Your tween may seem to be at his most "in-between" when school lets out for summer. He's not a teenager yet, but he craves the independence of that cool, older group, and he may ask you to let him stay home on his own during the day or just hang with friends. As a parent, you know he's probably not ready for that responsibility. The alternative, putting him in a child care situation, may evoke cries of outrage, since he considers himself too mature for "baby treatment." He has a point!
Rather than leave the daily summer routine up to chance — which will quickly drive you both mad — it's best to create a master plan to fill your child's free time. Kids between the ages of 8 and 12 need to be engaged and active — branching out, building on existing skills, trying out new skills, having ideas, and beginning to direct themselves a bit more, while gradually testing and increasing their confidence and self-reliance. You can help get them there.
Start by checking out what's available (free or low cost) in your area. Local museums, YMCAs, parks, libraries, schools, theaters, or colleges often have special event days or week-long programs. You may find that a clear track presents itself.
Next, take a look at day camps that fit your tween's interests. Though it may be late to register for some programs, others may still have openings. Activity day camps satisfy a tween's thirst for adventure and challenges. Sports camps offer week-long baseball or swimming lessons. For computer fans, look into technology day camps in which tweens can learn how to create Web pages or robots. For the artistic tween, try a video-based filmmaking course or an art or drama program.
Finally, move on to arrangements with relatives and friends. Can your tween spend a week at Grandma's house? Can he spend a day or two with a neighborhood friend at his house (remember to offer to host in return)? Be sure to schedule in family vacation time and leave room for downtime, as well. Tweens need to chill as much as you do.
Of course, it's impossible to fill every hour of every day. But you and your tween can be prepared and remain flexible on those unfilled days. Keep these ideas in mind:
- Activities your tween can do on his own or with nearby friends. Create a "boredom-busting list" full of ideas for home-based activities to fill time slots that pop up — an hour, half an hour, a whole morning. Get the first suggestions from him, so he "owns" the list. Some ideas might include puzzle books, such as word searches or brain teasers (good for car trips, too!); arts-and-crafts kits; and board games.
- Activities your tween can do on her own after set-up from you. Baking homemade pizza or desserts is a good start. If she gets a notion for something grander, have her do some planning. Day trips to the zoo, a skate park, or a historic site can begin with research into costs, location, and directions. Older tweens can practice independence and responsibility by researching moneymaking opportunities, such as pet sitting, yard work, or other chores.