Homemade blueberry pie, freshly squeezed lemonade and vine-ripened tomatoes. Summer has arrived. It's 8:30 in the morning. Yes, you have time to sip tea and read the entire morning paper. No bus schedule, no carpool pickup. So what if the kids appear for breakfast and the socks don't match or a shirt is on backwards? It's summer! The pace is leisurely, and schedules are more flexible. Of course, there are annual summer activities like day camp, swim practice and Bible school, but there are also weeks of free time stretching into infinity or at least to the end of August.
Before we can dip strawberries in powdered sugar, we are scratching mosquito bites, painting chigger welts with nail polish, and bracing for an invasion of the dreaded lounge lizards. It's hard not to notice that inactive kids, lounging around with video games and other things electronic, become grumpy and discontent. To preempt the lounge lizard invasion, grab the beginning of summer, before the family jumps into planned activities, to begin the "summer fun ideas" family conversation. Whether the family is taking a vacation or a staycation, the kids can make a wish list of silly and fun things to do throughout the summer when the electronics are off and time hangs heavy.
Each person could compile a personal list as well as add to the family list. Consider some flash fun crafts - as in do it and get it done in less than an hour without a big mess. On the other hand, the pace in summer should be leisurely. Some activities should be long-term, go-to fun things. Kids whine about playing outside when it is hot and humid. They don't want to run around, but for whatever reason they will jump. Think about it. A few minutes of jumping, whether it is jumping rope, using a pogo stick or playing hopscotch, will exercise a lot of muscles and press the refresh button on attitudes.
Setting a personal best record in some fun feat whether at home or away could be a summer objective. In competition there are winners and losers, but who needs that within a family? The personal-best route keeps kids encouraged rather than discouraged. Summer is about being carefree. My Birmingham grandkids have ongoing personal-best lists. My grandson is highly competitive in all that he does while my granddaughter, if left up to her, could easily become a distant cousin to the lounge lizard, content to read all day every day.
Both kids respond to personal-best challenges. Ben has a pogo stick. He doesn't jump everyday, but when he jumps, he jumps nonstop until something happens and his foot touches the ground. Then he stops or goes on depending on how he feels as he sets weekly goals for number of jumps. Erin, with spiral notebook and glitzy pen, is his faithful record keeper. Unlike her dad, a marathon runner, Erin prefers to walk. She has a little pedometer and loves to keep track of her distance. The ongoing goal she set is to eventually walk the distance of a marathon. Her daily personal distance bests happen on the days she becomes engaged in observing what is going on in neighbors' yards and forgets to keep checking the pedometer. Often when she skips, she goes much further than she realizes. She did learn a small life lesson. When hopping she had to use the leg with the pedometer, otherwise the counter didn't count.
Not every kid has a pogo stick or a pedometer, yet there are many ways to get the jump on fun summertime physical activity. Equipment is minimal. A jump rope, a piece of chalk and a Nerf ball are that are all needed to put some jump into summer.
Hopscotch is a neighborhood favorite in Birmingham. The frame is drawn early in the summer and is "retouched" after rain, etc. There is much laughter at the back of the driveway when the kids gather to play hopscotch. Ben and Erin have another driveway game with Nerf balls. Each holds a soft spongy ball between the knees and jumps the distance of the driveway as many times as they can, keeping track once again of personal bests. At first, the little statisticians counted the number of jumps it took to go the length of the driveway. In the name of personal best, they tried to increase the length of the jumps so the number of jumps would decrease. Part of their fun is their strategy sessions. Often Ben will use the time before supper when hungry kids tend to snarl and snap to go out to the drive and work on his personal best whether it is pogo stick or driveway jumping.
A jump rope and the Nerf ball make good travel companions. Jumping can commence outside at Grandma's, at a rest stop, or whenever kids need to jump off a little extra energy.
The old playground standby, jumping rope, is enjoying a revival. Now that football and soccer players, runners and cyclists support it, boys are in
to jumping rope, too.
They might not go for all the jump rope rhymes the girls love, but they jump. Sometimes they go for endurance and sometimes they go for speed.
The girls call it jumping the"Red Hot Peppers."
Jump rope rhymes are a spectacular for kids to track their personal bests. Sometimes the rhyme is the alphabet, and sometimes it involves counting. The Cinderella chant is my daughter's all-time favorite.
Dressed in yellow
Went outside to kiss a fella.
Made a mistake
And kissed a snake.
How many doctors did it take?
1-2-3-4 and so on until the jumper misses
This chant is my granddaughter's favorite:
Ice cream soda, cherry on the top
Who's your best friend, I forgot?
A-B-C-D and so on until the jumper misses. Then the jumper says a name that begins with the letter when the miss-jump occurs.
The personal challenge is to go farther each time in the alphabet or number count. The beauty of jumping rope is that it can be a solitary or a group activity with two rope turners or one turner and a nearby tree to secure the rope. Sports equipment stores have expensive high-tech jump ropes. Discount stores have inexpensive wooden handle ropes for single jumpers. Kids personalize their rope handles with paint pens and stickers. Good old fashioned clothesline cut to size is perfect for "group jump" ropes.
Strawberry shortcake, blueberry pie... Isn't it time for you to jump into summer?
Heidi Maness Hartwiger, a Wheeling native, is a writer, teacher and storyteller. She is the author of two books, "All Join Hands: The Forgotten Art of Playing With Children" and "A Gift of Herbs." She is a mother of four and a grandmother of five.