By Dr. Sarah Haas *
It's summer time! This means that our kiddos get a well deserved break from learning in a formal setting with a higher adult to child ratio and now have the opportunity to use some everyday life skills (creativity, problem solving) in a setting that allows for more individualized attention!
Having more time with your kiddos can be fun, but it can also be a time-demanding, stressful job. Also, some of the activities that your kiddos want to do can be not-so-fun for you to engage in. So there are many pitfalls that parents can fall into that can take away from enjoying all of those smiles their kiddos give and those warm, heartfelt moments that parents often so desperately want.
Pinterest can be great resource in creating some really creative activities for children that include "painting" a fence with water or cutting grass with scissors (who THINKS of this stuff?!). Having said that, sometimes the outcomes shown on Pinterest can be misleading (anyone else try to make the chocolate chip cookie bowls using an upside down muffin tin, or was this just my Pinterest fail?) or can take more time to set up the activity than it takes for children to complete it!
So how else can you enjoy being with your children while also having some fun yourself, or can provide you with some needed downtime?
Having structured activities can be one way to mitigate these concerns! However, this takes some planning ahead on the parents' part (which can make this somewhat difficult to do). Structured activities have the benefit of setting at least some expectations for how long something will take, how to engage your children in the activity, and things you can do to make the activity more enjoyable for you.
For children who have high activity level or ADHD, having activities that are naturally stimulating (e.g., has multiple things that are interesting, allowing these children to switch their attentional focus easily) and in places where running and screaming is allowed--and better yet--is encouraged(!) as this allows them some space to be themselves without being told "not" to do this or "don't" do that are excellent choices for activities! This often means engaging in activities outdoors.
Not to mention...being outdoors has some major mental health benefits for kids and adults alike, including reducing symptoms of depression and anxiety (not that you may need research to demonstrate this point, but here is a reference: Pearson & Craig, 2014). Allow me to demonstrate this point: if you were to think about taking a vacation, where would you want to go? Usually people suggest going to the beach, mountains, or the woods are at the top of their vacation spots. There's a reason that we all feel these activities to be relaxing!
Some structured, outdoor activities can include:
1) Going to the zoo - for a lower cost version of animal fun, you can go to your local pet store and check out the animals there. Ever been to That Fish Place? You can even pet sting rays there!
2) Going to a safari
3) Going to an amusement park
4) Going on a dinosaur hunt outdoors - Help find things that may show a dinosaur has been through your area (tracks, broken tree branches). Let your child guide this activity and allow them some space to be creative! You might be surprised about how your child uses the scientific process to determine if a dinosaur has visited your house or not!
5) Going geocaching, search for painted rocks, and call it *treasure hunting* - I've been told the app from Groundspeak Inc. is a good one. You can having your kiddos gather small toys or trinkets they don't play with anymore and hide them, so they can create a geocaching spot! Also, check out 717 Rocks or Lancaster Rocks! Facebook groups for some information on where painted rocks may be hiding locally.
6) Going on a nature walk - Here you can bring a ziplock bag and place all your child's cool finds in there! Or you can create a list of things for your child to find while on your nature walk, and check them off as you find them (e.g., butterfly, yellow leaf, a berry, a squirrel, a baby bird). You can also get a camera for your kiddo and get them engaged in taking photos of the nature that happens all around them! You can also engage in nature activities / walks through Lancaster County - see some pre-planned activities on our "events" page, which can be found here: https://www.centerforactiveminds.com/events
Parenting Sic Tip: Increase mindfulness and decrease stress by encouraging your child's focus on things they see, hear, smell, feel!
7) Taking a hike - Here is a local hiking Facebook group: https://www.facebook.com/Day-Hikes-of-Lancaster-County-PA-1591331154483752/
8) Having a dance party - You can create a song list with your kiddos.
Parenting Sic Tip: Increase the fun-o-meter by introducing bubbles, glow lights or glow necklaces, or buying dress up clothing from the Dollar Store (they currently have things like fairy wings, skirts, and dinosaur heads) to "level up" the dance party once the kids are starting to get bored with this activity.
9) Playing in the rain - Is any activity more iconic of childhood than this?
10) Catching fireflies - OK, this might be *slightly* more iconic....
11) Going to a petting zoo
12) Having a water day outside - This can include any water-fun activities you can think of, including water balloons, squirt guns, a kiddie pool, throwing colored powder to make colored shirts, make bubbles, make colored bubbles, and so much more! See our Pinterest board here :)
13) Have a picnic outside
14) Have a photo booth - Here you can take some fun pictures of your kiddos and have lots of different hats, glasses, clothes, etc. set up that they can use to make funny photos! Hey, maybe the pictures will be so funny your kids will want to recreate the image as adults ;)
15) Planning a day of science experiments
16) Running a magic show
17) Planning an Olympics Sports event - Did you know that improving a child's sports skills can help children learn to follow rules (rules of the game!) and children feel that sports skills can increase their ability to make friends (Bigelow, Lewko, & Salhani, 1989) and their self-esteem (Smoll, Smith, Barnett, & Everett, 1993)? As such, this one can be a big "hit" (you see what I did there?)
18) Having a carnival / Going to a carnival
19) Watching a movie - I don't recommend this to be an everyday activity, although as parents we can easily get sucked into using this more and more since it often keeps kids' attention. Although watching TV can seem innocuous, there are a number of research studies starting in the 1960's showing that children engage in a higher rate of aggressive behaviors after viewing it on TV (Bandura, Ross, & Ross,1961). In addition, there is an alarming rate of aggressive behaviors that occur in 1 TV show, even in shows like cartoons that are specifically geared towards children, and that the TV rating systems do not accurately reflect how aggressive a TV show is (Linden & Gentile, 2009).
Parenting Sic Tip: Make this even more fun by placing a tent or a beach shade in front of the TV or by going to a local outdoor movie showing or "movie in the park" with your kiddos.
20) Going to a trampoline park
I get that some of these can sound like a lot of work, especially if you work a full-time job. Some of these you can decrease the amount of work you need to do to set up these activities (e.g., go to a local carnival rather than setting one up outside of your house). It can be helpful to take some small goals for engaging in these activities. For example, what if you set aside the morning (before lunch or nap) to do one of these activities? There are enough ideas here that you can do 1 per week for the whole summer! Often families find that the work that goes into these activities is worth the benefit to their kiddos - try it and find out for yourself!
Enjoy your kids. Smile and laugh with them. Really see which activities they enjoy and lose themselves in <3
Disclaimer: The Information provided through this website, including the various pages, blog posts, and emails, are designed for informational purposes only and does not constitute a client/therapist relationship. The information is not intended to replace medical advice or mental health treatment. Every individual person's situation is unique. Please seek out individual care if needed.
Bandura, A.; Ross, D.; Ross, S. A. (1961). Transmission of aggression through the imitation of aggressive models. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 63(3): 575–582.
(a DOI is a direct link to the article - either the full article or the abstract, which is a short summary of the article and it's findings).
Bigelow, B. J., Lewko, J. H., & Salhani, L. (1989). Sport-involved children's friendship expectations. Journal of Sport & Exercise Psychology , 11, 152-160.
Linden, J. R. & Gentile, D. A. (2009). Is the television rating system valid? Indirect, verbal, and physical aggression in programs viewed by fifth grader girls and associations with behavior.
Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 30(3), 286-297.
Get a copy of the full article here: https://www.drdouglas.org/drdpdfs/LG_in_press.pdf
Smoll, F. L., Smith, R. E., Barnett, N. P., & Everett, J. J. (1993). Enhancement of children's self- esteem through social support training for youth sport coaches. Journal of Applied Psychology , 78, 602-610.