By Gayla Grace

My fondest memories of summertime fun as a child include picking homegrown blackberries and catching fireflies in the backyard of our temporary home one summer in Charlottesville, Virginia. My father was a visiting professor at the University of Virginia, where we relocated for six weeks. My three sisters and I found plenty to do as we explored unknown grounds, creating our own games as we entertained each other. We made jam from carefully picked blackberries, proud to savor our homemade delight, as we enjoyed warm days and long evenings with one another as a family.
Summer is a great time to create lasting memories with our kids. We don't need to spend a lot of money or create grand events, but we do have to invest time in doing activities together. A great place for ideas, www.arkansas.com/things-to-do, lists 101 free things to do in the state of Arkansas. It includes a variety of suggestions from exploring caves at Devil's Den State Park to driving along Mount Magazine Scenic byway to the highest peak in Arkansas, at 2,753 feet. Other ideas include riding a ferry across Bull Shoals Lake or digging for diamonds at the only public diamond mine in the world, Crater of Diamonds State Park in Murfreesboro, AR.
We create memories when we connect with those we love participating in activities we enjoy. And even if our planned activities don't turn out as we planned, we will remember the time spent together. When my husband and I took our children snow skiing for the first time, our youngest child, who was only four years old at the time, came down with a fever virus. Through pouted lips, she complained of not being allowed to join the others on the slopes, missing the fun of a new activity we had so carefully planned as a family. Finally, the last day of the trip, we allowed her to play in the snow, creating snow angels with her siblings. She quickly forgot about the ski slopes and enjoyed hours of fun in the snow. When we talk about that trip, our kids remember a lot of good times, despite an unexpected illness.
Simple activities create as many memories as elaborate vacations. Stargazing in the backyard while savoring an ice cream cone or fishing at the local water hole provide hours of effortless fun. Simplicity allows less stress in planning and enjoying time together. As kids get older, they appreciate taking part in making plans and including their friends in activities, creating memories with others outside the family also.
When I was growing up, we enjoyed a week at Lake LBJ in South Texas every summer with several families from our church. We anxiously awaited the trip toward the end of the school year, anticipating the fun and camaraderie shared with friends and family. Memories from those trips include flying cockroaches in the cabins, and too many meals of beans and cornbread, but we shared unforgettable times of water skiing, tubing, sunbathing, and nighttime board games with one another.
Leisurely summer days provide opportunity for special memories to also be created with grandparents. Our children's grandparents live out of state, so we take advantage of summer days for extended visits and vacations together. Grandparents enjoy a slower pace and easily find things to do with their grandkids that are warmly remembered such as: flying kites, playing cards, or looking for frogs. Grandparents can also share their own memories, allowing our children to understand their heritage and how values are formed and passed from one generation to another.
And don't forget to capture those favorite memories on film. Activities with loved ones can be enjoyed over and over again through videos and pictures. My family recently celebrated my sister's wedding engagement and while together, reminisced of my parent's 50th wedding anniversary, scouring through picture albums with loved ones. To help acquaint my sister's fiancé with the family, we introduced pictures of family members not there, with accompanying stories. It was a fun time of celebrating family memories of years' past.
Memories play a critical role in securing our identity with our loved ones. So, before the promise of summer fun fades into the sunset, gather your loved ones, plan an activity, and make time to spend with one another. You'll treasure the memories created that will be enjoyed for years to come.