Summer is looming on the horizon. Whether you homeschool or not, you are looking at a copious amount of time with unoccupied children. Some might argue that jail time is preferable.
It doesn’t have to break your budget to keep those darling angels from destroying your house or your sanity. I have survived fifteen summers with school-age children, and while I might have threatened to pitch a tent in the yard and lock them outside, we are all still alive and speaking to each other.
So, here are 15 tips for fun summer activities from a seasoned veteran.
This too shall end. Summer isn’t forever. Focus on the light at the end of the tunnel, better known as Labor Day, when schools start. For us, since we homeschool, we start early August to beat the heat. Mark off the days on the calendar if it makes you feel better. Sing the disco song I Will Survive to keep you going.
Plan free activities. All parents know the truth behind idle hands. Keeping those hands busy, keeps them from getting into too much trouble. It doesn’t have to be expensive summer camps. We strategically schedule a few free church Vacation Bible Schools throughout the summer. Check your local library for their Summer Reading Club schedule. Many bookstores have story time. Other stores, such as Home Depot, have workshops. For younger children, they might make a birdhouse. For older children, learning DIY skills, such as building shelves, might come in handy.
Train them to take over the world…or at least the household chores. It’s a fact. Children grow into adults. And adults have to be productive members of society. It won’t ruin their world to learn how to dust, vacuum, and clean a toilet before they can drive. Divide up the daily and weekly chores and assign them to each child. Keep in mind age appropriateness. Most toddlers can’t vacuum, except for mine. The one drawback to this is that you have to invest the time to train them. Don’t hand them a rag and expect dust-free furniture with no broken glass on the first try. Clearly communicate the objective and show them how to complete the task.
Cook a child a meal, and you feed him for a minute. Teach a child to cook, and you can tell him to fix it himself. “I love to cook three meals and fix fifteen snacks a day,” said no mom ever. You might be surprised how much your children can do on their own, given the chance and training. My 10 yod can make macaroni and cheese from scratch – not the box stuff. My 14 and 16 yods can follow most recipe directions to get a casserole or soup on the table for dinner. It’s pretty handy to not stress about meal prep when I’m running late or when I’m just plain tired. Check out Kids Cook Real Food for classes on everything from knife skills to complete meal preps.
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Arrange playdates. For those of you in a neighborhood with friends who roam the area, maybe you can let your kids hop from house to house. Sadly, that’s not the case everywhere. We don’t have neighbors, and our closest friend is a mile down a busy highway. Our homeschool co-op friends are an hour’s drive away. So, we plan a few playdates each month to make sure we see friends and get our swim time in with our “special” friends who have pool access.
Let them be bored with boundaries. While you may feel like the ringmaster in a circus, it is not your job to fill every single second of your children’s day. Studies show that children learn more from free play than from structured activities. Most children have more toys than they ever play with. Box up some of those toys and pull out a box when boredom strikes. They can only play with the toys in this box for this day, then box them back up and put them away. Next time, pull out a different box. Or, another great idea is to collect a box of tools or odds and ends and let them come up with their own activities. No direction or instruction, just experimentation. One summer, my two elementary-age daughters figured out how to make various playground toys with old boards, tires, bricks etc. We made sure there were no stray nails or sharp edges, but otherwise they were left to construct their own see-saws, slides, and other toys. They spent hours doing this, and my sanity was overwhelmingly grateful. Playing MacGyver is only one of many fun summer activities I love.
Take a vacation in a book. We are voracious readers. Not only do all my children read independently, we still have readaloud times, even with my teens, and listen to audio books on our long car drives. While our school subjects require a fair amount of reading, I still encourage reading for enjoyment. During the summer, everyone has to read for an hour a day with a book of their choice. My youngest (9 yod) is working her way the Magic Tree House series. My teens like historical fiction with a bit of adventure, like the Ranger’s Apprentice and Brotherband series by John Flanigan. Reading is my jam.
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Every hobby starts with a spark of interest. As adults, hobbies provide us with interesting time off activities and small talk in awkward social gatherings. But where do most hobbies come from? They might be handed down generationally, like boys who work on old cars or learn woodworking from their dads or grandpas. Other hobbies have to be selected and cultivated over time. Regardless, a hobby starts with a spark of interest that can’t be found on the television or in a video game. Help your child think through a few subjects they might find interesting and then point them in the right direction. Google and YouTube are invaluable resources.
Beautify your world. Arts and crafts are like hobbies, but with a little flair. Many studies show that activities such as drawing, painting, and knitting can help the brain develop new neural pathways, as well as provide a calming outlet for stress. Don’t get hung up on talent. The fun is in the doing. And beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I mean, have you seen Jackson Pollock’s work?
Music soothes the soul of the savage beast. This may be a rendered quote from playwright William Congreve, but it’s true that music has a universal appeal. You may not be drawn to the same genre as your toddler (get thee behind me Baby Shark), but an hour of music is never a bad choice. For older children who take music lessons – practice, practice, practice. We use the summer to learn new songs for fun. Last summer, each of my daughters picked a few hymns and learned them through on their own, then worked out the kinks with their piano teacher once a month.
Make a difference with new friends. This goes beyond playdates with peers. Find people who aren’t as easily accessible, like elderly relatives or neighbors. Children have a unique way of bridging the generation gap with
elderly mature adults. Your children will learn history, skills, and advice from men and women with a lifetime of experience. They will see life from a different view point. All while helping someone fill a lonely day. It’s hard to say who will be more blessed.
Make a difference in your community. Ministries and community organizations are always looking for help. Kids can help the food pantry stack food donations and distribute it to families in need. Clothes closets never run out of clothes to sort, clean, and hang. One of my daughters spends half the summer at the local library helping with children’s storytime and shelving books. She’d spend the whole summer there if I let her, but there are other things to do, as well, like organize our library and put away our clean clothes!
Journal the day. Writers are not born; they are made. While you may hear of the writers who dash off a bestseller in a few weeks, those are few and far between. Writing is a discipline, which means it needs constant attention. Some people are, indeed, born storytellers. They have the creative flair for making anything come alive. That doesn’t mean everyone else is out of luck. Everyone will benefit from a daily or even weekly writing practice, whether on paper or dictated. It teaches the writer to notice details and to try to describe them to someone else. Journaling isn’t for critique. It’s for processing life. Starting this habit would qualify for fun summer activities for older or younger children.
Channel some physical activity. While the heat of summer may suck away all my energy, it doesn’t work the same way for my children. Find a way to burn that energy at the park or playground. My youngest daughter loves to walk with me, so we plan a time early in the morning or late in the evening to walk a mile or so. We might chat, or we might just walk in companionable silence. Either way, we’re spending time together and exercising.
Start (or continue) a quiet time. Even small children can learn to appreciate a few minutes of quiet time a day. Start out with a few minutes at a time and outline what is expected. We typically spend about 10-15 minutes a day with nothing else on. No music. No electronics. My older daughters read a chapter in the Bible or may write a verse they’re memorizing. My younger daughters are just beginning this practice, though they have always been required to be quiet for the time specified. It’s a calming time for everyone, especially if the day has gotten chaotic, which, frankly, is most days.
I hope these 15 tips give you hope to survive the summer, or daily life. I am not a strict scheduler, but neither am I such a free spirit that I can handle the craziness that comes from unoccupied children. Fun summer activities are the key to thriving in the off-season.
Throw me some of your own suggestions. I may need to mix it up this summer.