The Wet and Wild: Ideas for Family Summer Fun
By Heather Gausline Tate
If one season could capture the essence of childhood, it would be summer. Trips to the beach, family campouts and bar-b-ques, and long days spent splashing in the pool are snapshots of a picturesque, Mississippi summer day, but with over two months of school-free days to fill, not every day can be momentous yet it can still be memorable. When asked, most Northeast Mississippi parents said their idea of summer fun did not have to be elaborate or require a lot of planning. This is not a major summer trip we are talking about here. These are the regular, blissful days that weave together a summer in the ‘Sip.
Unlike our mild winters, summers in Mississippi are extreme, which means water activities are a necessity. Living in the South, our summers stretch from May to sometimes even October, in terms of temps. Backyard pools commonly open before Memorial Day and close long after Labor Day and are a favorite way to beat the heat. Leslie Darby, a Florida-transplant mother of two, who now lives in Tupelo, says that for her family, summer means “anything to do with water.” This can be swimming, canoeing, or boating for her school-age son and daughter. Many families mentioned fishing and water parks being two other water-based activities that they enjoy. Splash pads, water balloon fights, and even backyard sprinklers are other ways to incorporate some refreshing water into those hot, summertime days.
Even though water is a key ingredient in summer fun, it is not the only element. Being outdoors in general is synonymous with summertime. The wild, wooded Northeast MS is filled with parks and trails for families to explore together. Many of these trails can be found along the Trace. Kristin Schwarz, a Park Ranger with the Natchez Trace Parkway who specializes in family activities, explains the importance of families connecting with nature together during the summer. “The Natchez Trace Parkway is a great way for families to spend time together outdoors,” says Schwarz, who is not only a professional when it comes to the outdoors but is also a parent herself. “Spending time outdoors can help everyone physically and mentally. Hiking, fishing, bird watching, and picnics give families opportunities to put down their phones and have an amazing shared experience out in nature. All these activities are available at the Parkway and are also free.”
While there are many camps throughout the area that offer enriching summer entertainment such as music, sports, art, theatre, and dance, the Trace offers additional activities that are not only fun and free but also for the whole family. Schwarz says, “With kids out of school, it is important to keep their minds engaged, and where better to do that than in nature’s classroom. The Parkway offers free ranger-led programs every Saturday in the summer and are great for families with all different age ranges.”
So being in the wild can be about adventures in nature, or it can also be about trips to the zoo, impromptu car rides on the open road, and even gardening.
The Wet, the Wild, and everything in between make up our summer memories. Mercedes Le, an adventure-lover from Tupelo, describes what summer means to her: “Cookouts on Sunday, swimming at my grandmother’s on the weekend, and going to the park with my cousins.”
Mother of a preschool-age son, Angela Snow, has a list of summer fun activities that she plans to do this year, including “camping, hiking, traveling together, and campfire S’mores!” What stands out with most summer activities is their simplicity. No Pinterest is needed to create the perfect summer vision board. Paige Long of Saltillo, eloquently sums up summer: “Play outside. The best memories are made during this time. Swimming, bubbles, drawing with chalk, cooking out, riding bikes, exploring the yard or the neighborhood, science experiments. You don’t have to spend money or go far to have fun!” Summer is more than just the activities themselves. It’s the slower speed at which they are enjoyed. Most importantly, summer is for families to spend time together recharging and reconnecting, whether splashing, exploring, or just unwinding.
Heather Gausline Tate is a writer, tutor, and travel agent who lives in Guntown, MS with her husband Logan and their two sons, London (6) and Christian (2). She is currently daydreaming about their summer adventures.