Since we have officially reached the summer months, I thought it might be appropriate to address what seems to be on every parent’s mind: What am I going to do to keep the kids busy all summer? Here are ten easy, fun, low-cost ideas that are based on the principles of Play Therapy to give you a start. In all of the ideas, the basic elements of quality time, respect and communication are central and will result in a better relationship between you and your child.
There is a misconception that playdough is only for young children. The reality is that making something from beginning to end, regardless of the medium, gives feelings of purpose and accomplishment. You can substitute with clay, silly putty, gak, whatever you have that can be molded into objects. Allow the child to tell you what you should make, and give the child complete control over their playdough. Anything goes, and your job is to watch the creative process unfold!
Depending on personal preferences or abilities, art can be an interesting window into your child’s world. Paints, crayons, markers, pencils, macaroni, glitter and glue: there are so many possibilities! Start with blank papers or canvases (coloring book pages are too prescribed), and allow the child to make something while you watch. If they ask you to participate or help, feel free! Tell them what they are doing, “You chose the red crayon now” or “You are making a face”. If the child needs or wants a prompt, a house, a tree or family pictures are good options.
Puzzles are fun for any age, as long as the pieces are age-appropriate. If you do not own puzzles, you can expand this idea to make one from an art project as mentioned in number 2. Again, let the child take charge and ask how you can help. You will probably be surprised at how your child organizes or works to put the pieces together. While the puzzle is being pieced together, you might say, “I wonder what your favorite puzzle piece is” or other questions that encourage dialog.
Puppets are incredible options for telling a story among family members. Even teenagers and parents can enjoy working together as a family to create a puppet story. Make the puppets as simple or elaborate as you wish, from paper bags and crayons to fabric sewn with faces. Each member takes turns in the creation of the storyline, but that can be modified depending on the number of people. One option is to start a sentence and every member’s puppet finishes it, “I sure love it when…” or each member’s puppet adds another sentence to the same story, “One day we went to the park”. Then, “We went on the slide”. then, “We love swinging!” and so on.
There are many games that teach social skills, how to play fairly, how to succeed, how to lose without an attitude, how to protect yourself, etc. Games are fun ways to allow your children to develop skills without them realizing they are learning. Allow the child(ren) to pick which game, and tell them they get to create the rules. You can say, “You choose how we play and you’ll have to tell me the way to play”. This allows freedom and control over something that can be handed over to them. They may invent a better version than the original!
6. Sand Scene.
If you have a sand box, you can use the outdoor larger version. If not, make a small indoor one with large storage bin or plastic container. Play sand is extremely inexpensive at home improvement stores. Compile a small collection of Happy Meal toys from your home next to the sand box. Ask your children to create a world in the sand. You can have water for wet scenes, sticks or rocks from your yard, etc. Each child can take turns creating their own tray, they can work together to make a joint scene, or you can have a sand tray for each child. When they are done, ask them to tell you about their world.
7. Dress Up.
You might be surprised at how much fun it can be to pretend you are someone else for a while. Make sure you have both male and female clothes, accessories, shoes, etc. The crazier or more unusual, the more fun! Ask your child to dress up like anyone they choose, and whether they would like you to dress up as someone. They get to choose what you wear if they want! Once all of the characters are ready, allow the child to create a story that includes all dressed-up members of the family.
8. Would You Rather…
One of my favorite things to do with kids is give them a choice that they must ponder and allow them to determine an answer that they explain. So, you might ask, “Would you rather be a bird that can fly or a fish that can swim?” or “Would you rather jump out of an airplane or go white water rafting?” Once they choose, they tell you one reason why. Then they get to ask you the same question or one that they create. This is a fun way to learn more about your child, as well as communicate with them in a different manner.
9. Gift making.
In any month, there is typically a family holiday or celebration. Especially with the economy requiring more control over spending money, allow your child to come up with a gift that they would like to make for the next celebration. You can establish a money limit ahead of time to prevent choices that would cost too much to make, but give your child the opportunity to go with you to a craft store and pick out a project. Then sit down with them while they make their gift. Not only does this promote creativity and inspiration, it also teaches gratitude and how to express love without words.
Kids love pictures! They love taking them, being in them, looking at them, everything about them. Allow your child to use your camera to take pictures of things that are special to them, while under your supervision. You might say, “You can take twenty pictures of the things that you love the most, and then we are going to do something special with the pictures.” After the child takes the pictures, allow them to decide how they would like to display them. They can choose for them to go on the refrigerator for a week, in a collage that you make together, on a bulletin board, in a photo album personalized with their name, the options are endless. Make sure it is their choice and they are involved every step of the way.
Hopefully, you will be able to use some of these ideas to spend quality time, explore new things together, learn about each other, and build a better relationship this summer. Time spent with children is time that is never wasted and time which you will never get back. These may spark other ideas or remind you of your favorite summer activities, so please share what those are!