Staring at a screen is no way for our children to spend the summer. Yet millions of them will be, according to a recent study, Common Sense Media’s 2015 Common Sense Census. “On any given day, American teenagers (13- to 18-year-olds) average about nine hours (8:56) of entertainment media use, excluding time spent at school or for homework. Tweens (8- to 12-year-olds) use an average of about six hours’ (5:55) worth of entertainment media daily.”
Playing video games and surfing social media don’t have to displace swimming, riding bikes, or shooting hoops in the driveway. If you’d like to help your family recapture the simpler joys of vacation, devise a practical plan before you slip into a screen-dominated summer.
Here are 10 wonderful ways to fend off a summer screen funk:
1 - Create a family journal or commonplace book. Record your ideas and plans for the summer in a commonplace book, similar to a journal. Keep it in the kitchen or the family room. There you can brainstorm, paste photos, jot recipes, copy quotes, make quick sketches and record reactions to your family’s summer activities. If your children are writing, have them add a few sentences in their own handwriting. If not, ask them a few open-ended questions and write down their thoughts. For some ideas, try Teaching Kids To Keep a Commonplace, My Commonplace Experience or Visual and Commonplace Journals. Children’s fiction lovers note: In The Austere Academy from Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, the characters Duncan and Isadora Quagmire keep commonplace books.
2 - Register for the Summer Break program with Charlotte Mecklenburg Library or other free reading programs such as Barnes & Noble Summer Reading Triathlon or Scholastic Summer Reading. Offering much more than reading-related activities, the revamped Charlotte Mecklenburg Library program is divided into categories: Read, Write, Create, Explore, Play and Give. The programs include helpful reading lists and recommendations. B&N features books set in the summer such as Half Magic by Edward Eager, one of my daughter’s favorites.
3 - Take the stage with an acting, dancing, improv or musical theater class. Sometimes all it takes is a little training to turn that couch potato into a budding performer. Dozens of classes are starting all across the Charlotte area, including the Charlotte Children's Theatre, Acting Out Studio, Masterworks School of the Arts, Davidson Community Players, Matthews Playhouse and Acting Up, to name a handful.
4 - Explore the sights of Charlotte. Help your children compile a list of museums, parks, theaters and events you haven’t experienced recently. Try to visit one per week. 101 Fun Things To Do in Charlotte is a place to start. Sample the outdoor concerts such as Whitewater River Jam at the U.S. National Whitewater Center on Thursdays and Sundays or Davidson's Concerts on the Green. Or try the Observer’s weekly listing of entertainment events.
5 - Plant something substantial. If your children are not ready to take on a vegetable garden, start with a clay pot or a small plot. But make sure your seeds will grow into something showy. Sunflowers. Marigolds. A pumpkin patch. Pike Nurseries, Renfrow Hardware and other home-and-garden centers have low-cost or free classes for kids. Find gardening with children tips here.
6 - Volunteer together to expand your children’s world and encourage empathy. If you don’t know of needs in your community or through a church, try contacting a service organization such as Hands On Charlotte or Volunteer Match.
7 - Make music of your own. Instrumental music teachers often have summer slots they don’t have during the school year. Why not let your child sample a new instrument or try taking one up just for the summer, if you’re not ready to commit to the annual expense yet? At Charlotte Academy of Music, one summer class combines beginning piano with art and another one-day class focuses on percussion. Performing in a band, songwriting and recording are part of the summer camps at Ballantyne School of Music.
8 - Develop the real artist within. Don’t be satisfied with your children “building” something on Minecraft. Even reluctant boys will enjoy art and some crafts, given the right projects (Frugal Fun for Boys). Or visit one of the pottery painting studios in time to have a plate or a mug ready in time for Father’s Day. Summer art classes abound, either at the Mint Museum or dozens of other locations. Don’t want to spend much? We’ve done low-cost art classes for friends in the neighborhood, with parents taking turns being in charge of projects. You can find fun ideas online; just make the projects are real, live, messy art you can pin on the wall or refrigerator.
9 - Learn an invigorating new sport. Summer is prime time for trying athletic activities you or your children have never attempted. Not just the typical spring and summer sports of golf, tennis, swimming, baseball and softball, but others such as archery, fencing, karate, figure skating and ice hockey may be pursued during the summer months. Check out the Summer Cool Camp at Pineville Ice House.
10 - Mix it up in the kitchen. Plan at least one menu a week with the children as the primary chefs. Try another form of cooking every time, moving from the oven to the crockpot, from the skillet to the grill. Don’t want to cull recipes from your cookbooks or recipe websites? Then try a service such as eMeals, Super Healthy Kids, or 100 Days of Real Food.
Creating a strategy for summer and writing about it together help to build family identity and attachment. Use your journal pages to interview your children about their discoveries: Which concert was a favorite and why? Which piece of art captured her attention at the Mint Museum? If you reflect on all these activities in your commonplace book, you’ll end up with a lasting memento of the fun you’ve had.
So don’t spend summer staring at a screen! At Families Managing Media, we’re here to help. We’ve seen that as screen use decreases, families find ways to recapture the joys of childhood and face-to-face family communication. Visit the Families Managing Media website for more resources.
Send any of your successful summer strategies and photos to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. With your permission, we may use some of them in a future blog.