star Trek, they have been assimilated.

3. How often do you feel like you’re in a rut when it comes to your summer activities with your kids?

  • A Never. I’m always coming up with great ways for us to spend our time.
  • B Sometimes. I feel like other parents are always doing crazy, fun things and we’re doing the same-old, same-old.
  • C All the time. I want to mix it up but need inspiration!

How’d you do? If you answered all As, then you sound like you’ve got it all handled. Congrats! If you answered Bs and Cs, though, fear not. A little bit of planning, creativity and out-of-the-box thinking and you can have a summer to remember.

Best of all, when you pull your kids away from their screens, they may realize there’s a whole world waiting to be discovered.

They may even be inspired and be the ones suggesting new ways to flip your summer script. Hey, a mom can dream, right?

Problem: Our “fun” budget is limited

Solution: Get a museum pass. As if your local library wasn’t awesome enough, you can sign up for a Museum Adventure Pass at many. The pass gives you discounts to all kinds of museums, nonprofit organizations and cool places to visit—and your kids needn’t know they might actually learn something, too.

Or, avoid spending $50 or more to catch the latest big screen blockbuster. Rent a favorite from the library (while you are picking up your pass), project it onto your garage door and break out the lawn chairs. Invite your neighbors, have everyone bring their own popcorn and set up a weekly movie date with your kiddos and neighbors.

How about a factory tour? Bonus: It’s something everyone in the family can enjoy. Check out the Long Grove Confectionery Co. in Long Grove ($2 admission fee) or the Albanese candy tour in Merrillville, Ind., where they promise you the chance to “Learn. Explore. Eat candy.” What’s not to love?

Add a little more educational value and hit up one of Chicago’s favorite free summer traditions: the month-long roving Shakespeare in the Parks. This year’s 75-minute play is The Comedy of Errors.

Problem: My kids are couch potatoes

Solution: You already know they need to get moving. But to get them going, you have to “up” the fun.

Start off slow: Pack up the car for a Route 66 adventure, starting at Buckingham Fountain in downtown Chicago and go as far as the kids can sit. In all, Route 66 in Illinois is 411 miles—that’s a lot of sitting for even the most advanced couch potato, who’ll be begging to get out of the car to explore. Travel Illinois gurus have created a fun playlist for the fam. Dancing in the seat encouraged.

Or, get a Metra or Amtrak pass and jump on and off at different stops to explore towns you’ve never been to before.

When they are ready to really move, check out the outdoor American Ninja Warrior-style course at Summerslake Park in Warrenville (it’s free!) or the Go Ape ropes courses in Western Springs. In the city, hit Park No. 574 in Garfield Park, which features metal and rubber climbing structures, pommel horses and a zip line, plus it is steps from the park’s walking path to get your steps in.

Problem: We get really sick of the heat quickly

Solution: Get counterintuitive and learn to ice skate. It’s a great way to get out of the heat. Try the Southwest Ice Arena in Crestwood. This rink has public skating times and is in a location convenient for those who may be trekking from a little bit farther north. Plus, it has a punch card program for public skating to save you $10 if you plan on visiting often.

Or try a different kind of skating. Hit Fleetwood Roller Rink in Summit, which offers skating lessons every Saturday for just $5.


Problem: My older kids only want to play Xbox

Solution: Ease them out of their tech habit into a different kind of gaming. Cat & Mouse Games, 1112 W. Madison, Chicago, offers a free monthly First Friday Family Game Night, 5-7 p.m., for families to come together to play something fun from the demo library. Perfect for families with kids 4 and older.

Or level up your parenting with a trip to Level 257 in Woodfield Mall, a gamer’s paradise IRL. Same for 1980s arcade gaming at Galloping Ghost in Brookfield. With more than 550 games to play, pay $20 per person at the door, and you and your gamers can play all day, but together.

Gather your “007s” for a family mission at EscapeHouse Chicago. You and your junior spies uncover clues, decipher riddles and crack codes to solve a mystery. EscapeHouse accepts younger agents (8 years and older) during special Family Missions.

Play tourist for the day. Let your kids choose a restaurant or attraction to visit. And if your kids still lack enthusiasm, those ever-present screens may be your saving grace. Hand over the smartphone, let them embrace their inner YouTube stars and play “tour guide” for the day.

Problem: I still have to work, so I want a few splurges on the weekends

Solution: This year, do a family summer camp in style with a family escape to Great Wolf Lodge in Gurnee, which is turning summer camp outside-in with its Summer Camp-in through Labor Day weekend. Think pool parties, character appearances, BBQ camp cuisine, camp games, campfire sing-alongs and s’mores.

It’s a don’t miss for Hamilton fans, but the new Hamilton: The Exhibition exhibit on Chicago’s Northerly Island will entertain everyone and leave them with a better understanding of American history (recommended for fifth grade and older because of the amount of reading). 

This article originally appeared in the June 2019 of Chicago Parent. Read the rest of the issue.

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