I am enjoying seeing kids riding their bikes around the neighborhood—a site that is becoming increasingly rare. I remember when my own kids were in school and summer rolled around. It was always interesting to hear the different reactions to this annual reprieve from the routine of school, homework, report cards and seemingly endless papers to fill out. Some moms welcomed the summer with enthusiasm and anticipation, commenting, “I love having the kids around.” For others, it seemed to strike fear and dread in their hearts as they commented, “What in the world am I going to do with them all summer?”
I was one of those moms who loved summer. I see it as a time for children to pursue things that are of interest to them in a more in-depth way because of the more relaxed time schedule. It’s also an opportunity to expose them to new experiences and interests that might strike a cord and develop into a hobby or passion.
The temptation is often for parents to think that they have to be the entertainment committee and find a way to fill every waking moment with something “productive.” I believe that we need to create moments of “planful boredom.” We would purposefully leave unscheduled time when there is “nothing to do.” I remember one summer when money was tight. There would be no vacation. We had a garage sale at the beginning the summer and raised $300.00. We used that money to buy what I call “open-ended” materials—things that can be used in a myriad of ways. We bought fabric, buttons, paint, candle and soap making materials and the like. One daughter learned to sew that summer, making her first dress. The other daughter spent much time in the kitchen making concoctions that she nuked in the microwave that turned into useful products. More than once I walked into their rooms and found them relaxing with cucumbers on their eyelids and fruit and vegetable mixtures on their face to supposedly beautify.
As I look back on this time it was probably one of the most creative summers we had as a family. Less is often more. I once met a man at a conference who commented that he was given the gift of poverty. I questioned why he viewed it as a gift. He went on to explain that he grew up in a house that had a dirt floor, no running water or electricity. “It forced me to be resourceful,” he said. A stick and a hedge apple became a bat and ball. He invented games that he played with his large family of brothers and sisters. This man grew up to be a doctor, and he attributed his “impoverished” upbringing as the key to his success.
When my kids came to me and said, “I’m bored, there is nothing to do!” I would secretly smile inside. My standard comeback was, “I have full confidence that you are capable of finding something satisfying to do.” I would hear the inevitable groan and frustrated sigh. But shortly I would find them busily engaged in their next adventure. The temptation these days is to take the course of least resistance and let kids veg out in front of a screen. It demands nothing of adults and it sets us free to do our own thing. I’m not saying that school-aged kids and teens should never have screen time but it should never be used as an easy way out.
If we are going to create “planful boredom” we need to make sure we set the stage with materials and opportunities that invite children to try them out and explore. Not many of us live in the country or on a farm and have the playground of the natural world at our disposal. But there are plenty of things that we have around the house as well as a few inexpensive or free items that we can add to beckon children to create and invent. Check out the few ideas listed below and, if you would like more resources, click here for a packet of materials that are chock full of ideas for inexpensive and engaging activities for kids to do. Here’s to a fun and creative summer!!
1. Get an assortment of different sized boxes. Hook them together with tape and create a tunnel. Kids can make pictures of things that live underground and tape them inside. Or, use markers or paint to create buildings that form a city. Some enjoy fastening boxes together to make a doll house.
2. Look on-line or go to the library and get information to make origami designs. Use just about any kind of paper—old magazines, computer paper, newspaper etc.
3. Find a game that the entire family enjoys and have a tournament that lasts throughout the summer.
4. Make some kind of treats for the neighbors and have the kids deliver them.
5. Make an insect collection and learn about them on the internet or get books from the library. T-pins or straight pins and a piece of Styrofoam or heavy cardboard make a great way to collect and display.