Ten Ideas to Fight Summer Boredom

World of Work June 16, 2015

To some, such as American musician Brian Wilson, “summer means happy times and good sunshine. It means going to the beach, going to Disneyland, having fun.” To children freshly released from schools, summertime could also mean chronic boredom, interrupted only by a few days of camp here and there. What do they do with the wide gaps of free time between these camps? 

I am sure other parents out there have tried to ask children to exercise, sort out rooms, do chores, have playdates with friends, volunteer at organizations, or engage in educational activities, things we also want them to do anyway during the regular semesters. Yet with vacation comes the expectation not to do more of the same. We can put a new spin to the same old things, so that summer can both challenge and satisfy. Here are some of my thoughts:

1. Chores. We all know chores train children to take responsibility for themselves and others, but getting them to act is like pulling their teeth. How about assigning points for vacuuming, cleaning, and washing? There is a game called Chorewars that actually gamifies chores. With this game cousins at parties fight for the opportunity to do dishes! We hope that works for husbands and wives too! But good luck with that.

2. Play, unstructured. People seem to have lost the ability to play unless someone organizes it or charges them for it. Consider unstructured play in parks, zoos, and yards to get some of the Vitamin N (N for nature) Richard Louv describes in Last Child in the Woods. Rediscover and reconnect with the good earth. 

3. Read, but maybe something different this time? With peer pressure and media influence, children often read the same type of books. A varied list would present more mental stimulation and a diversified summer experience. Ask them to balance fiction with nonfiction. Avoid mental candies children gravitate towards for killing time. If parents are clueless, don’t feel too embarrassed to ask for help. Take recommendation by authorities, including local librarians, who may recommend other books against children’s usual reading habits.

4. Local news scavenger hunt. I rarely see children read newspapers. Well, it’s summer and they may have become tired of swiping, tapping and clicking. Encourage them to do a scavenger hunt for activities and programs in local news. Be ready to sign them up if you too see value in them.

5. Keep a journal. Old-fashioned as it may sound, keeping a journal does more than improving one’s writing. It helps children to develop the habit to live reflectively and purposefully. “The unexamined life is not worth living” (Socrates). On a practical level, reflecting on their day may prompt children to have better plans for the next day. If journals do not appeal, try getting them to start a blog. I did not mention microblog, as I really think writing at some length helps.

6. Movies, but quality movies. Online movie-renting services such as Netflix or Hulu learn about you and your children’s viewing behaviors and give recommendations accordingly. Encourage children to look for credible critic recommendations rather than recommendations vendors give based on previous viewing habits. Find movies from another country for them to watch. The world is larger than the cocoons big data can weave around people. 

7. Schedule time off screens. As someone in the educational technology profession, I am the last person to ask parents to resist technology, but please encourage children to move beyond passively receiving entertainment from some type of screen: TV, Xbox, iPad, for instance. You of course want them to have fun, but the fun in having too much video or TV self-defeats, leading to boredom and lethargy, or what I would call entertainment burnout. With iPads and computers they can also produce, which brings me to my next suggestion. 

8. Ask them to learn a new technology tool, such as tools for audio, video, note-taking, or storytelling, especially if you fail to get them off screens. Children could also learn to build apps using MIT’s app inventor or games with Scratch. The bad news is that you probably don’t have a clue what these are, let alone how they work. The good news is that there are tutorials out there by both professionals and hobbyists.

Read Berlin Fang’s article: 10 Common Myths about Educational Innovations

9. Organize files. Finally there is time to do something about all these selfies! Ask them to organize their photos, videos as well as other files on their computer and devices. Teach them to file, upload, or delete. Show them how to save them in the clouds, using platforms such as Google Drive, Youtube or Flickr, to free up space in their computers and phones, while turning on appropriate privacy settings to prevent them from drifting around on the Internet.

10.  Take a MOOC course: Physical schoolhouses in your neighborhoods may be empty now. Not the virtual ones.  There are free massive open online courses (MOOCs) out there, some of which are interesting even for middle or high schoolers. Work with them to check Coursera, CanvasEduX for lists. Chinese site Guokr also aggregates all such courses. There may not be people to take attendance or check participation, but this is a good way to teach them some grit and self-discipline. Do your children want to learn a new language? You don’t have to hire a private teacher. Try Duolingo.  

Parents could also ask children to create their own activities for productivity, fun and learning! You may be surprised what they can come up with. Three months is too long to be left simply to boredom. Parents, let’s shake it up.

Read Berlin Fang’s article: Parenting with Technology

Berlin Fang is the Director of Instructional Design at Abilene Christian University and father of two. He can be reached at berlinfang@gmail.com