Summers have always had a nostalgic feel to them — especially as parents try to recreate some of those perennial scenes from their own childhoods. But with current hesitation to partake in the usual beach days, summer camps, community pools, park festivals and road trips, this season won’t be that kind of summer. Canceled summer plans can be a bummer, but even more so for your kids.
“Parents should not assume that COVID or social unrest isn’t impacting their child emotionally,” says Jennifer Keitt, author and CEO of StrongKids.me, which helps young children build emotional intelligence skills. “Now is a great time to be intentional about checking in with your kids.”
But just because it’s not the summer you envisioned for your children, doesn’t mean they can’t have fun. Younger kids are easier to please than you think. So, with the help of a few child experts, who are also parents themselves, here are some tips for fun things to do over the summer while at home with your little ones.
Plan for pop-up art projects
As an art and design teacher at the Atlanta-based private school Westminster, Kevin Soltau is a big advocate for the arts — both in and out of school.
“We often hear and talk about the ‘summer slide’ in regards to reading and math, but there are other skills our kids can continue to develop during the summer as well,” states Soltau. “So, yes, we want to keep our kids working on those skills, but also doing activities that engage their fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination, like cutting and sewing or problem-solving activities like puzzles or building.”
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Soltau encourages his own 6-year-old and 3-year-old sons to complete at least some type of daily arts and crafts activity, however, he admits their ambition to create can waver. Therefore, he recommends keeping art supplies easily accessible when children show interest. Additionally, he encourages parents to set up different crafting projects or pop-up art stations, such as clay sculpting, construction paper collaging and painting.
“There’s something different about creating, seeing it set up and curated versus suggesting that the child go make art [or] do something creative,” he says. “Occasionally, while the boys are eating or napping, we’ll set up an activity in another room for them to find once they are done.”
Need more craft ideas? Check out the Children Museum of Atlanta’s CMA At-Home blog, which features an Art and Maker activity every Wednesday. Also, Vinings School of Art currently offers privately-instructed online art classes for children.
Get everyone outdoors
“Summer camps aren’t happening, so parents are going to have to be creative with their summer schedules,” says Keitt. “Planting vegetables in pots or taking pictures outdoors are also activities kids can do with or without parents.”
Physical activity paired with outdoor activity can provide a range of health benefits for kids, including reduced stress, better sleep, improved eyesight and reduced risk of weight-related illness. Best of all, the benefits of outdoor time can extend to the whole family; just find an activity that everyone in the household will appreciate.
“Flying a kite is a very engaging activity for children. Kite flying has been found to reduce anxiety and improve mental health,” offers Keitt as one suggestion. “Of course, there are physical benefits like hand-eye coordination and muscle movement, plus it’s fun! It is an activity that both children and parents enjoy,” she says.
And if you don’t feel comfortable at a public park, you can always utilize the outdoor space where you live. Taking your meals outside for socially-distanced picnics or playing outdoor games are more great ways to create lasting summer memories.
Invite kids to help in the kitchen
More time at home means more meals at home. While that concept sounds dreadful to some, an invitation to help cook can be thrilling to kids. For Smyrna-based pre-K teacher Ashley Horowitz, daily cooking and meal prep became a new chance to involve her children in the meal making process.
“We ordered these cool chef’s knives made for kids on Amazon, so they can cut fruits or veggies, which keeps them very busy,” she says. “My kids have always been interested in cooking, and I let them help when they can. Their favorites are make-your-own-pizza night and taco night, where they get to pick and put on their own toppings.”
Choosing kid-friendly recipes will, obviously, allow children to do more of the hands-on work. Horowitz says her children each have their own kid cookbooks from which they select the recipes they want to make. For a great children’s cookbook, Food Network Magazine’s recently-released Big, Fun Kids Cookbook is filled with more than 150 fun recipes for kids, including their Taco Salad Cups and Edible Cookie Dough recipes.
As another great option, try a virtual cooking class. For a dual lesson on world cultures and the culinary arts, TravelingSpoon.com offers a selection of family-friendly classes, in which children can learn how to make dishes like bento boxes from a home chef in Tokyo.
Try out the other side of entertainment
Has television and tablet time increased in your house? According to a recent study conducted by the nonprofit organization Parents-Together.org, more than half of American children are now spending more than six hours per day online.
“I don’t believe that there should be a hard and fast rule for every child and every family,” Keitt says about the use of screen time over the pandemic. “Screens are fantastic for learning, gathering information and entertainment, but over-usage can be detrimental. I believe that good parents know their children and know when their kids have reached their max capacity with screens.”
One option parents may feel more comfortable with is changing how screen time is used. Instead of utilizing computers and tablets to solely view entertainment, you can use them to create entertainment.
“Aidan and I made a stop motion movie with his dinosaurs,” says Soltau about a video project he created with his eldest child.
If that’s not your expertise, then parents can again turn to the web for more theatrical and creative arts programs. Lawrenceville’s Aurora Theatre offers SummerCamp@Home sessions, in which kids are virtually taught choreography, monologues and voice lessons. Jitterbug in Smyrna offers virtual experiences, such as musical theatre, songwriting, comedy and music lessons. And without a trip to the Big Apple, your kids can even engage in virtual group or private theater, dance and craft lessons from real Broadway actors via the New York-based Artist Babysitting agency.
Enjoy more family time
From COVID-19 concerns to the calls for social justice, summer 2020 is certainly a moment in time we will all remember. But your kids might remember something else: they had the opportunity to spend more time with you.
According to a recent nationwide survey from Sharecare (a digital health company created by Dr. Mehmet Oz and Jeff Arnold, the founder of WebMD), approximately 47 percent of Americans said they’re spending more quality time with friends and family since the COVID-19 outbreak.
The same holds true for both Horowitz and Soltau.
“My husband and I got our bikes out of storage and now ride around the neighborhood with the kids,” Horowitz says about one of the new family activities they’ve picked up since the pandemic. “They love when we ride with them, and it’s something we can all do together.”
And Soltau says his household is doing more family game nights, adding that his son even taught his wife how to play chess. But whether it’s game nights or outdoor bike rides, he stresses the need for families to adopt an activity they can engage in together.
“I think a lot of families felt the strain of constantly being together with no reprieve, but working on something together can help families reconnect,” Soltau says. “It allows for opportunities to foster creative thinking and problem solving as well as conversation. For some children, it’s another outlet to express their thinking and learning as they try to make sense of the world and what’s going on.”
Set up a summer schedule
Just because school is out, doesn’t mean you should throw away the schedule. Quite the opposite, says Horowitz. She recommends scheduling fun activities, such as family games, fun projects and outdoor time into your day-to-day agenda.
“Kids thrive on structure and routine, so it’s more important to keep these as a part of our daily life, probably now more than ever,” says Horowitz, who keeps a summer schedule for her own 7-year-old daughter and 5-year-old son.
“[However,] don’t feel like you’ve got to structure every part of their day with an activity,” she adds. “By being ‘bored’ or having open time to do what they want, away from devices, they may find things they really enjoy doing.”
If you need some help creating and/or adhering to a summer structure, then look into a virtual summer camp. (Yes, it’s a thing.) Some camps, such as the Boy Scouts of America Virtual Cub Day Camp 2020, involve daily Zoom calls, activity kits and guest speakers. Or for a combination of live and self-guided instruction, check out the Museum of Design Atlanta’s online summer camps, which offer design courses on popular kid games like Minecraft and Roblox.
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