With the summer approaching, many parents are wonder how will I keep my kids busy or entertained. It’s especially difficult for parents who are working from home as they have to try and do their job while also entertain their children. As parents, we just have to be creative in how we reimagine what summer means, and find ways to keep our kids from regressing over the summer break while still having fun.
The Gift of Boredom
What are your fondest memories of summer as a kid? Most of us remember the freedom of no school, no schedule, and no routine.
We were free to lie in bed late into the night reading books. We were free to build forts, ride our bikes aimlessly through the neighborhood, and explore the woods at our leisure. We were also free to be bored.
Boredom has important lessons to teach if it’s given enough time and space. Boredom encourages creativity because kids have to learn to entertain themselves instead of being passively entertained. It builds self-awareness because kids must be alone with their thoughts and feelings.
As a mother of two, I realize summer can be challenging for parents. We want to give our kids the same feeling of freedom we had growing up. Freedom and boredom are good for kids and most kids today don’t get enough of either. On the other hand, we also need some fun, budget-friendly ideas for when our little ones get whining and say there’s never anything fun to do.
I suggest don’t try to make this the best summer ever. Let’s not try to make three months of perfect afternoons that our kids will remember forever.
Instead of forcing our kids to grow up too fast, let’s let them be kids for as long as possible. When they start fighting with each other incessantly and there’s glitter all over the house, we can pull out one of these activities to distract them long enough to clean up and relax on the back patio.
You can help your kids limit their screen time by doing some of these activities with them.
Children do well in natural settings, and there are many ways your children can learn more about nature and have fun at the same time.
Learn About the World
The National Park Trust has developed many at-home learning activities to help kids connect with nature and learn more about the world, even while at home. These activities are free and available to download from the website.
Some activities on the website are geared towards younger children, while others are better suited for older children. One example of an activity for older children is ‘Communicating Like a Civil War Soldier’, which teaches kids about the non-verbal communication strategies used by soldiers during the Civil War.
Many national parks have dramatically reduced rangers’ interaction with the public after the pandemic. However, many parks have expanded their Junior Ranger programs to incorporate ways kids can earn badges independently or from home. There are currently 10 national parks with downloadable e-books kids can use to learn about their parks and complete activities. After they mail in their worksheets, they receive a badge in the mail.
Watch a Nature Cam
If your children are interested in learning about different animals and their habitats, then a virtual safari might be a great activity for them. Your kids can explore different landscapes and see how animals live in their natural habitats. For example, they can get an up-close look at a falcon’s nest and learn more about these fascinating birds.
There are some fantastic nature cams set up by universities and conservatories all over the world, and they can be a fun and educational way for your children to learn about nature. Some live cams to check out are:
- Africam.com. This website has several cameras set up all over Africa.
- Explore.org This website has nature cameras capturing everything from the aurora borealis in Manitoba to the Naknek River in Alaska.
- Monterey Bay Penguin Cam. The Monterey Bay Aquarium has a camera trained on their penguin exhibit.
- Monterey Bay Open Sea Cam. Another camera from Monterey Bay, this one live-streams their open sea exhibit.
- HD on Tap. This website has a collection of feeds from all over the country. Here, you can watch everything from whales in California to nesting ospreys on a high school roof.
- The Fiona Show. While not technically a live webcam, The Fiona Show is put out by the Cincinnati Zoo. These videos document the young life of Fiona, a baby hippopotamus born prematurely, the smallest ever to survive in captivity. The videos are funny, heartwarming, and guaranteed to make your kids smile.
Nature cams can help your kids learn about animals and nature. They can also help spark a lifelong passion for animals and nature.
You don’t need to go into the woods to go camping. If you have a tent, set it up in your backyard and sleep outdoors with your kids. You can also let them play in the tent during the day as long as you don’t mind the condition of the tent at the end of the day. They can turn the tent into anything they can imagine, from a fort to a spaceship.
If you have the space and materials, you can build a backyard fire ring and sit around a campfire in the evenings. You can make dinner over the flames, and let your kids make S’mores. You can also hang up some holiday lights to make the atmosphere even more special.
If you want to try something different this summer, take your kids camping. Camping has become more popular recently because it is a cheap way to travel. Planning a camping trip for your family does not have to be complicated. Just make sure you have everything you need so the trip will be safe and enjoyable for everyone.
For Sunny Days
Make the most of long sunny days by venturing into the great outdoors (but don’t forget to put on sunscreen).
- Go bird watching. Take photos and keep track of your sightings. Use an app or guidebook to identify feathered friends.
- Grow fresh herbs in containers. Use old coffee cans, milk jugs, mason jars, plastic cups, or anything else you have around the house. Keep your herb garden on a patio or windowsill.
- Look for shapes in the clouds. Put a blanket in the grass and stare up at the sky. Take turns talking about what you see in the clouds.
- Make a bird feeder. Watch birds visit your yard and add to your list of bird sightings.
- Make fairy houses. Use moss, bark, and leaves to create a dwelling fit for Thumbelina.
- Pick your plants. Find a farm with blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, veggies, or flowers and get picking.
- Plant a butterfly or hummingbird garden. Create a backyard wildlife habitat.
Even when the weather is bad and you can’t go outside, there are still lots of things to do.
- Break out your movie collection or use Netflix. Have a movie marathon complete with popcorn.
- Build a fort. Put pillows in the living room or cardboard boxes in the yard.
- Build a Lego castle. Clear off a table and make it a family project. Work on it all summer.
- Camp in. Put the sleeping bags on the floor and have a family slumber party.
- Experiment with new hairdos. Let the kids try out non-permanent colors, braids, or spiked, gelled looks.
- Get an origami book and fun paper. Create fun animals and shapes. Give them to friends or family members as gifts.
- Have breakfast in bed. Take turns being the server and the served.
- Hold marble races. Use an old pool noodle as the track. Simply cut it in half, making two tracks of equal length. Then, race the marbles down the tracks to see who has the fastest one.
- Make a time capsule. Have each family member write down something they are grateful for and include a special item in the time capsule. Then, store it away until a designated date. You can open it as early as Thanksgiving or as far off as high school graduation.
- Make paper airplanes. See whose airplane goes the farthest.
- Play a card game. Choose from crazy eights, spoons, go fish, or even poker. Take your pick. Or buy a board game for the family to enjoy.
- Play charades. Turn all the summer drama into a game.
- Rearrange the furniture. Give the kids graph paper and have them draw out a plan first.
- Set a goal and complete a home project. Whether it is cleaning the garage, organizing the basement, or redecorating the spare bedroom, find ways to let the kids help.
Experience Local Sites
Adding a few local experiences to your summertime fun is a great way to show off your city or town to friends and family who are visiting.
- Eat at the counter of a diner. Let the kids enjoy fried food and milkshakes.
- Find a free concert near you. Kick back and enjoy some tunes with the family.
- Go to a demolition derby. Expect to see some major crashes.
- Go to a flea market or garage sale. See if the kids are better negotiators than you.
- Go to a local carnival or county fair. Eat cotton candy, elephant ears, or something sugary at least once this summer.
- Pack a picnic. Plop down to eat it just about anywhere such as at a free concert, at a playground, or in a state park.
- See a dramatic performance together. It doesn’t matter if it’s a puppet show in the park or a touring Broadway show, enjoy seeing it as a family.
- See a matinee. Find a bargain movie house and enjoy an afternoon at the movies.
- Take a garden gnome with you. Take the gnome’s picture at each destination you visit. At the end of the summer, create a scrapbook with his photos.
- Take a road trip to a nearby city. Spend the night if you can or just make it a day trip exploring the sights.
- Take in a minor-league baseball game. The parks are super family-friendly, and there’s always a fun giveaway or chance to win a prize.
- Visit a historic house or farm. Learn how times have changed and what people back then lived without.
- Visit a local farmers’ market. Feast on the fruits and veggies of the season and enjoy a few locally-made treats.
Use Your Brain
You can avoid having your kids regress academically over the summer break by having them do activities that will keep their minds active and engaged.
- Build your brain. These brainteaser games can help.
- Get a book of riddles. See if you can stump each other; then write your riddles.
- Get the summer homework done. Not exactly fun, but you’ll be happy to get it out of the way.
- Have a puzzle race. Use 100-piece puzzles and see who finishes first.
- Interview an older relative. Write out your family history.
- Join a summer reading club at your library. Or create your own, keeping a list of all the books read over the summer. Parents can participate too. Just don’t expect a prize, because your kids can probably read way more books than you do!
- Master a new skill together. Learn to juggle, play the harmonica, or sew.
- Read a chapter book aloud. Plan to read a chapter or more a night. You can even read a whole series together.
- Show the kids that science is fun and find a simple at home science experiment using what you have in your kitchen.
- Write and illustrate a comic book. Make it a group effort or let everyone do their own.
- Write in a journal each day. Allow older teens to create a bullet journal if they prefer. Then, at the end of the summer, share selections about the highlights of summer.