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18 things you have to do as a family before your child turns 18

You only have 18 will you spend them?

18 things to do, things to do with your family

There is a theory that we have only 18 summers to enjoy with our children before they head off to college or leave home on their own. Today's modern families are already overbooked, and on the go, and parents can feel the pressure to make every vacation count. Thankfully, the dog days of summer give us a slower pace and a chance to squeeze in extra time with our kids.

Anchoring childhood memories to simple rituals creates an overall feeling of joy.

Here are 18 ways to make the most of the summers you have together:

1. Accept invitations. The hectic pace of toddlerhood can feel exhausting to keep up with but accepting invitations to play that very first summer builds crucial family bonds and lasting memories. Soon enough kids grow up and want to be with their own friends.

2. Make traditions like grabbing ice cream at the same spot every summer, swimming in the same creek, or attending your hometown July 4th celebrations. Lori Travers of High Falls enjoys savoring summer traditions with her two teenage sons. "It's like Christmas. You don't remember most gifts you get, but you remember the feelings of Christmas. That's what I hope their childhood memories are to them," she says.

3. Encourage spontaneity and declare dessert for dinner, play a game of flashlight tag or let the kids stay up late with a camp out in the living room. This teaches your kids to let go of stress and find their inner joy.

4. Book a family photo session to document how much your family changes year to year. Whether you choose a casual photoshoot in the back yard, or a favorite Hudson Valley beach spot, these photos will preserve a tiny piece of every summer. 

RELATED: 20 more things to do before your kids grow up

5. Build something together like a garden or a tree house to encourage teamwork and share the value of working with your hands. It also builds self-confidence.

6. Get through challenges together as a team. This makes for great stories later. Take a scramble through the Lemon Squeeze in New Paltz, go ziplining or take a risky ride down the Esopus creek.  

7. Spend a lazy day on the couch in your pajamas for a movie marathon. Slowing down a rigorous schedule for some time together will make it feel like you are pressing the pause button.

8. Volunteer. Volunteering between school activities and sports practices can be a tight squeeze. Longer summer days create an opportunity to connect your child to the joy of giving back. Little ones can shop for pet food and supplies for local animal shelters, while teens may enjoy visiting a nursing home or serving meals in a soup kitchen.

9. Go back in time to understand your local roots and give kids a deeper appreciation for where they are from. The FDR Presidential Museum and Bannerman Castle in Dutchess County, The Senate House in Ulster County or Museum Village in Orange county capture life in the Hudson Valley during various points through history.

10. Go camping. Camping outdoors is not everyone's cup of tea, but most parents agree you must try it just once. Whether you choose a tent, a cabin or your own back yard, your kids will never forget the experience. Kimberlee Tompkins, mother of three from Hyde Park says, "Camping is an adventure and a challenge, you never know what the weather is going to be like, or if your equipment will break. All the variables make for
individual experiences each time you go. It's always unforgettable."

11. Spend time at the ocean with its far-reaching waves to illustrate just how big the world is outside your hometown.

12. Live in the moment and ride the wild rides at the fair or amusement park or twist down the water slide with your kids. Let them see you having fun, even if it scares you.

13. Hike at a national park for a great way to stay healthy and spend quality time together. Put away the digital devices and explore the natural world at ease. Kids will recognize immediately why we need to conserve these natural wonders.

14. Spend a full week without distraction in a cabin at Lake Taghkanic and leave the TV and YouTube behind for a great way to connect. A week of simple entertainment like card games and splashing in the lake guarantees fun memories.

15. Take an epic road trip to explore our state and beyond. Visit Niagara Falls, or travel to the oldest light house. Don't just limit yourself to the Hudson Valley. Hop in the car and drive to the Grand Canyon or find the World's Largest Ball of String in Cawker City, Kansas. All that time living on the road will make dorm life seem easy.    

16. Send your kids off with some basic life skills to put your mind at ease. Teach them how to do the laundry, cook simple meals or how to change a flat tire. Carol Hikade, a Stone Ridge mother of two teenaged sons, recalls her husband teaching her son how to make chocolate chip pancakes one morning. "A few months later that same son's girlfriend came over on a snow day and they made chocolate chip pancakes together because my husband had shown him how to make them."

17. Book that “someday trip” while your child is still carefree in that 17th summer. It may feel bittersweet, but it is worth marking the milestone of their last childhood summer.

18. Take the time to reminisce and tell them how proud you are of them. The final summer home will be filled with graduation parties, packing for college or starting a new job.

The truth is, we get so much more than just 18 summers with our kids. There are plenty of milestones to get through each year. But summer gives us a little extra time to create memories for our kids to take with them into the next chapter of their lives.

Roxanne Ferber is a twin mom, blogger and freelance writer living in Saugerties. She is not ashamed to admit it took a full box of tissues to get through writing this story.