11 Ways to Keep Little and Big Kids Engaged When School Is Out, But You Still Need to Work (Blog Post)
Hot tips from the Catalyst community on how to keep your cool during this challenging time.
You’re a working parent, or you have children in your life, and you’ve got your calendars, spreadsheets, Notes app, and post-its getting you through the obstacle course of your day so that you can get your work done and still tend to the kids when they’re not at school. But, year after year, you come face to face with one of the most vexing challenges known to parents: What do you do when school is out for the summer, and summer programs either haven’t started or are simply unavailable?
Catalyst has your back. We surveyed our community of staff and freelance talent—who are privileged to be able to work remotely from home and/or flexibly—and asked them to share their secrets and tips to keep your kids busy in the summer. Here’s what they revealed.
FOR CHILDREN 2-9
- Create a sensory-play zone.
Angelina Lawrence is a freelance graphic designer with three children, ages eight, six, and two. On rainy days, or when it’s too hot to play outside, she sets up sensory play for her youngest child. “Tupperware, dried beans you forgot about in your pantry, a few small cans, and a couple of measuring spoons lead to some serious toddler fun,” Angelina reports. “I’ve had my tot request this activity three times in a day. Caution: Beans will be spilled, but you can get some work done!” Adds Jed Selkowitz, Chief Marketing Officer, “We also use pasta and rice, but that gets everywhere! You can also introduce small stones and shells that you find throughout the summer.”
- Create an obstacle course in your backyard.
On sunny days, Angelina sets up hula hoops, bouncy balls, and a sprinkler to jump over in her yard as an obstacle course. “This gives me time to work on my latest design project on the patio.” Even better: Her kids are invariably inspired to create their own course, “which gives me even more time to work.”
- Make activities plug-and-play. Erin Souza-Rezendes, Vice President of Global Communications, keeps a rolling “art cart” in the kitchen “stocked with paint, brushes, paper, markers, and stickers” for her nine-year-old daughter. “Art projects are always a ‘yes’ activity—no need to interrupt a working grownup to ask for permission or to reach things on high shelves. The fact that the art supplies are right by the kitchen table and sink makes self-directed play and cleanup easy.”
FOR CHILDREN 10 AND UP
- Set up your kids for financial responsibility with a neighborhood bake sale—and donate the proceeds to teach generosity. “My kids love to bake,” says Joy Ohm, Vice President, Science Writer and Advisor. “They spend a few days in the kitchen making cookies, brownies, muffins, and scones, and then they have a bake sale for the neighborhood, which keeps them outside for most of that day and generates money they can donate to a good cause.”
- Get out the activity books.Catalyst freelance editor and writer Elizabeth Reich has two children, eight and ten. When she and her husband are working, they give the kids activity books, 3D puzzles, and arts and crafts activities they can do without parental assistance. “I try to remember that it’s healthy for kids to be a little bored!” Elizabeth adds. In fact, sometimes “that’s when they come up with their best ideas, and being bored allows them to decompress after the pressures of school and other activities.”
- Visit the local library. Joy’s local library is close by, so her kids can walk there by themselves. “The library allows children ten and older to be there without a parent. They choose several books, stop at the nearby bubble tea shop for a special treat, and then come home with lots of new books they are excited to read.”
- Help your kids develop their imaginations and create storybooks.Angelina’s two older kids take several sheets of paper and crayons and use their imagination to create their own storybooks to read at bedtime. They take turns serving as the author and illustrator of their creations. Not only do they work together, but they create the activity they’ll do that night. No arguing about what to read before bed!
- Say yes to any activity involving exercise and some independence. “My husband and I have aligned that this summer is about supporting more ‘adulting’ experiences for our 13-year-old daughter,” reports Paula Hornbaker, a Product Executive working on Catalyst’s Frontline Employees Initiative. “So, things like walking to a local restaurant for lunch with friends, riding her bike to get ice cream, and meeting friends to hang out with at the pool or local park get high levels of support from us.”
- Make peace with screens.Erin knows how to make screentime work for her. “Have a 30-minute meeting? Set a timer for 30 minutes,” she advises, “and offer age-appropriate screentime with a pre-approved learning game or TV show.”
- Encourage small ways to make some of their own money. Paula encourages her teenage daughter to make some extra cash beyond her normal household responsibilities and allowance. “Small doses of baby- or pet-sitting are perfect for her to increase responsibility and get the experience of earning her own money without taking away the freedoms that come with summer.”
- Assign your child age-appropriate chores—and educate them about gender equity. “When my 12-year-old son was younger,” says Vice President of Community Growth and Engagement Megan Kincaid Kramer, “an often-heard phrase around our home was: ‘If you have time for screens, you have time to clean.’” Megan and her husband, an educator whose summer break schedule largely matched their son’s, maintained a list of age-appropriate chores that kept him busy, helped him build valuable life skills, and took some household to-dos off their list. Adds Megan, “Given that in 2023, women still pick up a heavier load when it comes to household chores and caregiving responsibilities, I know that making sure my son has the skills and practice to contribute to his household one day is an important part of continued gender equity.”
Feature image: Paula Hornbaker and family.