The school year has ended. Over are the 6 a.m. wake-ups and hectic morning rushes. After-school activities have all wrapped up. Evenings are spent glassy-eyed in front of a TV or tablet screen instead of finishing homework or starting bedtime routines. And then you hear the bellow that evokes dread in every parent: “Mom! I’m bored!”
Both parents and kids find relief in the summertime freedom from their typically rigid school-year schedules. However, it’s still essential for your children’s mental and physical health to keep them active and challenged over their break. Here are five ways to introduce fun, new activities to help your children stay engaged throughout the summer months.
1. Sign Them Up for Day Camp
Overnight and day camps provide similar benefits to children. They both supply plenty of socializing and exercise in a safe and structured setting. However, day camps have the advantage of being less expensive than sleepaway camps. They also allow for children to come home to their own beds and home-cooked meals at night.
To facilitate afternoon pickup, don’t forget to send them off with a cell phone for kids so you can stay in touch. Since these phones limit internet access, you’ll know they’re engaging with their campmates and not their screens as they play the days away.
2. Join a Summer Reading Program
Reading skills: If your kids don’t use them, they lose them. Fortunately, there’s no better way to keep your children’s skills up to par than enrolling them in a summer reading program. These programs might simply track the time kids spend reading, or they could involve keeping incentive charts or participating in full curriculums.
Public libraries, Scholastic, and Barnes & Noble are just a few organizations that offer free summer reading programs. Many program hosts offer free books and other prizes that will keep your kids motivated to make the most of their summer months.
3. Experience Some Culture
Exposing children to culture at an early age is linked with innumerable lifelong benefits. Introducing them to art, music, and theater helps them to think creatively, develop social skills, and better regulate emotions. Additionally, children well versed in art also tend to do better in other studies, including math, sciences, and reading.
Summer break is the perfect time for visiting museums, attending musical concerts, and viewing theater performances. For a more hands-on approach, help your children choose and develop their own projects. These might include finger painting, jewelry making, writing and performing their own plays, or even taking up a musical instrument. The world of art is vast and deep, and you’re sure to find something that will appeal to every family member.
4. Connect with Nature
These days, children spend nearly all of their time indoors, primarily due to technology. However, recent studies have shown the necessity of time in nature for both children and adults. It is not fully clear why both cognitive function and mood improve after time in green environments. Yet kids who spend ample time outdoors are physically healthier, have less anxiety, and experience better mental health overall.
Luckily, there is no shortage of outside activities to build into your summer planning. There are likely hiking, fishing, and camping opportunities within a day’s drive of your home. Backyard water activities like slip-n-slides, sprinklers, and water balloons are always a hit. Even a simple evening walk at your local park is beneficial and creates an opportunity for family quality time. For a more challenging spin on your outside adventures, you can try adding in mobile-based games like geocaching, Pokemon GO, or Ingress.
5. Turn the Backyard Into a Campground
Camping — and especially camping with kids — can be a lot of work. Just the thought of packing up the car might bring on feelings of exhaustion! Backyard camping is a wonderful alternative that requires far less effort and preparation. It’s a great way to give your kids a chance to experience the outdoors, build some independence, and have a lot of fun.
Since backyard camping is similar to camping at a campground, you will need some of the same supplies. Tents, sleeping bags, and pillows can complete the sleeping arrangements. If space allows, you can add a fire pit for cooking hotdogs or making s’mores, but any snacks will do. Be sure to set up a cooler for ice-cold drinks, especially in warmer weather.
Once your campsite is set up, it’s time for some backyard activities. Some possibilities to consider are flashlight tag, catching lightning bugs, stargazing, or telling ghost stories. Add rules to make backyard camping more rigorous, such as no electronics and only going inside to use the bathroom. This trial run will also help gauge your family’s interest in more rustic camping trips down the line.
Making It a Summer to Remember
There is certainly nothing wrong with taking the opportunity to relax from unyielding school-year schedules. Decompression and unstructured time are beneficial for kids, but a balance of physical activity and mental stimulation will keep them at their best.
Since each family has different needs and inclinations, don’t hesitate to involve your children in your summer planning. With these suggestions, and maybe a few more from your kids, your family is sure to have a gratifying and engaging summer vacation.