July was one of my favorite months when I was a kid because it was when we took our annual trip to Winona Lake, Indiana. My dad worked at Moody Bible Institute and part of his job was running sound for the sessions at their annual summer conference. For more than ten years, we knew that every summer we would stay in the same hotel, in the same hotel room, and we knew we would spend our mornings with Frank Buckley who, along with his family, put on a fun, biblical program for all the kids. I loved this trip. And I loved that we got to do it every summer. It was a family tradition.
Last year when my husband and I decided to start our own summer family tradition, we knew that we wanted family camp to be our thing. We both love the camp atmosphere and experience: staying in a cabin, worship services in the tabernacle, Lake Superior (the camp we go to is in the UP of Michigan), meeting families from all over the country, speakers, all of us falling asleep in minutes from blissful exhaustion, and (a very big deal to me) not having to meal plan or cook for a whole week. This July was our second year of family camp and we already have our reservation for next summer! Our kids are three, five, and seven. The older two remember many experiences they had a year ago and are already excited about going back next year. They told us that they like knowing they’ll get to go back again.
Another summer family tradition we’ve started is going on an outing the weekend before school starts. The first year we went to the zoo. Last year was our second year and we went bowling. They’re not over-the-top outings, but they have a specific purpose: to kick off a new schedule for our family. We celebrate the great summer we’ve had and talk about what we’re looking forward to as fall approaches.
Family camp isn’t everyone’s preferred vacation. And maybe your weekend before the kids go back to school is already packed with buying school supplies and getting in those last-minute doctor appointments before your youngest starts Kindergarten. My point is not so much about the kind of trips or outings you do or when you do them, but the act of establishing summer family traditions. Maybe your family loves exploring new amusement parks, going to baseball games in different cities, or the visiting local or out-of-state fairs. You know your family and what kinds of trips and activities will appeal to everyone. Pick a couple and make them your non-negotiables every summer.
Why? Because kids aren’t likely to remember what they got for Christmas when they were eight but they’ll remember the trips or outings they did every summer for five, ten, or fifteen years. And those experiences might be things they’ll want to do with you after they have their own kids. Last summer at family camp, we were fortunate enough to have my parents and my sister and her family all together for the week. We were only missing my younger brother. It was a dream come true for me to have us together at camp and reminisce about the similar experiences my sister and I had when we were young.
There are a lot of things I don’t remember from my childhood. But I remember going to Winona Lake every July. I remember the smell of the lake and knowing that sometime during the week I’d get to buy copious amounts of Atomic Fireballs® from the local pizza place. Each year was a little different but it was also the same. I think that’s why it means so much to me now that I have kids.
The emotions that my memories of our family tradition evoke are the kind I want my kids to have when they’re talking to their kids about their annual trip to family camp. And when they’re getting ready to send their kids back to school, I want them to think back to the beginning of each school year and recall how we celebrated the end of summer and the start of new routines together.
It’s the end of July, but there’s still time to establish your first annual _______________. What trip or outing will become your family’s summer tradition?