Rocks, Gravel, Sand, and Water: How to Pack More Fun into Summer

How do you pack it all in?

Our life seems normal to me, but my friends tell me that my kids and I go a lot of places. Go ahead: follow me on Instagram and see for yourself.

There are so many opportunities for fun and learning in San Antonio. I want to get out and experience it and share it with my kids. If we can inspire other families to try new things, even better.

Looking at the calendar, summer break seems long—10 or 11 weeks of no school—but it will go fast. I want to pack in as much fun as we can, and I even made a printable chart to help. I figure that as long as we plan ahead, we can make room for the things that are most important to us.

It’s like filling a bucket with rocks, gravel, sand, and water: If you do it in the right order, you can fit it all in.


The Rocks: Travel

Last summer, we didn’t travel outside San Antonio at all. I was nervous but excited about a big change in our lives, becoming a charter school family. It’s gone well, so this summer I feel confident about going out of state for a family reunion.

When it comes to travel planning, I have no idea what I am doing. By being humble and asking for help, I found out that Ashley knows a family that owns a house on the same tiny island where my cousins are hosting the family reunion. Now that we have plane tickets, a vacation rental booked, and (thanks to Ashley’s friends) a list of fun activities, I feel like this trip is really going to happen.

Planning a trip is like putting a rock in the bucket because you have to give it lots of space. Since we’re going to a family reunion, we didn’t choose which week to travel. Traveling costs money, especially during the peak season. As Denise explains, traveling with kids is an adventure, but it’s worth it to me because I want to build a foundation for my kids to have lifelong relationships with their cousins.

Next year, we might travel outside the U.S., so one of my goals this year is to get our passports updated. Experiencing other cultures is an important way to help my kids broaden their horizons.

Maggie wrote an excellent post about the benefits of sleepaway camp for building character and independence. When my kids are ready for sleepaway camp, then I will put that rock in the summer bucket.

The Gravel: Local

This will be F.T.’s first summer doing camps. Earlier this year, I recommended that you follow your kids’ passions when choosing Spring Break activities; I’m taking my own advice in choosing summer day camps that will fit F.T.’s interests.

At the VentureLab open house, F.T. had the opportunity to try activities for each type of camp, and he discovered that he liked Gamer Camp the best. The tablets, apps, and hands-on tools make the logic of programming accessible to young kids.

Gamer Camp at VentureLab

This summer, there are a few new options for week-long camps. The DoSeum opens on June 6, 2015, and camps start on June 8, 2015. We were fans of the science activities at the now-closed downtown location. The new facility promises to have even more activities at the intersection of science and the arts, including this interactive puppet stage.

The DoSeum Puppet Parade

Also, the Magik Theatre has expanded to the northwest side with the Magik Performing Arts Center. My friends recommend Camp Showbiz for boosting kids’ confidence and public speaking skills.

Magik Performing Arts Center theater camp

Half-day camps, such as the ones at the Learning Lab and Summer at the Academy, offer flexibility. When you need less than a full week of camp, Utopia Play Cafe offers supervised drop-in playtime, and paint-and-sip places like Pinot’s Palette offer summer kids’ classes that last for just a few hours.

Summer sports are also a gravel activity. We are a family that plays together, and my kids have not yet participated in team sports, but I am looking into having F.T. participate in the neighborhood swim team this summer. F.T. has had swim lessons, and he loves to play at the pool, but I’m not sure if swim team is going to work out, because he had a challenging experience at his first swim test. We practiced, and he overcame his fear of swimming across the deep end. At the swim test, F.T. made it all the way across the pool, and he was proud of himself. The coaches still failed him, saying that they were not comfortable with his skill level. F.T. felt sad and disappointed, but he seems willing to practice some more and try again.

It’s not important to me whether F.T. participates in swim team this year, or next year, or never; I just want him to learn the right life lessons from his experiences. If failing the swim test motivates him to practice more, then that’s a good lesson—a character-building experience like stories in Paul Tough’s How Children Succeed, one my favorite books about education and parenting. Megan’s post about youth sports has good tips for helping parents keep sports in perspective; also, her husband says that if a youth sports organization seems too intense and negative, then look for a change.

waterpark at the JW Marriott San Antonio

Traveling out of state is a rock activity, but a staycation is a gravel activity—much easier to fit in, even on short notice. My kids keep asking when we can return to the JW Marriott. Taylor wrote a wonderfully detailed post about her family’s staycation at the JW last summer.

When the kids are tired from swimming and ready to sit still, we will do some activities to avoid summer brain drain. Last summer, inspired by Katie’s guide, F.T. finished three summer reading programs; he was thrilled each time he earned a book, certificate, T-shirt, etc. This summer, we’ll probably spend some time catching up on math and Spanish.

The Sand: Spontaneous

For me, happiness is spending time with people you love and trying new things together. This summer, grab your kids and go someplace you’ve never been before, like the Judson Nature Trails, the Convention Center map, a nearby hiking trail, or Barney Smith’s toilet seat art museum. See San Antonio in a new way by exploring downtown on foot, going to a new-to-you park or indoor playplace, or being a tourist in your own city. Eat at a restaurant you’ve never tried before—maybe even one where your kids can eat for free.

Flying kites at Fest of Tails in McAllister Park

Trying something new is so refreshing. Until I went with Brooke to last month’s Fest of Tails, I hadn’t flown a kite since I was little. It was such a joy to experience that again, and to share it with my kids. Seeing the excitement on their faces was so rewarding. More recently, we took a kite with us on a kayak excursion; what started as an experiment has become a fun new habit.

Kayaks and kites

The Water: Downtime

There are so many possibilities. This I know for sure: we’ll be spending a lot of time in the pool.

swimming in the pool

My hope is that we’ll look back over the summer of 2015 and have lots of good memories of the fun we packed in: the rocks, the gravel, the sand, and the water. I want us to feel recharged and ready for another school year. I hope you have a fun-packed summer, too.

Inga Cotton
Inga is passionate about parent-driven education: helping parents be the best advocates for their children, finding the right schools (or homeschooling resources), and enjoying San Antonio's variety of arts and cultural events for families. She was born in California but has called Texas home since high school. She works part time as a lawyer and also blogs at San Antonio Charter Moms. Her eight-year-old son, F.T., and five-year-old daughter, G.N., attend a public charter school in the heart of the city. She married a techie and is a bit of a geek herself.


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