Summer Memory Makers

There are tons of ideas out there for summertime “boredom busters” to keep kids entertained when they start complaining “There’s nothing to do!” While small craft projects and simple games are helpful ways to kill time, they are often just that — largely forgettable time killers.

Summertime is the perfect time for kids to try new things and dive into bigger projects, ones that will not only while away the hours but make lasting memories as well.

Here are five surefire ways to make the headline of your kid’s “How I Spent My Summer Vacation” essay.

1. Help Them Find a Cause

It’s never too early to teach kids about the bonds of humanity and the importance of giving back. USA Freedom Corps for Kids was set up under former President George W. Bush to help children find ways to give back to their communities. From downloadable thank-you notes for soldiers to ideas for visiting a local senior center, the site has plenty of suggestions for how kids can get off the couch and get involved.

The spirit of giving is infectious, and kids love to see what other kids are doing. For inspiration, check out Idealist.org’s list of nonprofit organizations started by kids. They’ll be amazed at what small hands and big hearts can do.

Make sure to follow your child’s interests so that volunteering is fun, not a chore. If your son wants to do a lemonade stand, help him find a cause for the proceeds and offer to match whatever money he earns. If your daughter loves animals, contact the local shelter and see if she could visit and help out there.

2. Take a Factory Tour

Want a change of scenery for the whole family that’s fun, educational and free? Try a factory tour, or map a route of several tours in your area and take a daytrip through the world of American-made products.

From toys to pretzels to guitars, manufacturing businesses across the U.S. routinely let visitors behind the scenes — for free! — to see how goods are made and snacks are baked. And most give out free samples! You can tour Charleston Tea Plantation on Wadmalaw Island or see where Cabbage Patch Kids are made in Cleveland, Ga. Visit factorytoursusa.com to find factories that are open for tours near the Lowcountry or wherever your family will be vacationing this summer. Be sure to read the fine print on whether cameras are allowed and how often tours are offered. 

3. Celebrate Opposites

Children love to be silly, and nothing’s sillier than when dessert comes before dinner — especially when it’s served first thing in the morning. Mix up your summer routine by declaring Opposite Day!

To get into the spirit of things, rent the 2009 family movie “Opposite Day” (and watch it with a big bowl of whatever the opposite of popcorn is). The sky’s the limit with this family fun day, depending on your kids’ ages and comfort zones. Wear your clothes inside out. Eat dinner for breakfast and breakfast for dinner (anything goes at lunchtime). Sit in opposite seats at the table. Address your kids using their middle names, or each other’s names. Let them make lunch instead of mom. Head to an indoor ice skating rink or another activity usually enjoyed in winter, not summer.

Your kids will love it, and they’ll never forget it.

4. Go Hunting for Treasures

A surefire way to get kids excited and working together is to do a scavenger hunt or treasure hunt. The stay-at-home mom behind the Scavenger Hunts for Kids Web site  has done all the hard work; simply download and print one of her hunts, which come with picture and word clues. All you need to do is hide or prepare your own prizes for the winner.

You can hide each clue separately to form a treasure hunt or give your kids the entire list and see who finishes first. The Web site includes hunts designed for indoors, outdoors and roadtrips. 

5. Indulge Their Interests

Summer is the perfect time to focus on your kids’ passions. Day camps and lessons are fun ways to help them hone their skills, but you don’t have to leave home to help them express themselves artistically, athletically or academically.

If they’re into drama, encourage them to put on a play, enlisting siblings and neighbors to help. They can act out a favorite tale or write an original script, make props and rummage through your closets for costumes. (Don’t forget popcorn and flowers for opening night!)

If cooking is what they love, let them pick the menu for dinner one day a week, shop with you for the food and prepare the feast (with supervision, of course).

If they’re musically inclined, fiddle with your computer’s software to help them record an original song. If athletics is what they love, host a Summer Olympics for neighborhood kids with relay races, a water balloon toss and other fun games.

Chances are once you give them the initial push, they’ll spend hours — days even — getting lost in what they love to do. Isn’t that what summer is for?

Robyn Passante is a freelance writer and editor who lives in southcentral Pennsylvania with her husband and two young sons. Her parenting blog Training Wheels can be found on Central Penn Parent’s Web site.