Depending of where you live, your kids have either been out of school for long enough to be making you crazy, or you’re looking at the calendar, wondering just what you’re going to do with all the time between now and when school starts again. Face it, summer is a mixed bag. For working parents who don’t get time off in the summer, it means an extra set of 30 hours to figure out how to keep your kids safe and occupied. (Families with a stay at home parent are now the minority–sixty per cent of families have both parents working outside the home.) So if you are feeling overly burdened, and more stressed than excited about summer, you are in good company.
So what’s a parent to do with all the free time kids get in the summer? Here are some tips for more than just getting the kids out of your hair…
Boredom is an inevitable part of life, especially for children. It is also an important teacher. If you allow your kids to feel bored and you don’t immediately jump to “fix it” then your kids will learn how to find something to do for themselves. This is a skill that will benefit them for the rest of their lives. If your kids don’t know how to amuse themselves when alone, they will become more and more dependent on others to entertain them. Most of the greatest inventions and works of art were only completed by individuals who could spend countless hours alone.
Just watch a baby or young child. Children, in their healthiest states, are active, inquisitive, curious and playful. No one needs to beg them to play or to explore. Even if parents never applauded when their baby took a first step, you can be sure that toddler would keep walking nonetheless. This inborn motivation is critical to our survival, and underlies human beings’ desire to grow and to learn in all ways- cognitively, socially and physically. If adults stop giving them constant stimulation, kids will begin exploring on their own. Sometimes it’s best to do nothing.
Reading books and magazines is one great example–and a routine that is ideally built into every child’s summer on a regular basis. Libraries are important places to start because kids can try a dozen books for free and then discover what they enjoy. Many libraries have summer reading programs that keep track of how many books your child reads and encourages them to share what they have read. When kids are asked why they don’t read, they say it’s because they can’t find books they like. The best way to get them reading is to find books that they gobble up. Never mind that the books are about sports heroes, or bugs or ghosts and vampires. Freedom of choice is the ticket to getting them motivated and excited. Reading a comic book still counts as reading–especially in the summer.
During the school year, most kids complain that they don’t have enough time just to play. Summer is the perfect time to bring out the arts and crafts, the crayons and paints, the scissors and glue. There are countless ideas for arts and crafts projects for kids of every age (grown-ups too) that can be found on line or in books from the library. Dedicate a room, or part of a room if you can, that can stay “messy” so that creative ideas can be worked on whenever the mood is right (or the weather is bad).
Put on music in the house and dance, sing and play along. Music CD’s and educational DVD’s can be taken out of the library for free when you go to get books. Have the kids write and put on a play or a concert. There are educational sites on the web that offer music for kids along with free activities that can promote new learning in fun ways.
Make sure that you and your kids spend as much time outside as your climate allows. Since kids spend the majority of the school year sitting in classrooms, summer is the time to get outside and make exercise a daily habit. Play outdoor games, run in the sprinklers, build forts, plant gardens, set up lemonade stands, catch bugs, and make collages out of leaves and flowers. The sky is literally the limit.
Every family in your neighborhood is probably hearing the same complaints that you are–(“I’m sooooo bored.”) so work out trades with other parents. Give each other a free evening off by trading babysitting. One evening each week, arrange a potluck picnic with several families at a park or the beach so that the kids can play together and the parents can commiserate.
Summer is the perfect time for service projects that give back to the community. Encourage your teen or older child to volunteer at a summer camp, local library, trash clean-up day, community garden, or animal shelter. Just having your kid do the research about what the community needs is an excellent learning. Let your kids pack up outgrown clothes, toys and books and plan a garage sale where they donate the proceeds to a cause they believe in.
Far too often, I see parents who feel guilty that they are not spending enough time with their kids. As a result, they overindulge them with too many material things, video games and TV time, and far too late bedtimes. In many parts of the world, children work side by side with parents and relatives, and have great fun doing so. Unless you teach a child that work is bad and play is good, they will be curious about exploring any activity. Summer is a great time to let your kids help more so you can ALL do something fun together.
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Last reviewed: 12 Jun 2013