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First of all, I'm not against screen time. We use them a lot over the summer, for apps that help keep up everyone's math skills, and to share pictures of summer adventures. We track our hours for the library's summer reading program online. And we use it for fun – I love having a houseful of kids playing Xbox and bouncing off the couches in my family room. None of that is bad.
That being said, I've never looked back at the end of summer vacation and wished we spent more time in front of screens. Screen time seems to come naturally, but we have to work harder at the other stuff. Here are some ways to do it.
1.) Have a list of ideas. My kids are always saying, "We should try out this park," or "I want to read this book," or "we should try this experiment." And right now, we have no time because they have schoolwork and after-school activities. So we're making a list. Every time one of the kids or I think of something that sounds fun, we write it on our summer list. Once school is out, we'll look at our list and plan some days to try these things. If you're looking for ideas, try The Artful Parent for arts & crafts, Steve Spangler Science for science experiments, and our very own our site book archives for suggestions on stuff to read. You could also make a list of parks or museums or ice cream places (yes, definitely do that one!) and try a new spot each week.
2.) Have some areas set up for play. Todd Oldham, the designer who now has a line of kids' arts and crafts supplies called Kid Made Modern, has some great advice for raising creative kids: "Get them as many art supplies as possible and set up areas to make stuff that won't freak you out if it becomes a rainbow colored war zone." Yes! When you have a designated spot for things like painting or coloring or gardening or water play or...whatever...kids will use it. I used to pack away my kids' craft supplies, but now I have them in a corner of the kitchen and the kids know they can work at the kitchen table. They're much more likely to get creative when the supplies are on-hand. Set up a little spot for kids to garden where they won't ruin your favorite plants, but they can dig in the dirt and even plant some things of their own. Or (my favorite!) set them up with a fairy garden.
3.) Have consistent times for screens. We do so much better when we have an established time you're allowed to be on devices. It takes a week or two of kids asking constantly, "Can I play on the Xbox?" and me saying, "Not until 5 o'clock," every time, but eventually everyone knows the schedule and knows it's not going to change. You could have a set time every day for screens. Or you could have designated screen free days and designated screen time days. Whatever you decide, consistency is key.
Photos by Laura Falin
For more kids' activities and easy recipes, you can find Laura at Peace but not Quiet, and on Facebook and Pinterest.
Opinions expressed by parent contributors are their own.