The Anti-Boredom Summer: Have Fun Without a Bucket List

As I struggled with how to plan for summer and find that sweet spot in between no order (which the kids would love and I would loathe) and micromanaging the entire summer (which would be the death of us all by mid-June), I came across something in Jennifer Senior’s book, All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood which set a lightbulb off. (Or is it on? I don’t know. Send help.)

In the chapter of the book where she deals with the season of life I find myself in (the tween and elementary years), she talks about “the indoor child.” Thanks to shifts in our culture of which we’re all well aware, kids spend a lot more time indoors and by themselves than we ever did as parents. Of course, this happens year round, but we’re never more aware of it than we are during summer. Suddenly, we realize our kids are inside all the time. If they’re not entranced by some sort of electronic entertainment, they’re underfoot, complaining of being bored or begging you to do something with them or take them somewhere.

The Anti-Boredom Summer: 3 ideas to keep the kids from being bored during the summer without you having to entertain them all day long - no bucket list required! Manage screen time and let the kids learn to be their own boredom busters. Life Skills for Kids | Parenting | Kids Activities

The problem is, if we acquiesce, and micromanage everything – sign them up for multiple camps and extracurricular activities, don’t limit screen time, and entertain them every time they lack for something to do, they miss out on experiencing boredom.

I wrote about this at one point for The Risky Kids, but I think we – not just kids, but adults, too – have a fear of boredom. It’s not a great feeling on either end. Kids don’t know how to tolerate it and push through to the other side of it, and parents don’t know how to facilitate the process without losing their own minds.

The Anti-Boredom Summer: 3 ideas to keep the kids from being bored during the summer without you having to entertain them all day long - no bucket list required! Manage screen time and let the kids learn to be their own boredom busters. Life Skills for Kids | Parenting | Kids Activities

That’s why I’m declaring this summer the anti-boredom summer. I think it needs a manifesto: Your boredom is not my responsibility. If you’re bored, don’t ask what you can do – figure it out. My suggestions will run along the lines of clean your room or give me a foot massage. Surely you can come up with something better.

Of course, it sounds better and easier in theory than it does in practice. We’re wrapping up our fourth week of summer break and we’ve definitely struggled with it already. In general, though, I feel like it’s going better than expected. Here are a few things that have helped us stay unbored and still (kind-of) liking each other:

1. Having a daily routine.

The framework of this idea was built over the school year and meant for weekends, when we try to strike a balance between relaxation, necessity and losing yourself in front of the iPad all day. In our family, we all like to take some time to wake up and be quiet first thing in the morning. For me, this means writing, catching up on blogs or checking social media accounts. For Elena, it’s reading her messages ands scrolling through Instagram. For Eli, it’s playing a few games of whatever he’s into at the moment. Once I’m awake and have finished my coffee, our day begins. We eat breakfast and then do our daily chores. After those are done, if we don’t have anything planned, the kids know they can map our their day how they like, but it needs to include these elements:

The Anti-Boredom Summer: 3 ideas to keep the kids from being bored during the summer without you having to entertain them all day long - no bucket list required! Manage screen time and let the kids learn to be their own boredom busters. Life Skills for Kids | Parenting | Kids Activities

Work: This includes the daily chores they should have already completed (making their beds, tidying up their rooms, brushing hair and teeth, getting dressed), plus any other chores that might need done that particular day, such as mowing the lawn, picking up dog poop, or weeding. This apparently needed addressing, as on the first day of summer break, I told Eli it was time to get dressed and do chores. He was outraged. “What??! It’s summer break. You know, a break from everything!” If only.

Play: Outside or inside screen-free play, but you must spend at least 30 minutes outside every day. (Eli easily spends 2 or more hours outside if the weather permits. It was for Elena’s good that we added a bare minimum for outside time.)

Read: This year they’re in charge of logging time for our summer reading program. We (me included) read at least 30 minutes during daytime hours.

Create: Spend some time making something, whether it’s building, writing, drawing, cooking or planning an elaborate project. Oddly enough, this is where Eli struggles and Elena shines.

Learn: I’ve never been big on worksheets or reviewing stuff they learned in school, but with Eli I recognize that he needs some practice each week on handwriting and math facts to keep him from losing the progress he made over the year. Still, that might be once a week. The rest of the time it could be anything from practicing music (Elena’s picked up the guitar again) to honing a new skill we might not have time for during the school year, such as coding, or figuring out how to set up a YouTube channel.

Rest: Doing absolutely nothing and being okay with it. Also related: there is such a thing as a bedtime in the summer, which is something I didn’t think needed explaining, but caused much strife the first week of summer vacation.

The Anti-Boredom Summer: 3 ideas to keep the kids from being bored during the summer without you having to entertain them all day long - no bucket list required! Manage screen time and let the kids learn to be their own boredom busters. Life Skills for Kids | Parenting | Kids Activities

I printed out a handy reminder and keep in on the fridge in a plastic sleeve so they can check things off as they do them with a dry eraser.

Kids Summer Anti-Boredom Checklist

Some activities are definitely screen-free, such as working, playing and reading. The others can include screens. Elena might watch a YouTube video to learn a certain song, Eli might use a math app on the iPad, or we might watch a documentary together. The rule is, though, that if you choose to make a screen part of an activity, whatever you choose for the next activity needs to be screen-free. So far, I haven’t set any time limits on screens. We’ve tried that in the past, and it just doesn’t work for us. We’re never consistent and I hate haggling over the time-keeping aspect. (Who set the timer? When did you start? Can I subtract the 10 minutes I spent in the bathroom with my game paused?) For now, we go by our gut. If Mike or I feel like the balance is off, we tell them to wrap up what their doing and do something else.

The only tweak I’m working on halfway into the summer is how to get them started on a new activity without having to repeat myself or doing the thinking for them. I was hoping they’d run with it, but they still depend on me too much to come up with ideas. Now, old Angie would’ve come up with some cute, Pinterest-worthy boredom jar or something. Forty-year-old Angie realizes ain’t nobody got time for that. Instead I’m just making a big ol’ list of ideas – on actual paper, like our ancient ancestors used to do. If they say they’re bored or can’t think of an activity that would satisfy the learning requirement for the day, I’ll simply say, “THE LIST, PEOPLE.” (Note to self: add “learn how to fix Mom an adult beverage” to THE LIST.)

The Anti-Boredom Summer: 3 ideas to keep the kids from being bored during the summer without you having to entertain them all day long - no bucket list required! Manage screen time and let the kids learn to be their own boredom busters. Life Skills for Kids | Parenting | Kids Activities

2. Build in weekly routines.

I still do my grocery shopping during the week and in the daytime, just as I did when they’re in school. Sometimes I let Elena stay home and watch Eli, but often I have them come with me. It is boring, and they don’t want to go, but part of life is learning that there are things you just have to do. I think it’s boring and I don’t want to go, but the food doesn’t magically appear in the pantry. They can complain about it and be miserable every week, or they can accept it, help me shop, and get it over with quickly. We go to the library once a week to collect our reading program prizes and swap out books. Thursday or Friday is our zone cleaning day, which means the kids do their weekly chores (vacuuming, cleaning their bathroom, collecting trash) and help me to deep clean one zone of the house. And because I’m not completely evil, we make the best weather days of the week pool days, escaping to the water for a few hours in the afternoon or after dinner.

The Anti-Boredom Summer: 3 ideas to keep the kids from being bored during the summer without you having to entertain them all day long - no bucket list required! Manage screen time and let the kids learn to be their own boredom busters. Life Skills for Kids | Parenting | Kids Activities

3. Plan a fun activity or outing.

I know, I know … I just told you not to micromanage everything! Still, there are so many simple summer joys that need to be experienced. We adults especially need reminding that it’s okay to step away from our usual work and home routines and do something fun. If I try to wing it, the week gets away from me and we haven’t made the time to do or go somewhere out of the ordinary. Instead, I keep a running list of things we might want to do or go see and pencil that thing in when I plan for the week on Sunday night. I try to come up with something fun to do at home as well as plan an outing. This summer we’re on a mission to try the many beloved donut shops around Indianapolis and figure out which one will be the Six family favorite.

The Anti-Boredom Summer: 3 ideas to keep the kids from being bored during the summer without you having to entertain them all day long - no bucket list required! Manage screen time and let the kids learn to be their own boredom busters. Life Skills for Kids | Parenting | Kids Activities

By incorporating those three things into our summer, we’re able to balance the work that is family life with the fun that is inherently a part of summer. At the same time, it keeps me from having to micromanage every single minute of our day and it forces the kids to not only experience boredom, but take responsibility for it. They’re finding that they’re far more creative than me in coming up with things to do. Summer vacation and boredom are a gift, as it means we’ve given ourselves the space and time to be bored. It’s not a bad thing to have some margin in our lives that are unfilled. At the same time, it’s not a parent’s job to fill that space with time-intesive projects, activities and outings. The true gift is to give that time to the kids and let them discover exactly what they love to fill their own space and time with.

The Anti-Boredom Summer: 3 ideas to keep the kids from being bored during the summer without you having to entertain them all day long - no bucket list required! Manage screen time and let the kids learn to be their own boredom busters. Life Skills for Kids | Parenting | Kids Activities

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The Boxtrolls on Netflix: Inspired Play for Summer Fun

Disclosure: This post is part of a yearly series in partnership with Netflix. As a member of the Netflix #StreamTeam, I’ll be sharing ideas throughout the year on some of the best Netflix titles to stream with your family. The content, as always, is whatever streams through my own mind! In addition, this post contains affiliate links. Hope you enjoy!

Last fall I told you about how we’re slowly bringing the tradition of family movie night back. Thanks to the myriad of choices available to stream on Netflix, our list of movies to watch is growing. With the arrival of summer, we’re happy to find ourselves with more time as a family to sit back, relax, and enjoy the show.

I was thrilled to see The Boxtrolls pop up in our choices of new releases available to stream. Eli and I caught this movie in the theater last fall and we both loved it. The story was fantastic, and the stop-motion animation was incredible. It has a dark and slightly creepy feel to it (perfect to watch snuggled up on the couch with the lights off), but not so much so as to be scary. Leaving the theater, Eli and I both talked about how we couldn’t wait for the rest of our family to see the movie.

I’ve come up with a few ways your family can get the most out of this fantastic movie and make the Boxtroll fun last all summer long.

Read the book

Here Be Monsters! (The Ratbridge Chronicles) by Alan Snow is the book that started it all, inspiring the movie. Whenever possible, I read the book before the movie. For younger kids, this would make a great read-aloud. Kids in grades 3 and up can enjoy the book on their own.

Watch the movie

Stream it from the comfort of your own couch or invite the neighbors for an outdoor movie night!

Serve up a special snack

How fun (and tasty) is this buggy snack idea from Atta Girl Says?

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Act it out

As mischievous and fun as the characters are, the kids will love designing their own costumes and play-acting long after the movie is done. I love these paper bag costumes from Poofy Cheeks.

boxtrollscostume

 

Learn a new game

For older kids who are too cool for dress up, take the box theme to the next level and teach them the classic Dots and Boxes game. Once you have this game under your belt, they’ll never be bored at a restaurant or in the car again.

Play with boxes

I saved the best and easiest for last – the good old-fashioned cardboard box! Those resourceful Boxtrolls knew what was up when they chose the humble box as their favorite thing to reuse, repurpose and recycle. Grab boxes of all sizes, along with tape, markers, and cardboard tubes. Indoors or out, a few simple recycled boxes can inspire hours of creative, open-ended play.

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What movies are you watching this summer, and how have they inspired play beyond the couch?

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It’s (Still) Hard Out Here For the Dads

Appreciating modern dads and the struggle they feel to be the perfect father, partner, and breadwinner in a way their dads never worried about.<br />
Father’s Day | Fathering | Parenting | Father’s Day Appreciation

In honor of Father’s Day, I’m bringing back an oldie but a goodie (at least in my mind). I wrote this post about the struggle I imagine this generation of dads who are in the thick of parenting must feel 3 years ago. I had no intentions of republishing it, and in fact had quite forgotten about it. And then a few weeks ago, while reading the excellent book by Jennifer Senior on the paradox of modern parenting, All Joy and No Fun, I came across this thought from the author:

“This is a strange moment for fatherdom. There’s increasing pressure for men to be actively involved in the affairs of the home, but there’s no precise standard for how much involvement is enough. And if the standard is to do as much as their wives do … Lord, that bar is as high as a bird’s nest.”

That’s exactly what I had on my mind when I wrote this post. I re-read it, hoping that my words were outdated. Sadly, the only things that are outdated are the photos. (My babies!) The sentiment, and the struggle, still ring true.  I know that I can be just as guilty for heaping the pressure and high expectations on to my husband as anyone, so I’m re-posting this as a reminder to myself to be kinder, gentler, and more appreciative of my husband and all he does. The dads that are always reaching for that bird’s nest need encouragement every day, of course, but Father’s Day is the perfect place to start.

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I’m not sure why, but this Father’s Day has me reflecting on fatherhood for more than just the fleeting moment when I’m thinking of something profound to write in Mike or my dad’s cards.  The holiday can seem like an afterthought in our house with the slew of celebrations that come before it and Mike’s general laid-back attitude about the day.  In general, Father’s Day takes a back seat to Mother’s Day.  Does it bother dads?  I don’t know.  But I have to wonder if their silence on the subject doesn’t reflect a larger issue:

It must be tough to be a father these days.

Now moms, I know some of you will roll your eyes at me and launch into a litany of reasons why it’s hard to be a mom, especially a mom to young children.  And I don’t disagree.  Though we’re in the golden years of parenting, some days are drop-dead exhausting.  Mentally and physically exhausting.  I’m always doubting myself, wondering if I’m doing it wrong or screwing them up.  I’m spread thin, trying to be a good wife, mom, friend, daughter, employee, volunteer … and oh yes, take some time for me, too.

Yes, it’s hard for moms.  But this is not only common knowledge, we’re encouraged to share our feelings.  And then we’re encouraged even more to over-share our feelings through blogs, magazines and memoirs.  Yes, it’s hard to be a mother, but we’re not alone.

I think about fathers like Mike and his peers.  I wonder how his generation must struggle with fatherhood.  Their fathers’ lives and expectations were so different.  My dad didn’t change diapers or cook dinner.  He didn’t drive me around or help me with my homework.  He never shuttled me to school or packed my lunches while my mom went to blogging conferences or girls’ trips.  I don’t fault him one bit for it – none of the dads I knew did these things.

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And so these husbands of ours came into fatherhood with a road map that is vastly different from the landscape they find themselves navigating today.  I think about the expectations I place on Mike as a father and husband.  I expect that he will support us while I stay at home.  I expect that he brings home a salary that allows us to live comfortably.  I expect him to work hard, but not so hard that he isn’t home for dinner or to help put the kids to bed.  I expect him to know his way around the kitchen and to help with chores around the house.  I expect him to know our routine, to not play the bumbling fool of a dad when I go out of town.  I expect him to play with the kids, help them with homework (at least math, Lord help me), volunteer at their sporting events, attend their school functions.

I think about the demands that life places on these fathers.  That their careers are number one.  That success means climbing the ladder and having fancy toys.  That they should have man caves and fantasy teams, but dress like Justin Timberlake and know their manscaping from their landscaping (and dutifully tend to both).  They should be totally present in their kids’ lives, woo their wives with creative date nights and handcrafted gifts from Etsy, have their dude time with friends, work out religiously, and work on average 20 hours more a week than our fathers worked.  Yes, do all that and balance it ALL.

Mike on the Gibbon Slackline

Our dads, man.  They missed out on so many bonding experiences with us, but their lives were much less complicated.

I don’t have an answer. (Do I ever?)  But I do know this: I’m here to tell the dads of my generation that I have tremendous respect for you.  You’re doing so much more with much less time, and you do it enthusiastically.  I see you at the swim meets and soccer matches.  I see you in the school carpool line.  I see you in the grocery store.  I see you treading water and never, not once, calling for a life raft or telling the dad next to you that you’re getting tired.  I know you’re exhausted and confused and yet simultaneously thrilled that you’re the kind of dad you are.

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It’s okay to say that this gig is hard.  Your wife won’t hate you or blow you off (wives, please don’t hate your husbands or blow them off).  Your friends will be relieved.  Believe me, it feels so much better to get it off your chest, hairy or not.

I also know this: we have to make fatherhood easier on our sons.  In a way that I feel my generation of mothers has come to realize and accept without feeling defeated, we have to get the message across: that you can’t have it all and something always gives. And that’s okay.  I want my son to enjoy fatherhood the way I enjoy motherhood, without being trapped by it or defined by it.

Happy Father’s Day, guys.  You’ve earned it.

Appreciating modern dads and the struggle they feel to be the perfect father, partner, and breadwinner in a way their dads never worried about. Father’s Day | Fathering | Parenting | Father’s Day Appreciation

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