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Children and Boredom

Ah, the sound of the year’s final school bell. For kids, summer break spells welcome relief. For parents, the break can present challenges, like how to battle the boredom blues. And, an even trickier challenge, should you? Isn’t a little boredom a good thing? Here’s how you can help your children, from kindergarten to high school, have a productive, meaningful and relaxing summer break.

To entertain or not to entertain…

When your child cries “There’s nothing to do,” what do you do? Do you rush in, playing the role of one-person circus? Do you ignore the cry? Or do you help your children find their own way out of boredom?

The key, says Karen DeBord, State Extension Specialist in Child Development at NC State University, is a balanced approach to battling boredom. Parents should organize and oversee enriching activities for their children, but they should also allow their children time to fight the blahs on their own.

“If your children have plenty of activities to do on their own -- paper, books, good videos, play doh, markers, sand box, bike, and other child appropriate play materials -- then it is not a parent’s job to totally entertain them,” says DeBord. “They have to learn how to entertain themselves. Often creative ideas come out of boredom. But know what they are doing and where they are so you know they are safe!”

Instead of rescuing them when they cry “bored,” offer them a friendly, “I’m sure you’ll find something fun to do.” But be sure they’re not always gravitating toward a “screen.”

As a rule, try to limit screen time, television, computer, video games, to no more than two hours a day.

Different strokes. Different folks.

Any parent knows there is no one-size-fits-all approach to entertaining children. Still, there are plenty of family activities that can be adapted to children of all ages. In this guide, we’ll look at ideas fit for the entire family, then break down ideas by age.

Fun for all

Plan a family party. Father’s Day. July 4th. Hand the organizing over to your children. Older kids can plan the menu even the cook some of the dishes. Younger kids can brainstorm activities, guests and help with setting up and cleaning up.

Family Olympics. With the Summer Olympics just around the corner, why not organize your own Family or neighborhood Olympics? Every family member thinks of his or her own game. (Silly games will keep the affair non-competitive.) Host an event with blue ribbons for everyone who participates. You could even prepare food from Greece in honor of this year’s Olympic hosts.

Fruit picking. Here’s an activity children of all ages enjoy. Find a local pick-your-own fruit farm, and get ready for fun. Be prepared, with proper shoes, water and sunscreen. Come home and make a dessert with your harvest.

Backyard Campout. Pitch a tent in the backyard. Roast marshmallows over the grill. Play family games and enjoy a night under the stars.

Book blowout. Join your local library. Many of them have summer reading programs that challenge children to set a goal and read a certain number of books. (Younger ones can listen to books.) Still, encourage your pre-readers to look at books on their own. They can even read aloud into a tape recorder to share with younger children or their grandparents.

Get up and move. If a child’s mood is spiraling downward, lift it up with exercise: ride a bike, take a walk, dance, shoot some hoops, play family soccer, make an obstacle course.

Quiet time. Kids don’t nap anymore? Then have quiet time. Everyone retreats to their own space to do their own quiet thing: read, write, draw ? or stare at the sky and think.

Chores. Don’t forget household tasks. OK, so they’re not as fun as a trip to the pool, but they can provide structure to a child’s day, boost their feeling of independence ? and help you!

Younger children

Unleash their imagination. The slower summer schedule can give kids more time for imaginative play. Have some old notebooks and pens? Let them play office. Have them open a store for family members. Get cardboard boxes from the grocery store and let them put together a tunnel or a town.

Disguised learning. Think of games that reinforce lessons your child is working on. For example, a pre-schooler mastering the fine art of counting to 20 can count out pieces of cereal. Talk about shapes as you walk through the neighborhood. Gather sticks and turn them into letters.

Nature lovers. Make a bird feeder by taking a pinecone, then spreading peanut butter on it and rolling it in birdseed. String the feeder so your child can watch the birds visit. Take duct tape and wrap it sticky-side-out around your wrist. Decorate it with pieces of nature found on your walk.

School-age children

Games of yesteryear. Remember Red Rover? Kick the Can? Marbles? Flashlight tag. Those games may be old to us, but they’re probably new to your children. If you can’t remember the rules, try a book from your library or search the web. Rainy day? Dig out board games or a deck of cards.

Craft time. Pick a new craft to learn: latch hook, woodworking, mosaic tiling. Craft stores have kits geared toward school-age children. Long-lasting crafts offer children something to work on throughout the summer. They’ll feel great learning a new skill.

Have a garage sale. Summer is the perfect time to clear out clutter, starting with toys no one’s played with in ages. Get your kids busy sorting sale items, cleaning up dusty toys, pricing items. They can make the garage sale signs, help count change at the sale or host a lemonade stand during the sale. To motivate them to give up some of their stuff old toys, clothes and games --offer to let them keep the money from the items they sell.

Stay connected. Be sure your school-age friends stay connected with their buddies, especially if your neighborhood doesn’t have kids their age. Invite friends over one at a time. Have a few game ideas ready ahead of time.

Get dramatic. Put on a play. Either recreate a well-known play or encourage kids to make up their own.

Get physical. Have everyone in the family set a fun summer goal for physical fitness. Some examples: Do the climbing bars at a park, learn three jump rope games, make five basketball shots in a minute. Kids can work on this goal throughout the summer. Have a show-and-tell day.

Older children

Volunteer. Find a service organization that accepts younger volunteers. Libraries often accept children as young as 12. Check out hospitals, daycares, nursing homes or community centers that serve the elderly. Volunteering is a great pre-cursor to the working world. It teaches children responsibility and gives them much-needed independence during the summer months. Another option: Volunteer with them. Soup kitchens or Meals-on-Wheels are always looking for substitute helpers in the summer months.

Nurture interests. During the summer, children have time to nurture interests. Has your child asked about family history? Let them get on the Web and do some research or interview family members. Do they have a penchant for tall tales? Get a special notebook and encourage them to fill it with stories. Have a sports fan in the family? Pick them up some equipment. Have them compile their own favorite sports stats. Think about activities or issues that have piqued your child’s interest during the school year and run with them.

Money lessons. The older children get, the more they can learn about money. Have them start a business, from pet sitting to car washing. Encourage them to “play? the stock market. Pick a few stocks and have them monitor them throughout the summer. Have them research a family purchase, talk about cost and value. Have them figure out how much various purchases cost if bought on credit, versus paying cash.

Learn to cook. Summer is a perfect time to let your child explore the kitchen. Put them in charge of meals on a regular basis. Check out cookbooks from the library or let them search the Web for ideas.

Cultural exploration. Older children grow increasingly curious about the world beyond their home. Explore ethnic stores in your neighborhood. Check out language tapes from the library. Find a suitable foreign movie and watch it together. Have your child plan a dream vacation to another country.