“So then I told them they could have free time—and they went and weeded the garden!”
Yes, I actually heard a mom making the above remark, one week after school let out this summer.
Yes, she has very high-energy kids.
And yes, I am still wondering exactly what principles she instilled so well that her under-twelve-year-old children actually chose this way of occupying a summer afternoon!
But oddly enough, the conversation fit in perfectly with the post I had already outlined to write. Because the idea it embodied was one which I had already been thinking about. It’s an idea that resolves itself into that annual question, how are you going to keep your kids busy and happy over the summer?
Entertainment vs. Occupation: The Summer Dilemma
There are two angles from which you can approach the topic of filling vacation hours. The first way is to provide your children with some form of entertainment. It can be a simple as turning on an audio book, or as elaborate as throwing a birthday party. It operates from the premise that to keep kids busy you need to keep them amused.
The second way you can fill vacation hours is by occupying children. Occupation differs from entertainment in providing a direct aim outside of the child’s personal amusement. Don’t mistake my meaning here. Children can have a ton of fun doing productive activities. Remember the first time you got to bake chocolate chip cookies? It was a wonderful experience. You did it just for the fun. But when the fun was over, you had completed a tangible job, producing a tangible product.
Our perspective on the question of vacation time—whether we are aiming at entertainment or occupation—will dictate how we relate to the problem of filling the free hours which vacations involve. It will determine the large-scale structure of how to keep kids busy in the summer.
The Value of Busy Hands
Of the two options, I believe there is a much stronger case to be made for the idea of occupation than for that of entertainment. I know we have quoted it before, but Isaac Watts’ famous “Busy Bee” poem comes to mind again:
In works of labour, or of skill,
I would be busy too;
For Satan finds some mischief still
For idle hands to do.
Most of us, deep down, can testify to the truth of Watts’ words.
Our children’s summers will be far safer, far holier, and far happier if they are engaged in productive occupations, and therefore in learning, even during their time off from formal school.
“But,” you cry, “I don’t want to be a cruel despot who makes my poor kids work the whole summer! That’s why we have child labour laws, after all!”
The Value of Productive Hobbies
How many times have you thought of something you’d love to do—a hobby you’d love to pursue, a language you’d love to learn, a skill you’d love to acquire—and you’ve thought, “If only I had the time!”
Remember that your child is at the stage of life when they have the time.
Of course, there is nothing wrong with expecting a child to do a certain amount of plain old work—just for work’s sake—during their summer vacation. At the same time, things that “keep us busy” can be both useful and enjoyable when we encourage our children to embrace productive hobbies. It just might be a chance for you to find that little bit of time to embrace them too!
A few fun summer hobbies might include:
- art projects
A few ideas of productive pastimes specially adapted to younger children are:
- threading beads
- builder toys (such as blocks, Lego, playdough, etc.)
- finger painting
- flower, leaf, and rock collections (preferably NOT pilfered from the neighbour’s garden!)
- “helping” with cooking, cleaning, and other household tasks
Many older children would find these projects fun as well, while many of the hobbies in the first list can be adapted for smaller children by the help of more or less adult supervision.
How to Keep Kids Busy in the Summer
As astonishing as the weeding anecdote was, what actually stands out as the memorable nugget from my recent conversation, was something the mother of the gardening children said before she told the story.
It was her comment to the effect that, “I’ve learned they can’t play all the time. They can’t even play half the time.”
I feel compelled to add, that this lady is one of the most fun-loving people I know. It’s just that she, and her children, have learned the secret of finding fun in work as well as play.
Productive occupations provide an important key for how to keep kids busy—and educated—over the summer. Don’t let your children miss out on this precious opportunity!
What hobbies and occupations have you found helpful in keeping your kids busy this summer, and in the past? Don’t forget to share your experience in the comments section below.
Wanting to get started on a productive hobby right away? Our Timeless Tip for creating the perfect sewing box is a great place to start:
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