Keep your families’ minds working: an adventure checklist for summer

This article was contributed by Stephanie DeMaro, United Way local operating board member, Women's Leadership Council member and volunteer. Here, Stephanie shares with us some of her families' favorite summertime activities that keep her kids active and learning - and in the spirit of United Way - ready for school success all year round.

Every summer has a story. I don’t know about you, but the summer months are my favorite time of year! As a working mom, I try to save my vacation days to spend extra time with my family so we can try to do everything possible in the short time we have together.

It is always my intent to make something valuable and memorable out of our time with each other by planning activities that we can do together both at our house and outside. Since the various activities I plan are typically fun and engaging, my kids don’t even realize they are building character and developing vital skills for the future.

Another added benefit is that you and your kids are reducing the amount of “screen time” on cell phones, video games, and TV and are having face-to-face conversations with real people. There are so many ways to keep your kids learning, even when they’re out of the classroom for a few months.

Here’s a checklist of some things my family and I try to do every summer together:

1.    Visit local museums.
Museums can be a great option for a rainy summer day, and Pittsburgh has such a great variety of places to explore. Depending on your family’s interest, you can find history, art, science and more. Many museums in Pittsburgh even offer free summer days!

2.    Volunteer at a local food pantry.
It is so enjoyable seeing your children give back to their communities – especially when you’re giving back right alongside them. Spending time in a food pantry and interacting with families that are just like us can teach your children great lessons. United Way’s 2-1-1 can help you find a nearby food pantry that could use the help from some volunteers.

3.    Go to your local library.
Another great option for a rainy day! Visit your local library, sit down to read a while, and then take home your family’s favorite book. You might even want to consider volunteering with United Way’s Open Your Heart to a Senior program and connecting with a senior who would enjoy having you and your family come read with them.

4.    Go to a local park.
Take a nature walk, go fishing, bike riding or pack a picnic lunch. We often bring a recyclable plastic grocery bag just in case we see some trash along the way to help keep our parks and trails litter free. Pittsburgh is filled with so many great parks to explore, so that could be its own checklist entirely!

5.    Visit a local orchard to pick produce.
We always have a great time picking healthy foods like strawberries, blueberries and apples to take home with us. You could also call United Way’s 2-1-1 to see if there are any local food pantries or shelters accepting donations of produce for local people in need.

6.    Host a game night for friends and neighbors.
From charades, to outdoor fun, to Pictionary, choose games that are fun for the whole family and spend an evening with friends having a great time. This is also a good opportunity to include new neighbors that may want to meet families in your neighborhood.

7.    Plant a vegetable and/or fruit garden.
Have some fun with your family picking different vegetables and herbs you want to plant. This is a fun activity to do together and offers your children an opportunity to see how hard work pays off! If your gardens grow plentiful, you can give 2-1-1 a call and donate your goods to local organizations.

8.    Have a lemonade stand.
Make fresh-squeezed lemonade and help your kids set up their very own lemonade stand. Research a local organization that your kids are passionate about – whether it be United Way or another local charity – and have them donate their proceeds. This is a great opportunity to teach your kids the importance of giving back to their community.

9.    Be artistic.
Create something with paint, clay, etc. Help your kids’ imaginations run wild. Maybe even sign up for a pottery class! After it’s done, consider sharing your art with an elderly neighbor – it just might brighten their day.  

10.    Take cooking lessons together.
Cooking together as a family can help your kids understand the importance of healthy nutrition and understanding what food they are putting into their bodies. Consider sharing some recipes you’ve learned with other families, and maybe they’ll do the same!

These are just a few ideas to kick-off the fun this summer and make a difference in your community. Consider writing the various items on slips of paper and have your kids randomly pull one out of a jar every few days to pick your next activity.
Sit down together as a family and make your list of all the things you hope to do before the kids head back to school. Share your ideas with us, and let us know what great adventures you and your families have this summer!

“Summertime is always the best of what might be.” - Charles Bowden