There is no such thing as bad weather, or so we are told. Honestly, I believe this. However, many books and articles have used this phrase while giving tips to address getting outside in the winter (with it's cold and snow) or fall/spring (with their wind and rain), but what if your family's "bad" weather involves the sun and heat? (I'm looking at you summer!)
My family has no issues going out in the snow, rain, or wind; it is often the sunny, hot, humid, and buggy weather of summer that causes my kids to run indoors. Luckily, with some accommodations and planning, we can still get our nature fix and vitamin D!
Why Summer is at the bottom of our Seasonal Ranking
What bugs us about summer? Well, bugs for starters.
1. Bugs that Bite.
Bugs LOVE us! I am perpetually on a quest to find an all-natural bug and tick repellant that lasts more than 20 minutes. While I do have some pretty good repellants, the constant need to reapply combined with my kids feeling itchy, hot, and covered in oil, often leads them to want to go inside.
2. Fair-Skinned Gingers and the Sun.
With all my kids having red-hair and fair skin, we use a ridiculous amount of sunscreen (I keep saying I need to invest in these companies!). With skin cancer a part of our family history and my kids's ability to burn in less than 15 minutes, we are not casual about sunscreen's importance. Consequently, the need for sunblock and frequent reapplications, can, at times, be a barrier to being outside. Specifically, when I have forgotten to bring sunscreen with us or when my kids choose to pack up and go home rather than go through another reapplication. Similar to the bug repellant, my kids tire quickly of being hot, sweaty, and oily (especially my ASD daughter).
3. Direct Sunlight: Look Away!
Along the same lines of having fair skin, having blue eyes can also make sunny days something we have to contend with. Light eyes such as blue or green are more sensitive to the sun's rays because they allow more sunlight to pass through the iris causing photophobia. Squinting for long periods often leads to fatigue and headaches and more significantly, can cause a light-induced migraine for my middle schooler.
4. Hanging out in a crowd.
As an alternative learning family, my kids have the luxury of being at parks, forests, and beaches, when everyone else is generally at school and/or work. We also take vacations at off-peak times, so huge crowds always seem like a burden, especially come late July and August, when my older ones know in a few weeks, it will be much less crowded and a little bit cooler. They're not wrong. But still, we need to go places and be outside during the summer, right?
What WE do to get outside in summer:
1. Get outside early.
Our seasonal schedule seems to be the opposite of most school-aged kids, we sleep-in and are slow to start during the dark winter months and are up and out the door early in the summer to beat the heat. It just makes sense to be up early with the sun, we get to beat the crowds and get outside before summer temperatures swell. We have even scheduled breakfast picnics with friends rather than lunch and they were delightful!
2. Break-up time outside into smaller chunks
Sometimes we can break up our outside play into a couple of shorter increments rather than one large chunk of time. This is easy when we are sticking around the house. It also works if we are going to the pool. As long as we don't have any other major obligations, we can go to the pool in the morning and then go back in the evening. It even works better when I take the kids first and my husband takes them for the second trip!
3. Bring snacks and water.
Hydration is key. Everyone in the family brings an individual reusable water bottle and I usually try to bring additional drinks (incase of spills or friends forgetting theirs).
I do have to remind my kids to drink when we are out having fun. With a 4-year old, a child on the spectrum, and one prone to migraines, hydration is vitally important but often something my kids are not paying attention to.
Additionally, I always try to have snacks. It prevents me from spending money on food when we are out, and by having snacks that I know they like handy, it frequently extends our outside time. I really can't stress the snack bringing enough. It doesn't matter if we had just eaten prior to heading out, someone will invariably complain about being hungry. Sometimes it's my husband! Nobody wants to be hot, sweaty, greasy, AND hungry! Snacks to the rescue!
4. Dress appropriately.
It took living near the desert for a few years for me to realize that covering up in lighter materials can actually keep you cooler than showing bare skin. And with the right fabric, you can also gain some sun protection, which means less sunscreen to apply. Sun hats, rash guards, lightweight and comfortable clothing can make all the difference when we are out in the sun.
5. Always have sunblock, bug repellant, and a first aid kit.
For obvious reasons, all of these items are good to have with you when you head outdoors. It really cuts a trip short when I do not have these things when I need them. Like when my daughter walked up to me holding a dead bird and I had nothing with me to sanitize her hands! Or when we hadn't planned on staying outside so I didn't have the bug repellant and we were all practically eaten alive! Learning from my mistakes, I now keep a backpack with all of these supples by the door so I remember to grab it every time we head out.
6. Bring and wear sunglasses.
As mentioned above, a few of my kiddos have light sensitivity, so in order to avoid headaches, migraines, or just having to squint all day, we have made sure everyone in the house has UV protective sunglasses. The trick is to make sure everyone has them when we are heading out. Inevitably, there are times, someone leaves their pair behind, so we do keep an extra pair in the car. Consequently, when two people have left their sunglasses behind, I end up giving mine up. I might need to rethink that part of the contingency plan.
7. Skip activities at dusk.
Dusk - the sun is bright, it is still hot, and now there are mosquitos. Depending on the type of activity and when it starts, we will either leave early (before dusk) or come later (after dusk). This way we skip the worst of the mosquitos and don't have to wear both sunscreen and bug repellant (talk about an oily, sticky mess). Plus nothing ruins your evening more than being attacked by mosquitos within the first 15 minutes you arrive somewhere.
8. Be flexible and watch the weather.
We need to be willing and ready to get outside on milder days. The more positive experiences my family has during summer weather, the more eager they are to get back outside. I have canceled and/or rescheduled activities when temperatures are extremely hot and humid. Pushing my kids to attend an activity in extreme heat only because we had already scheduled it has resulted in miserable and sometimes sickening experiences. So I have learned to be OK disappointing others, at times, to do what is best for my kiddos.
9. Find locations that have shade.
While it is usually easy to find shade when heading to the woods, forest preserves, or hiking trails (sans maybe the desert), finding shade at playgrounds, beaches, and pools isn't always as easy. Being able to find a natural shady spot or bringing some sort of shade shelter or umbrella can help extend our time outside and make everyone significantly more comfortable. Again, arriving to our destinations early can help us secure the coveted shady spots before the crowds.
10. Prepare/organize outdoor art, science, and other play activities
We are primarily a self-directed family, but I will prepare outdoor art projects, science experiments, gardening opportunities, or set up water play activities to entice my kiddos to get outside for a bit. It works almost every time. Something as simple as new sidewalk chalk or water play toys can be novel enough for my kids to run outside. While we are a minimalist family, conscious of not wasting money and resources on unnecessary items, I do believe in investing in opportunities to connect outdoors. And you'd be surprised how many other kids will show up to participate!
11. Most Importantly - Listen to and respect your family
When one of us is struggling outside, for whatever reason, we regard each others feelings and are empathetic towards each other's physical discomfort. By demonstrating mutual respect, my kids trust that they are never going to be stuck outside feeling unwell or uncomfortable. Therefore, they are willing to venture out without much issue. I can only imagine that if they were forced to go and stay outside, they would resist and quickly develop a negative association with the outdoors. Right now, my kids love the outdoors and spend more time outside than the majority of kids in the U.S. - they just spend less time during the summer. I want to keep their love and curiosity of the outdoors and nature intact, and that is ultimately more important than our least favorite season.