Now that there's a lull between the end of summer camp and the start of the school year, many parents are starting to hear the old refrains, "We're bored" and "What do we do next?" Or maybe the comments are coming from inside you. For those families whose children are not yet back in school, we've got a few affordable ways to keep the fun going until school starts again.
Become a tourist in your hometown. It's not too late to explore your own town as if you were visiting for the first time. Make a list of the things you want to do and check them off as you do them. That's what Colleen Fee, a stay-at-home mother of three boys (two ages 8, one age 11), did before she, her husband and the kids moved from Maryland to Moorestown, NJ last year. "We make the list to make sure that we didn't just fritter the summer away and didn't have regrets at the end of the summer," says Fee. "I feel that their free time is precious, and I want to make sure they get a chance to do the stuff they don't get to do during the school year." Fee also doesn't want to waste her increasingly shrinking opportunities to do fun things with them while they're young. "They won't want to hang out with me forever!"
Photograph the summer. Grab a digital camera and get out of the house to make an alphabet scrapbook of your summer, suggests organizer Leslie Coneely of LaGrange, IL. (http://www.spacesimplified.com). For little kids just learning their letters and numbers, "you can look for letter shapes (not actual letters) everywhere you go: a stick in the backyard shaped like a Y, a rainbow shaped like a C, a museum entrance shaped like a T. Everyone in the family can participate, and pretty soon you'll be seeing letters everywhere you go." Turn it into a bigger game by trying to take pictures of all 26 letters or all of the numbers through 10 before summer ends.
Drive to see family. Take a road trip to see family or friends (but don't commit to too long a drive). San Gabriel, CA resident Lupe Martinez, her husband and three children just made the nearly eight-hour drive to see her in-laws in Tucson for a week. "My tip is to leave early in the morning before dawn," says Martinez, a lawyer. "We pick up the kids from bed, pop 'em in the car and off we go. By the time they wake up we are half way there and not once have I heard 'Are we there yet?'" Her husband drops everyone off at Burger King to use the restroom and get take-out breakfast while he's at the gas station fueling up. While one parent drives, the rest of the family eats – and then enjoys a movie popped into a portable DVD player.
Rediscover the library. The local library is a great place for free entertainment, says organizer Terri Urquhart (http://www.interiorsbygemini.com), a Niles, IL., mother of three kids, ages 4 to 9. They have movies, videogames and books, of course – and many have a book club that offers free games or prizes as rewards for reading or being read to. Urquhart also has fun following what her kids are interested in. "Just a few days ago, my 6-year-old son was asking a ton of questions about ants," she says. "So we took out some books about ants from the library and then went out on some ant hunts in our neighborhood. It was amazing to see them in action once we knew what they were really doing." The next subject to be explored at the Urquhart home: cars. "How do they work? I can't wait to find out!" she says.
It's not all play. Include some household chores and activities on a daily list to give the otherwise endless summer days some structure. Organizer Aby Garvey of Edwardsville, IL., gave her two kids, ages 9 and 11, a weekly to-do list. "While chores may not seem like a fun way to fill the dog days of summer, their daily to-do list didn't take up a very large share of any of their days," says Garvey. The chores can be simple things for little kids to do like making their beds and keeping their rooms tidy. Other items on the Garvey kids' lists include practicing guitar for 10 minutes and reading for 20 minutes per day. Slightly older children can also do bigger chores such as loading the dishwasher, vacuuming, dusting or sweeping the floors. "The kids still have plenty of free time and unscheduled time to relax and do things they enjoy, but the daily to-do list adds just enough structure to the day that they don't get bored and they learn how to do some new household chores," says Garvey, whose checklist is included on her blog.
Prepare for fall (gently). Pack a light picnic, go to a local park or anywhere that is relaxing and listen to your child speak about the upcoming school year, suggests organizer Rivka Caroline (http://www.sobeorganized.com) of Key Biscayne, FL. "Leave your own sensitivities and guilt at home and actively listen to your child," says Caroline, mother of seven children. If you really listen and decide together on certain ideas that could make this school year better, you might agree on things like fixed times for homework or a different snack set-up. "The main point is for your child to feel able to discuss whatever they think will be beneficial for the school year without any fear of being judged or criticized," she says. And you know they're more likely to implement changes that they think of themselves.