Ok, so some kids just aren’t made for camp: as Koa Beck wrote at Mommyish, “As a quiet, self-regulating child who preferred to read, being yanked from my air-conditioned home and placed outdoors with a bunch of sweaty perpetual noise-makers was definitely not my idea of a fun summer. I endured the experience only once, but I begged my family to never send me again.”
Or, you may simply want to give your kids a chance to enjoy unstructured time: KJ Dell’Antonia writes, “I’m trying to recreate a feeling I loved as a child: that of having whole vistas of time and choice at my fingertips… Come summer and the comfort of a structured day drops away, leaving them to answer questions like: “What do I actually want to do today?”
That doesn’t mean that keeping kids busy during those lazy months of downtime is necessarily going to be easy (and most parents would prefer to keep the kids from defaulting to watching TV or playing video games). So this is where planning ahead comes in handy: when the “I’m booooored” strikes, you want to be prepared.
Most of the activity lists I’ve found focus on things for everyone to do together, but that’s not necessarily desirable either – you’ll need some downtime too, and kids need to learn how to entertain themselves, in order to develop their creativity. As psychologist Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, Ph.D. notes, “It’s the downtime for scribbling, making a car out of a cardboard box, or exploring the backyard that fosters the skills your child needs to be successful and fulfilled: creativity, critical thinking, and confidence.”
So a good combo of alone-time and together-time is key. Encourage the kids to play, explore, and learn on their own – and also plan some activities together, because that’s where all those great summer memories come in!
Arts and crafts are an obvious choice for long summer days: you can always plunk the kids down with a pile of crayons and paper and let them get inventive, or set them down with an age-appropriate craft kit, get it set up, and let them create something fun to wear or to put on the fridge. During the summer, you have a bonus possible environment for art projects – use the driveway for sidewalk chalk, or the backyard for a big painting project!
As we’ve mentioned before, summer reading lists are a lot more exciting than they used to be, which is going to make it easier to convince your child to delve into them. The self-motivated, quiet child will be likely to dig into this project on her own and won’t need much prodding (she’ll just need you to drive her to the library); more reluctant readers will love the competition and excitement of programs like Power Up & Read, from Scholastic.
I also like this idea from Mercy at allwomenstalk.com: give your kid an old digital camera or smartphone and see what they take pictures of! Just send them on a mission through the house or the backyard, and then explore their pics together afterwards. Once the novelty of having their own camera wears off, you can start giving kids assignments: take pictures of everything in the house that’s blue, or every animal that comes into the yard, or flowers throughout the neighborhood. The possibilities are endless.
No doubt you’ve already thought of trips to the beach, the zoo, a museum, amusement parks, and other fun sites, so there’s no need to go over those options. They’ll happen, pictures will be taken, and everyone will have fun.
However, there’s no need to reserve picnicking for those trips: somehow, eating outdoors just makes lunch 110% more exciting than it was yesterday, and it cuts down on cleanup! All you really need is a good picnic blanket and a cooler with a few sandwiches and drinks. (The Skip Hop Outdoor Picnic Blanket even comes with an attached cooler bag!)
Cooking together is a great activity for any time of year, since kids get a huge thrill from cooking something they can eat, and it’s an essential life skill they’ll need. Summer is truly ideal for cooking lessons, though, because you’ve got plenty of extra time, reducing your temptation to take over so the work gets done faster. Ciara Conlon at Lifehack.org suggests choosing one day a week to cook together. Let the kids help choose the recipe, and execute the steps of preparation that are appropriate for their age.
Gardening is also a great family activity, and it creates daily routines and teaches kids responsibility. Plus, your kid probably has a higher tolerance for dirt than you do, so why not put him to work digging? (He’s also closer to the ground, so pulling weeds is easier for him.) There’s also supposedly a microbe in soil that works as a natural antidepressant, and we could all use a little more happiness. Bonus: if you’re trying to get the kids to eat more veggies, there’s no better way than getting them to grow the veggies themselves!
Building a family blog is a fun activity to do together, and will reinforce your child’s reading and writing skills (shhh, don’t tell them that they’re learning!). They’ll love sharing stories and pictures with relatives and family friends, and the grandparents will be thrilled to pieces.
If it’s a particularly sultry day, there are hundreds upon hundreds of creative ways to enjoy cooling off together without packing everything up for the beach: for instance, why not have your own little car wash? Or make an ice block treasure chest and watch your kid puzzle out how to get all of the little toys out? Or, instead of messy water balloons, why not stage a Sponge Water Bomb battle? (Bonus: no scary popping!) Or, if you’re feeling really ambitious, how about building a Kid Wash?
There are countless other ideas out there on the web for how to keep kids busy over the summer – share some of your faves with us in the comments below!