Summertime, and the living is easy. At least, it should be.
But you don’t have to take my word for it because as is customary this time of year, all manner of parents, bloggers, news reporters and child psychologists are chanting the same warm-weather mantra:
Give your kids the gift of an unscheduled summer.
I don’t know about you, but when I was a kid summer holidays involved only a few basic necessities: Flip-flops, Cap’n Crunch cereal, a lake (or plastic backyard pool), and frogs (as in, live amphibians).
During July and August, my friends, cousins and I were free to be kids. Dirty, sweaty kids. There were no science camps, no art programs, no swimming lessons and no expectations. And while we may have been given a few "helpful suggestions" as to how to spend our time, there weren’t any activities designed by experts and we didn’t have any professionals planning our days. We were bored, until we weren’t. It was spectacular and remarkably, we didn’t end up getting messy behind the general store. Pop Rocks, yes. Cocaine, no.
Figuring out what to do - when there was nothing to do - was exhausting. In fact, I’m willing to bet we used more brainpower during our months away from school than we ever did while in the classroom. And that’s precisely the point.
Those who study these things say that unstructured time makes kids smarter. Not to mention happier, and nicer. And when you consider that prison inmates spend more time outside than most young people today, it’s easy to see why shoving your offspring out the door – for at least part of each day – is a good idea.
So this summer, instead of signing your children up everything under the sun, take the road less traveled while resisting the urge to protect them from boredom. Partner up with friends or family members to make arrangements during the workweek and open the door,
nudge push your kids outside and stay strong when they turn to you, begging for the iPad while mouthing the words, “Don't you love me anymore?"
Then, repeat the following:
I will not make my children water pillows out of giant zip bags, nor will I fashion ball games out of tomato cages or construct castles out of pool noodles. Instead, I will give them a balanced breakfast, throw some sunscreen on the patio and turn the porch light on at dusk so they can find their way back inside. And sometimes, I will let them curl up under a blanket and watch cartoons in the living room until their eyes fall out, because I am not a monster.
Full disclosure. I’ve enrolled my 7 year-old daughter in mornings-only drama and dance camps for a few weeks this summer. But, her afternoons will be left wide open for unstructured outdoor exploration. Together, she and I came up with a list of 110 screen-free activities kids can do (in the backyard or the neighbourhood) with siblings, friends, cousins or solo – in case you are in need of a little inspiration.
1) Make mud pies.
2) Build a sand castle.
3) Tie-dye a t-shirt using natural dyes.
4) Paint on the fence with paint - or water.
5) Throw ice cubes on the lawn and run across them in bare feet.
6) Paint with grass or twigs.
7) Make a maze on the lawn with sheets and towels.
8) Have a water fight with spray bottles.
9) Throw rocks in the water.
10) Make inukshuks.
11) Run through a sprinkler or jump in the lake.
12) Water balloons!
13) Put paint in spray bottles and make a mural.
14) Make finger paintings.
15) Make tree texture rubbings with paper and crayons.
16) Do a neighbourhood trash clean-up.
17) Eat popsicles.
18) Dip feet in paint and make a controlled mess on a roll of craft paper.
19) Make prehistoric mud paint.
20) Make a fort by pinning sheets or tablecloths on the clothesline.
21) Blow up a bunch of balloons. Try to keep them in the air.
22) Draw with rocks on other rocks.
23) Have a picnic on the lawn.
24) Paint some shoes.
25) Make handprint placemats.
26) Throw a tea party.
27) Hula hoop!
28) Play leapfrog.
29) Paint each other with washable paint and run through sprinkler to clean off.
30) Go birdwatching.
31) Pick (or just look at) flowers.
32) Look for bird nests.
33) Play at the playground.
34) Tie-dye with markers.
35) Play horseshoes, washers, badminton or any other yard game.
36) Draw or paint what you see.
37) Make a stick sculpture.
38) Fill a hummingbird feeder with homemade nectar (1/4 cup sugar, ¾ cup water).
39) Make a sand mosaic.
40) Ride a bike.
41) Wash the car.
42) Plant some marigolds in the garden.
43) Play tag.
44) Kick a soccer ball.
45) Collect worms.
46) Climb a tree.
47) Skip rope.
48) Play basketball.
49) Make a nature bracelet by attaching leaves and flowers on sticky-side-out duct tape.
50) Collect leaves, twigs, pebbles, flowers and make a nature collage.
51) Paint the patio with water.
52) Make a treasure map and follow the clues.
53) Make nature hats using sticks and leaves.
54) Make pebble pictures.
55) Splatter paint all over an old sheet.
56) Make ice cream in a bag.
57) Fold and fly paper airplanes.
58) Raise tadpoles. Feed them boiled lettuce.
59) Follow a caterpillar.
60) Have a race.
61) Play follow the leader.
62) Decorate rocks with paint, crayons or markers.
63) Look at the clouds. Learn their names - cirrus, cumulus, stratus.
64) Fold origami animals.
65) Read a book under a tree.
66) Make a paper bag kite.
67) Make faces or feet out of rocks.
68) Make paper boats and float them in a kiddie pool or puddle.
69) Find something with the letter A. Then find something with the letter B. And so on...
70) Create capes using pillowcases and become superheros.
71) Play dress up outside.
72) Open a lemonade stand.
73) Chase butterflies.
74) Sidewalk chalk.
75) Play pass the water. (The first person pours water from a cup, over his or her head, into to a cup held by the person behind.)
76) Make fruit and vegetable prints.
77) Collect and make piles of items you find, organized by colour.
78) Make sand art.
79) Build something using a pile of wood, sandpaper and nails.
80) Collect seashells or rocks.
81) Make an obstacle course using rocks, boxes, sticks and shirts.
82) Have a dance party.
83) Pick berries.
84) Play eye spy.
85) Blow bubbles. Make blowers out of pipecleaners or coathangers.
86) Have an art show on the clothesline. Make invitations. Have snacks.
87) Set up a tent and go day camping.
88) Find a frog.
89) Play board games on the lawn.
90) Scoop up some water from a pond or creek and see what’s inside the bucket.
91) Lay a trail of sticks on the ground, leading to a special place or friend.
92) Play in puddles after a rainstorm.
93) Do some outdoor chores.
94) Use water bottles as bowling pins and build a lane with sticks.
95) Make up your own scavenger hunt.
96) Go for a walk.
97) Do science experiments.
98) Search for animal footprints.
99) Make a wall out of boxes and jump over it.
100) Play tic-tac-toe in the sand.
101) Make flowerpot creatures.
102) Weed or water the garden (or the grass, whichever).
103) Play baseball with a stick and a beachball.
104) Start a nature journal.
105) Search for spider webs.
106) Make friends with a grasshopper.
107) Kick a stone down the driveway or sidewalk.
108) Paint fallen branches to create wish sticks.
109) Make a geocache site in your neighbourhood.
110) Have lunch with a chipmunk.
Bonus idea: Do nothing at all!