Many are trying to book summer camps, find out whether pools are open, plan vacations and fill out out calendars with family and friends. And do we need backup plans in case there are coronavirus hot spots that shut down parts of the country?
But life is opening back up in many US cities. The summer of 2021 is not the summer of 2020, when the weeks ahead were filled with too much work or loss of work, lack of childcare, hunger, and more struggles. For some, those struggles are still real.
There really is joy to be had as we reconnect with loved ones, and we need that connection. Some of our fun can be the same as last year: We can connect with family and friends, get outside to enjoy nature, play silly games; and find ways to do good and express gratitude for others, including the first responders and frontline workers who have saved so many.
Make your summer 2021 list
Write down a list of activities you and your family want to do this summer. Number your list from one to however far you get, and maybe even write it down on actual paper.
This is not a homework assignment. It’s about finding the joy that still exists inside you after more than a year of pandemic life — kids and adults alike. Get the first few ideas out. Now keep going, because that’s when the ideas get ridiculous and really fun.
Want to walk on the moon? Write it down. Want to make your own movie? Write it down. Want to use all those wacky kitchen devices you have never removed from their boxes? Time to write those ideas down.
No, you can’t actually fly to outer space right now, but you could stargaze at night and track the progress of NASA’s Perseverance rover and Ingenuity helicopter on Mars.
My kid is deep into softball and gave me a glove for my birthday. We’re breaking it in whenever we want, well, a break, replacing nightly walks with nightly softball lessons. The tables turn: It turns out I know how to catch a ball (and I respond better to positive teaching methods).
Learn what your kids are thinking
If you want to know what your kids are thinking these days, ask them to make their own lists (and don’t critique them). They will tell you what they are thinking in those lists. And some of their ideas will be possible.
Nothing you or your loved ones write down means we won’t still be scared or can’t get sick or that we won’t be in danger anymore. But it can get you to figure out what’s important to you, get your kids to think about what’s still possible and fun, and connect you to the people you love (even if you still connect by video calls).
My teen’s 2020 list included cooking shrimp and grits with Meme’s recipe for dinner one night (Meme is one grandma’s name), playing Monopoly, the first “Mary Poppins” movie and a living room sleepover. Oh, and I’m supposed to put down my phone while we do all these things.
I still love that list, and I can’t wait for us to update it. I’m all in.
Need some starter ideas for your list? Use ours. When I sat down to write this list last year, I stared at my screen. One hundred things? Why did I suggest 100 things? But it got fun the longer my list got.
Here are my updated 100 things to do this summer collected from colleagues, friends, family and me. I hope it salvages your summer and inspires your family and friends as we navigate this new normal in the summer of 2021.
1. Family game night: Have a weekly game night, and rotate who chooses the game. We’ll be playing Monopoly this weekend at my house. The first time, we’ll use the Hasbro rules. The second time, we may use the lesser-known rules from The Landlord’s Game, the original game created by Elizabeth Magie Phillips.
2. Family movie night: Show a movie on the main television in your home (we have one TV, so this is easy). Serve popcorn and sodas and sing along to “Mary Poppins,” watch Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader duke it out in “Star Wars,” or watch a modern Disney classic.
3. Family dance party: Host a family dance party to all sorts of different music and show the kids you can boogie (or salsa). Invite more guests via Zoom, because you can invite anyone you love now, not just people in your local circle.
4. House or neighborhood scavenger hunt: Set up a scavenger hunt with clues at the end that involve a prize such as a favorite dessert or the winner’s choice of movie night pick.
5. Create light: Make candles from scratch with yummy smells to give as presents.
6. Face painting: Learn to face paint and practice on each other. Hold a contest to vote for “best paint job,” “most realistic,” “best superhero” and “scariest animal.”
7. Do a puzzle: If you’re bored with your puzzles, trade with a neighbor.
8. Lego challenges: Give everyone a bag of Lego pieces and charge your crew with building a house, a store, a park, their school or a castle in the sky — and then set the timer. Creativity wins! (There are great 30-day Lego challenges to be found online.)
9. Raise a glass to freedom: Sing straight through Lin-Manuel Miranda’s “Hamilton.” Not for little kids — we get it — but you can pretty much sing your way through the entire musical. Little kid substitute: “Mary Poppins,” of course.
10. Each one, pick one: Each member of the family gets to pick something from his or her personal list for the whole family to do together. One rule: No picking something you already know another relative hates. Not fun!
Let’s play outside
11. Create a splash pad: Before there were nearby pools or even living in a beach town, we’d turn on the hose in the backyard to cool down. Sometimes we’d add plastic bags to make a slip and slide.
12. Have a water balloon fight: Send your kids outside to battle it out and get soaked or join in on the fun. Fill small balloons inside or with a water hose. Make sure adults also get doused.
13. Grow herbs, lettuces and flowers: We’ve planted basil and a tomato plant in our container garden with high hopes for summer (last year’s mint is still growing). Or have everyone plant sunflower seeds and patiently see whose will sprout first. As it grows we’ll measure it, and once it flowers we’ll use the seeds to feed the birds. It’s also good for us.
14. Welcome the birds: The sparrows, goldfinches and pigeons that have visited my colleague’s backyard are now her work colleagues of more than a year. Like her, you can put up bird feeders, a nesting box and a birdbath to attract more new friends. Then head to Audubon.org to identify them.
15. Smash the virus: Make a coronavirus piñata, fill it with candy and whack the heck out of it. (This could be a trend forever.)
16. Chalk art museum: Chalk the neighborhood and make outside your kids’ art museum — thanks to former CNN staffer Daphne Sashin for the inspiration.
17. Map the neighborhood: Walk your neighborhood and see if your family can make a map from your house to another location. You’ll be surprised at what they might notice.
18. Hike the park: Even if you haven’t gotten out into nature over the past year, it’s time to find your nearest state or national park or national forest to get outside to take a walk or hike.
19. Let’s have a picnic: Picnic or grill in the backyard or in your local park. Grill meat or veggie hot dogs or bring sandwiches or takeout. Bring a Frisbee or soccer ball and play.
20. Outdoor game day: You can invest in a croquet set, ping-pong setup or basketball hoop.
Food and drink
21. Cooking challenge: Devise a cooking challenge for your family, where you create a short list of ingredients that must be used in the meal. Think cheese and bread for the younger kids or novices, and more advanced ingredients for the older/more experienced cooks.
22. Random birthday cake night: It doesn’t have to be anyone’s birthday to bake a cake and top it with buttercream frosting to eat and share with neighbors.
23. Pantry challenge: Pick an ingredient out of the pantry or refrigerator and cook from it. You can look at cookbooks for recipes or check online for guidance. Today’s challenge — or perhaps opportunity — could be that random eggplant from our vegetable delivery bag or the lentils a friend gave me when she moved out of town.
24. Ice cream social: Create an ice cream bar with options for sundaes, ice cream sandwiches and more.
25. Host a Meatless Monday dinner: No, I’m not trying to make you go vegetarian. If you live in a meat-centric country, consider many cultures have delicious vegetarian or even vegan main courses without making it a statement.
26. Host a teatime: I promise many children will happily serve lemonade or juice at teatime, but I will make a proper cuppa and toast my colleagues in the UK.
27. Make a fun drink night: I know this sounds like an adult event (and it can be) but I turn to the nonalcoholic recipes from my favorite Maine joint, Vena’s Fizz House. The spot started out nonalcoholic and has since added booze.
28. Bake for a neighbor: My next-door neighbors are always baking and walking over baked goods. Then I share them with my other neighbors. And scones go with tea. See how it all works?
29. Historic recipe hunt: Call a relative and ask her to walk you through a longtime family recipe. Then make it. If she claims you have to have a certain ingredient or the recipe won’t work, ask for another recipe.
30. Eat someplace else: Pick another state or country with food you like, cook it, listen to their music during dinner, d and bring some phrases to the table from that location. This is especially good if you are planning a trip to that place. You’ll be ready to go. We’ve already considered Paris.
Learn something new
31. Make music: There has never been a better time to pick up a new instrument. Some are easier (and less expensive) than others, like the ukulele, and a wealth of online videos and tutorials make it feel approachable and less intimidating.
32. Spanish, Chinese, Russian: Everyone can learn a language together in your home, and you can cook food from the country of that language. Watch a movie together and try out phrases that you have picked up from the film. Some sites have free access for students, and many languages are offered.
33. Time to learn science: Take an online science class to learn about viruses and vaccines and how to contribute to public health. And sign up for CNN’s Wonder Theory science newsletter and explore the universe with us every week.
34. Take a happiness class: Yes, you can learn happiness — and for free — from Laurie Santos, a professor of psychology at Yale University. Her wildly popular class is online.
35. Play video games: Go online with your kids or kidlike friends and learn the video games and apps they love and play with them. It could be Toca Boca, Minecraft, The Legend of Zelda or whatever else is hip to the kids these days.
36. Use that equipment: Is there kitchen equipment in your hallway closet or attic that you have never used? It’s time to get out that pasta or Popsicle maker, spiralizer or AeroPress coffee maker (my coffee was delicious) and learn how to use it.
37. Hire an intern: Have your child “intern” at your home office. At CNN, my child can pitch and write stories, take photos, write headlines and participate in many video conference calls — and fetch coffee and make lunch. I’m thinking about adding laundry and other shaky skills to the list.
38. Eat your science: Learn chemistry by making homemade butter and bread.
39. Composting is good for the Earth: Learn how to compost and do it. It’s good for the Earth and your garden, and vermicomposting is really interesting, because worms.
40. Dance, dance, dance: Time to dance like no one is watching (maybe they are not). Learn to dance from the professionals. It’s superfun — and you can get some exercise, too.
Do for others
41. Phone a relative: Not everyone is traveling yet, and so many grandparents are missing their favorite little people. Why not call a relative who misses your kids and maybe misses you? We can continue those video calls.
42. Thank-you notes: Write end-of-year thank-you cards to your teachers, other school staff and aftercare workers. (It’s never too late to send them.)
43. “Get well soon” cards: Let’s add “we miss you” or “get well soon” cards to send to anyone you miss or who you know isn’t well. Real mail is lovely to receive.
44. Hand out snack bags: Gather shelf-stable snacks, bottles of water, socks and wipes into bags to hand out to people who need them. It’s really hot outside in some places, and people are still hungry.
45. Food donations: Make and contribute food to severely depleted food pantries.
46. Walk a dog: Become a volunteer dog walker for your less mobile or elderly neighbors, or the local shelters.
47. Make food to share: Cook or bake for your neighborhood’s first responders or essential workers.
48. Signs of thanks: Make signs for your lawn that thank anyone your family is grateful for.
49. Chalk messages of hope: Lots of people are walking outside these days, and your kids can cheer them up with hopeful messages.
50. Lemonade stand: Set up a lemonade stand and give the proceeds to a good cause.
Read or write something interesting
51. Pick a book: Everyone in the family can pick a book they have never read and read it. Then everyone can come back to the family book club to report what they liked about the book (and eat cookies together).
52. Family reading time: Read one chapter from a classic book out loud every night and ask everyone to listen. Some books and poetry were meant to be heard, not only read to oneself. Think Shakespeare’s monologues or Martin Luther King Jr.’s speeches.
53. Book/movie combo: Read the book, watch the movie, then discuss the differences. (“Mary Poppins,” “Clueless”/”Emma,” and more.)
54. Head to another world: Check out my kid’s favorite series, “Keeper of the Lost Cities” by Shannon Messenger, and see what it’s like to be a telepath with secrets buried deep. (Yes, audiobooks count.)
55. Write a book: Pen the book you have always wanted to read, about your family together. It can be short! Then have a book reading/signing.
56. Your kid’s story: Have your kids write and illustrate a book about the day they were born. (They can interview you or not).
57. Hit the road: Read a book about the next place you want to visit. And if possible, make a plan to go there, even if it’s not this summer.
58. Raising girls and boys: For those raising girls, “Strong Is the New Pretty: A Celebration of Girls Being Themselves” by Kate T. Parker is a beautiful photo essay to support our girls being strong. “The Heart of a Boy: Celebrating the Strength and Spirit of Boyhood” is her equally lovely photo book about boys.
59. Broaden your worldview: Read your kids age-appropriate books about cultures different than yours and theirs (whatever that may be). We are isolating more so we need books that stretch us more. Not sure where to start? Try Jambo Books for ideas.
60. Baby books: Read your children a short book from their toddler time to remind them (and you) of how adorable they were as little ones. Our favorites include “My Little Polar Bear” by Claudia Rueda, “And Tango Makes Three” by Justin Richardson and Pete Parnell, and “The Book with No Pictures” by B.J. Novak.
Style, art and architecture
61. Give your wall(s) a fresh coat of paint: Vivid hues can help brighten up a space and lift your mood.
62. Declutter: Set aside some time to finally organize that drawer, that closet, those daunting piles of paperwork — Marie Kondo-style. It’s OK if you haven’t done it over the past year. Now is the time! (She doesn’t say you should give up things you like.)
63. Arrange your books: Organize your bookshelf by genre, subject, author. You can even color coordinate and place objects on the shelf to tell a personal story. This may seem like a grown-up activity, but many kids love to play with color.
64. Mini-Marie Kondo: Help your child reorganize her room, combining these ideas of new paint, decluttering and organizing to give her a room for the next stage in her life. (It may not be the time to give up teddy bears just yet.)
65. Play/art/music: Virtually attend a concert, watch a play, experience a museum. And make your plans to attend in real life.
66. Geek out on art: Turn your children’s art or your photos into masterpieces with apps such as Google Arts & Culture’s Art Transfer. Or transform your selfie into a Renaissance-style portrait.
67. Plan a photo shoot: Choose a theme, select a location and get creative with props and costumes. Use a film camera or disposable camera to limit the number of shots and to work in an element of surprise with how they will turn out.
68. Paint with your family: Arrange a family painting session, with supplies, snacks and a good playlist, and choose a painting to replicate. Learn about one another’s artistic tastes and explore your chosen artistic style.
69. Try art-inspired recipes: They could include Claude Monet’s chestnut cookies and Ed Ruscha’s cactus omelette. Or shake up cocktails that nod to great Georgia O’Keefe works.
70. Make ornaments: Start making those holiday ornaments together now (easy peasy recipe here). You’ll have presents ready for this December.
Connect as a family
71. Would You Rather? Wrangle your extended family to virtually participate in a game that starts conversations in fun, interesting and maybe shocking ways. Choose any theme (and look for inspiration online).
72. Cut your bangs: Yes, this could be tricky, but you could also cut someone else’s bangs.
73. Do an at-home manicure: Your nails won’t be salon-perfect, but you’ll be saving money and having fun.
74. Do yoga together: It helps with depression and does all sorts of other good things.
75. Couch exercise! Exercise on your couch together with Netflix. Win-win.
76. Question a day: If the grandparents live far away, try connecting them with your kids with a question a day. Ours have been simple: What’s your favorite ice cream? Stuffed animal? Why do we love koalas so much?
77. Family meetings: Hold weekly family meetings to check in and see how everyone’s doing. Make it a safe space so people can share their concerns, and don’t feel you have to fix everything on the spot. It’s just a good place to start communicating.
78. Clean the house together: Think your kids don’t appreciate you? They will after they have cleaned the bathroom a few times. (Ask me how I know.)
79. Play Rose and Thorn at dinner: Each person says what was good about the day (the rose) and what wasn’t (the thorn). Everyone gets to share without interruption, and the thorn doesn’t need to be fixed.
80. Sing together: Since singing in large groups is actually a risky activity at the moment, we can pretty much only sing safely with the ones in our quarantine pack. There is karaoke, singing in rounds, singing in harmony and just hanging with the Beatles classics. Sing with the ones you’re with!
81. Camp out in your backyard: Even if you start to travel this summer, you can still pitch a tent in the backyard (or your living room if you don’t have a backyard) for a few nights. You could even have a campfire in your backyard if your city and state allow it.
82. Fort night: Build a fort in the living room and let the kids sleep there after they have crashed on popcorn and sugar.
83. Pillow fight: Clear all the breakables and sharp edges and have a massive pillow fight. Perhaps after building a fort.
84. Have a s’mores night outside: Chocolate, graham crackers and marshmallows are a perfect combination, and you don’t need a fire pit to set a marshmallow on fire. (Just remember, safety first.)
85. Nighttime tag: Play flashlight tag in the backyard or in the neighborhood. If the other side’s flashlight “gets” you, you’re out. (That’s social distance tag if you still need to social distance outside.)
86. Capture the flag at night: Play a few nighttime rounds of capture the flag with your family and friends. Two teams have a flag or other object, and the objective is to steal the other team’s flag and bring it back to their side. The game is always fun, but the darkness makes it all the more thrilling.
87. Go to the drive-in: If you have a drive-in in your town, head there. What’s old is cool again.
88. Glow-in-the-dark treasure hunt: Try a nighttime treasure hunt with glow-in-the-dark items.
89. Look for the stars: There is always a beautiful show playing out across the night sky. Watch the International Space Station overhead, look for multiple meteor showers and get tips from NASA on when to spot specific stars and planets.
90. Go to sleep early: Why not? Lack of sleep makes us more vulnerable to illness. Routine, cooler temperatures and a dark room are key to good sleep. Good night!
91. Spa day at home: Make your own spa hour/day.
92. Get rid of that hair: You really can do your own buzz cut.
93. Wine and cheese: Have a wine or beer and cheese date with your beloved on your patio/front porch/back porch balcony/kitchen table, and remember it’s “for better or for worse.” This summer let’s try to make it for better.
94. Hold hands: It’s sweet and timeless.
95. R-rated: Watch movies that are not for children. It’s fine to fall asleep, though, if you’re tired.
96. Eat a late dinner: Fine, it’s second dinner, and eat all the things your kids hate. All of them.
97. Treat your sweetie: Do something nice that makes your spouse happy — make a favorite dessert, take a walk, make a schedule, find a favorite wine, load the dishwasher (whatever’s your love language).
98. What’s your love language? Speaking of which, find out what your partner’s love language really is. (Don’t guess — ask.) People often get confused and think their own love language is their partner’s. Is this confusing? Go to 5lovelanguages.com to find out more.
99. Really talk: Talk about your hopes and dreams and fears. Listen to what others have to say. Connect and keep that base strong to support you and your family even in post-pandemic time.
100. Smooch: Need I say more?
This is updated from a story first published on May 22, 2020.