If you’re anything like me the prospect of summer vacation and the end of the school year fills you with a mixture of relief and dread. Relief because it means limping across the finish line of homework, research projects, after school activities, reading logs, and the early morning rush. Dread because ten whole weeks of unscheduled time with kids who are used to full days and a fast pace is longer than my sanity. I’m their mom, not their cruise director.
We love to sleep in and stay in our jammies till 1:30pm, eat chips and popsicles for breakfast (at 11am) and swim in our pool for hours…for about two weeks. Then, we all start to get a little itchy.
A quick Google search will turn up lots of ideas for summer activities with kids, many of which would like hundreds of dollars of your hard earned money. And, there’s nothing wrong with camps and “official” type activities when you can afford them. But it’s nice to have ideas that cost little to nothing and do more for your kids (and you) than just entertain, but also help meet their inner heart-needs for secure love, significant purpose and strong hope!
After the appeal of unscheduled time starts to wear off, here are 4 tips for a meaningful, sanity-saving summer:
1.) Serve Others
Serving others is one way that, as Christians, we live out our love for Jesus. It is the Greatest Commandment with skin on. Jesus was always there to serve those who reached out to Him for help. When we follow His lead, what’s amazing is we find it helps meet our own needs for security, significance and strength. When we plant love, purpose and hope in others, we end up growing it in ourselves.
Use your imagination, but here are some ideas-
- Have your teen son or daughter mow the lawn of an elderly neighbor
- Have your kids help you cook dinner for a family with a new baby or someone caring for a loved one with an illness.
- Responsible older kids might babysit for a couple in need of a date night.
- Ask your kids to serve each other by doing each other’s chores for a day
This summer, my girls will go over to their aunt’s house twice a week to play with their three and five year old cousins so she can get stuff done around the house or just take a little time for herself.
2.) Set Goals
Now, before all you Type-A parents hit the ground running on this tip, let me just remind you that less is more here. Setting summer goals is a great way to grow your kids emotionally, intellectually and spiritually, but don’t go nuts. Setting too many, or overly ambitious goals can lead to everyone in the family feeling like a failure before Mid-June! Set one or two goals for the summer. Keep them simple and manageable. If you complete your goal in the first few weeks, set another. Setting and accomplishing goals together as a family provides your kids with your attention, which they crave, as well as giving their summer months a sense of purpose. Here’s a few ideas:
- Together, put a fresh coat of paint on a room in your house
- Make a piece of keepsake art together
- Have dinner as a family (electronics-free) three nights a week so that when the new school year starts you’ve already established the habit.
- Read a chapter book out loud together (you can read to them or take turns.)
Both my girls love to read on their own, but there’s something really special about reading out loud together, even to older kids (mine are 12 and 13.) This summer (and for many summers now) it’s been our goal for me to read at least one chapter book to them. It gives me an outlet for all my “dramatic flair.” (My kids roll their eyes at the voices and accents that I attempt to do while reading yet they keep coming back for more!) Reading aloud is a rare time of togetherness that doesn’t involve an internet connected device. (This isn’t a knock on e-books. I like those too. But, I often read to them on road trips or when we’re camping, and an actual book is still the most practical.) I tend to choose books that hold strong memories from my own childhood like C.S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe or James Herriot’s All Creatures Great and Small.
If you’re not the “reading out loud type,” a great alternative is to listen to an audiobook together. Non-fiction books are often voiced by the author, but fiction is frequently narrated by a talented voice actor that really brings the story to life. This isn’t a free tip if you plan to purchase, but there are ways to get audio books at low cost, and public libraries often have great audiobooks you can check out for free (physical copies and digital downloads.)
If you have school aged kids, their entire academic year is spent learning information and skills in a classroom setting. As much as schools and teachers might want to teach crafts and trades, the rigor of curriculum and meeting academic standards doesn’t leave time for much else.
Summer is a great time to learn hands-on skills (the kind your grandparents know how to do) that can’t be learned in the traditional classroom. This tip is kind of like goals in that less is more. If you choose just one or two “hands-on” things to learn, it allows you and your kids to master a skill rather than just glossing over several things.
- Start a garden: let kids smell the dirt, observe the plants growing and dig for worms.
- Learn a craft like knitting or woodworking
- Cook or bake a few new recipes
- Learn canning and make jam
- Try soldering or welding. (My husband welds and started teaching both our girls last summer. They plan to practice more this summer.)
So much of our time is spent in the intangible digital realm. Setting aside intentional time to do something hands-on anchors us into the physical, natural and tangible world we sometimes forget we still live in. It allows us to tap into our God given talents and creativity in useful, often practical ways.
Depending on which hands-on skill(s) you and your kids choose, there might be a free or low-cost class offered through your city parks and recreation department, public library, community college or county extension service that you can attend together. But, in my opinion, the best way to learn a hands-on skill is with someone, like a grandparent, neighbor or member of your church, who has already mastered the skill. Learning from a local master does double duty in that older generations can pass down their hard earned knowledge and it connects our kids to the multigenerational community around them. It builds security in our kids to know there are people in addition to their parents that are eager to teach and spend time with them. Who knows? A hands-on skill learned in summer might ignite a lifelong passion or at least develop an ability that might come in handy later on!
4.) Get Bored!
It seems like counter-intuitive advice for surviving summer with kids, but letting our kids get bored is actually really healthy mentally, emotionally and spiritually. We live in an always-connected, on-the-go world that shuns idle, non-productive time. So, we feel a compulsion to be doing something…always! Hard work and efficiency are virtues to teach our kids, but there’s a fine line between running a good race and running like wildebeests from an imaginary lion! If we let it, our compulsion to stay busy can turn into a voracious predator that’s always chasing us and our kids.
We all benefit, but children and teens especially need unstructured, unscheduled “blah” time. Their developing brains crave it whether they realize it or not. The old saying, “necessity is the mother of all invention,” applies here. If we never let our kids get bored, they never feel the necessity to use their imagination to invent something to do. Without boredom, they don’t get to exercise their God given creativity and ingenuity.
Being intentional about letting our kids get bored is a bit like detoxing from a caffeine or sugar addiction. We all feel like we might die, or commit a felony (or both) for a few days, and then we get over it! In reality, detoxing from our “busy” addiction won’t even take that long! If you’re ready to go hardcore detox, turn off your home’s wireless router! (Please make sure you know how to turn it back on before you do this or you’ll be cursing my name when you want to watch Netflix after they go to bed.)
Some advice for facilitating the process of “busy detox” and intentionally allowing your kids to get bored:
- Tell your kids that boredom is “a new thing you’re all going to try,” and tell them why. If they’re old enough, they could read an article or psychological study about why unstructured, unscheduled time is vital for their brains.
- Make a list of activity prompts in advance that your kids can refer to and post them somewhere accessible (read a book, trampoline, swim, color, listen to a podcast, living room dance party.) When you’re really bored it’s like being really hungry: your brain gets foggy and you can’t think. Brainstorming and writing down your ideas before you start your “busy” detox helps.
- Set some ground rules in advance. At my house, even when I intentionally let my kids get bored, they know they aren’t allowed to come to me first before they’ve consulted the list of prompts and used their imagination. Bored isn’t a four letter word, but I treat it like one if my kids say it in a whiney way. If you use the “B” word at my house you get assigned a chore.
As parents it’s hard to let our kids struggle, but we need to let them feel bored because that’s the only way they’ll strengthen their imagination and learn to appreciate peace, calm and quiet. Letting them learn to self-entertain, self-occupy and self-sooth builds their confidence and hope in their abilities to face their future.
One last thing: Please don’t see these tips as one more “to-do” list. That’s the last thing I want! If you’re feeling weary and burdened in your parenting or because of the frantic end-of-school-year schedule, you and your kids just need rest! Grace, when we give it to ourselves first, helps us receive the peace and rest that God wants to give to our souls. This list is merely some grace-based suggestions for being intentional with your kids this summer. Hope it’s a great few months!