Children love summer — that is, until they get bored. At that point, children start to whine about having nothing to do. Fortunately, there are plenty of free activities to keep your children entertained, and maybe they will even learn something in addition to having fun. So don't despair, the next time your children tell you, "I'm bored." Use this list as a starting place to help them find something they will enjoy. Your children (and you) will be entertained, and they will look back on experiences like this fondly when they are adults. And who knows, one day, far into the future, they may even be inspired to try some of these activities with their own children!
Studies show that children who spend their summer watching television or playing video games can lose up to three months of learning from the year before. By keeping their minds engaged, that loss can be slowed to a minimum. With that in mind, here are some great activities to try out with your family and friends.
Stargazing: Check out a book from the library, or find a site on the Internet that will show you where the stars are, and then try to find as many listed stars as possible. For better viewing, combine this with a camping trip or evening hike to get away from the light pollution in urban areas. Make charts of the stars you can identify, and then just lie back and watch the world turn. You can also have a contest to spot other objects, such as satellites or shooting stars (meteorites). Combine this with a simple navigation lesson by pointing out the North Star or the Southern Cross and you can mix in some orienteering and geography.
- Go take a hike! -- In subtropical climates, this is best done early in the morning or evening. Wear sturdy shoes and protective clothing, and use insect repellent. Take a notebook, crayons or sketching pencils, and a camera if one is available, and start enjoying nature. Sketching trees, flowers, or wildlife will provide the introduction to a discussion of botany or zoology, and encourage children to express themselves. The hike itself will provide material for geography, geology, and orienteering (being able to find where you are on a map). Make sure to take water and stay hydrated, and keep away from any kind of wildlife you don't recognize or any animal that looks sick or injured.
Many cities have built walking trails, so that you and your family can have a safe, monitored walk through interesting scenery, and often there are water stations and litter bins along the way.
- Collect yourself! -- Children love collections, whether they be real or virtual. If you have a camera available, you can "collect" pictures of objects if you don't want to disturb them (baby birds, for example), or if a camera is not available, simply make a list in a notebook. Fallen bird feathers, interesting rocks, leaves, flowers, shells, or just about anything will capture children's imaginations, and your child may even find a way to turn a collection into material for a future school assignment. Whatever your child collects, make sure it is stored securely, and if it is a collection of objects, clean each item thoroughly, so that you don't end up with a mess later on! (Your author is still paying the price for an incident more than forty years ago involving a shell collection, a hermit crab, and her mother's Volvo!)
- Crafty Children -- Many children love arts and crafts, whether painting, drawing, building things, cooking, or sewing. All these activities can be done with scratch paper or scraps of wood and cloth, and you may just discover that your child has hidden talents. But whether your children are talented or just having fun, learning a craft will add fun to their summer, and in the case of sewing or cooking, that might just turn into a big help for the entire family! Many museums, libraries, home improvement stores, kitchen stores, and craft stores offer free activities to help your children get involved.
- Reading -- By pooling your collection of books with those of your friends and neighbours, you and your children are sure to have plenty of reading material all summer long. You can check out books from the library, or find a used book store and swap (although usually it will not be a one for one exchange). Often libraries or local or chain book stores will have reward programs for children who read a certain number of books in the summer; sometimes the reward is a free pizza, other times an inexpensive electronic gadget or a new book. And even Amazon and Project Gutenberg and the iBooks store have free books to download! However you can do it, getting your children to read is a great boost to their education!
- Listen up! -- Pull out your collection of music and begin learning about each other's tastes. Discuss musicians, performers, soloists, musical works, musical history, kinds of musical instruments, and more. There are many free resources, from Wikipedia to places where you can listen to (and learn about) classical music online for free. (Classical music has also been shown to enhance brain function and health, in addition to boosting learning for people of all ages!) This is an activity that can really engage families with discussions of likes and dislikes, and sometimes children come up with questions that will stump even the experts.
- Talk it over -- Summer is the time when it can be fun to engage in wild speculation and answering all those questions like, "Why is the sky blue?" "Why is the grass green?" but even more fun is to wonder about questions such as, "Is the colour blue I see exactly the same to me as the way that you see it?" and other philosophical questions. Something about summer just encourages setting the mind free to wonder about such imponderables. Or turn those questions into a science lab (with free experiments found in the library or on the Internet) and see how far your children can push your knowledge! You may just have inspired the next Edison or Einstein!
- Volunteer -- Pick up litter. Plant a few flowers or a tomato plant for an elderly neighbour. Collect cans to recycle or used clothing to donate. Declutter and give away old toys and clothing to the less fortunate. Go to a hospital or senior center and put on a play, or sing, or simply visit with people who are lonely. Spend some time at church, a library, or a volunteer organization doing a menial task and freeing up someone with special knowledge to do something only they can accomplish. Or you can improve your community by reporting civic issues, using resources like SeeClickFix. You will be teaching your children about contributing to their community and learning to deal with people from other walks of life.
- Get connected -- Most cities have websites, twitter accounts, or use some sort of social media to promote activities. By checking out these resources, you may find that your local authority has concerts, or other free activities that are suitable for children.
- Start a business -- One time-honored way for children to spend their summers is to open a business. While the traditional lemonade stand may now require an expensive permit, there are many business your child can start for free, or they can go to work for you or a neighbor or friend. Many companies offer unpaid internships for even young children, such as learning to use a computer or do simple tasks like filing or sorting.
And so with these suggestions, I wish you and your family a fun summer filled with free activities. May you and your children look back on these days as some of the happiest and closest of your lives.