Parents often approach summer with a combination of excitement and dread. We LOVE having more time with our kids (if we are fortunate enough to be able to be home with them) and we also start to dread the need to keep kids occupied.
Let’s face it, summer can be a challenge for parents whether it’s scrambling to find child care full days, working to keep bored kids from fighting with each other, or trying to get anything done with kids home.
What to do to keep kids busy, engaged AND nice to each other? In my experience, kids tend to do better with incentives so at our house, we have little stamp/punch cards (10 stars per each rectangular card) that earn a special treat when they are all filled up. If any of the ideas below appeal to you but maybe don’t get your kids as excited, offering a stamp for participating may turn things into a win-win.
Keep Those Brains and Bodies Active and Engaged
1) Teach science with gardening. If you have the space and time for a garden, kids of all ages can learn about science and healthy eating by planting some basic foods. In addition, they can have an additional opportunity for sharing in responsibilities in the family and working together. Can’t do a full garden? How about small pots with herbs or flowers planted from seeds?
2) Learn an instrument online. Most kids have access to some form of smart phone, tablet or computer and there are tons of options for learning instruments online, and often for free. Piano is a natural fit since you can use a computer keyboard to play without purchasing an instrument. Virtual Piano is an interesting website offering free instruction. You-Tube can also teach you nearly anything for free if you happen to have an instrument at home.
Learning to play an instrument, whether over the summer or some other time, has awesome benefits to brain development as well.
3) Start a children’s book club. Reading skills are some of the least practiced during the summer and the biggest contributor to “summer slide” is due to not reading. If you can even get 2-3 kids who are at the same reading levels, you can create a kids book club to keep reading skills from getting rusty. Make it a social event when they meet to talk about what they read or learned.
Many local libraries will have fun programs to encourage reading. In the Twin Cities metro area of Minnesota, the libraries have a program called “Book-a-Wocky” and all parents can create this at home too. Simply take a plain sheet of paper and create a box for them to draw in up top on the front page and allow for space to write a review underneath and on the back. Have your child share his or her drawing and review for each book read.
If you have small kids, you can encourage reading while teaching about giving to others at this awesome free site!
4) Trivia! Trivia questions for kids is a stealth way to increase their general knowledge for facts and information. There are lots of fun sites that are kid friendly to boost your arsenal of trivia questions. At our house, we are hooked on Trivia Crack on the iPad. These games can be so much fun that they can be an incentive in and of themselves to get kids to do chores, listen to parents better or even get ready for bed without dawdling!
5) “Free Play” outside is still fun! Many parents sign kids up for summer sports and those are great ways to keep kids active and busy. Unstructured play time outside is still a healthy and important part of a kid’s day. Creativity and independence grow when kids have unstructured time to play. Encourage that play to be outside for much needed Vitamin D and physical activity.
Bike rides, walks, games of tag, family hikes, pick up games of basketball or soccer are all ways to play with your kids while you get your own exercise in too. When was the last time you climbed a tree? Might still be fun and your kids will think you are the coolest parent on the block.
Keeping the Kids in Positive Behavior:
1) Character counts. Most schools now have character programs encouraging kids to engage in a number of character building behaviors. For our school district, the “pillars of character” include: trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring and citizenship. Take the opportunity to “catch” your kids showing good character outside of school this summer.
Remember those cool punch cards above? Use these to track all the awesome caring behaviors you see in your kids and let them earn a special treat when they get to 10. It doesn’t have to be expensive. Maybe it’s a little extra one on one time with a parent, maybe the kid gets to pick the dinner, or maybe it’s as simple as a trip to the local ice cream parlor or frozen yogurt store.
2) Be nice to your brother or sister. Summer is a time when siblings get on each other’s nerves from too much together time. Sometimes they need a push to keep being kind to each other daily. One of my favorite “pushes” actually came from a Nicholas Sparks interview–he had a brilliant mother. Summer is a great time to institute this practice since there is extended time together to do nice things but I encourage maintaining it year.
At the end of each day, parents will ask each child the following question and there MUST be a legitimate answer: “What 3 things did you do for your sibling today that were positive (kind, thoughtful, etc)?” If there aren’t 3 things, the next day there will be 4 expected. If there is resistance to doing this, maybe a small consequence, but generally when expectations are set, kids rise to the occasion. Knowing that they will HAVE to have a good answer by the end of the day spurs kids to be nice during the day. You can always give extra points for creativity.
3) Never too young for charity. Summer is a good time to give back or give to others. Do you have a favorite organization or a place of worship that will allow you easy ways to volunteer or to give to charity? Volunteer Match is a great site to find local options that fit your interests.
Not only does volunteering or becoming involved in charity keep kids busy, but research also shows that it helps kids feel more connected with their community and are less likely to engage in risky behavior. Connecting to something outside yourself in a bigger way helps to reduce feelings of depression as well. Giving to others, whether it’s people or animals, helps kids feel good about themselves and who doesn’t want more of that?
Summer is just a short 3 months. Sometimes the days are long but the season moves fast. Whatever you choose, keep the schedule fairly light and manageable. Hug your kids and have fun!