by Alissa Klugh, MS, LPC

The weather is warmer. The sun is shining (on most days, but we all have that love-hate relationship with rain). We can hear the laughter of the little ones. The popsicles are making the hands of our little ones super sticky. Summer is here. School is out. What now?

Parents oftentimes dread the three phrase School.Is.Out. They don't necessarily dread this because they don't want their children around, but rather because they have no idea what to do to keep their children entertained all summer. "Why can't they just play outside, like we used to?" - I hear parents question. I mean, that would be nice, but there was a HUUUGE space of time between when we would actually play outside and the times that we were after our mother saying "I'm bored - what can we dooooooo?" Eh, I can tell you this: She did NOT enjoy that. 

Being a parent is hard. I'd never say differently. It can be an incredibly rewarding and beautiful experience, but it has it challenging moments. And, for some parents, those moments come all summer long when they have to figure out how to answer the age-old question "What can we do?" 

I've taken some time to compile a list of summer activities and ways to keep your children entertained while maintaining a fully-functioning (okay, okay, a partially-functioning - we don't need perfection, here) family.

Before I begin this list, I want to start with the biggest tip of all: Please STOP letting electronics run you (and your family). Let me say that one more time: PLEASE stop letting electronics run your family's life. This can come in many forms: you checking your work emails, social media accounts, texting, searching the internet, playing video games, buying items (you probably don't need) from online sources, etc. When was the last time that you got lost in a loop of videos on social media and all-of-the-sudden, you have lost 30 minutes of your life? This happens a lot to people - you're not alone.


On top of all of this, when you're constantly using your electronics, you're taking away time from those who are around you (i.e. your children and significant other). Have you ever heard of the Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman? (If you haven't, you must check it out.) At any rate, thanks to Dr. Chapman, we understand that we all have these love tanks that need filled, and this is done through various ways that we must communicate to our families. And, if our needs aren't being met, we feel unhappy and unloved. If we're spending our time in front of a screen, how in the world are we communicating and getting our love needs met? I can take a guess: poorly. We are poorly meeting our own needs as well as the needs of our family. 

Think of it this way: if you are constantly on your electronics and you tell your children that they are not permitted on theirs, are they going to see that as "fair?" Most likely, no. And, you can certainly say "Well, it's because I'm an adult." Um, how's that working out for ya, there? I'll venture to say, not well. The more time you're spending in front of a screen, the more you're unintentionally training your child that this behaviors is okay and acceptable. So, when it comes down to the time when you want your child to stop using their electronic so that they can go to bed, eat dinner, go outside, go to an appointment (and the list goes on), they're not going to listen. if they don't listen, you're more likely to get upset and lead down a nasty path of conversing. Okay, enough with the electronics stuff. I'll save that for another blog.

Do yourself a favor, now. Use screen time, minimally. And if you want to review some research on the effects of screen time, click here

So, moving along to the tips for summertime for your kiddos, check out our list, below.

1. Get Messy. I'm sure some parents just cringed when they read that - especially those of you who like cleanliness. What I mean by getting messy are things like painting (with brushes, fingers, toes, bodies, etc), playing in the dirt/mud, or making a giant baby-pool-sized tub of pudding. Kids love (and need) sensory stimulation. It helps with their development. Grab a bag of sand a the local hardware store and fill up some small bins with it - they'll love it! You can also use these ideas to help your child learn - ever heard of putting pudding in a zipper bag and using your fingers to write letters and shapes? Three birds, one stone - sensory play, learning to write letters, and  helping them with fine motor skills (when writing). Here are some more sensory play ideas. 

2. Sidewalk Chalk. This does not need much explanation, however, you can certainly have your child use this to draw various pictures, play games (tic-tac-toe), learn to count, and so much more. Here's a quick idea: write out a list of various emotions, actions, and/or activities. Put these ideas on individual index cards. Have your child pick one out of a hat. This is what they must draw. You have to guess the drawing. Or, switch it up: you draw and they guess!

3. Water. Water. Water. There are tons of ways to incorporate water into your child's play. If you have a pool, you're all set, but if you don't, think about ideas such as having a water battle (i.e. water balloons, soakers, balls that can be filled with water), and have at it! You can make it a competition (who can get mom the most wet), or let the kids soak each other! If you're interested in investing in a water table, kids love  these. Or teach your child the properties of water and do your own science experiment - demonstrate that the same thing can be liquid, gas, and solid! Dye some water and put a white flower in it - guess what? In the morning, that flower will have sucked up the colored water and it will have changed color. What a great way to teach your child about how plants eat, too! Now, I know you already know these little experiments, but these are great opportunities to help your child learn. It doesn't end just because school did.

3. Cooking Together. I credit my (pretty awesome) skills in cooking to watching my mother throughout my childhood. I must say, my mom (and pretty much most people in my family) are pretty kick-butt cooks, but this is a skill that can be learned. My mom let me put my hands into the food (after washing my hands, of course), measure, stir, etc. I was able to have firsthand experience of cooking. I can't remember her ever saying that I did something wrong, just suggestions for improvement. Just because you burnt toast, or messed up a pancake once or twice, does not make you a "bad" cook - it makes you someone who has made a few mistakes that you can learn from. If you want your child to be resilient and have a growth mindset, then you have to show them that it is not only okay to make a mistake, but that you can keep trying to improve. If they hear you telling them that you "can't cook" or that you're "bad at it," then they're going to take on this same type of internal dialogue (we can talk about this more, at another time). Learn with your child. Print out a recipe, go shopping together, pick out the ingredients, and get cookin'!

4. Activities that Build. When I say build, I mean that there are activities out there, at our fingertips, that can teach your children pretty much any skill you'd like for them to build. This could be learning to develop teamwork, communication skills, togetherness, emotional management, social skills, and improve relationships. Try having your child describe a picture to you (it could be one that someone else drew, or something simple from the internet) and they must use their words to describe the drawing to you. With this description (and without you peaking), you must draw your own rendition of the drawing they're describing to you. Make sure you always follow up with what your child thought of the activity - what made it fun? Challenging? What can they use from it in the real world? - Think you can do that? It can be a great challenge in communication, listening, and emotional management. It's the little stuff.

5. Learn/Teach a Sport. If you know how to play a sport - teach this to your child. If you don't know how to play a sport, look up how to play, and learn together. This is another way that you can demonstrate growth and change, while supporting each other in the process. Don't give that excuse that you're not athletic. These skills can be learned. You may not be the best at it, but you're showing your child the importance of giving it a try (or maybe 10 tries).

6. Play a Board Game. Dust off the ol' board games. These are a great way to get your child's brain working! It helps them with fine motor skills (moving around pieces), decision-making, dealing with choices, taking turns, following rules, and strategy. Read the rules together. Explain to them anything that might be foggy. Ask them questions and see if they can clarify. Board games can also teach a child how to lose. I know, how dare I say it??? We are living in a world where everyone must win, but for the most part, don't. This is why we hand out participation trophies. Teach your child how to lose, while letting them win from time-to-time. Work with them on your strategies for how you won the game. They're not going to understand how to strategize, if they're not shown the way. 

Doing what I do for a living, I have found the importance of togetherness within a family unit. They are, in fact, considered a unit because they function together, in unity. Reserve some time to spend with your family where you can join in an activity together - not just sit in front of the tv in the same room while everyone is on their phones. A quick reality check: this is not exactly togetherness. This is physical presence. No interaction. No communication. Is that what you want for your family's growth?

Get moving together. Give your children a choice of what to "do next" especially when they are boooooooorrrrred. So much growth can happen in the summer months. Help cultivate that growth with and for your child(ren).

I've provided you many suggestions for how to keep your family busy this summer. Take the ideas, share them, and add some of your own to the list of other ideas out there! Good luck this summer and HAVE FUN!



If you like what you hear about spending time with your children, and you live in the Pittsburgh area, you might love having Alissa as your therapist. Click here to schedule an appointment, or call 412.367.0575.