Last summer I googled, “What do eight-year-old boys like to do?” more than one time. My calm, easy-going child suddenly had boundless energy. I loved to be with him, go on day trips, and the like, but sometimes we needed to be home. Sometimes I needed to get something done without a constant chorus of “I’m bored” and “Can’t we just play videogames?” from him and his friends. Suddenly his regular toys were not cool or enticing.
Here are some activities that I have learned will keep my school-age kids active and learning:
- Science Projects: Most kids this age can read instructions on their own and are old enough to do simple experiments themselves when all the supplies are provided. You can find some great ideas here. Most experiments involve things you already have. We live in a very hot place, and last summer my son and his friend tried their hand at making a solar oven. It wasn’t incredibly successful, but that wasn’t really the point.
- Electronics 101: Go to your local thrift store and spend a couple of dollars on some cheap electronics. Then take the electronics home and let your kids go at it. They can take them apart, try to figure out how they work, and then try to put them back together. If you want them to be really excited about it, take them with you and let them pick an item that is especially interesting to them.
- Junior Explorers: Fill a backpack with some snacks and water and tell them to go explore! Set specific boundaries, of course. If you live in an area in which this isn’t safe or feasible, go to a large park, nature refuge, or national park. You can even bring your laptop and get some work done while they explore on their own nearby.
- Homemade Ice Cream: Make homemade ice cream in a bag. Instructions can be found here. We even had success using 2% milk when that was what we had on hand. All that shaking and squeezing will help get all that pent up energy out!
- Inventions: Keep a box full of random supplies like paper towel tubes, empty egg cartons, cotton balls, plastic cups, wood scraps, etc. Also include a list of what the supplies could potentially make: a roller coaster for marbles, bridges, homemade kendamas, etc. Kids can always come up with their own inventions, but when they are cranky or bored, it’s a great idea to have some jumping off points.
- Water Wars: Keep enough water guns on hand for your kids and several friends, then lock them outside.
- Scavenger Hunts: Compile a list of outdoor items to find, and send them on their way (again, set boundaries). The first one back could get a prize.
- Fort Extravaganza: Kids still like to build forts indoors or outdoors. Provide some blankets and leave them to themselves. I have noticed that for a lot of kids building the fort is the fun part—not actually playing in it. So if they come back bored again 15 minutes later, suggest a remodel or an addition.
- Obstacle Courses: Have them build an obstacle course with whatever materials or items you have on hand. Tell them if they construct it well their dad or another caretaker will go through it.
- Cooking School: Do your kids love food and seem to be constantly hungry? There are lots of kids’ cookbooks on the market with recipes appropriate for elementary school–aged kids. This activity may require a little more supervision until the kids firmly understand and follow kitchen rules. Clean up is, of course, required.
- Haunted Houses: Yes, it’s summer—not Halloween. But I was entertained for hours as a child by building haunted houses in our garage. Pull out the cars and shut the garage doors so it’s dim and slightly creepy (a basement room would also work well). Use old cardboard boxes to construct a maze, attach streamers to the ceiling, throw in a full length mirror unexpectedly, or give them cold spaghetti or peeled grapes to touch. Kids can be extremely creative once you get them started. One child can be the “guide” and pull another around in the wagon. Others can hide, jump out, and scare the one in the wagon or create other obstacles for him or her to go through. Have the kids take turns being the one to go through the haunted house and the ones to build it.
Hopefully these ideas will help you redirect some of that endless energy in your kids’ summertime bodies and make your Operation Summer a success!
QUESTION: What are your children spending most of their time doing during their school break? Is it what you hoped they would be doing?
CHALLENGE: Pick one of these ideas to add to your schedule or list of potential activities. Make any necessary preparations if it’s to be an on-hand activity, or put it on your calendar if it will be planned.
Edited by Amanda Lewis and Sarah Monson.
Image from Shutterstock; graphics by Julie Finlayson.