As parents face the prospect of all those long weeks of summer, it's hard to imagine just how to fill the time with educational, safe, meaningful, fun activities. It's not impossible, but it does take a bit of planning and ingenuity. Here are a few ideas to get you started making this a great summer for you AND your children.
Create an art space in your home: This isn't hard. Buy a few inexpensive art supplies and set aside a place in a corner of a room where your child can work. If something in particular seems to interest your child, then you can buy more of that supply. Have your child make definite plans for his art. Does he want to make cards to send to relatives? Does he want to make a series of prints to decorate his room? Does he want to have an art show (maybe just for visiting family)? Art should have an audience, so make a plan and display the art in meaningful ways.
Become a photojournalist: Give your child an older camera you no longer use to create a photo journal centering on a topic of interest to the child. Help your child make a slide show (Power Point) to show to others in the neighborhood or family.
Develop spelling lists centering on summer activities. Doesn't this sound like fun? It might be, however, if you make booklets of words focusing on trips you'll take with your child (and he/she can also use the above-the mentioned photojournalism project to illustrate the booklet). How about giving your child a spelling list of all the places you'll visit this summer? For each of the places, make a spelling list of words that particularly pertain to that place (for the seashore: wharf, crustacean, etc.; for the mountains: pinnacle, sedimentary, etc.). Your child can make a booklet ( with the above-mentioned camera) illustrating that word.
Teach your child to cook: Visit farmers' markets and encourage your child to learn about the produce available locally (spell it and photograph it, too!). Sneak in a geography lesson as you ask your child to find out why the vegetables and fruits that grow here might not grow well in other parts of the country. Ask your child to find recipes using the fruits and vegetables available, plan the amounts, calculate how much to buy and how much it will cost. Yes, you will need to supervise your child when he/she needs to chop foods or cook them, but many summer dishes require much less preparation than the foods we serve in the winter. A salad dressing for a bountiful summer salad requires measuring and mixing and not much preparation otherwise. While you're making that dressing, maybe introduce a little science vocabulary (mixture, suspension, emulsion)
Puzzles: Not every day can offer the opportunity for outdoor fun. For those steamy-hot summer afternoons when everyone just wants to stay inside and stay cool, have a variety of puzzles available. If you have room in an out-of-the-way corner, set up a jigsaw puzzle table. Find a big puzzle that will take several days and leave it there for your child (or you!) to work on occasionally. Better yet, select one of your child's best photos and have it made into a jigsaw puzzle at a photo-processing facility (local drugstores, internet businesses) . What motivation! Why not introduce your child to crossword puzzles? This could develop into a hobby that lasts throughout life and definitely provides a good mental workout.
Camp Home: Lots of kids go to camp in the summer, but not everyone can afford camp and not every child wants to go to camp. That doesn't mean your child can't have some of the great experiences that he/she might enjoy at camp. Set up a camp schedule and incorporate some of the traditional camp activities into your child's week. Buy some inexpensive beads and invite friends over to have friendship bracelet making session. Ask the neighborhood kids over to tie-dye t-shirts (with everyone bringing his/her own plain white shirt). Have an evening talent show. Let the kids work on presenting various talents, then have the parents over on a weekend evening to watch the talent show. And, of course, finish off Camp Home with a camp fire (or camp grill), roasting weenies and marshmallows. Maybe make up a camp song for everyone to sing along! It will be the best summer ever for your children and for the neighbors' kids, all for a negligible cost.