Your kiddos might be finished with school or, like me and mine, you might be hanging on by your fingernails trying to finish strong. Either way summer is upon us. Empty days beckon, and it won't be long until that familiar song of "I'm bored" plays over and over and over.
I'm actually a huge fan of being bored. Recently I've been reading and listening a lot to the benefits of boredom, so let me just say outright, I am NOT in favor of keeping up a constant stream of entertainment over the summer for your kids. I don't have time for that.
But I am also NOT in favor of kids sitting in front of a screen for hours on end. My soapbox is at the repair shop, but let me just say this: The single WORST thing you can do for your kid this summer is let them spend multiple hours on a screen (read: phone, TV, iPad, Kindle, video game, computer, lap top, etc.) during the day...even if they're using it to read.
Instead I want to give you 10 ideas to keep kids off screen and develop their minds and bodies. The criteria for my list is simple; each activity is something that doesn't have to take a long time, is free (or very inexpensive), continues to build upon skills learned in school OR creates a new set of practical life-skills. And of course does not rely (heavily) on a screen. (Disclaimer: one or two of the activities do use a screen but in a positive skill-building way). These activities are also things I've done with my two kids or plan to try this summer.
So without further ado...
Visit the library. I cannot say enough about the wealth of resources provided by a local library. We live two blocks from ours and visit at least three times a week. My 12 year old loves to just ride his bike there and spend the afternoon reading comic books.Libraries today are also about way more than just books. You can often rent passes for local museums or fun equipment like telescopes or ukuleles (ours offers both). Books, movies, games, puzzles, CDs, and more await your child FOR FREE. If they don't yet have a library card, add that on the list and let them go.
Join a library virtually. Maybe you don't live close to your public library or your area doesn't have one. No worries! You can join many libraries virtually and enjoy their electronic resources from home. This year, I joined the Free Library of Philadelphia, despite the fact that I live in rural, central Pennsylvania. My FAVORITE thing to do is to download audiobooks to listen to with my kids. Again, this is a TOTALLY FREE activity. We've found that listening to a good story keeps us from gravitating to screens. And because it sometimes feels awkward to just sit and listen, we find ourselves playing games, cleaning, or cooking together while enjoying a good tale. Don't know what to listen to first? Try the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling, the Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan, or The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place by Mayrose Wood.
Volunteer. Most middle grade kids aren't old enough to be formally working, but volunteering regularly promotes the same kind of skills and responsibility a job does. Now before you get your panties in a bunch about your sweet kid having to throw her whole summer away working, limit this activity to an hour or two max a week. Let your child choose the activity, and if at all possible, do it with them or find another adult with whom they can partner - someone you know and trust. Set them up for success - and learning what it means to serve others. Don't know where to start? Utilize a site like www.volunteennation.org to find an opportunity near you.
Grocery Shop. Now hear me out. This is something that needs to be done for your family each week and doing it well is an art, in my humble opinion. Give your kid the chance to plan the grocery list (maybe even a couple of meals?). Set a budget and then let you kid have at it. He or she will quickly learn what it takes to put food on the table at your house. This simple task works on budgeting, financial comparisons, and making decisions. Worried about your kid breaking the bank? Take them on a dry run first, point out what you look for when shopping, and oversee some of their choices.
Assign a new chore. Look, I didn't say these were entertaining ideas. And before you roll your eyes in exasperation, think about this: what do you want your kid to be able to do for herself when she leaves your little nest? Do you want to be stuck doing mountains of her laundry for the rest of her life? No. Find a practical task that your kid will need to do for themselves in the future (laundry is a good one, learning to cook a simple meal is another), and teach them how to do it. End of story. After a couple lessons (you might also want to encourage your kid to create a cheat-sheet for herself), it's on her. If she wants to wear clean underwear, she'll figure it out.
Practice an art. I'm not talking painting on canvas or using modeling clay, although those things are great. I'm talking about a lost art - the art of letter writing. Get your kid some fun postcards or blank note cards (okay, this one costs money, you got me) and have him write one each week. Send them to relatives or friends - who doesn't like getting mail! Aim for one per week - especially if you go on vacation.
Sign up for a reading program. Again back to the libraries...many offer incentives for kids to read over the summer. In exchange for reading a certain number of books or hours, kids can receive prizes or books. Barnes and Nobles offers a reading program that you can learn more about here.
Grow something. If you don't have a green thumb, this will likely cost you a little bit of money, but it's money well spend. Let your kid grow something. What they grow doesn't matter (succulents are quite kind despite a lack of watering). The idea is that your kid is responsible for something and can watch it progress. Want an idea for something super cheap and useful? Get green onions, celery, an herb, or even Romaine lettuce from the grocery story. Snip off the tops but put the bottom in some potting soil. It continues to grow and your kid can "harvest" their crop for dinner!
Move. All I'm going to say about this is kids don't do it near enough. It doesn't matter how, when, or for how long, but make your kid move 60 minutes each day. If they start sweating, that's a bonus.
Stay bored. This seems a little bit like a cop out because I was having a hard time thinking of a #10, but I think it works. It goes back to my original stance; let's steer kids away from the idea that the world revolves around their personal interest. Let's allow them the space and time to just...I don't know...think. Let's encourage the kind of inner development that comes when there is quiet enough to contemplate the world around you and your place in it.
So when you inevitably hear, "I'm bored," flip it on its head. It is not a desperate plea that need immediate remedy, it's a treasured invitation to grow.