Here's the perfect summer activity: It's fun and it produces dessert—a red, white, and blue dessert, at that!
"Kids love berry-picking because food's involved, though my children always seemed to eat more than ended up in their bucket," says Janie Hibler, author of The Berry Bible. She recommends hitting the field in the morning when berries are still firm and letting children bring a friend (not only is it more fun for them, it means more hands for picking).
Once home, don't rinse the berries until you're about to use or freeze them. If freezing, position berries on a paper towel-lined cookie sheet and top with another paper towel. Place in the freezer for an hour, then measure, label, and store in zip-shut bags in the freezer to enjoy your fresh-picked berries—and the following dessert—year-round. "Berry-picking is one of the joys of childhood," says Hibler. "Just smelling ripe berries in the morning sun is something you'll never forget." We think eating them—whether in Hibler's delicious Pavlova from her book or our Berry Trifle recipe—is equally memorable.
There's a good reason it's called America the beautiful. And one way to celebrate the land of the free's natural beauty is by vacationing with your kids in its wide-open spaces, full of picture-perfect landscapes and plenty of space to run. First stop: one of our country's national parks, says Eileen Ogintz, nationally syndicated columnist and creator of Taking the Kids.
"National parks are like natural theme parks," she says. "There is so much that is exciting—a butterfly, a bug, the chance to see a moose, climb on a giant rock, or see a cactus taller than you are!" Ogintz has trekked with her family to parks in 48 states, enjoying lava tubes in Hawaii and waterfalls at Yosemite, and says these family trips are a great way to instill the importance of conservation. And pride in your country. And if you want somebody else to do the planning for you, consider a family trip run by The Sierra Club or Austin Lehman Adventures.
History may seem dull to your kids when it's buried in the printed page, but this summer you can make it come alive in fun ways. Of course, a trip to Washington, D.C., (go take a peek at the Declaration of Independence) is the ultimate history lesson, but no matter where you live, there's a nearby town or business or battlefield with a fascinating (and educational) past. Visit your local historical society for ideas. Ogintz says you may even find a history lesson in the most unusual places: "Last week in San Francisco I learned that even a visit to the Boudin Museum & Bakery on Fisherman's Wharf can teach a lesson about the Gold Rush!"
Helping out, giving back, lending a hand: Philanthropy is as American as apple pie—and arguably more satisfying. Pitching in is an excellent way to celebrate and strengthen your community and teach your children the importance of performing selfless acts. This time of year it's fun to support the red, white, and blue by sending notes, care packages, and supplies to troops. You can do that via organizations like Operation Gratitude and Operation Shoebox.
A volunteer vacation, which takes the philanthropic spirit one step further, is another option if your kids are older. Giving your time results in a warm, fuzzy feeling as you act as an ambassador from your city, state, or country, says travel expert Ogintz. "You don't have to spend a lot of money to have a memorable experience," explains Ogintz. "You share an experience as a family, get to know locals from another community, and learn to appreciate what you have." Check out Together for Good for international options.
"All of us have immigrant stories, stories of ancestors who fought in our wars, built our cities, and worked our farms," says Susan Provost Beller, author of Roots for Kids: A Genealogy Guide for Young People. "When we learn our own family stories, we are also learning about the country we live in." Delving into your own family history is a great way to help kids understand how they link to the past. Beller suggests a fun way to get started: Present kids with a blankie, stuffed animal, or other favorite toy, and ask them to explain why it's important to them. Do the same with an artifact from your own childhood and get Grandma and Grandpa in on it too. "Suddenly you have three generations of stories for your family, and you can guarantee your kids will be looking for more," Beller says.
Peruse a few of the takeout menus you have stuffed in that kitchen drawer and you'll find an international buffet: Pizza is a product of Italy, gyros hail from Greece, and hummus from the Middle East. It's no wonder America is called a melting pot!
To help your children understand all the different kinds of Americans, celebrate cultural diversity through their tummies. Visit local restaurants or cook up your own versions of global dishes, then plot the origins of your meals on a world map. Go out of your comfort zone by trying dishes with veggies and spices you'd never find in your pantry.
Any patriotic holiday needs the wardrobe to match, and this kid-friendly craft creates a beautiful fireworks display (with no need to cover your ears).
Begin with a solid-color T-shirt (we like classic white). Prepare a work surface by laying down newspapers, and place a piece of cardboard inside the T-shirt to prevent paints from soaking through.
Next, dilute colorful fabric paints with water. Place paint on the T-shirt and use drinking straws to blow it in all directions, creating colorful explosions. Afterward, let the shirt dry and follow the paint's instructions for setting, which can include ironing or tumble-drying.
Congregating with your fellow countrymen is an American tradition, and millions turn up for events like Washington, D.C.'s July 4th Parade and Philadelphia's Wawa Welcome America to take in marching bands, countless floats, and an all-around spectacle.
Chappell Hill, Texas, has been called host to America's best small town parade, boasting a memorable procession of cowboys, antique cars, and the renowned Kazoo Marching Band, while Racine, Wisconsin's 4th Fest commemorates 75 years of goodwill celebrations this year along its 2.6-mile parade route. Attendees are so devoted that they begin saving curbside seats at 5 a.m.
If your town has no annual parade, a gathering of neighborhood kids is all you need. Whether waving flags on foot or tying red, white, and blue streamers to their bike handles, your community's first Fourth procession is sure to become a summertime tradition.
Hot dogs, peanuts, and friendly cheers and rivalries: Baseball will forever be the great American pastime. From the Major Leagues to Little League, the crack of the bat is never far away. Treat your kids—and yourself—to a game this summer, and bring a glove in case that foul ball finally comes your way. The tradition lives on off the diamond, too, with a low-key backyard baseball game beneath the summer sun to work off that BBQ or Berry Trifle.
Accidentally invented by 11-year-old Frank Epperson in 1905, the Popsicle is an ingenious treat and a commercial success. Can you say "the American way"? It's also become a summertime staple, perfect for cooling off. So easy to make, pops are ideal for a hot and lazy day, whether you make Janie Hibler's Blueberry-Peach Tequila Pops for the adults (from her The Berry Bible book) or Confetti Yogurt Pops for the kids.
Currency is a history lesson right in your pocket—and a great way to teach kids about the nation's past (and about saving money!). Bills and coins are home to important historical figures, from Benjamin Franklin to Abraham Lincoln to Sacagawea, and learning how money has evolved—and what the heck that mysterious pyramid and eye signify—will pique their interest. Money, a DK Eyewitness book by Joe Cribb, makes for engaging reading, with big pages and lots of pictures for little ones to gawk over. Bonus: Learning the secrets of greenback birthday gifts can help them think twice before spending it all in one place.
"Jose, can you see"? "As the twilight glass cleaner"? A 7-year-old belting The Star-Spangled Banner at a hockey game knows the national anthem; it's high time your family did too. Don't feel bad for mumbling along to its poetic, archaic lyrics, but remedy it by vowing to learn a few lines a week. Write the words in large letters and post the sheet to a wall or the fridge, checking them off as you go. (This also has the added perk of teaching words like "repose" and "disclose.") Consider it the first song for your family band, all set for performances at local sporting events—or just backyard badminton games.