4 Fun Ideas to Ban Summer Boredom


By: , – Michelle Stroffolino Schmidt, Ph.D.
  :  14 comments   :  19,055 Views

Editor's Note: We're honored to welcome developmental psychology expert and mom Michelle Stroffolino Schmidt, Ph.D., to the dailySpark. She will be writing regularly about parenting, friendship, and relationships.  
I was waiting outside for the momentous occasion of my son's last day of school.  Parents were bustling about, making plans to go out for "something special," discussing summer camps, and promising play dates soon.  After bursting out of the school building, the kids were running around like kittens let out of their little cage, free to frolic and play—running up and down the hill, behind the building, and around the flag pole. 

After about 20 minutes, we were off to our favorite ice cream shop (a bit of a fall off the wagon for me).  As we walked, I asked my son, "How do you feel about the end of school and the beginning of summer?"  He said, "Duh…awesome."  After addressing the "duh" part of his answer, I asked what was awesome about it.  He was clear: no more homework or teachers, and not having to get dressed in the morning for school.   Over the following days, I polled other kids and parents whose paths we crossed.  The large majority of kids were excited rather than upset or anxious.  Parents, however, were anxious. 

There may be some truth (and sense) in summer vacation creating more anxiety for parents than for children.  My own anxiety (not limited to summer): "I'm bored."  Summer brings with it an additional 7-8 hours of unsupervised time daily.  There is no drop off and run to work, or drop off and run to do a list of other things.  Instead, school time is replaced with another block of time during which children need to be somewhere, doing something. 

How does a parent fill the summer hours?  Martha Stewart's  website has dozens of activities for kidsDisney's Family Fun site lists plenty of summer games, crafts, and trips.  Activities and cooking are great for occupying parents and children, and I admire people who have the determination to make pretty cork stamps, but not every child or parent is patiently crafty (admittedly, neither my son nor I fit that bill).  Aside from crafts, camps, or family vacations, what are some other healthy ideas for summer fun and survival?
  • Create and connect!  Longer-term summer projects that have multiple parts are great.  Pick a country or a state or an animal or some other interesting topic and learn about it—draw it, write it, research it, print it, visit it.  Themed projects are fun and rewarding and can go on for as long as your imaginations let them.  My son and I started studying electricity when I began this blog, and so far he has researched the invention of electricity and created a snap circuit.  We plan to go to a local science center, do more research, and compile a notebook of his writings and printouts.  The long-term project is educational and fun and also creates an opportunity for quality parent-child time; you get to share interests, focus attention, exchange ideas, and provoke impromptu conversation. Additionally, it is well-researched that kids who communicate with parents early in life will continue to do so during the critical years!
  • Kids, kids, and more kids!  For kids who do worry about the summer months, one anxiety is that they will miss their friends.  As they do during the school year, kids need opportunities for social and emotional engagement in the summer.  Carve out certain days when your kids can play with other kids, whether they be school friends, sports friends, or your friends' kids.  Kids need structure, and they do better with a predictable, consistent, and stable environment.  Create a summer calendar, hang it in an obvious place, and declare "Fridays with Friends" or "Tuesdays Together."  Ask your kids who they want to play with, and be instrumental in their building and maintaining strong friendships.  Plan ahead and lay out a month that your child can see on the wall.  Play dates can happen at home, a park, or the library.  And don't be afraid to mix it up; kids enjoy time with agemates, but mixed-age play can also provide benefits.  Patience, cooperation, and other social skills come from negotiating and playing with other kids of all ages and stages!
  • Get wet!  There is something magical about water.  Bike rides, water balloon fights, and games involving hoses, sprinklers, puddles, and pools are all fun, kid-friendly activities.  I recently found my inner child when my son and I were on a bike ride as dark clouds were closing in.  We rode home in the rain and laughed the whole way.  Before my epiphany two weeks ago, I was the mom who said, "Don't get wet" because I didn't want the dripping bodies traipsing through my house.  The "new" me has learned that kids love to get wet, and water does actually dry.  And don't forget that the great outdoors provides healthy doses of vitamin D that helps fight off disease (but be sure to slather on sunscreen if they're going to be out for longer than 30 minutes).  So, grab some towels and let your kids (and you) be kids!
  • Put the electronics away!  Too often, we forget to teach (and model) that we can harmoniously live a life without technology (at least for a few hours at a time).  In my house, we are trying to reduce time on our "i" devices.  Kids and adolescents now spend approximately seven hours per day using some form of electronic media (compared with about 30 minutes of reading).  Why not create a scavenger hunt in your neighborhood or house, encourage your kids to play and create independently (my son and his friend Annabelle love to create spy games) or read side by side with your child?  My son and I planted tomatoes, and he now spends time every day watering everything in our back garden.  Activities that avoid instant gratification and fast-paced action can encourage greater focus and attention.  You might also help your child create a quiet space, like a comfy chair in their own corner of a room with a pile of library books that are new and exciting each week. 
Summer is here.  Embrace it.  It is an opportunity for more family time, friend time, exploration time, quiet time, active time.  It can be whatever you want it to be.  Make it healthy and engaging, physically and mentally.  For my son and me, we are preparing for Phase 2 of our electricity project; we just found a solar key chair that prompted a discussion of alternative sources of energy, and I may share the electric bill to teach him about the economics of electricity!

In between trips and activities and water and kids, don't forget to take some time for yourself.  What effect does summer have on you and your family?

Michelle Stroffolino Schmidt is Chairperson of the Department of Psychology at Moravian College in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.  Her research focuses on social and emotional development in childhood and adolescence.  She has published research on parent-child attachment, friendship, peer relations, bullying, and mentoring.  She has also done consulting work with schools as part of their bullying prevention and intervention programs.  Michelle recently published the book Friendships in Childhood and Adolescence (Guilford Press), which explores the significance of friendship from toddlerhood through adolescence.  The book examines factors that contribute to positive friendships, how positive friendships influence children’s lives, and interventions for those who have friendship difficulties.  Michelle is the mother of a 7-year-old son, William, and a 2-year-old bulldog named Eve.  She enjoys yoga, kayaking, writing, and cooking.

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  • 14
    I had to laugh a little at getting bored over the summer. Between the library reading programs, swim lessons, day camps, VBS and play dates, I have to make a point to have a pajama day once a week or so to let everyone have some down time. BTW I have 2 little girls 9 and 4 yrs. old and am a sahm, so I love the chance to not rush off first thing in the morning that summer break provides. - 6/9/2014   10:58:00 PM
    I used to be a school bus driver, but there was not enough money in that to put the kids in day camps or stuff, so I went out and now have a full-time job. My kids will be in summer camp for most of the summer. Someone else will be responsible for their fun. I am not impressed, but there is nothing else I can do about it. This is when I miss being an at-home mom. It is our first summer that I have to work all the time, even over my 2 weeks' holidays! - 6/9/2014   8:30:06 PM
  • 12
    Michelle-great, practical ideas for activities to keep kids busy and have time to reconnect with them over the summer. Outdoor activities especially camping are the best-if you haven't tried it consider doing it this summer (borrow stuff from friends to see if your family likes it or go with a group of friends). - 6/25/2012   4:43:13 PM
  • 11
    As an educator of 25 years and an older mom of an 11 year old and 8 year old daughter there are two best things that you can do with your children this summer. Spend time with them in the out of doors or pursuing interests other than electronics. In our really busy modern lives our children need some of our undivided one on one time. The second best thing is to let them have free time to learn to direct their own time.without electronics. Yes, let them play with friends, yes, take them to the library; yes, sign them up for swim lessons, art classes, Vacation Bible School, camps, but also give them long stretches of time when they have to be independent to fill their own time by playing with cardboard boxes in the backyard, reading books, playing with paint on the sidewalks, playing with the grass clippings to make floor plans. Children will be really inventive with the world available to them if we let them and their lives will be richer for it. - 6/22/2012   9:19:43 AM
  • 10
    Michelle is a terrific addition. - 6/17/2012   8:20:54 PM
    My kids knew better than to say they were bored if they did they got slammed with extra work mostly yard work. I did take then camping and swimming but I did not enterain then 24/7, they had bikes and friends and did a lot of outside stuff without me being with then all the time. - 6/16/2012   8:58:27 AM
  • 8
    I think it's great to allow children unstructured free time. A lot of my childhood was exploring the woods and cow pastures next to our house. Also, just our yard - and making up games with my brother and friend from the neighborhood.

    A good book is "Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder". One quote from the book: "a 2002 British study reported that eight-year-olds could identify Pokémon characters far more easily than they could name "otter, beetle, and oak tree."

    One more quote: "Unstructured outdoor play was standard for me as a hyperactive child growing up in the rural Midwest. I fondly recall digging forts, climbing trees and catching frogs without concern for kidnappers or West Nile virus. According to newspaper columnist and child advocate Richard Louv, such carefree days are gone for America’s youth. Boys and girls now live a "denatured childhood," Louv writes in Last Child in the Woods. He cites multiple causes for why children spend less time outdoors and why they have less access to nature: our growing addiction to electronic media, the relinquishment of green spaces to development, parents’ exaggerated fears of natural and human predators, and the threat of lawsuits and vandalism that has prompted community officials to forbid access to their land." - 6/15/2012   3:26:23 PM
    all great ideas and suggestions! Remember the key is to spend time w/one another. . . . Away from electronics is always good. . . Setting a plan is a key. I to work at a school. In our family, alone time is important too. As Spark people say . . All in moderation!! happy summer to ALL! - 6/15/2012   12:26:49 PM
  • 6
    I am a teacher and in ways I look forward to summer as much as my children do. However, I do experience the anxiety of having to entertain my children. I am only in my 2nd day of vacation but I have found that making a to do list is helpful. My to do list mostly consists of chores that we should do and so that is my goal every morning.

    Today we are going to do our chores and this afternoon go to the library. :) I am glad my girls like the library and planning to take advantage of their programs this summer. Today they are going to sign up for the summer reading program.

    My goal this summer is to keep them busy playing and reading instead of watching tv or playing on the computer. To help in this department we will be getting rid of our directtv and switching to an hd antenna.

    I do agree with the play date day. I am also planning on letting the girls choose a friend to invite over one day a week. I have twins and so I am going to let the girls choose one each week so we are not bombarded with something/someone every day. - 6/15/2012   7:35:30 AM
  • 5
    ....I don't know what to say. When I was a girl, my mother (and in the evenings, when he was home from work, my father too) spent time with us, playing ball, walking, and bicycling, but she (and he) did not spend the entire summer as entertainment director for me and my siblings. We had a week or two at summer camp, and a bit of travel time when Dad took summer vacation, but mostly we were expected to entertain ourselves. I remember wonderful times playing dolls, and superheroes, climbing trees, riding bikes, playing one-on-one basketball, making up stories and plays with my sister, and reading. We had fun stretching our legs AND our imaginations.

    As the mother of an only child, and living in a neighborhood where my son didn't have a lot of potential playmates when he was little, I did spend more time entertaining him than my mother did me. Even so, I often let him pick what he wanted to do, and followed along. We explored the local creek, climbed a lot of hills, played one-on-one soccer, sang songs and made up stories together. He did, and does, play organized sports as well, but that's been his choice. Now that he's a teen, he spends much of his summertime with his friends.

    With all respect, I think it's possible to give a kid too much structure. They need to learn how to entertain themselves too. - 6/14/2012   11:55:18 PM
  • 4
    What a great article. I have not commented on a spark article before but I just had to say that you have some great, education and fun ideas. And, I like the Alphabet Summer idea that AMPROSKE1 shared in the comment above mine. And, MCJULIEO is right about all of the great programs available for families and kids at your local library. Thanks for the great ideas now I know what to do when the kids say "I'm bored!". - 6/14/2012   11:26:37 PM
  • 3
    Don't forget to check your local library for a set of really fun summer activities, and many which will inspire OTHER fun activities! - 6/14/2012   9:40:07 PM
  • 2
    I'm 21 (with no kids) and I still have problems with boredom. I rely too much on technology to fill my summer time. I do plan on actually going places this summer, but I didn't realize how much time I actually have when I'm not working. - 6/14/2012   9:19:11 PM
    I am pretty lucky to be able to be at home with my son for the summer. We keep busy with lunch dates, vacation Bible school, and he will be going to scout camp for a week this year. A coworker once mentioned that her mom did an Alphabet Summer with them one year- each day was themed around a letter of the alphabet- A, animal farm, B, board games, C, coloring etc. and I really liked that idea. You wouldn't have to come up with all of the themes yourself, especially if you have older kids. They could create their own! - 6/14/2012   8:25:23 PM

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