I have small kids. My new job as a parent has caused me to look back on my own childhood, now aware of the intense planning that must have gone into the seemingly effortless way that my mom raised us. We had no shortage of creative and educational activities to do, and we had many adventures to local parks and libraries. One of our odder diversions as a family was our tradition of driving through graveyards while eating soft serve ice cream cones. A bit like chocolate fending off the dementors in the Harry Potter books, the urgency of a melting ice cream cone made the headstones more scenic than scary, and their epitaphs more informative than existentially severe. My parents would read the names of the buried (from the air-conditioned comfort of our Dodge Caravan), guess how people were related, and regale us with stories from our city's history.
Growing intelligent, engaged kids absolutely requires a certain amount of imagination. At the risk of sounding curmudgeonly ("back in my day…"), we didn't have as many distractions when I was young as my kids have today. My summer days weren't spent in front of a screen, but building primitive shelters in my back yard, eating things I found on the ground (not recommended, but let's be honest), or reading my American Girl magazines in a lawn chair. My parents showed me how to seek new experiences, indulge my curiosity, and engage with community, and they realized that it was incumbent upon them to pave the way. Now that I'm a mom, the types of activities that my kids see me doing creates their sense of "normal," and don't we all want "normal" to be rich and exciting? I want my kids to be able to look back on their Ypsilanti summers and remember laughter, leisure, learning, and adventure.
One of the coolest Ypsilanti events coming up for kids this summer is the annual Fire Truck Muster (August 18 at 10 a.m.). It's hard to imagine something more fun for a little kid than seeing fire trucks in action in our very own Riverside Park. The event, hosted by the Michigan Firehouse Museum, showcases firefighting equipment from as early as the 1920s, all the way to modern firefighting equipment. There is also food and other kid-friendly activities, so it's the kind of thing you can spend an entire morning on. Sometimes we start at Cream & Crumb and share a breakfast item (+coffee for mom), and then walk across the bridge down to the park. Another fun event for truck-loving kids (or adults) is Touch A Truck, which will excite fire truck fans as well as those more interested in tractors or school buses.
This year, my kids are finally old enough to begin understanding where our food comes from, and how to work with the earth to grow our own food. When there's nothing ready to harvest in our own garden (or, let's face it—when you just need to buckle the kids up and contain them behind a seatbelt), we often drive down to Nemeth's Orchard Farm Stand on Willis Rd. (rotating cast of fresh-grown produce, flowers, and more), or Rowe's on Martz Rd. We've missed the window for U-Pick strawberries at Rowe's (it's okay—toddlers are the strawberry's natural predator. The carnage last year was heartbreaking.), but Rowe's also has a well-appointed farm stand featuring a wide variety of produce, as well as canned fruits & spice mixes. My kids love seeing where their food comes from, as well as the occasional glimpse of a tractor/combine/other heavy equipment in action. Plus, when they choose their own vegetables and fruits, they are more likely to eat them!
We also visit the library almost every day. My older son (who gets his competitive nature from me) finished the first task in the Ypsilanti District Library's Summer Reading Challenge in under 48 hours. It was pretty amazing to watch him so focused on reading, and to see his interest in stories growing. The reading program scales across four different age groups, so adults, as well as kids of all ages, can participate and win prizes (Chipotle prizes. Need I say more?). And did you know that you can use your library card to "check out" activities all over the state? The "Michigan Activity Pass" program partners with libraries, museums, parks, and more to grant access to their attractions to library card holders. That means that you can use your library card to get into the Detroit Institute of Arts, MOCAD (Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit), the Michigan Firehouse Museum (if your kids beg you to return after the Fire Truck Muster), SkyDive Tecumseh (YOU READ THAT RIGHT), and more.
Another perk of the YDL Summer Reading Challenge is that signing up gets kids a free pass to Ypsi's Rutherford Pool. If for some reason you can't claim a pool pass at the library, passes are available at a variety of price points. You can also head into Ypsi Township for the ultimate summer cool-down at Rolling Hills County Park, home of a full-scale water park, open to area residents and visitors during the summer season. I haven't taken my kids yet because I'm terrified that they'll ask me to go EVERY DAY, but, when we do, the lazy river sounds perfect for me, my littlest little one can hit the zero-depth entry pools, and my older son can lose his mind over the multiple water slides, all at the absolutely unbeatable price of a county park.
You can keep your kids connected to the activities that are important to your family by creating artifacts that guide them through their experiences. Print up a list of county parks to visit, and let your kids cross them off as you visit each one. Talk about what you liked best about each park. My kids' favorite is Ford Heritage Park on Textile (the rolly slide is a hit—every parent who has ever been there knows exactly what I'm talking about), and my favorite is North Bay Park (lovely bridges and boardwalk over shallow water. Great fish-watching.). You could also create a summer activity punch card with your kids, and put a new punch into it when you do something on the list. Make a list of recipes to try out together. Make a list of guests or friends to visit. Try building different kinds of backyard shelters, or learn different survival skills. Research all of Ypsi's food trucks and hit one a week for the rest of the summer. Have a standing hang at Cream & Crumb or Go! Ice Cream and let friends know you'll be there so they can drop in too. Grab a cascara soda at Hyperion, or a seasonal cocktail at Cultivate while listening to a Sundays in the Garden performance (Abigail Stauffer & Kate Peterson are next!).
Keeping your kids' curiosity engaged is dependent on keeping your own sense of adventure as an adult, and our amazing Ypsilanti community is full of ways to meet, eat, learn, and play. We still have a few weeks of warm weather left— I hope you'll get outside (kids or not) and make as many hazy, golden memories as you can in beautiful Ypsilanti!