The 4th of July is one of my family’s favorite holidays. Usually, we try to travel back to the Midwest to reunite with our extended family. Other years, we stay close to home but will venture out for a picnic dinner and a fireworks show. Those of you who have attempted the Independence Day family outing know how taxing it can be, both physically and emotionally. Between the crowds, the loud music and fireworks, the hot and humid weather, and the impatient and easily-bored nature of most children, parents often vow “never again!” at the end of the evening. Before you swear off Independence Day outings altogether, read my essential guide to a stress-free 4th of July picnic. With just a few tips and some advanced planning, you can turn “never again!” into “I can’t wait to do this again!”.
As with most things, the key to a successful 4th of July family picnic is advanced planning. Do your homework BEFORE you leave home.
When choosing WHERE to spend your afternoon/evening, take into consideration the following factors:
- How long will it take to get there and get home (keeping holiday traffic in mind)?
- Where is the nearest parking? Will the kids be able to handle the walk? If not, is the area stroller-friendly?
- What time do the festivities start? When do they end?
- What am I allowed to bring?
- Is anything prohibited? If certain items/activities are not prohibited (e.g. alcohol) is there an area designated for them?
- What services and products are available at the location? (e.g. restrooms, food, playground)
This sounds obvious, but remember WHEN fireworks will occur. The show can’t start until it is dark, which in summer is usually after 9 pm. If your child falls asleep every night at 8 pm but you REALLY want him or her to experience a fireworks display, make sure your little one gets a good, long nap early in the day.
Better yet, remember WHY we celebrate the 4th of July. Rather than focusing on fireworks, seek out daytime activities that celebrate our nation’s history and freedom. Many communities host parades or festivals on July 4th.
A few other things to remember:
- Charge your cell phone and camera fully before you leave
- Leave a light on since you’ll be returning after dark
- Bring cash just in case
Pack the Right Gear
If you are headed out for a picnic and fireworks display, you will be away from home for hours and probably in a location where you will have limited access to restrooms and stores. Set yourself up for a successful outing by packing these essentials:
- A picnic blanket (I love this DIY tie-dyed option from Organized 31) and camp chairs (depending on the location where you’ll be)
- A picnic basket AND cooler bag loaded with a variety of food for meals and snacks. Typically, I stick with handheld, mess-free foods like sandwiches, Gogurts, string cheese, trail mix, fruit, and homemade cookies but if we go potluck-style with another family I bring paper plates and plastic cutlery and will make a variety of picnic salads (e.g chicken salad, broccoli salad, and this patriotic fruit salad from Feeding Big).
- Plenty of bottled water! I like to freeze a couple to: 1) serve as ice packs to keep cold items cool until we eat and 2) so that we have refreshingly cold water later in the day.
- Wet wipes and hand sanitizer to clean hands
- Sunglasses (make sure to bring some for the kids since they will want to wear some as soon as they see you put yours on)
- Bug spray (skip the DEET and make your own using this recipe from Homemade for Elle)
- Games/toys — Therecan be a long wait between dinner and the fireworks show so make sure you have plenty of ways to keep the family entertained. Some of our favorites are (those marked with an * are affiliate links meaning that I will make a small commission if youpurchase the products after clicking them — you are under no obligation to buy and you don’t pay more by visiting Amazon via these links):
- Glow sticks/glow necklaces (to keep the kids entertained and unfrightened after dark)
- Headphones (if the noise of the fireworks scares your child, simply wearing headphones can mute the sounds just enough to make it less terrifying, but you can also plug them into an iPod or phone to drown out the blasts with something more pleasing)
Build in a Recuperation Day
Chances are, if you attended a fireworks display, your kids stayed up way later than usual and you are exhausted from taking care of your entire family in the hot sun all day. So, keep your schedule for the following day clear. If you have children who are early risers no matter how late they stay up, have a plan in place to keep them occupied quietly the next morning. Here are some suggestions on how to do that:
- Have muffins or doughnuts and some juice boxes set out on the table so the kids can handle breakfast on their own. You can stuff them full of vitamins and nutrients later in the day.
- Lay out some toys the night before (after you’ve tucked them in) that they can play with without your help (e.g. Legos, coloring books with crayons, dolls/action figures).
- Bribe them. Before the 4th, purchase a fun treat for your child(ren) at the Dollar Store (e.g. sidewalk chalk, water guns, stickers) and let them know that all they have to do to earn it is NOT wake you up before whatever o’clock (you choose the time you think is reasonable).
I hope these tips help make your 4th of July celebration fun and memorable this year. Please share your own tips in the comments.