Ahhh, the start of summer. I won’t have to grade papers and my life won’t be regimented by bells. I can catch up on my reading, plan leisurely for fall lessons, and spend oodles of time with my kids and husband.
But then the panic sets in. After all, I like a bit of order in my life. What will I do with this unstructured time? What if my daughter forgets everything she learned over the summer and isn’t ready for fall? What if it rains? Every day? I look around my house with budding terror. How will we all stay in these few rooms and still talk to each other in September?
Here are some ways I plan to beat the boredom and feed the brains in my house this summer.
Rotate. Teachers regularly change the arrangement of desks, create new bulletin boards and pull out different books for display. Day-care teachers store the majority of their toys and only put out about 20 percent of the toys at any given time. They rotate the materials each week so that interest remains high, and new skills are honed. Look around your house. Are some toys hiding in the backs of closets or the basement? Select a few for display, tuck the others away and change them often. You’ll be surprised at the interest fewer toys generate.
Puzzle. Jigsaw puzzles are great for building visualization, memory and pattern-recognition skills. Place one on your coffee table or on a small table near a window. It might turn into a quiet place for alone time or a task for busy fingers during family chats.
Think. Stock up on crossword, logic, maze, brain-teaser or Sudoku books. Place some sharpened pencils complete with erasers in a small jar next to the inviting pile. These books are available in varying levels of difficulty so find books appropriate for the thinkers in your family.
Play with words. We have a little bowl filled with letter tiles in our house. My daughter relishes building words while my son enjoys playing with the square shapes, although he doesn’t recognize the letters yet. You can purchase letter tiles in the teacher aisles of office supply stores, use Bannagram tiles, or take the tiles from your old Scrabble set. Take away the competition and allow kids the simple joy of arranging letters.
Try magnetic poetry strips, too. Make your own with a computer and magnetic printer paper; this allows you to use a larger font and include activities, names and foods that your children love.
Write. Notice the kind of paper that your child uses at school and purchase some. Does your child prefer to write with pens or pencils? Now comes the fun part: Clip interesting photos from old magazines, catalogs or newspapers with your child. Place the pictures in an envelope or decorated box next to the paper and writing utensils. Invite your child to write a story inspired by one of the photos. He might glue the photo to his story. Or, at the end of the summer, collect his pages, type up the text, and bring the sheets to your local office store to get his book laminated and bound.
Honor creativity. Don’t worry so much about spelling or grammar. Leave that for the school year. For now, allow him to enjoy the magic of storytelling.
Listen. Set up a CD player in a quiet nook with a pillow and blanket. Visit your library and borrow a new audio book every week. Teach your children to work the player and you’ll be surprised at how often they want to listen to their books by themselves.
Invent. Fill a shoebox with strange things: a ball of yarn, a spoon, crinkled cardboard or a battered Lego piece. Encourage your child to create a game using only the materials in the box. Or perhaps she will invent a machine or a rocket ship. Change the materials in the box often to heighten the surprise and interest.
Read. Make a cozy area to read. Perhaps it’s the same place where the CD player is, or maybe it’s in a hidden spot under the stairs or a cleaned-out closet. Pile up blankets and a few well-chosen books on their reading level. Include a weekly trip to the library in your summer routine and stock the corner with new books. Remember, reading above reading level will only cause frustration; make sure the books are accessible as well as interesting.
Create. Set aside a part of a table or counter for arts and crafts supplies. Pick up a supply of googly eyes, fuzzy cotton balls, pipe cleaners and other doodads. Put them in a few open bowls next to a supply of construction paper and glue, and see what masterpieces your budding da Vincis create.
With a little bit of organization and a lot of invention, your children will build their brains and you will always have a good response to the lament of “I’m boooored.”
Notice, too, that kids may engage with all of these activities independent of you. Challenge yourself to encourage creativity and shy away from exacting perfection. Kids get too little of the former and too much of the latter thanks to increased state testing.
On the next rainy day or midday siesta, unplug the TV and computer and show your kids how to have fun yourself: Curl up with a book, snap together the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle or celebrate the triumph of a completed Sudoku table. Remember that we are our children’s best models and they will follow our lead. Let summer be a time for the whole family to enjoy intellectual play, nurture originality and stoke imaginations.
Emma Kress, a teacher at Cicero-North Syracuse High School, has held a variety of educational posts at levels from pre-K to 12th grade. Send comments about this article to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo: © Aleksandr Ugorenkov | Dreamstime.com