My sister Kelsey and I are 8 years apart; when she was heading into her pre-teen tween years, I was still a toddler. My parents did an amazing job of keeping us (and our brother in the middle) entertained during the long, hot summer days by coming up with things that we could all do together.
Often, these activities could be separated into four categories and were scattered throughout the days of the week to keep boredom from ensuing. We had a nature category, one for arts and crafts, a baking and cooking one, and the “do something nice for someone else” category. My mother’s favorite phrase during those years growing up became, “You don’t have to be bored—you’re choosing to be bored.”
Whether we were busying ourselves by making clay figurines, baking a batch of cupcakes for the lady at the post office, or searching through the grove to find fallen citrus for orange lemonade, I don’t recall having too many summer days where I ever felt like there was nothing to do. So, from ice cube tray ice cream to thumbprint flower pots, here are a few of my favorite summer boredom busters for tweens—that don’t leave out the toddlers.
Summer Boredom Buster #1: A Nature Scavenger Hunt
Summer is an invigorating time to awaken kids’ senses to nature: the flowers are blooming, the fruits of nature’s springtime work are plentiful, and the days outdoors are long and warm.
A nature scavenger hunt is an educational way to get kids outside and doing something fun this summer. You can customize the nature hunt with things that abound in your area. For the younger kids, keep the scavenger hunt basic with items like “butterfly” and “bird.” For the tweens, make it more challenging with items like “Monarch Butterfly” and “Ruby Throated Hummingbird.”
Here are some good items to add to your scavenger hunt, depending on what you see during the summer season in your neck of the woods. For the tweens, be sure to make this list more specific.
- Green grass
- Animal tracks
- Spider web
- Berry bush
Summer Boredom Buster #2: Ice Cube Tray Ice Cream
Some of my sweetest summer memories as a kid revolve around eating ice cream cones. As I grew into my tween and teen years, I began experimenting with making big batches of homemade ice cream, everything from lavender and vanilla to double chocolate raspberry to simple and fresh strawberry.
I’ve made ice cream in all sorts of ways over the years, both with an ice cream maker and by experimenting with methods like the freeze and stir. But, the one that kids of all ages seem to love is ice cube tray ice cream. This method is a good one because not everyone has an ice cream maker handy—and it’s also an activity that lasts for a couple of days and gives the family a sweet treat to anticipate.
Ice Cream Instructions:
- Begin with any ice cream recipe that kids can make, reserving one cup of your liquid in the fridge.
- When you reach the point in your recipe that says, “pour into an ice cream maker,” have your little ones pour the mixture into ice cube trays instead. Most recipes should fill about two trays.
- Let the ice cream freeze in the trays overnight and, the next day, have your kids use butter knives to gently nudge the frozen cream out of the trays and into your blender. You may need to help them speed things up, as the ice cream does melt quickly.
- Next, add your remaining cup of liquid into the blender alongside your cubes and blend until smooth.
- Pour this mixture back into a container and freeze for an additional 12 hours.
- When you’re ready for your treat, top a bowl of it with fresh fruit, find a shady spot underneath your favorite tree, and enjoy!
Summer Boredom Buster #3: Thumbprint Butterfly Flower Pots
Growing up, summertime in my home meant it was time for the plants, produce, and flowers to come alive. We had everything from avocado and pineapple trees, to banana plants and endless rows of purple and white daisies, as well as herbs like chives, parsley, and basil.
As a summer vacation tradition, my siblings and I always painted and decorated terra cotta pots—usually with butterflies. Us “little ones” (as my mom called my brother and me) used the thumbprint method, but my older sister found some quiet painting contemplation while she worked on more complex, free-hand butterfly designs.
The Supply List:
- Use the black paint marker to draw the butterfly’s body.
- Squeeze a bit of paint onto a paper plate and have your child dip their thumb into it before pressing it to their pot four times to make the butterfly’s wings. You can repeat this around the outside of the pot as many times as you’d like. For the tweens, have them work on free-hand butterfly designs instead. Perhaps have them work on the wing pattern of a Swallowtail or Painted Lady Butterfly.
- Once the paint is dry, fill it with soil and seeds for flowers, plants, and herbs that will attract real butterflies. Encourage your kids to water the seeds as needed and watch the magic unfold as things bloom and attract their new insect friends.
What to Plant to Attract Butterflies:
- Butterfly bush
Summer Boredom Busters #4: Random Acts of Kindness
During the summer months, a feel-good way to combat boredom is by encouraging your kids to come up with random acts of kindness, a small way to teach them about generosity. Tweens may roll their eyes at this one at first, but it’s good to reinforce the idea that compassionate acts, no matter how small, no matter what age, always matter!
To make it a family affair, make homemade chicken noodle soup for a neighbor who doesn’t feel well or go through your closets to donate outgrown clothes to a local charity. To make it exciting, make a list. When the list is complete, reward yourselves by doing something fun together as a family, like going to a movie or spending the day at the beach or lake.
An Inspirational List for Do-Gooders of All Ages:
- Leave good luck pennies on the sidewalk
- Donate pajamas to a local charity or shelter
- Make a meal for someone who isn’t feeling well
- Make a card for a friend who needs it
- Take a plate of treats to the fire or police station
- Plant something and give it away
- Buy a family in need a meal
- Read a book to someone
- Hold the door open for someone
- Feed the birds
When you’re used to having your tween in school, summer vacation days can seem long, with endless hours to fill. Luckily, there are lots of creative ways to keep your little ones and their tween siblings happy and excited over the long summer. Whether you’re venturing outside for a nature stroll amongst the trees or turning to homemade ice cream to make your afternoon sweet, finding boredom busters that everyone from tweens to toddlers can take part in is an essential cure to the summertime doldrums.
And, just remember, like my mother used to say, you’re only bored if you choose to be! From all of us at Elfster, wishing you an adventure-seeking, creativity-inspiring, kindness-giving, treat-making summer ahead!
For more ideas on all things summertime, explore our Summer Fun Gift Guides. Still want more activities to keep ‘em all busy? Read up on the rules of Secret Santa, then get an online Secret Santa game started! You can also connect with us on our Facebook page, on Twitter @Elfster, or Instagram @Elfstergram
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