Positive Parenting: Twelve+ Ways to Keep Kids Active, Engaged & Learning This Summer

two children sitting in boxes near each otherBy Jaimie Hutchison

So, we’re home with our children, and we are limited in what outings we can do. So now what? How do we keep our kids active at home? How do we keep them engaged in learning? How do we come out of this summer feeling like we did our best, especially as we may be working from home at the same time?

As we gear up for the season in these challenging times, it’s important to acknowledge that each family will have their own very unique work and home situation. Some people may have more flexibility, more caregivers in the home, or older children who are more independent. Others may have less flexibility, younger children, and may be the sole caretaker of those children. We honor all of you, and know that you are doing the best you can. The following suggestions are offered as a starting point for consideration while navigating having children home and working at home this summer. 

  1. family cooking togetherChildren thrive on structure. They do best with routine. Create one for your family that will give children some academic time, active time, and FUN time. Also build in some time for you and your work, and you and the other supportive people in your life. Of course, as you create order, create some flexibility too. This will help everyone adapt.
  2. Keep the routines. Do you have a set bath time? Bedtime? Mealtime? Keep these times consistent. It will allow everyone to feel some sense of normalcy. It also allows our brains some breathing room. Change is taxing on all of our brains.
  3. Get outside! This is really important to do when and where you can. Being out in nature resets our mind and body in so many ways. If you can go outside to a place that does not have a lot of people, then do it. Do you have a yard? Use it. 
  4. Have a family meeting to discuss the situation and the structure you are implementing. Ask every family member to step up the best they can. Emphasize that you are all doing this together, as a family. 
  5. family painting pictures and making a messBe creative and make some memories! Maybe you make a fort and read books together, perhaps you have a picnic dinner in the living room while blasting your favorite music. This will be challenging, this will be new, but we can still have fun. Actually, fun is essential in keeping our stress levels manageable. Did you know that belly-laughs are therapeutic?
  6. Managing your stress will help your kids manage theirs. Your children will look to see how you are managing everything. Taking care of yourself is the best way to be sure you have something left to give to your family and your work. You are important. You are worth taking care of.
  7. Mix things up. Write a book, have a family game night, hold a movie marathon, make a craft with household materials, write a rap! There are no limits. 
  8. Build in learning with activities. We all need to eat, right? Cooking together is a fun way to practice practical math. Double a recipe, measure, add, figure out how many servings you will be making. Take the things you do, such as bedtime stories, and ask some reflective questions after you read. What was the most surprising part of this story? Which character do you relate to the most? How many pages are there? Anything that is age appropriate is helpful. 
  9. kid at tablet while parent looks onSpeaking of learning…there are free online educational programs available while schools are closed. I like Kahn Academy and PBS Kids. If they are going to be on their tablets more, you can make it educational. 
  10. What about activity? Adults need 30 minutes of physical activity a day, children need at least an hour, preschoolers need three hours a day. Get creative. Have a dance party in the living room, use the Wii Fit if you have one, make activity stations around the house and rotate them for two minutes each. For example, kitchen: jumping jacks, living room: sit ups, dining room: wall presses, and so on. The main idea is to stay active. A health body and a healthy mind are connected. The healthier you stay, the better you will feel. 
  11. Work together. Thinking of doing something fun? Share the list of fun active things to do at home and let the kids choose. Swap menu planning and chef duties amongst each other. Take turns caring for pets. This will give you some variety, and be an example of how everyone is working together. 
  12. Stay connected. Schedule times you can reflect with your colleagues via teams or Zoom. Pick up the phone and check in on someone you work with to see how they are doing. Connect with your family via Skype or over the phone. Just because we are may be physically distanced, does not mean we should not be connected. It will take us all working together to get through this.

parents biking with their childYou are doing your best. Have compassion for yourself and others. We can get through this.

Deputy Director of the MSU WorkLife Office. Jaimie Hutchinson holds a BA in Psychology from Michigan State University, a MA in Community Counseling from the University of Northern Colorado, is a licensed professional counselor, licensed school counselor, and holds a Global Career Development Facilitator certification.