Splashing around in the pool. Riding bikes until dusk. Catching fireflies in jars. Throwing a screen zombie level 10 tantrum to play one more round of Roblox? Summertime and the livin’ isn’t quite as easy as it once was—not with so many tech temptations competing with old-fashioned outdoor fun. “We’ve just experienced an unprecedented year, and our kids have used screens as a lifeline to education and friends,” says Michele Borba, Ed.D author of Thrivers: The Surprising Reasons Why Some Kids Struggle and Others Shine. “So now is the time to pull back and offer healthy alternatives. Ordinary experiences can make extraordinary differences in helping our children’s well-being.”
Kids don’t need to be structured all summer long, of course. “Boredom is not a horrible thing,” says Ellen Frede, Ph.D., senior co-director of the National Institute for Early Education Research at Rutgers University. “And having to figure out how to spend your time is a good thing.” Nor do they need to quit all screen time. She suggests parents set up a schedule with their child featuring age-appropriate fun along with some activities based on everyday routines with chores and responsibilities baked in. Daily physical activity balanced by quiet time and generous free play is also a must, and screen time should naturally be limited. Beyond that, there are endless opportunities for educational enrichment, no classroom or Zoom calls required.
Here are a few ideas to get you started:
Gather a group of kids and start a book club! “Wonder, Inside Out & Back Again, A Long Walk to Water are a few possibilities,” says Borba. “Or find what your child’s teacher is requiring and have kids read together via Zoom or safely distanced in your backyard.” With kids fueled by drinks and snacks, parents can take turns leading the discussion and hosting adjacent activities—for example, screening the movie post-discussion. And they don’t already have one, it’s time for your kids to get a library card and take advantage of the myriad summer educational programs offered.
BORED VS. BOARD
The lessons learned playing board games are impactful any time of day. What sort of lessons? “Turn-taking is important,” says Frede. “And following games with rules helps kids learn about democracy and how to work as part of a team.” Not to mention, Monopoly offers lessons about counting and capitalism. Candy Land teaches kids to rally after a fall. And without Hungry Hungry Hippos how would we know what voracious eaters hippos are?
Start a backyard vegetable patch or flower garden. Planting a garden offers endless educational opportunities, says Borba. “Research which plants grow best in your area, make a list of needed supplies, discover how to use gardening tools, taking responsibility for planting and watering, measuring and tracking the growth of each plant,” she adds.
WORK IT OUT
“Enriching and engaging things that get them off the couch are a good idea,” says Frede. “It’s very important for kids to be more active. Period.” Sports in particular enhance social development, build character and teach kids to focus on the greater good. If joining a summer league is a no-go or group sports just aren’t your child’s thing, there are plenty of lessons to be learned navigating a rope climbing course, creating a timed backyard obstacle course, going for a family bike ride or mastering skateboard tricks in the driveway.
SHARING IS CARING
“Simple acts of giving can make extraordinary differences in stretching our children’s resilience and empathy,” says Borba. After all, EQ is just as important as IQ. The best endeavors are both community-based (face-to-face interactions maximize impact and empathy) and passion driven. Is your child an animal lover? Fiercely anti-bullying? Pro inclusivity? “It’s always better if the charity is something that concerns the child,” says Borba. “Ask your child how he might help, then create a plan and then support it.” Not only will your kind-hearted kids boost their leadership, organizational, and creativity skills, they’ll enjoy the amazing feeling you get from doing good.
DO THE SIDE HUSTLE
“Encouraging kids to pursue their business ideas and solutions has benefits far beyond just financial,” says Adam Toren, coauthor of Kidpreneurs: Young Entrepreneurs With Big Ideas. Emotional intelligence, creativity, responsibility, math acumen and other critical skills are all gained by seeing their ideas come to fruition—and managing the fruits of their labor. “Capitalize on a child’s eagerness, curiosity and unique perspective to help build their confidence and get them running,” he says. Need ideas? From baking cakes, crafting jewelry and coding new apps, to walking dogs, athletic skills coaching and thrifting to resell on depop.com, there are infinite ways to put young talent to good use. For inspiration and business ideas visit kidpreneurs.org.
MAKE COOKING A FAMILY ACTIVITY
“Lots of science and math goes into cooking,” says Frede. Measuring and fractions, heat points and properties of transformation, observations and predictions…making dinner beats chemistry class any day. Organizational and literary skills, and even a dash of history, can also be incorporated into meal planning—cooking is pretty much a full curriculum unto itself. So have your kids help choose what to make, gather and shop for ingredients, prepare and serve dinner. “It can relieve you of doing a special activity, and take care of something that you were going to do anyway,” she says.
Introduce your child to different cultures. Learn the basics of a new language then visit a museum or site devoted to that culture. Explore a new neighborhood and try new foods you’ve never had before or do a food crawl to find the best of whatever cuisine you’re sampling.
IT’S AN ART
All you need is a sketchpad and pencil to turn a day at the museum into a fine art class. If you don’t want to DIY, check out the institution’s schedule for workshops and guided tours.