I have been looking forward to this moment since the end of February, when I — along with millions of other parents — realized I would have to facilitate my son’s Kindergarten education for the remainder of the year. In fact, I distinctly recall circling this blessed day, June 26, on the family calendar: the last day of the school year and the start of summer vacation. I played teacher at home, helped my 5-year-old figure out Zoom and GoNoodle and Google Hangouts and Splash Learn and Epic! and roughly two billion other virtual and online educational tools. I logged the reading hours, documented assignments to submit via Google Classroom, and I did it all while working from home, caring for a 1-year-old, and keeping my apartment relatively tidy.
But now that the last day of a truly surreal school year is behind us, a new challenge has emerged: What the hell do we do now?
The last four months have been difficult, to be sure, but at least there was a semblance of structure; a set of expectations for my children that I could rely on to help distinguish one day from the next. Now that my son no longer has weekly Zoom lessons and assignments, I am at a loss as to how we’re going to pass the time this summer. All 50 states have reopened in some capacity, yes, but the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases have also increased — recently, the US broke the record for most confirmed coronavirus cases in a single day… twice.
Theoretically, I could take my family to Disney World or the beach, or simply settle into a summer routine that would have been effortless before COVID-19. But the anxiety of a trip to any public area — let alone the chance that, in doing so, I’d expose my family and/or community to another wave of COVID-19 — makes any “regular” summer vacation, simply put, not even remotely worth it.
Let’s call a spade a spade: this sucks. It’s difficult to remain in lockdown for months on end, and as those months grow hotter and our AC units less effective. It’s painful, having to explain to my son why we can’t have friends over for his birthday, or why we can’t go visit grandma and grandpa. But just like the last few months of the school year, I’m finding ways to satisfy my wanderlust and provide my children with as close to a “normal” summer as possible. So if you, like me, are in need of some out-of-the-box options, try the following alternatives to a typical vacation:
1. Go on a virtual vacation
The idea of boarding a plane and being stuck in a metal tube with a bunch of strangers giving you hives? Try a virtual vacation instead! From Egypt to Sydney, Australia, Tokyo, Japan to the Maldives, there are a slew of cities around the world you can visit online via web cams. Is it the real deal? Obviously not, but it beats watching the same Netflix series over and over again.
2. Take a virtual museum tour
If you had more of an educational vacation planned this year, look into virtual museum tours. There are a number to choose from, including the Louvre Museum in Paris, France and the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC. If your children are obsessed with animals (mine is partial to penguins, these days), you can also take a tour of world-renowned museums and aquariums, like the San Diego Zoo and the National Aquarium. You can pair these visits with tutorials and other educational materials — if that’s your thing — to really lean into the whole “let’s learn some stuff” feel.
3. Try backyard camping
Backyard (or even living room!) camping is such an easy, inexpensive way to recreate this Americana classic. Recently, I bought a (super cheap!) tent for my kids to sleep in, set that sucker up in our living room, put on a “scary” movie — thank you, 2015’s Goosebumps starring Jack Black. You did a disservice to R.L. Stine’s legacy but you have entertained my children for ours — and we “roasted” marshmallows over our gas stove. My 5-year-old was thrilled about the lack of bugs, I was excited to not sleep on the ground, and everyone felt a moment of respite from “real life” during our de facto camping trip
4. Revisit classic children’s books
If your kid loves books as much as mine does, consider making a “thing” of it. I’ve recently introduced my son to Roald Dahl, and not only are his books wonderful, because many have been adapted to the big screen, it’s easy to turn any reading session into a grand affair. So far, we’ve read (then watched!) Matilda, James and the Giant Peach, and The Witches. Not to get all “in the feels” with you or anything, but watching your kid, all wide-eyed, react to a scene they’ve already experienced via a book is just, well, the best.
5. Take a culinary vacation
Arguably one of the most rewarding parts of any vacation is indulging in the local cuisine. (No, I haven’t been watching the late, great Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown on repeat during quarantine, why do you ask?!) There’s no reason why you can’t explore a variety of foods in the comfort of your own home. Choose a region, research that region’s cuisine, then cook a number of meals for your family on a designated “vacation” night. You can pair these meals with facts about the region, and perhaps end the evening with a movie, television show, and/or book that encapsulates the city and/or country. “Vacation” never tasted so good.
6. Throw an online party
This “vacation” recommendation is specifically for those parents who are trying to make their kids’ summer birthdays fun and entertaining. As previously mentioned, I am in this boat. And in the absence of an actual party where a number of snot-nosed children and their parents travel an X number of miles to our home, I’m planning a virtual online party. It sounds less-than-ideal, sure, but for better or worse, this is now in my son’s wheelhouse. He understands Zoom. He gets Google Hangouts. This is not “odd” to him. This is, you know, normal. So take advantage of a festive Zoom background, decorate your home to the nines, and throw a shindig everyone (including your out-of-town relatives) can safely enjoy.
7. Go to a drive-in movie
My son’s first movie was at a drive-in (I’m not cool, this was a manifestation of my postpartum anxiety, which had convinced me that if I took him to an actual movie theater his ear drums would’ve exploded). And fun fact: they’re just as fun as advertised. Since movie theaters have yet to reopen in the wake of COVID-19, drive-in movie theaters have experienced a boom in sales. So join the club, so to speak, and enjoy a feature film from a safe distance.