When kids hit the tween and teen years, summers change. Not only are the kids who were just playing hide-and-go-seek yesterday no longer interested in spending the day at the children’s museum, but they’re getting old enough to pull their weight at home and start learning important life skills. And as a mother, you start feeling the pressure to help them do just that.
Believe me, I’d love for summer to just be one big pool day after another, but older kids need a little more direction than that–not just for the sake of learning and growing, but for keeping them out of trouble. (Or at the very least, from becoming lazy slobs!) Yes, summer is meant to be a fun break from the rigidity of the school year, but no mother wants that to mean sleeping until noon every day and spending hours in front of a screen. A big part of summer fun for teens and tweens can actually be found in challenging, meaningful experiences. (I know that doesn’t sound very fun, but stick with me.)
Before you start planning “productive” activities for your teen or tween, keep in mind that you want them to buy into the idea. They need to feel like it’s their plan if you’re going to get any kind of cooperation, let alone enthusiasm. Most tweens and teens don’t like being told what to do and when to do it (like during the school year), so letting them plan their summer based on their personal interests and goals may be just the thing to get them motivated. (Not to mention it’s great practice for real life!)
Make time to sit down together with a big calendar and map it all out, letting them choose from a list of prescreened activities while staying open to their suggestions. Fill in the big events of summer first like family vacations, reunions, or sports camps, and then brainstorm together to fill in the blanks. Be sure to leave plenty of room for down time and hanging out with family and friends–resist the urge to over schedule summer! That being said, I would also suggest making a loose daily schedule you can both live with. There’s nothing worse than having the same “discussion” over and over again about how they’re sleeping in too late or failing to help with family chores.
Now that I’ve completely overdone the set up (smile), here’s my list of the Top 5 ways to keep your tween or teen busy during the summer:
1. Home work. No, not that kind. In addition to regular daily chores, invite your teen or tween to do things around the house they don’t normally have time for during the school year like bringing in and putting away groceries, helping with yard work, making dinner, or doing laundry. Remind them that the more they help, the more time there will be to do something fun. Block out full days to work together as a family on bigger projects like cleaning out the garage, re-organizing the pantry, or preparing for a yard sale. (You can motivate them by letting them keep a portion of the money.) Do fun activities following big work projects, and put your teen or tween in charge of the planning. Summer is also a great time of year for teaching basic life skills such cooking, ironing, balancing a checkbook, etc. Kids in this age group are often more capable than we think and will feel a sense of pride when they learn how to do these “adult” tasks.
2. Paid work. Part-time work helps teens make friends, comply with authority, develop a strong work ethic, and learn the value of a dollar.You’d be surprised how many places are willing to hire kids as young as fourteen years old. (I was fourteen when I got my first “real” job.) Use your child’s natural interests and talents as a jumping off point. Have them apply for work at places they like to spend their free time, or have them work for you if you have your own business. If your teen isn’t sure what they like to do, they could even sign on with a temp agency and get several small jobs in a variety of areas. Some other suggestions for places to apply for work include swimming pools, construction companies, grocery stores, car washes, medical offices (to do filing, etc.), garden centers, fast food restaurants, retail stores, the YMCA, hotels, amusement parks, museums, or pet stores. If it’s a tween we’re talking about, there are still plenty of opportunities to earn money over the summer by babysitting, being a mother’s helper, doing yard work, washing cars, pet sitting, or helping an elderly person with household chores. Get creative! One fun idea for both age groups is to make and sell something at the local Farmer’s Market. Another is for kids to put together a little “summer camp” for younger kids in the neighborhood where they conduct crafts and games and story-time for a few hours a day for a week and earn a little money.
3. Volunteer work. Don’t just encourage your teen or tween to make money over the summer, encourage them to build their “resume” and gain practical work experience through volunteering. Many organizations offer internships for high school students, and many local businesses welcome teens as part of an informal job shadowing program. Volunteer hours are often required for graduation at many high schools, and volunteer experience always looks good on a college application. Also keep in mind that volunteer positions frequently turn into paid positions after a summer or two. All of that aside, volunteering keeps your teen or tween busy while giving them a sense of purpose and self-confidence that can only be found in volunteer service. Animal shelters, hospitals, libraries, soup kitchens, city and state parks, retirement homes, homeless shelters, churches–the possibilities are endless. Again, go with their natural interests and talents.
4. Brain work. Even though they’ve outgrown the usual summer camps and classes, there are still plenty of ways to keep your teen or tween’s brain active during the summer. The summer reading program at your local library isn’t just for little kids. Have them set summer reading goals and help them research great books to read (great ideas on Sarah’s blog here). There are great ideas for keeping kids of all ages reading and writing in our Do-it-Yourself Summer Camp Kit. Have them check out magazines, how to books, cookbooks, or pool side paperbacks to help them get hooked on reading if they’re struggling. Look into online courses for credit. iTunes and YouTube have free online lectures from major universities across the world. PBS offers amazing educational content, and TED talks are always entertaining and educational. Plan a family game night once a week to hone a variety of skills. Research your county extension office for a wide range of youth programs. While not necessarily brain work, you can also visit colleges your teen might be considering in the future.
5. Fun “work”. In the end, summer is really about having fun, and there’s really no better time to explore new interests and hobbies. Local recreation departments, the YMCA, and community colleges frequently have short-term classes on a variety of topics such as dance, art, cooking, sewing, music, videography, crafting, sports and models designed for quilting. Be willing to buy quilting and sewing materials and help your tween or teen make plans to complete projects and reach goals. For instance, my daughter paid for half of her stained art class last summer and I made sure to take her every Wednesday night for 8 weeks. (She’s actually great at many art forms, so I’ve been thinking of having her enter something in a state or county fair this summer.) Keeping physically active during the summer months is not only fun, but it keeps your teen or tween healthy and improves their mood. Even if they aren’t particularly athletic, encourage them to play around with miniature golf, hike or bike with friends to a favorite destination, swim (of course!), or hit tennis balls against a wall. It can work great to include 20-minutes of active play or exercise on a list of daily “must-do’s” for your teen or tween (more ideas on “must-do’s” here). Lastly, if you have the money, there are always summer camps. Check out www.summercamps.com and search by interest or state for camps that are not only fun, but teach a variety of skills your child won’t learn in school.
Obviously, there are enough ideas here to keep an entire high school of kids busy for the next 100 summers. Don’t think of this as a to-do list, but as a resource from which to glean a few ideas every summer. No matter what, you’ve got enough ideas here to keep both you and your teen or tween busy this upcoming summer. Have fun!
Allyson’s Interview at Studio 5
QUESTION: What are your ideas for keeping tweens and teens busy during the summer?
CHALLENGE: Buy a simple calendar and plan some time to sit down with your teen or tween to map out the summer.
Originally published on May 24, 2013.
Image courtesy of ambro / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Love these ideas! For the paid work category, the summer is a perfect time for a teen or tween to start their own business. Not only will they make money, but they will learn many skills along the way. I just wrote a course that will get students up and running with their idea quickly, teaching them what they need to know along the way. You can check that out at TheEmergingEntrepreneur.com.
Allyson Reynolds says
Love it! I will totally check out your website and share with a few friends who I think would love it as well.
Cheryl Cardall says
great ideas Allyson! I have a 14 and 12 year old and they will be learning to do their own laundry this summer and will each be in charge of planning and cooking a dinner during the week. We are taking a “mega” road trip this summer and they are helping research our route and where we go as well as teaching us about what we will see. We are moving in 3 weeks so part of their summer job will be helping me with the younger kids as well as packing/unpacking.
Allyson Reynolds says
Yes! Laundry and cooking! I’m on that as well. On a perfect day (week) in the summer, each of my children will take turns cooking dinner with me so I can train them painlessly. Thanks for sharing!
These are great ideas!! However, they won’t work for all tweens and teens.. I have tried ALL summer to get my 13 year old daughter interested in all of the above activities. She had no interest in any of them. All she wanted to do was hang out with her friends, who were all busy with other summer activities of their own. From my experience this summer, I have learned that what others view as “fun”, isn’t true of what my daughters views are. At everything on your list my daughter replied, (with eyes rolling) “BOOOOOORING I want something “FUN” to do”.
I have asked her numerous times what she wanted to do and to this she said “I don’t know because I have nothing to do. I can’t think of anything because I don’t know what I want to do”
How do I handle this???
My 13 year old daughter is the same way! What did you end up doing, what was successful?
Yes…the teen with an attitude…what to do…? I think the first thing is in understanding that the attitude has less to do with the activity and more to do with a combination of asserting independence and needing attention…however the attention you give has to be somewhat nonchalant but present, if that makes sense. I make a lot of deals with my son. He likes video games. In exchange for buying a $5 game, he has to do something I want him to do. This is my opportunity to expose him to things and get him up and active. These things range from walking on the track with me, 5 times around, reading articles to me, writing a paragraph about something interesting, running an errand (we live in town), washing dishes, etc…these aren’t big things, but they are things that keep his mind fresh, his body active, learning new skills, and off a screen! Just a few thoughts…hope this helps.
Great ideas! What about also considering study or volunteer abroad programs for your tweens/teens? These kinds of programs not only help kids hone their foreign language skills, but they also allow students to become better global leaders and citizens (abroad experiences look great on college apps, too!). 🙂
Let’s see, when I was a thirteen year old girl. I might’ve liked jewelry making -beading – silver smithing, costume design, makeup artist – (for beauty and movies /plays/ Halloween, etc.), making instructional videos for YouTube, stop gap animation: Lego – clay- and drawn, movie making, theater, dance, martial arts, parcour, rock climbing, baking and candy making for profit writing plays and movies, making apps, coding, dog walking, blogging, photography, music: playing guitar- being in a band – writing music, sports, sewing, dyeing my hair and clothes, henna skin painting. I’d also have liked spending time with each of my parents taking walks and doing idle kinds of touristy stuff like meandering around and sampling food, looking at a nice view, or browsing fun gift shops.
I’m really having a hard time with a 14 years old and a 4 years old. I did so many things with the oldest when she was little, I want to try the same thing with the little one but oldest is bored to hell and don’t know what to do anymore, seems like she just wants to be a couch potato. Help please…..
Thank you for sharing. These are all good ideas. I agree on the variety of items provided. Another idea is learning how to play a music instrument, and videos make that easy for them to learn instead of an instructor. I found Piano For All that provided 200 videos http://bit.ly/Piano58 on how to play the keyboard or piano. My teen daughter would watch the video and then practice along with it on her keyboard. She was kept busy like she was binge watching on netflix. So music is a great activity that kids should try.