While writing this, we are three days into summer break. My children are seven and almost three, and they are home all day now. Kids can be so excited about the break from school, but when they are that young, they don’t have the freedom to go out on their own. With the kids stuck with me, the summer months have me constantly panicking about healthy development if we aren’t doing anything fun, and their academic development if we aren’t doing anything educational.
The first day my son was hanging out with gramma and uttered the two words every mother loathes, “I’m bored”. He was surrounded by toys, just had a sleepover with his cousin, had a movie night packed with snacks (she’s a good gramma), and even had his Nintendo Switch and tablet loaded with YouTube Kids. The summer months of boredom have begun.
I am a stay-at-home mom—or a work-from-home mom I suppose—so when the kids are home, I definitely notice. I want to be that mom with the perfect summer break schedule and plenty of outdoor time. This is the first week, and I’m already panicked about what we can do and how I can make summer special. My partner works Monday to Friday, so it’s just me, all day, every day. I signed up for it, for sure, but it still feels like an insane amount of pressure. I feel like their child development is solely in my hands and if I fail, they fail.
We need to be outside.
We need to have a picnic.
We need to get physical activity.
We need to have fun.
We need to ride bikes.
We need to go to Canada’s Wonderland.
We need to have sleepovers.
During the pandemic I was off work over summer break. I took on my niece and nephew, as well as my son and daughter who was one at the time. Every day we did something fun, trying our best to stay away from big, bad electronics—it was exhausting. We painted, played soccer, went for picnics, and made art. We even threw a big day-time Canada Day party, and did the same for the kids’ birthdays, before their “official” parties. They were happy, but I was drained.
Now, I feel immense pressure to do all of that and still work from home full-time. It feels impossible. Every minute my son is in front of YouTube or my daughter is having too much screen time with Octonauts, I feel like I’m failing as a mother, and I know I’m not alone. That mom-guilt will get you, and Instagram photos of Martha Stewart-like moms have me torturing myself (no hate on them, I think what they do is amazing!).
Here’s the thing: I don’t have a single memory of being bored as a child over summer break…and I’m sure I threw those words around left and right. My mom and dad worked. My older brother worked. There was no way we were going on big excursions constantly. We didn’t have a backyard or a pool. That means a lot of time spent inside.
I guarantee I spent so many hours playing Nintendo 64, or Xbox when I got a little older. My friends and I would have horror movie marathons and binge-gaming nights. Which, by the way, all sound like stellar ways to spend a day now that I’m a grown woman. Of course, I have memories of Marineland (don’t worry, we all hate that place now), days at my aunt’s pool, fishing with my dad and very vaguely camping. But those were “sometimes” activities.
So how do we let go of that mom-guilt? What our kids are going to remember are those “sometimes” activities. They won’t remember every hour of every day. THAT is what I need to keep in mind in my day-to-day life. Every moment doesn’t need to be memorable, we just need to be happy.
So, how can you keep your kids entertained on summer break?
I’ll help you the best I can, but I need some help too! Let’s start by dropping how we feel obligated to do big, exciting things like summer vacations. We know our children like fun. Do the big things when you can, within reason, and don’t sweat it when you can’t. Learning to enjoy yourself with big plans, small plans and no plans is all a part of healthy development.
The summer months can actually be a good time to develop emotional skills when they aren’t exercising their academic skills as often. Regulating the “I’m bored” feeling is a challenge, and one I never mastered as a kid—I still eat everything in sight when I’m bored. There are plenty of ways to work on these feelings, and they include things like conflict resolution. Something I like to do is make a list of all the things the children can do first thing in the morning. This includes chores, electronics, creative projects and more. That way, when they’re bored, they know where to look for ideas.
But here is the part about big, bad electronics. They aren’t so bad—something you’ll hear from me a lot on Parental No-Scope. Do I think kids should be glued to their screen-time all day? No. But I genuinely believe it does more good than bad. Video games, for instance, can do a lot for child development. They improve hand-eye coordination, problem-solving and reflexes—even games like Fortnite. Child development isn’t all printing, reading (which you do in video games too, by the way), and learning math.
If you aren’t buying that games like Fortnite can be educational, you can consider how Minecraft or Roblox might be nurturing the creative side of your children. Foraging, creating and designing are all great skills to master. So, if you don’t want to break out the paintbrushes and deal with the mess, video games can absolutely help keep the creative juices flowing.
Of course, we can also pull out screen time at any second over the summer months. If you are someone who feels guilty when their kids spend too much time on their screens, there is a workaround. Seek out educational content. YouTube channels that focus on education. Netflix shows like Super Why or The Magic School Bus. Kids still think they’re getting away with watching great shows or playing games, but they will learn something new at the same time!
If your kids are a little older, there is an Android game called Goodville I’ve recently found. It takes the formula from games like Farmville, but ties in learning facts throughout. It actually has a huge focus on mental health, with daily brain challenges and quizzes to help monitor your mental health and well-being.
Even if that isn’t your educational game of choice, it just goes to show how many options there are out there if you do a little research. Technology works in the same way. Sure, remote control cars are fun, but are they making the most out of our kids’ time? Toys like Sphero still let kids rip around the house, but now they can program it themselves. Sphero is a STEM toy that uses a tablet or phone to teach children how to program a robot themselves. They think they’re playing, but you know they’re learning.
That summer break mom-guilt is never going to die down. We, as parents, will always be comparing ourselves to others, and thinking we aren’t doing enough for our kids. I promise you, you are. Your children aren’t going to remember that you had to work over summer break, or that they stayed inside for a day. What they will remember is the fun they had, inside or out, and fun can include screens and electronics too.