There is no point where it’s easy to have kids, but summer kinda ups the ante. For 9 months a year, you can trust professionals to keep them occupied for 6 – 8 hours a day, but come June:
there is nowhere to hide.
The tough thing these days is wanting your kids to have a fun summer but not wanting their brains to turn to powder in front of the game console. And depending on where you live, you might not be able to just let them roam free like bears in north Glendale. So, you might have to do some directed activities, but nobody trained you to be a 24/7 children’s entertainer.
We got yo back, dawg.
Here are a handful of books that have some mind/creativity-stimulating value but are nothing less than raucous summer fun. These are what summer should be about: school is like lab work, but in summer, you gotta take that shizz into the field. This is application of the fecund young mind to the wider world: and you are in charge, parent. Here are the how-to manuals you’ve been looking for . . .
Made By Dad: 67 Blueprints for Making Cool Stuff from Scott Bedford – First off, as Mr. Bedford says himself on his website, this is not only for dads and it’s not only for boys. There are 67 – sixty seven – projects in here, and you do not need a degree in engineering to do these. The supplies are everyday objects like cardboard and plastic cups and the equipment is stuff you probably already have or can get on the cheap: an exacto knife, a glue gun, etc.. About the most exotic tool I saw was tin snips – and come on — that’s just hardcore scissors. That said, these are genuinely rad projects; these aren’t “macaroni art on a paper plate” type deals. For example, the very first project in the book is making a silhouetted skyline of New York being attacked by Godzilla (to be placed in a window). YASSS! That’s fun and develops art skills. It is exploding of the imagination and cool in the extreme. For you X-File types, how about an Alien Abduction Mobile? It’s basically a flying saucer with some dude in his jam jams (or maybe it’s Samantha Mulder), an uprooted house and I suppose whatever else you want, all suspended below the saucer – like they’re being sucked up into the alien(?) space(?) vessel. A 3D “Chutes-n-Ladders” game board? Or even a 3D multi-level city built along the edge of a table? You can totally handle this and your kid can, too. Also, seems to me that there is room for developing a lot of these projects in your own direction – so, you might be able to recast a given activity with your own personalized spin.
It’s adventure time with 50 Dangerous Things (You Should Let Your Children Do). This is Gever Tulley and Julie Spiegler’s collection of things you’re probably tempted to say “no” to… but then you think, “Do I really want my child to be a wuss?” No, you don’t. So go ahead and supervise, but let them, for example, climb a tree, play with fire, take apart an appliance and more. LOOK, you can’t protect them from physics, so just get in there with them and show them what’s up. “No” is only a stop-gap.
Geek Mom and the Geek Dad series – These books are kinda related, and span several age groups. Geek Mom includes everything from making your own maps to inventing your own superheroes to fitness to science and so on. Geek Dad is a touch text heavy, and actually has three books: Geek Dad, Geek Dad Book for Aspiring Mad Scientists and Geek Dad’s Guide to Weekend Fun. You can make a MacGyver radio, medieval weapons or even an outdoor movie theater. The “geek” comes in with a nod towards a lot of sci-fi, superhero, adventure tropes, but the mom/dad thing doesn’t seem to matter so much. The handy thing with all these are the little charts that go with each project, indicating cost, time required, difficulty, etc..
Unbored series – There are three books in this group: Unbored Games, Unbored Adventure and the original Unbored: The Essential Field Guide to Serious Fun. Elizabeth Foy Larsen, Joshua Glen (and a bunch of other authors) take their cue from a Roger Price saying: “Use the world or you let the world use you” (paraphrased). It reminds me of when I was a kid, and I’d complain about being bored. My dad would say, “Oh, you’re bored, are you? Okay then – grab that broom.” That’s exactly what these books are about. They are a varied collection of art projects, game instructions, book lists, pranks, weird factoids, adventure challenges – something for every mood or area of interest. How to make a stop-motion film, do a recycling project, pack for a camping trip and design your own game are just a few examples. This is not so much for young children, but Middle School and up seems about right.
Maybe your kid is so new, they’re still a squawling blob of babyness, so it’s not about “summer break”. OR you’ve got a blend of ages PLUS one baby. Well, take a look at Experimenting With Babies: 50 Amazing Science Projects You Can Perform on Your Kid, by Shaun Gallagher. These are quite literally simple things you can do with your infant, like test their reflexes – no, not by lobbing beanbags into their crib! – or seeing how they respond to various visual patterns. They might help you pass the long, droning hours of otherwise unstimulating baby interaction or they might help teach your other kids about their tiny sibling. Of course, they are all completely harmless for the baby; this is not a joke book, this is 100% legit “experiments” that explore their… babyness.
So, it would seem it’s possible to get your kid from June to September without them turning on you like a moody cat. They’ll have fun, create cool memories, and maybe even throw a little shade at their science teacher next November, “Boil water in a paper cup? Yo G, I already did that with my mom last summer – what else you got?”
Also: We have a Summer Reads Series on Tuesday mornings, with story time for the youngins & juice boxes.
And, for straight reading material, maybe dip back into the classics of your own childhood; that’s what I’m doing.