Certain words you tire of hearing as a parent. “I can’t sleep.” “I didn’t do it.” “But I want it!” Then there is the summer staple, the dreaded, “I’m bored.” And “I’m bored” never means, “Yes, I will gladly go outside to play or find some other means by which to amuse myself. So sorry to have bothered you.” What it means, in brief, is, “How much money have you got?”
Do not be disheartened by bored children, or immediately dip into your wallet for expensive but brief commercial entertainment ventures. Consider instead their lack of imagination to be an opportunity for all of you: turn it into the chance to spark their creativity; or family fitness time; or even a Tom Sawyer moment wherein you get them to whitewash the fence. All without spending a dime.
1. Host a Cook-off: You know all those random bits of condiments and pickles living in the bottoms of jars in your fridge? That last apple that’s about to go all wrinkly? The small heel of baguette left from last night’s dinner? Set your kids and their friends loose on these ingredients, encouraging them to try new combinations, and see what they come up with. You can judge the results and award the winner with a handful of chocolate chips and a homemade blue ribbon. (And afterward you can have them clean the kitchen.)
2. Invent a Game : Ever played Don’t Fall in the Lava Pillow Pile? Or Mini Marshmallow Mouth Madness? What about Aluminum Foil Fashion Show? You can try to guess how to play all these games; better yet, invent your own with whatever props you have on hand. Set the rules before you start or as you go along. This is a chance for your kids to work on fairness and taking turns, and they will surprise you with their problem solving skills. (And afterward you can have them clean the kitchen–this seems like a good ending to any activity.)
3. Go for a Walk: Walking is a form of fitness suitable for every age and ability level. If your kids (or you!) are resistant to the idea of exercise, make it interesting by writing up a short list of items easily found in your area and turn your walk into a scavenger hunt. Your kids won’t even notice they’re sweating if they’re looking for their ninth acorn cap, a heart-shaped leaf, and two different kinds of purple flowers. Be sure to pick a realistic distance and route and bring plenty of cold water.
4. Arts and Crafts and Grandma’s Birthday: There always seems to be some family member’s birthday coming up on the calendar. But what can you buy for the grandparent who already has everything? Another Sausage of the Month subscription? Instead kill two birds with one stone and get your kids busy with some craft projects that can double as adorable gifts.
5. Take the Path of Least Resistance: If all else fails, go with it. Tell the kids, “I’m bored too,” and think of all the things you would like to do and modify them to be appropriate for everyone. Want to watch a movie? Pick one the whole family can enjoy, make some popcorn and veg out on the couch for a couple of hours. Want to read a book? Have everyone grab their summer read and spread out on blankets in the backyard. Really need the kitchen cleaned? Teach your kids the value of shared labor, and after it’s done, of shared popsicles.
Boredom doesn’t have to be expensive or emotionally draining. Chances are, with a small spark of inspiration, your kids will light up with ideas of their own. If you’re willing to try new things, to get involved, and especially to get a little silly, you all can have some free fun. And if you play your cards right, you might get the kitchen cleaned in the process.