Summertime: 7 Ways to Maximize Free Time with your Kiddos

With summer’s arrival, as a parent or caregiver you may find yourself with anxious feelings about the long warm days and idle time coming – you may be thinking, how in the world am I going to keep these kiddos entertained all summer? How can we keep TV and video games to a manageable level? How can we help our kids feel engaged in activities that are exciting, but simultaneously include some aspect of learning (or at least not staring into a screen)?

If you are like me, these thoughts have been crossing your mind a lot lately. You are in the right place and hopefully this post can spur some ideas to help your family thrive in downtime together this summer!  

~This is by no means an exhaustive list, and with some adaptation, the below activities can be appropriate for mostly all ages of children~

Cultural Events

  • Attend a cultural festival or event of any sort, such as an art, music, or theatrical performance. Not only can these events be engaging for the whole family, they can spark creative interest in a subject area your child may not have had before.

Reading

  • Read (anywhere!) and join the Austin Public Library! Reading together is one of the best ways to spend quality time, increase vocabulary + introduce concepts for younger children and avoid the summer slide for school-age kiddos!
    • There are of course many ways to do this – in your favorite park, cozy spot at home, or at many of the public libraries in Austin. https://library.austintexas.gov/events/calendar
    • If you haven’t yet visited the new central library downtown, it is a site to see!  It even includes a special Teen Lounge devoted to adolescents and many special events.
    • Book People also offers many events and storytime for younger kiddos; events calendar here https://www.bookpeople.com/event

Museums and Historic Sites

  • Visit a museum or historic site. Here are some favorites!  
    • Laguna Gloria – bring a picnic or pick up food onsite from Epicerie and enjoy on the lawn
    • The Blanton Museum
    • The Thinkery Children’s Museum + Mueller Lake Park
    • Bob Bullock History Museum
    • Austin Aquarium
    • Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center
    • Austin Nature and Science Center

Gardening

  • Plant a small plant or garden to tend; even an indoor plant for when it’s too hot outside! Gardening with your child will give you a sense of shared purpose and responsibility! Here are some of my favorite nurseries to help get you started:
  • Shoal Creek Nursery
  • The Great Outdoors
  • East Austin Succulents  / Tillery Street Plant Company

Photography

  • Practice photography – Even some of our smallest kiddos will enjoy taking pictures with a Polaroid. It can give you a few free minutes while they explore the house or backyard and then provide you with some quality time as you review their gems together! This can create a sense of pride for your children in their work!
  • Spend time making a collage or photo book together of your favorite memories.

Donate to Charity or Volunteer Together

  • Host a lemonade [popsicle / cookie / whatever] stand together and decide on a charity to which to donate the profits.  This activity really stands out as you can teach entrepreneurial skills, create awareness around money, engage in social skills with neighbors, and give to others in need.   

Get the Wiggles Out

  • Austin Bouldering Project – Indoor and outdoor rock climbing for all ages Austin Bouldering Project
  • Play for All Park – This amazing park is located in Round Rock and was made with children with special needs in mind. It is massive and children of abilities will enjoy the many features it offers. Play for All Park
  • Marathon Kids: Walk and Talk – over the summer, walk the total distance of a marathon with your child and talk along the way. Sign up and receive a mileage tracker and conversation topics for each walk! https://marathonkids.org/walkandtalk/
  • Hamilton Pool – beautiful, historic swimming hole located about 20 miles west of Austin. Don’t forget you need reservations for summer visits!  https://parks.traviscountytx.gov/parks/hamilton-pool-preserve
  • Deep Eddy – take a cool dip in Texas’ oldest swimming pool.  This “beach entry” pool is awesome for small kids and adults alike!
  • Zilker Park – an Austin dream day – Ride the Zilker Zephyr miniature train, hang at the park / playground and take a dip in Barton Springs (this one’s better for the older kiddos)
  • Your backyard / a neighborhood street: For a quicker adventure with littles, cruise around the backyard or walk the block to collect some sticks to turn into snakes (try to find some with a fork that can be the mouth!).  Set your child up with paint and paintbrushes and see them transform into snakes. You all can also paint rock families!
  • Play at a Splash Pad! https://freefuninaustin.com/austin-area-splash-pads-2016-schedules/

Making Meaning From Your Time Together

Now that you’ve invested time and energy in an activity together, remember some ways to make it even more meaningful while you are engaged in the event or afterward.  These tips are easy and can really strengthen connection between you and your child.

  • Actively listen! Ask open-ended questions!  When your child is talking, listen for feelings they’ve expressed. Notice these and dig a little deeper.
  • Ask your child to name Three Positives at the end of the day or as you’re tucking them in at night.
  • What are you thankful for in your [day / time / activity we shared]?
  • What was your favorite part of the day?
  • Tell me more about your photo [the book we read / the place we visited/ etc.].
  • Don’t forget the nonverbals! Make sure you are making eye contact, getting down on eye level or putting your arm around your child as you are having conversation.

Know that not every adventure will go exactly as planned (or be free from tears, for those with smaller humans!). Just remember that it is the love and attention you are giving your child and the time you are investing in your relationship that will mean the most.  Have fun and see you out there!


Written by:
Brooklie Gonzales, LPC-Intern supervised by Emily K. Slaughter, LPC-S