When the middle of May rolled around, Kelly W., a Frisco mother of a 9- and 14-year old, knew she needed a playbook to keep her kids busy – and off their screens – this summer. She came up with a work-and-reward system to teach her kids about personal responsibility while also managing to have some good fun and quality family time along the way.
“Before my kids go to bed each night, we write their next-day chores and goals on a dry erase board,” she explains. “Their duties are age-appropriate and range from organizing their sock drawers to unloading the dishwasher, walking the dog, folding laundry and cleaning off the top of the air hockey table. Then, when their work is done the next day, we get to the fun stuff like playing board games – Clue, Risk, and Monopoly are faves, taking family walks, and making crafts with whatever we have on hand. Ryan and I also organize lip-sync and dance contests for the kids, and as the days are getting hotter, we’ve squirt guns and water balloons into the mix!”
Across North Texas, other parents like Kelly are discovering the rules of engagement for summertime play and recreation are a little different this year. So, how do parents keep the little ones occupied and off the screen, ensuring healthy and safe activity?
We talked to other North Texas parents and scoured the internet for ideas to keep your kids engaged. Some of the activities may take you back to your own summertime experiences before the advent of screens and devices. Others may be new twists on those pastimes. And while parents will need to download some of these ideas from the internet, they’re all sure to provide hours of screen-free fun for kids and their families.
Remember summertime reading activities organized at the local library? We can almost smell the sweet musky book pages being flipped and hear the librarian telling us to ‘shhhh.’ This summer Barnes and Noble makes it easy for parents to get their kid reading with its Summer Reading Program.
The program even rewards kids with a free book after they read any eight books and complete a reading journal. All you’ll need to do is download the summer reading book journal sheet or pop in to your local Barnes & Noble, and they’ll be happy to provide you one. Then bring in the completed journal to receive a free book. Your child can pick from the suggested age-appropriate books listed on the journal sheet. Sounds like a perfect – and quiet – activity to keep your kids entertained and learning throughout the summer.
Be a Pen Pal
North Texas self-described “proud aunt” Noelle G. has started a weekly pen pal letter to each of her nieces and nephew. Starting this spring, she wrote a letter to each and included a printable “tell me about yourself” list of questions, asking them what they’re doing. The kids range in age from 4-13, so she asked different questions based on each child’s age. Noelle says it’s a great way to get the kids thinking and writing, and they get to enjoy opening their aunt’s stamped letter and sending their responses in a letter back to her.
Why not turn Noelle’s idea around and have the kids write a letter to their grandparents, aunts, uncles or older relatives? Parents might even suggest some topics or questions for their kids to ask, like “What games did you play when you were my age?” or “What was your favorite subject in school?” The letters might be saved in a scrapbook or digitized to read and enjoy in future years.
Teach life lessons
Many of the parents we surveyed said they plan to use the summer break to instill some important life lessons in their children. You could start by creating a chore chart for your children, creating rewards for achieving goals on the chore chart. We found a great list of age-appropriate chores at education and learning site FamilyEducation. Not only will these daily and weekly tasks help children become more independent, but they’ll also teach them skills that will benefit them now and in the future.
For Anna C., a North Texas mom to toddlers and preschoolers, summertime means teaching the basics to her children. “We’re teaching the kids how to dust, tidy and pick up their messes,” she says. “They’re also learning to fold laundry and put it away, and these household chores are a big help. I’m also teaching my kindergartner basic food prep and cooking, how to make her bed, clean a bathroom and help with her younger brothers. We try to make it all fun, and the kids are enjoying these activities and learning skills that will help them throughout life!”
Inspire an Entrepreneur
Dallas Mom Jennifer H-M shares some fun ideas for older kids that teach them real-world lessons about treating one another, starting a business, or being independent. In fact, before summer rolled around, she came up with an idea after foraging through her garage and finding old vintage cans, an old-school thermos and other items. She told her daughter if she could clean up the items and market them on eBay, she could keep the money. As a result, a future entrepreneur was born!
“We’ve found some pretty creative ways to keep the kids busy that don’t involve screen time,” Jennifer explains. “We are encouraging our kids to create nature journals with illustrations and using things found on walks or in a park. We love to eat good food, and asked our children to create their own recipes, and write them down in a family cookbook. We even suggested that they create a new sport and describe the rules of the game. That’s been lots of fun and provided hours of entertainment, too.”
Build a Masterpiece
For a fun hands-on activity, the beloved toy brand LEGO is sharing a new building design each month that kids can construct with bricks they may already have on hand. Each “mini build” comes complete with downloadable instructions and visual guides for future architects, engineers, and designers alike. Check out January’s Chinese Dragon and June’s birdhouse tree! Most of the builds are geared to kids age 6 and up. Parents can set a calendar reminder to check back on the website for new designs at the start of each month.
Need more ideas? We found lots of additional inspiration on the internet for screen-free activities for kids. Mom blogger JD has some great recommendations for keeping children busy. Best of all: each of these activities can be done with items you probably already have at home.
- Do a craft! Let your kids get creative with chalk murals on the sidewalk or grab some paper and paint or markers. If you don’t have paper on hand, use paper plates as your canvas or grab an old magazine and scissors and make a collage.
- Go outside! Take a family walk through the neighborhood or nearby park or ride a bike. Fresh air and outdoor activities are a great way to beat boredom. If you live near a rural area, grab some binoculars and encourage your kids to identify birds or other wildlife.
- Color! Coloring books and pages can inspire endless hours of creativity and fun for kids and parents alike. We found lots of free downloadable coloring pages for kids, including these pages from Crayola.
- Conduct a science experiment! We found lots of great ideas for science experiments including these two for tracing shadows and exploring buoyancy with foil boats.
- Run in the sprinklers! Hot North Texas summers call for plenty of cooling off, so why not turn on the sprinklers and let the kids run through them. It’s a great way to burn off a little kid energy!
Yes, this summer will probably be a little different for kids and their parents. But there’s no reason it can’t be packed with adventure, new activities, and learning. We hope these ideas will inspire plenty of ways to keep the kids busy and off the screen.