School is officially out! After a week or two of lounging, watching TV, and playing video games, are your kids already bored? Are you going crazy? Counting down the days until school starts?
Summer isn't meant to be spent indoors--don't let your kids' vacation succumb to hours in front of the TV or playing some sort of electronic device. Ban the TV! Ban their iDevices! Get your kids outdoors! And when the ban on the TV and their iDevices makes them whiney and they demand you entertain them, say NO. Tell them to go outside. Tell them to use their imaginations and find fun in the outdoors. Boredom ends as soon as they go out the front door--even if you have to push them out the door.
Since most parents work or have other responsibilities, and don't have time to take kids canoeing, hiking, or camping during the week, we put together a list of fun summer activities for kids they do in their own backyards. Even if you can't plan a trip to your state park for the afternoon, you can still get your kids outdoors--and hopefully make them realize the world does not actually revolve around whether they have a wifi connection:
1. Scavenger hunt. You can even give them a prize for finding everything on their list (a small reward can provide huge incentive for kids of all ages). Here's a list we made--print it, modify it for your backyard, and let the kids run wild!
2. Make a bird feeder or birdhouse. We made a bird feeder for the backyard garden, filled it with seed from a local feed store, and within hours, we had a ton of new birds flying around the yard. The kids were amazed and sat outside watching the birds, trying to take pictures of as many as they could see. Here are bird feeder building plans that use common household items AND they're designed specifically for kids to make.
3. Bug hunt! If your kids aren't totally grossed out by bugs, this hunt could last all day. Tell your kids to find 10-20 bugs (any kind), give them a list of specific bugs, bugs smaller than a dime or larger than a quarter, or just tell them to find the creepiest-looking bugs. They'll go crazy--in a good way--with this one. (Here are a few bug hunt lists you can download, in case you need something fast.)
4. Make a fort. Forts are the bees knees of Summer vacation. When I had "nothing to do" during my Summer vacation, I always defaulted to the fort. Using anything and everything I could find, the fort became hallowed ground--even though it may not have looked like it.
Mom: "What's that pile of stuff in the corner of the yard?"
Me: [gasping] "That's my fort! I'm still working on it. No one can come in it yet."
Give your kids the freedom to use whatever they find to build their fort, and the fort project will take on a Summer-long life of its own. Your kids will love it.
5. Plant a garden. It's a little late to plant certain fruits or vegetables, but check your local zone and see what you can still plant this year. Kids love planting, watering, and watching the progress on a garden they helped grow. I'm not gonna lie: the weeding is largely going to end up in your hands (it does in our house anyway). Even so, gardening is a great Summer activity for kids on many levels (e.g., teaching them the value of time and effort and that everything doesn't have instant gratification, being able to provide for yourself, daily responsibility, etc.).
6. Mud City! If it wasn't a fort, it was MUD! Have a sandbox? Maybe a chunk of your lawn where the grass refuses to grow? Dirt driveway? Whatever the place may be (it was always the driveway when I was little), dig up the dirt a bit, hose it down until it's good and muddy, and let the kids go to town building Mud City. Mud City is just like any other city--it has roads, buildings, people, cars, and anything else you can think of--but it's made entirely of mud. Make sure your kids are in play clothes that can get dirty, and then let them get dirty! Mud City would sometimes last us all day, and by the end of the day, we all had to be hosed down before being allowed back in the house. That's the sign of a successful Mud City.
7. Nature art collage. For the artist in your kids, task them with creating Summer Art. Give your kids paper (or canvas if you want to go all out), and tell them to collect anything outside to build a collage. They can pin or paste whatever they find to the paper/canvas. If they want to get really fancy, have them paint the paper/canvas first and then pin or paste their findings. This doesn't have to be a one-day project either--have them make an entire series throughout the Summer.
8. Neighborhood clean-up. Make your kids feel more invested in their neighborhood and show them they have a real part in helping to keep Mother Nature clean. Give them one of those paper grocery bags you have stuffed away in your kitchen and tell them to scour the neighborhood, filling up their bag with any garbage they find. They'll likely come back asking for more bags. This is a fun event that typically rewards kids with recognition from nearby neighbors, which they really like.
Whatever you choose to do this Summer, don't let your kids waste away in front of the TV or their handheld electronic devices--get your kids outdoors! They will enjoy their Summer vacation infinitely more.