“How Do I Keep My Kids Entertained All Summer?”

Ahhh summer… the freedom, the sunshine, the world of opportunity. The kids look forward to it all year.

Notice we said “the kids.”

Parents on the other hand, tend to be a little wary of the school-free season. While all parents love spending time with their children, summer means 3 whole months without the time consumption and mental stimulation that school provides. It means having to come up with activities for the kids yourself, which often translates to spending a lot more money. If both parents work, it can also mean having to find reliable child care and camps that aren’t exactly in the budget. So what’s a parent to do?

First of all – relax! That’s what summer is for

Many parents go into summer concerned that their child will be bored out of their minds. Research suggests, however, that constructive boredom is not only healthy, but essential for a child to develop their creativity, discover their personal identity, and explore ways to foster their own mental stimulation. If parents are always doing the heavy lifting in filling their child’s time, their child gets robbed of the opportunity to contemplate their own thoughts and interests and explore new ideas.

Here are 9 tips for giving your child a fun and stimulating summer, without scheduling every second:

1. Brainstorm beforehand

Foster your child’s creativity by having them make a list of things they would like to do over the summer. While they may choose a few unrealistic items such as riding a dragon or traveling to Hong Kong, their list will probably include many attainable goals such as going on hikes, having a picnic, or running through the sprinklers. When they complain of boredom over the summer, tell them to revisit their list for ideas to fill their time.

2. Structure Unstructure

By now most of us have heard of the damage that excessive screen time can pose to children. Too much TV or video game consumption can contribute to obesity, low self-esteem, social disorders, and decreased academic performance. When your kids are home all summer, it’s easy to let them binge watch cartoons when you need them out of your hair so you can clean the house or pay the bills. Remind yourself to limit screen time by establishing a few hours every day that will be used for “unstructured play.” Let the kids know that after lunch, they’re on their own until 3 PM – no gadgets allowed!

3. Let them make a mess

This tends to be a tough one for many moms, and it’s understandable. Keeping a halfway clean home takes daily diligence, and having kids can feel like there are tiny tornadoes spinning around behind you every time you tidy up. In the summer, try to stretch your patience toward the mess-making. You can set boundaries, like limiting messy projects to the tiled kitchen and away from your off-white rug, but let them do some experimental baking, indulge in some glue-heavy art projects, or create a mad scientist’s laboratory. Giving them the freedom to make messes will encourage innovative ideas.

4. Make summer about self-reliance

Since the 1960’s, American schools have shifted away from teaching basic life skills to focusing almost exclusively on academics. The additional time with your kids in the summer is a great opportunity to teach them what they aren’t getting in the classroom. Have them plan and prepare meals with you, teach them how to do laundry, have them create a savings plan for the new gadget they’ve been wanting, or teach them how to safely refuel a vehicle at the gas station. Summer is a perfect time to foster your child’s sense of self-reliance.

5. Commit to learning a new skill

A wonderful aspect of summer is that it gives kids time to pursue ideas and activities that they feel inspired to chase. As the school year comes to an end, ask your child to pick one new thing they want to learn over the summer. Even if they say something like, “Kung Fu,” you don’t need to invest in expensive lessons. Watch online tutorials a few times a week to empower them with some basic skills. Letting your child take the lead in what they pursue will excite them about learning and help their brain to “decompress” from the constant frontal lobe focus during the academic year. Don’t forget to choose something for you to learn over the summer as well! This will model creativity, persistence, and the importance of life-long learning.

6. Reduce the dreaded “brain-drain”

Many parents fear that summer will drain their child’s brain of everything they learned the prior school year and make it difficult for them to adjust in the fall. While a small regression is not the end of the world, it can be helpful to maintain some academic activity over the summer. Buy a grade level workbook for them or invest in some occasional tutoring in a subject they’ve struggled with. Just be conscious not to burden them with too many textbook obligations over the summer – they have the school year for that! Remember that there are academic benefits to recreational activities as well. Swimming, for example, is not only a fun total body workout but also a science in understanding the different ways our bodies are able to stay afloat.

7. No cost, no screens, no problem!

It can feel like there aren’t many options for summer fun that don’t break the bank. While there’s nothing wrong with splurging on an occasional trip to the zoo or amusement park, don’t feel guilty if most of your summer days are a bit simpler. Encourage your child to use their imagination by turning their favorite book into a play, making a “pretend” carnival in the backyard with a ticket booth and concession stand, or take on a family project like planting a garden or repainting a fence.

8. Find ways to help others

Today’s children are tomorrow’s leaders, and summertime is a great opportunity to engage your children in looking outside of themselves and into the community. Look into different volunteer opportunities – drive meals to seniors as a family, bring care packages to terminally ill children in the hospital, or join a pen-pal program with orphans in third world countries. Volunteer activities will foster compassion in your child and add meaningful memories to summer that go beyond having fun.

9. Join the fun

During the school year, parents don’t get to participate in many of the fun and explorative activities their kids experience in school. Take advantage of this time by making sure to set time every day to act like a kid. Squeeze into that blanket fort, believe that the floor really is lava, and give an Oscar worthy performance as the villain in their puppet show. The memories you will share with your children will be worth far more than anything money can buy.

Variations can help

If you would like additional support in learning ways to stimulate your child’s mind and foster their creativity, Variations can help. 

*Please note: since the publishing of this blog, Variations Psychology has narrowed its focus to diagnostic testing and psychological evaluations. Our Doctors can evaluate whether you or your loved one have a diagnosis and guide you through the next steps in achieving your mental health or academic goals. While Variations does not offer counseling, our diagnostic evaluations allow us to refer patients to specialists who are best equipped to meet their needs. In addition, this link can guide you through a directory of therapists, psychiatrists, treatment centers, and support groups in your area.

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Variations Psychology is a group practice specializing in Child and Family Psychology.

Our specialists provide therapy to infants, children, adolescents, and adults to help them overcome the many challenges they may face throughout the lifespan of a family. We also conduct diagnostic testing of child and adult conditions that may impact the family’s mental health and development (e.g. ADHD, Autism, Depression, Anxiety, Learning Disorders, college entrance exams).

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Variations Psychology is located in Newport Beach, CA and provides counseling to residents throughout Orange County and its surrounding areas including Newport Beach, Newport Coast, Irvine, Shady Canyon, Laguna Beach, Laguna Hills, Coto de Caza, Corona del Mar, Costa Mesa, Yorba Linda, Dana Point, Laguna Niguel, Aliso Viejo, Mission Viejo, Pelican Hill, Crystal Cove, Rancho Santa Margarita, San Clemente, Lake Forest, Huntington Beach, Sunset Beach, Seal Beach, and more.


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