Current Issue
Illustration of open book with hot air balloon

Simple Ways to Keep Kids Engaged Over Summer Break

Enriching summer routines that increase learning and prevent summer slide.

Let me guess. Your kids are going to be around the house for at least part of the summer? Maybe they are going to camp or day camp or a workshop or activity here and there, but some of the summer they will be home with no structured activities.

Your first instinct might be to give them the summer off, but be careful. They may be tired from being busy all school year, but kids recover quickly. Within 48 hours of the beginning of summer, you will be wondering what the heck you were thinking if you let them clear their summer schedules.

If you did, never fear, because here’s a plan that works during summer or over any school break. Put this vacation enrichment routine into effect on the first weekday of vacation and watch your child go from listless and unmotivated to enthusiastic and engaged. Believe it or not, you can prevent the summer slide with an at-home summer enrichment program of your own making.

Issue a Reading Challenge

Your child’s brain will definitely turn to mush if you let them do nothing but play video games and watch TV all summer. So sign them up for an age-appropriate summer reading challenge through their school or local library or even create your own. We buy our daughter eight age-appropriate reading-challenge books before school gets out. The rule is she must read for at least a half-hour on weekday mornings before she can do anything else. The half-hour often turns into an hour or even hours depending on the book. Keep your costs down by using the library or buying secondhand books or e-books.

Ban Technology in the A.M.

In our house, phones are viewed as a privilege, not a right. As long as we pay for them, we get to model healthy cell phone behaviors no matter what the other parents are doing. So we don’t use cell phones until noon, every day, even when it’s not summer. The idea is that our daughter could be doing something enriching or creative with her brain that does not involve staring passively into a screen. However, we make an exception if the screen is being used in pursuit of self-expression. So if she wants to look up fashions from different periods so she can render them more accurately in her fashion notebook, that’s allowable. We also permit a quick phone check first thing in the morning to wish someone a happy birthday or reply to a message.

Tackle Life-Skill Projects

Life skills are often not taught in school and learning new skills can be a fun, shared experience between parents and kids. Examples might be creating a garden with a toddler or preschooler, learning to cook with an elementary school child, redecorating a room with a tween, or balancing a checkbook with a teen. What’s nice about having a life-skill project with each of your children every summer is that it’s something you can bond over. Selecting seeds together, shopping for food together, deciding on paint colors together, and visiting the bank together suddenly becomes a shared adventure rather than a mundane task. As parents, we know a lot, but we often don’t take the necessary time to share what we know. Summer is the perfect time to connect while pursuing age-appropriate training.

Schedule Daily, Weekly, and Monthly Chores

Your child is part of the family and therefore part of a team. Summer is not your only chance to reinforce this principle, but more free time can mean more help around the house if you play your cards right. Before summer begins, sit down and make a chores list for each child. Divide it up into daily, weekly, and monthly chores so kids can’t wiggle out of helping with big jobs like cleaning out the garage or washing the cars. Kids like to feel like they are graduating to more sophisticated chores the older they get, so make sure the level of difficulty of each chore matches each child’s aptitudes and abilities. Kids can feel proud of pitching in whether simply emptying the dishwasher daily, cleaning their room weekly, or doing yard work with the whole family every other week.

Learn Something Fun

What if everyone in your home learned something new each summer that interested them? Satisfying their interests will likely enrich the whole family so go ahead and set a date for a show-and-tell celebration at the end of the summer. Then look for summer learning opportunities through your child’s school, through the local library, YMCA, or community center, and even online. Video training series are available online any given day, just make sure you screen the instructor, website, and material for security and age-appropriateness. You can even help your kids create their own curriculum using books, videos, vocabulary, and a creative project. If you want to teach your kids that learning can be fun, put them in charge of learning a topic that motivates them and watch what happens.

Start these vacation policies when your kids are young if you can, although they will create a more balanced summer even if you start today with teens. Kids love having routines and these strategies will quickly become the new norm.

If you have company or go to someone else’s home, let the enrichment routine go for the sake of being in and enjoying the moment. Routines create structure, which increase feelings of stability and security in kids. But don’t be afraid to bounce the routine in favor of an impromptu trip to the pond or lake or beach. Having summer enrichment routines offers the kind of balance parents need to create a happier, more peaceful summer for the whole family. Happy summering!

Family Food

Newsletter Signup

Your weekly guide to Mile High family fun. Colorado Parent has a newsletter for every parent. Sign Up