It's August and across the country kids are reveling in the freedom of summer vacation. Meanwhile, many parents are gritting their teeth and praying for September to come.
The long, empty summer days are pure joy for kids, but they can be hard on parents for a couple of reasons. One, you stress that your kid is missing out educationally. And two, you feel the constant burden of coming up with things for them to do rather than rot their brains watching cartoons or driving you insane with endless endless repetitions of, "I'm bored!"
Happily, there may be one solution for both worries, according to leading developmental psychologists Roberta Michnick Golinkoff and Kathy Hirsh-Pasek.
Education doesn't have to be traded off against entertainment.
Golinkoff and Hirsh-Pasek are the co-authors of an interesting looking new book entitled Becoming Brilliant about, you guessed it, raising successful kids. I recently came across a fascinating interview with Hirsch-Pasek which set me looking for more from the Temple University psychologist. After a bit of googling I stumbled on a frazzled parents dream -- a post by actual scientific experts suggesting activities that are both good for kids' brains and will keep them happily occupied this summer.
"Children don't need to sit at a desk to keep the learning going, and it need not cost parents a penny," Golinkoff and Hirsh-Pasek reassure anxious parents in their HuffPost piece. Even classic games like hide-and-seek exercise essential skills like "theory of mind," or understanding the thought process of others. But if you're looking for fresh ideas, the co-authors offer a useful list for inspiration (scrubbed of a few excessive exclamation points for my sanity and yours):
Rap like Lin Manuel-Miranda. Rapping with children helps them develop storytelling skills and hones creativity and communication.
Put on a play. Let children dress-up and put on a show, maybe acting out a story they like. This encourages the use of language (communication), creativity, and collaboration. Learning to tell stories is vital for writing and reading.
"Paint" the driveway or sidewalk with water. But where did it go? Talk about what happened to the water: evaporation! Children love to paint and to use those fat pastel chalks that wash off the next time it rains. Science and creative innovation marry here!
Shadow puppets or chase your own shadow. Why do the shadows change size, and why there are there shadows at all? Talking about these things builds content in science and communication.
Hand and string games. When children play Cats in the Cradle, they use the string to make different patterns, great for creativity and problem solving.
Ball bouncing and hand clapping games. You can find them on the web. We still remember these games fondly. They build memory and executive function too.
Anagrams. Family vacations often start and end with ennnddllesss car rides. For the readers in your family, use that time to keep the troops entertained by spotting a word on a sign and seeing how many other words, of at least three letters, each person can make.
The license plate game. Write down the states you see on license plates. One of us still plays this on her own on long car rides! But where are these states? Any road atlas will have a map of the US, increasing children's content knowledge of geography.
Make a drum circle using pots and spoons. Games like Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves [apparently I had a deprived childhood as I had to look this one up] incorporate collaboration, communication, and practice on executive function skills. It may be loud but why not have summer fun?
Create new things from junk. Maker Fairs are becoming especially popular, challenging children to create new devices or objects out of old parts -- encourage your child to turn into Rube Goldberg. From discarded vacuum pieces, to toilet paper rolls, to cardboard boxes, children can create art and sculpture from discarded materials found around the house.
Or maybe just open the door.
These are no doubt welcome suggestions for parents running on vapors after six weeks of vacation, but it should also be noted that if you can endure a little whining, sometimes it might be best to simply open the door and tell your kids to make their own fun. Psychologists insist that a little boredom is good for everyone, including kids. And old-fashioned free play where kids are left to their own devices teaches children to work together, solve problems autonomously, and feel a sense of competency in the world.
So mix it up this summer with a little technology (really, it's OK to give them that screen sometimes; in moderation it might even help them do better in school), a little free time, and a few of these skill-building activities. Your kids won't just be happy. They'll also be learning.