Bag of Tricks: Summer Boredom Busters the 2010 edition

July 22,2010
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.

I was desperately trying to come up with a list of activities for T. and I to do the other week, coming up short, and feeling myself growing more and more frustrated with every passing minute when, by chance, I found a piece I wrote last year on summer boredom busters. I thought to myself, while also giving myself a swift kick in the backside, what's wrong with me this summer? Almost everything on that list seems worth trying this summer, too, especially the letter-writing, given that T. now actually knows how to write. I think I've been spending so much time coming up with crafty activities to fit T.'s craft wish-list, and racking my brains trying to figure out ways to get L. engaged in activities and OUT of the house and moving, that I've overlooked how easy it can be to keep a child interested in small, simple activities around the house. This summer, I've had no trouble whipping up elaborate craft projects, like mixing a vat of indigo dye and dying a ridiculous number of shirts, undergarments and socks, or making a doll with T., or even throwing together elaborate picnics for our Friday portable feasts, but getting through those lazy summer mornings? Those dog-day afternoons when it's too hot to go to the pool? I've been coming up blank. Here are the summer boredom busters I came up with last year: 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. After reading last year's list (and taking a look at these great activities), I sat down with T. and we came up with some other boredom busters to try out this summer--for me, the key is to find activities that are simple to set up, and that encourage T. to complete them fairly independently. It's all in the start-up, I think. Please feel free to chime in with some of your own--T. still has a few weeks left of summer and things will slow down here once L. goes back to school next week. "Busy Binders" or mini-scrapbooks. I often bring home empty binders from work, and thanks to L.'s love of office supplies, we have tons of sheet protectors and notebook paper. To fill a huge chuck of the afternoon, I set up T. at the kitchen table with a binder, lots of paper, stickers, and markers, and some magazines and catalogs and extra photographs. We pick a theme for the binder: Summer Vacation, or My Dreams, or My Favorite Things, and T. sets to work with scissors and glue putting together her busy binder. Indoor "gardening". It's been HOT this summer--hot and buggy and the mosquitoes love T. more than anyone in the family. L. also can't stand heat extremes and falls apart when he's outside for too long. This summer, T. and I invented "indoor gardening", which isn't really indoor since we do it on the screened-in porch (I bet you could spread out newspaper and do this inside, too). We've made little Zen gardens with pie pans, sand and some pebbles (even L. got into this one), and little mini-terrariums with plastic containers, some dirt, and tiny weeds and seedlings. Let your kids use their imaginations to create miniature fairy gardens, or tiny woodland scenes in even the smallest container. Simple cooking. I've been waiting and waiting for a chance to let T. do some of her own cooking. We've started VERY simple by making jello molds and pudding, but the other day T. mixed flour and egg and made a very easy one-egg cake--almost entirely by herself. And, finally, this summer boredom buster is still as golden this year as it was last year: 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.