What to do about bored kids this summer


Illustration. (Illustration by Hadley Hooper)
July 23

Question: My kids are driving me nuts, not by what they’re doing but by what they’re not doing.

We took our two boys, 4 and 8, and our daughter, 12, to the beach in June, but most of their friends were away when we got back, so now they sit around, watch TV and tell me how bored they are all day long.

Do they think my husband and I are their cruise directors? Why won’t they entertain themselves?

Answer: Your children will entertain themselves as soon as their cruise directors expose them to more interesting activities and give them some new supplies. If they haven’t had birthdays lately, their crayons are probably broken, their softball is falling apart and they’ve read all of their books at least once.

Remember: Summer is the time when life is laid-back, you talk with your children about their dreams (and yours) and you explore the wonders of life. The mind, once stretched, will always be more curious. Even so, many children fall behind in reading and math skills during the summer.

To avoid this pitfall, use more synonyms to expand your children‘s vocabularies. As soon as your youngest child knows that his shirt is red, he should be told whether it is scarlet or magenta. Your middle child might like collections, because he’s between 7 and 10 when children like to sort, arrange and classify objects. If he can do that, he’ll find it much easier to sort, arrange and classify ideas in his teens, when abstract thinking kicks in. And if your eldest is good in English, have her write a short story this summer so she can build on this strength. If it’s good enough, she can submit it to Stone Soup, that fine literary magazine for 8- to 13-year-olds. A rejection will hurt her feelings, but children need small rejections now so they’ll learn how to deal with big disappointments later.

Your daughter is more likely to be published if she reads fine literature. Try “Member of the Wedding” by Carson McCullers (Mariner; $8). It’s about a 12-year-old girl on the brink of tomorrow, just like your daughter, and it will inform her, enchant her and make her laugh and maybe cry a little — all signs of a good book. “Matilda’s Cat,” a picture book by Emily Gravett (Simon and Schuster; $17), will definitely make your young one laugh, and you can probably find it at your library along with some of the books and e-books suggested in “Born Reading” by Jason Boog (Simon and Schuster; $15). As “Harry Potter” has proved, some of the best books today are written for children and teens, but don’t forget long-gone authors like Edgar Allan Poe. “The Best of Poe” (Prestwick; $6) would be a great family read-aloud for your older children, especially if you read it outside in the dark with just a flashlight to light up the pages.

You might put on some classical music while your children are reading, because it can arguably help little brains think better, and play other music to get them — and you — dancing.

Because summer is the time for new experiences, you might splurge on ArtRage 4 (Ambient Design; $50), which is like Etch-a-Sketch on steroids. This New Zealand app, for Windows and Mac, comes in three languages and will let your children use oils, watercolors, markers or chalk in any color to draw or paint digital pictures — and without making a mess.

You might also treat each child to one safe, age-appropriate toy or game this summer. Be sure they can play with it in many ways, that it’s worth what it costs and that it encourages them to think, solve problems and interact with others.

Older classics are at least as important for children. Scrabble builds the vocabulary; Monopoly explains money; chess teaches strategy and long-range planning; a deck of cards teaches addition; a magnifying glass lets them examine bugs and worms; and a Hula Hoop keeps them on their toes.

And if they’re still bored? Give them some extra chores. Nothing cures boredom quicker than that.

Also at washingtonpost.com Read a transcript of a recent live Q&A hosted by Kelly at washingtonpost.com/advice , where you can also find past Family Almanac columns.

Send questions about parenting to advice@margueritekelly.com.

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