Bag of Tricks: Summer Boredom Busters - FamilyEducation

Bag of Tricks: Summer Boredom Busters

August 03,2009
Professor Mom
Aliki McElreath

Aliki is a writer and college English teacher. She lives in North Carolina with her husband, two children (ages seven and ten), a dog, a cat, a rabbit, and too many fish.

It felt like a LONG week last week--and I'm sure it felt even longer to L., and to T., who found herself alone for most of the day with her parents for an entire week. If truth be told, it also felt a little long for me, because while I love spending time with T., there are only so many hours of the day I can devote to playing ponies, or sick fairies, or tea party before I feel like locking myself in the bathroom for five minutes of me time. I feel ungrateful and disingenuous even complaining about this because at the same time I also feel so keenly that other tug--the one I write about so often when I think about T. heading off to kindergarten at the end of August. But most of all, I do feel lucky, and feeling lucky is the best way to temper my impatience, even when T. has been at the most demanding and clingy. We've found that the best way to keep T. busy and save our sanity is to keep her moving, just as you would an infant or young toddler. I remember when both kids were little we'd have to rotate them through activities: ten minutes in the bouncy seat, five minutes of floor time, ten minutes to color, ten minutes playing with the train set, lather, rinse, repeat. But I also don't want to create an older child who is perpetually restless; who needs a constant stream of activities to chase the boredom away, and with the late summer heat and humidity around here, sometimes we just prefer to stay indoors. It's a tough line to straddle--keeping your child busy at home, yet encouraging them to be self-sufficient and content with themselves, and to respect that life is not all play, but responsibility, too. Here are some of the boredom-buster activities we've tried this week: Writing letters. T. is often content to color, or cut, or glue, or anything that involves crayons and paper. She desperately wants to write, so I've been giving her paper and pencils and letting her "write" letters to people she knows--preschool friends, relatives. She can't write yet, but she enjoys practicing. Have your child decorate the "letters" when they're done with pictures, sparkles, or cut-out magazine photos. What I like about this activity is that once I get T. started, I can usually slip away and get some other things done: cleaning, tidying up, or a quick e-mail check. Speaking of cleaning, put your child to work! If I tell T. I can't play because I have chores to do she will insist and insist (she'll wear you down, that one) or complain the whole time. Lately I've enlisted T. in cleaning. I mix a spray bottle of water and vinegar, give T. an old rag, and put her to work cleaning the cabinets, the outside of the trashcan, even the base boards. Laundry sorting. I'll dump an entire basket of clothes on our bed and tell T. to "sort" the laundry into piles: one for L., one for Mama, one for Papa, and one for her clothes. Take your child to work--at home. This one might have a shelf life, or not work, depending on your child. It would never have worked with L. when he was T.'s age, and still doesn't, but T. enjoys this activity. I spend a lot of time on the computer for work-related projects, and at odd times of the day, too. There are many times when I have to use the computer to get work done, sometimes on a deadline. When this happens, I'll set T. up at a tray table in the office near my computer, give her paper and a pen, and an "assignment." Maybe it's to practice her letters, maybe to draw a specific picture, maybe to cut out shapes. I tell her we're working, and that we have to use quiet, work voices while we're busy. Teach your child the value of Me Time. I don't think kids are given enough opportunities these days to just sit and daydream, or talk to themselves, or think--about anything, or nothing in particular. Our kids today live under a barrage of constant stimuli, and I really try hard to give my kids time and space to just be. You can structure this however you want--let them sit on their beds with a pile of books, or create a cozy corner of pillows and blankets on your living room floor (L. likes this). Teach your kids to respect each other's personal Me Time, and maybe, just maybe, they will learn to respect yours. While I think day camps and outside structured activities are wonderful for kids, too, I do think there is infinite value in teaching your child that life is not all about being "entertained", or shuffled from one experience to another. Sometimes surprising joys can be found in busy hands and busy minds, and in that delicious empty space we grown-ups covet so much--that space to just sit and be and think and dream. After all, isn't that what summer is all about? Busy Hands againTime to help Time to thinkTime to think