It’s a beautiful summer day. The sweet smell of freshly mown grass wafts gently on a warm afternoon breeze. Ice cubes melt slowly as the lemonade is poured into a chilled glass. Sinking into an Adirondack chair in the rose garden, you reach for your book when the silence is shattered by your whining children. “We’re bored! There’s nothing to do.” Suddenly, September won’t come soon enough, and you can’t wait for the school year to begin a new.
What Earlychildhood NEWS is offering over the next several pages is an attempt to come up with some suggestions to diminish boredom and make summer a fun time filled with long-lasting memories. In addition, we conducted an informal poll of parents across the country for some of their tips and favorite close-to-home activities.
Drives in the Country
Although many communities are marred by urban and suburban sprawl, there are still many country roads one can take to get back to an earlier, less rushed time. Pack up the wicker hamper with homemade potato salad and fried chicken as well as an apple pie, gather up the picnic blanket, and head off to the country. Grab the camera and take pictures of the kids exploring the outdoors. Bring games, Frisbees, books, and other play equipment and enjoy the warm afternoon breeze. And if it’s raining on your picnic day, don’t disappoint the children. Some of the best picnics take place inside. Make up stories and pretend that you’re outdoors.
If you live near a lake or the ocean, try to make it a beach day at least once a week. Pack the beach umbrella, plenty of sunscreen, the picnic hamper, and lots of sand and water toys. Always try to go with another family so you can help each other out watching the children, especially the little ones. Park yourselves close to the water’s edge and enjoy the afternoon. Don’t forget to bring jackets – especially if you take pleasure in staying to watch the sunset.
Don’t think that you have to travel far to go camping. You may be surprised to find many campgrounds within several miles of your home. One very big pro to this activity is that if you choose a campground close to home, you can go back and forth as need be. Also, it often allows one of the parents to work and commute to the campsite in the evenings or on the weekend so that the vacation can be extended for a longer period of time. Many campsites offer free kayaking tours, Junior Ranger Programs, and family campfire nights. It is a great vacation, and the price is reasonable. To make camping reservations across the country, visit www.ReserveAmerica.com.
If there are no campgrounds nearby then consider pitching a tent in your backyard or making a makeshift tent on your apartment balcony. Kids will still get the thrill of sleeping under the stars, telling ghost stories, and having running water when the need arises!
After a day of hiking in the woods or at the beach, spend the evening building a fire, singing songs, telling ghost stories, having a wiener roast, and making ‘smores. Many lake and cottage communities even allow fires on the beach. To roast the wieners, slice lengthways through the wiener (but not all the way through) and crisscross on each end. Put your stick through the middle of the wiener and watch it curl up like an octopus as it cooks. Clean hangers will also work if sticks are in short supply. ‘Smores are made by roasting marshmallows on a stick or hanger over the fire. When they’re lightly toasted, place on broken up Hershey’s chocolate bar pieces that have been put on graham crackers.
If you live in an apartment, go to a park with BBQs for a similar effect. If you have a backyard, you can roast wieners over one of those new metal outdoor fireplaces that have become so popular. But remember cooking over an indoor fireplace is dangerous and should never be attempted. And, as with many of these activities, never leave children of any age alone by the fire.
Arts & Crafts
While conducting our information poll with parents, a mom shared her secret for making homemade piñatas. Here’s how she does it. Start by blowing up balloons (the shapes of the balloons will determine what your end product will be) and covering them with newspapers that have been saturated in flour and water. Let each layer dry – do one layer a day for a week or so. Make sure one end is kept open. When the piñatas are good and solid, pop the balloons and fill with trinkets from the dollar store, lots of candy, and fun stuff like stickers and temporary tattoos. You can also cover the outside of the piñata with tissue paper and decorate it as your favorite character. Then have your child invite some friends over to your house for a piñata party.
Another terrific family activity is gardening. This can be done if you have a house or an apartment. Children can create their own gardens in barrels or they can have their own section of the vegetable garden. Gardening can also take place on terraces and balconies. Baby swimming pools with holes for drainage make ideal pots for growing lettuce and small-rooted vegetables. Children of all ages love seeing the magic of seeds planted in the ground blossom into beautiful flowers and edible vegetables. The biggest bonus to gardening as a family? Children are more apt to eat vegetables they’ve grown from seed and the taste of homegrown produce just cannot be replicated in the supermarket.
Ban the Tube
Make at least one day a week a no TV zone day. Kids can help around the house, spend time baking cookies, and read together. You can read to your children, and they can read to you. Find a series of books – such as Mary Pope Osborne’s The Magic Treehouse series – to read together. If the children are too young to read on their own, these time-travel books are wonderful to read to them and they will set their imaginations on fire.
Most public libraries offer reading programs during the summer. For toddlers and preschoolers, there are reading times. Older children will enjoy keeping a list of all the books read during the summer. Many educators recommend that children continue to read or be read to 30 to 60 minutes a day during the summer so that skills learned during the school year do not get rusty.
Pick one night a week for a family movie night. Pick an old favorite such as Disney’s The Incredible Journey or a newer film such as Warner Bros.’ Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. Make some popcorn, turn off the lights, and snuggle together as you watch the movie.
Another great family activity is family game night. Younger children love playing Candyland as well as Barnyard Bingo. Then there are Junior editions of Clue and Monopoly. School-age children who have mastered reading like to play the “real” editions of these games. Other games that are fun to play as a family are Pictionary and Life.
The most important thing to remember is that whatever activity you spend with your children, it will mean a lot to them. Kids don’t care if they have the best new car or granite countertops; they only care that you are willing to be there for them. So whether you’re camping, hiking, swimming, watching movies, reading books or playing games, as long as you’re doing it together as a family, that’s all that really matters.
Barbara Wexler is the mother of 10-year-old twin boys Dillon and Samuel, her greatest and most joyful accomplishment. In addition to being a freelance journalist, she is a substitute teacher for the Conejo Valley Unified School District.