The sun, it did shine. It was too hot to play. so we sat in the house all that hot summer day.
I sat there with Sally. We sat there, we two. And I said, how I wish we had something to do…
As parents who were raised in the Dr. Seuss generation, we knew this feeling and understood that no magical cat was going to save us from the long dog days of summer boredom. We also feared what would happen if we didn’t find something to do – Mom would find something for us. So, off we went to our friends, climbed a tree, rode our bikes, went swimming, maybe got lost in a book adventure, or even played with our younger sibling just to get out of added chores. Today’s youth, however, are more likely to reach for a screen. It’s the easy and quick answer to summer boredom, but is it the best one?
What are some alternatives for parents who are working or lacking in finances, time, resources, and opportunities to provide their children with an epic, Instagram-worthy, memorable summer vacation? We’ve put together some activities, both virtual and real, that can help families of all ages, stages, and wages. Before we get into the WHAT, however, let’s discuss the HOW-TO.
Getting Kids on Board: A 3-Step Process of Involvement
STEP #1 Vision Casting:
Gather the family with promises of their favorite treat. Create a welcoming atmosphere and tell your family that together, you are going to create a shared vision of summer. Keep it positive and use the five senses and descriptive words to have each individual share their ideas. Lead out, and avoid speaking negatively or bringing up past issues. There will likely be some kickback, but just keep moving forward. With my family, I might say something like:
“I’m so excited for summer! We’ve all been so busy with school and sports and jobs and music lessons, I’m really excited to just slow things down and spend more time with each other and with family and friends. I want to have a summer full of fun activities and going on adventures together. I want summer to:
taste like ice cream,
smell like the ocean,
sound like laughter,
feel like freedom, and
look like your smiling faces.
(notice how I used all five of the senses)
We are going to plan a lot of fun days with friends, but I want to plan some fun family activities too. I love hanging out with you guys. Let’s brainstorm some ideas.”
STEP #2 Input from all family members:
Be upfront about the summer budget so plans aren’t made that can’t be carried out. Give details about how much can be spent on a big vacation, or how much per week on a summer staycation. Children are more invested in family activities when they have a part in the planning. You can also discuss ways the family could earn money for big activities – like holding a yard sale.
BRAINSTORM! There are several ways you can do this on a whiteboard or poster. One way is to hand out sticky notes or pieces of paper and have each write down their own vision of summer through the five senses: looks like, smells like, tastes like, sounds like & feels like. Each family member fills out their set of five cards/sticky notes and adds them to the family pile. Together, read through them, discuss activities the family can do to bring those ideas to life (write those on your posterboard), and sort them into piles of $$$ (a lot of money), $ (a little money) and FREE!
HERE’S AN EXAMPLE of each person’s answers, and below those are the family brainstorm suggestions:
|Summer||MOM||DAD||15 year old son||11 year old daughter||6 year old son|
|Looks like:||family around the table more||green grass||free-time||flowers||all the colors|
|Feels like:||sun on my face||rest/relaxation||naps||butterflies||fun & play|
|Smells like:||the beach||fish||chlorine||bubble gum||puppies|
|Tastes like:||strawberries||barbeque||Flaming Hot Cheetos||watermelon||ice cream|
|Sounds like:||peace & quiet||“Crack! Homerun!”||Imagine Dragons band||*insert current Disney song*||race cars|
|Activities the family might come up with together to fulfill each Summer Vision Quest:||big Saturday breakfasts |
trip to the beach or lake
Individual quiet time every day from noon – 2 pm
grow some strawberries or a garden together
|big family work day in the yard |
fishing trip with Grandpa or kids
Memorial Day barbeque: invite friends
college or pro baseball game with family
|one day a week with no chores or expectations|
family swimming pass stock healthy snacks during week and treats on weekend
|plant sunflowers |
visit a zoo or nature preserve
bubblegum blowing contest
watermelon seed spitting
go to movies or a play
|family paint by numbers / art |
family Legos or game night
make ice cream
car show, smash derby at the fair, or the races
STEP #3 Plan and Follow Through:
- Make a poster and hang it up (even the ideas not chosen)
- Schedule the activities on a calendar (balancing each week with FREE, $ and $$$)
- Research details, look for discounts, make it happen.
ONLINE & OFFLINE: How to Connect with Your Children
Every family has their own idea of recreation and their own budget. How can a family who can’t afford to go snorkeling in Hawaii, see the Tower of London, or take a cruise to Alaska still offer their children the world?
The great common denominator is the internet, with which we can bring the world to US! We may not be able to give our children all the adventures they’d like… but we can give them full access to the universe through the World Wide Web, and every opportunity to learn talents and skills that the internet can provide for free – if we know where to look.
Here are some of our favorite online websites that are kid-friendly, interactive, curiosity-inspiring, and best of all – FREE!
THE WORLD IS AT THEIR FINGERTIPS
Interactive Sites to learn more about the world: The goal is not to just do these online activities alone, but to explore together with friends, siblings, parents, and others.
STORIES & LITERATURE
LibriVox is free public domain access to the audio recordings of many children’s classics. In my house, during the summer, we have a 2-hour quiet time where everyone is in their own room doing something quiet. Is there a better pastime than listening to a story being read? The advent of the internet and immediate gratification has made it difficult for our children to concentrate sometimes. Listening to stories is a fantastic way to build that skill. Here’s the link for the Children’s Genre list of books
GEOGRAPHY, CULTURE & PEOPLE:
GeoGuessr uses Google Maps Street View to place you on the ground somewhere in the world (from NYC to the Nile River). You must use context clues to guess your location and pin it on a map. Play in FRIENDS mode to interact with friends & family.
With Google Expeditions, take a virtual field trip to hundreds of places around the world and beyond. Search by subject, topic, location, and more.
Radio Globe will take you all over the planet to listen to radio broadcasts in almost every tongue and dialect to learn more about cultures and music from almost every culture.
Waterford.org has an extensive list of online virtual tours of places all around the world like:
The Van Gogh Museum, Easter Island, San Diego Zoo, Ellis Island, Yellowstone, Versailles, China’s Great Forest, The Louvre, and many more.
HIstory.com has a list of American History virtual tours like George Washington’s Mt. Vernon, the Smithsonian Museum, NASA, U.S. Battlefields.
You can basically Google any place on earth you’d like to visit by listing the location and “virtual tour”.
Wouldn’t it be fun to sit as a family and plan a trip somewhere and all the sites you want to see, and then actually take it together, but ONLINE?
SCIENCE & TECHNOLOGY
NASA’S KIDS CLUB is where kids can go to safely explore the far reaches of our galaxy and beyond… learn about and look through the James Webb telescope. The International Space Station, the many missions to the moon and into space, and more.
National Geographic Kids helps kids who love science explore the world of nature through a collection of apps, games, magazines, videos, and activities.
Try SciShow Kids on YouTube for video content that inspires kids to ask great questions and seek answers in science. It covers many disciplines in science from engineering, nature, food, insects, etc.
Ryan’s World on YouTube follows an 8-year-old boy as he encounters the world around him and asks questions and learns the answers.
For cool science experiments, try teacher Danielle’s science page, which has clear step-by-step instructions with pictures, plus a video tutorial. The site is geared towards instructing teachers how to do the experiments, but any student can follow along and carry them out.
ART & DESIGN
Kids Think Design is a website where youth can read about and explore the world of designers of fashion, architecture, products, book covers, animation, and much more.
If you want to learn how to draw, Hello Kids is a great free site that isn’t plagued with ads and popups (as many free sites are) with drawing lessons, videos and tutorials.
Kinder Art states its for upper elementary, middle schoolers, and high school students to learn the art of drawing, but its really for anyone motivated.
Study the artist that all the other artists learn from. Leonardo Da Vinci is THE master. There is a multitude of art projects here for any age.
SPORTS TRAINING & FITNESS
Sworkit has age-appropriate videos for athletic training, exercise, yoga, etc. that focuses on certain skills or muscles. It’s like your own personal trainer.
Yoga for Kids by Cosmic Kids. Definitely more fun and active than it is zen and peaceful, but it is perfect for kids.
CRITICAL THINKING SKILLS
Virtual Escape Rooms, list and links here, for miscellaneous interests like Hogwarts/Harry Potter, Minecraft, Oregon Trail, Jumanji, Escape from Wonderland and many more. There are many multi-player modes so you can play with family and friends.
If you’d like to create your OWN online escape room, here is a link.
Brainteasers for kids of all ages: including logic problems and puzzles. Answers included.
Piano: The Piano Nanny offers 34 lessons in 3 levels for beginning & intermediate students.
Yarn art: Learn how to CROCHET for younger kids (individual videos for each step), or
KNIT for older kids. Lessons are longer for knitting.
Family Tree Magazine (online) has fun activities to learn more about your family
There is no end to available educational and resources online – we hope this list, which is just a start – will help you create a game plan for your kids.
BREAKING THE CHAINS OF THE PAST: Small changes make stunning results
Every family faces challenges with overuse or misuse of the internet. Here are just a few ideas to help your family break those chains and begin new, healthier patterns:
- Set clear expectations about:
– Where online activities may happen (living spaces only?)
– When children can access screens? After chores? Reading?
– How long children can be online or on certain apps/websites.
(Social media? Games? Education? Texting/friends?
– Which sites and apps are approved? Which are not?
– Expectations of privacy: Are earbuds or headphones allowed?
-Can teens take phones into their bedrooms or bathroom?
- Replace old habits with new ones instead of just taking something away. After all, if we are cutting junk from our diet – we don’t starve ourselves. We replace the junk with something more enriching, satisfying and healthy.
It is helpful to write the expectations on a poster board and have everyone sign it. This will help to avoid the complaints and arguments that may follow. Instead of arguing, simply reference the family agreement. The point of the agreement is to improve family relationships, not to cause contention.
Hopefully this has been helpful to you in looking ahead and planning to have an amazing summer with your family!