Dad Matters: 5 Things I’m Doing This Summer

Dad Matters: 5 Things I’m Doing This Summer

- in Ages & Stages, Featured, Parenting
Columnist Jason Lea and his family plan to spend this summer visiting old friends. Photo by Jason Lea

Last summer wasn’t great for doing much of anything. Fishing, maybe. Digging deep into the Disney Plus archive. Writing the first two chapters of a novel nobody will ever see.

But this year, well, if life isn’t back to normal, at least playgrounds are open. So here are my plans for this summer, assuming there isn’t some sixth wave of COVID-19 or a possum apocalypse.

1. Visit the Zoo… Any Zoo… All of the Zoos

I take my kids to the zoo for the same reason that my mom took us to church. So they can feel awe.

Who isn’t astonished by an elephant? Humbled by a tiger? Delighted by a sea otter? (Maybe not mussels. But, if otters don’t eat you, then you like them.)

And it’s not just about the cuddly and charismatic megafauna, either. Stone fish are adorably hideous. And, have you ever watched a mantis shrimp? They can punch 50 times faster than the blink of an eye with the force of a .22 caliber bullet.

That’s the sort of weird fact you pick up when you visit the zoo. Because kids don’t just stare at the animals. They ask questions — all of the questions. Thanks to our family zoo trips, I’ve learned that elephant pregnancies last 22 months,  gorillas love wild onions, and sloths pee only when it rains (it’s to hide their scent.)

But the most important thing we learn at the zoo is how very strange the world is and how very close we are to this strange world.

So for that reason  — and because I like Dippin’ Dots — you’ll see me at the zoo a lot this summer.

2. Read

For educators, this was a tough year for teaching. It turns out that it’s extra difficult to learn reading, calculus, or almost anything via Microsoft Teams. (That’s no shade to teachers. I can’t get my kids to put on their shoes when I’m standing next to them. I can’t imagine teaching arithmetic remotely.)

The summer slide — the learning atrophy that kids experience between school years  — is pernicious under the best of circumstances. But this year it’s especially important to not lose foundational skills.

Fortunately, there’s an easy way to slow the slide: Read.

Let me state my bias: My day job is at a library so, yes, I think reading is important. So do the scientists who study this sort of thing. They recommend reading between 20 and 30 minutes a day during the summer to keep the skill fresh.

So we’ll make time for story time, and I’m not going to be picky about what we read, either. If I have to re- read “Thelma the Unicorn” another 40 times, so be it, as long as we’re reading.

3. Wander in the Park

I don’t want to trace a silver lining around a pandemic that killed more than 3 million people, but there are some things about last year I’ll miss.

If nothing else, it got my family outside. Without our usual itinerary of zoos, museums, and vacation spots, my kids spent a lot of time playing in the parks last summer.

They climbed trees and splashed in creeks. They found frogs and spotted salamanders.

Turns out you don’t need a tiger to be in awe of nature. You can find that feeling when you catch a minnow.

So we’ll be back in the parks this summer. We’ll pack some snacks, a couple of books, and a sketchpad, in case my kids see a willow tree or spider they want to draw.

Oh, and sunscreen. We’re pale people.

4. Drop Them at Their Grandparents’ House

2020 was a snuggle drought for grandparents, but the dry season is over.

Both grandparents and grandkids have a lot of memories to make up.

5. Nap

I’ll be pretty tired if I do everything else on this list, so naps are essential.

About the author

Jason Lea has a son, daughter, and a full-time job at the Mentor Public Library. He also blogs for Northeast Ohio Parent in his nonexistent free time. You can find this East-sider on Twitter at @jasonmarklea or read his blog at

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