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Keep kids stimulated

Keeping Your Child Stimulated All Summer Long

A realistic view of parenting during the long summer months.

Read that title again. What? you’re probably thinking. How is it even possible to keep children of any age “stimulated” for an entire week, let alone an entire summer?

As a parent and educator, I understand: planning for the summer comes with a lot of anxiety and worry. In this age of technology, it seems that our children need to be entertained every second. I certainly feel pressure to make sure my boys have activities that give them opportunities for growth and stimulate their intellects. And, like most parents, I feel like an utter failure when screens win. Ugh.

Yet, whether you are at home with your children or working all summer, it is possible to give your kids more this summer without overtaxing yourself. Summer camps do offer fun and educational summer experiences, but for the rest of the summer, here are a few ideas for each age group.

Toddlers and Preschoolers

If you know a toddler, you know a few key things: 1. It is all about them; 2. They want everything now; and 3. Routine is paramount. The fastest way to a toddler meltdown is to disrupt their routine and overstimulate them. Best advice? Slow down, keep routines around eating and nap/bedtime sacred, and focus small.

As for preschool-age children, they soak in every little experience—including some you wish you could erase. It is important to remember that these little ones, though more capable and independent than their one-year-old selves, still need routine to help them feel comfortable. However, their imagination and curiosity now more readily guide them, reducing the burden on you.

Simple ideas for little ones:

School-Age Children

At around five or six years, the child begins to expand their interests and their social sphere. They become interested in broader topics and want to dive more deeply into their imagination and ideas. At the same time, they become more aware of groups and shared activities.

This is an opportune time to have your child set the path for the summer’s activities. For example, if your child has an intense interest in trains, you can research trains at the library, watch documentaries on trains, visit the Colorado Railroad Museum, find a train-lovers group to join, build cardboard trains, write stories about trains, take a ride on a train, or whatever you can dream up. The possibilities are as limitless as your child’s imagination.

Admittedly, you may find yourself very done with trains by the end of the summer, but your child will gain knowledge in a variety of ways on their subject of interest, which sparks their intellect and fosters their belief that you are interested in them.

For older elementary children, following an interest can still be very satisfying, but they are also moving into an age of categorizing themselves into groups. Finding camps, teams, clubs, and group activities with like-minded and similarly-aged kids may engage them in a way that we parents no longer can.


Let’s get real: most teenagers have very little interest in hanging out with their parents. If you know a teen, you know a few key things: 1. It is all about them; 2. They want everything now; and 3. Friends are everything. Work with your teen to find ways to keep them occupied during the summer.

Give them a budget and have them search online. They can collaborate in deciding their fate over the summer, within the limits of your family’s expectations. If they are old enough, finding a summer job, internship, volunteer work, or odd jobs around the neighborhood may be appropriate. They inherently need to separate from us (sniff, sniff) and begin to understand themselves in a world without our guidance. Your ability to give them freedom will help to nurture the adult they will become. And in the brief moments when they are with you? Soak it in.

But What If They Still Get Bored?

I recently came across an article by Nancy Colier in Psychology Today entitled, “Can I Let My Child Be Bored?” It neatly sums up what I learned in my own educational research: “In boredom lies the possibility that we ourselves can become a worthy destination for our own attention.” Does that mean that we can avoid planning for the summer? Of course not. But it does mean we shouldn’t feel guilty about every moment of boredom our children experience. It gives us permission to turn off the Wi-Fi and say, “You’re bored? Hooray! It’s so good for your brain! I bet you can think of something to do.” Or, for your own sake, “I can always use your help with…” Cue eye-roll and stomping off.

Family Food

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