3 tips to keep Tri-State kids engaged, enlightened -- and not so encumbered by tech -- this summer

Strategies involve incentives, routine and a hobby
3 tips to keep Tri-State kids engaged, enlightened -- and not so encumbered by tech -- this summer
Posted at 12:00 PM, Jun 08, 2017
and last updated 2017-06-08 12:00:32-04

CINCINNATI -- Tri-State students counted down to the end of school, as did some parents. Maybe for very different reasons.

Summer break brings unique challenges for each family’s situation, but most struggle with some common transitions into a new schedule. What should we do for 10 to 12 long -- or short -- weeks?

Some local parents share their tips on setting the tone for a fun, organized summer with kids.

Tip 1: Establish clear expectations about technology.

Whether your child is two or 16, devices are a common battleground. On a rainy endless June day, it could be all your kid wants to do. When their eyes glaze over and their hard-earned brain cells start to disintegrate a week into summer, it may be time to check out some basic screen time suggestions from the American Academy of Pediatrics.

For toddlers and pre-K students, only up to an hour of screen time is recommended -- think four "Paw Patrol" mini-episodes. “High-quality programming” should be the norm, such as PBS and other educational shows.

AAP also recommends viewing with the child, called “co-viewing,” and using the material to interact with them. Discussing the content of what the child is seeing can help them process the material, learn new vocabulary and bond with you simultaneously.

School-aged children's guidelines are more up for interpretation but basically involve not allowing your child to replace dinner with a steady diet of Madden football and MineCraft.

A pre-tech checklist for the Hall family, whose children attend Lakota schools.

Setting the summer rules from the beginning can help prevent fights later in the summer. Some questions to consider include: should phones be allowed if you are driving them somewhere? When can their earbuds be in? Where will devices be placed at night? Most recommendations involve not in their bedrooms. What exactly involves “no devices at the dinner table?”

Meranda Abercrombie, Northern Kentucky mom of three, requires her kids to clean their bedrooms, do one household chore, eat breakfast and their mid-morning snack, play outside, and read or write for 15 minutes before using video games or tablets.

“There's no choice but to follow it around here,” she said. “I'm not mean about it, but I put all electronics out of reach, then give them out once things have been completed.”

Kimberly Hall, whose four children attend Lakota schools, started the plan when her kids were seven, 10, 13 and 14.

“It worked and still works! If you turn on screens before completing ‘the list,’ you lose that screen for the day,” she said. “I noticed the fighting was greatly reduced, and they started playing board games vs. screen time. I highly recommend it -- it made a drastic change in our home.”

Hall’s “list,” like Abercrombie’s, involves basic chores as well as prioritizing reading and higher quality activities. She also has a compassion-building line in the chore list: “help someone else in the family.”

Maybe your kids will “de-tech” long enough to find something to do outside for more than the required time, or to get wrapped up in a summer book not required by school in the process.

Not sure how to make a family media plan? Try this step-by-step media plan maker.

Tip 2: Don’t ignore the need for routine.

Just because the bus isn’t rolling down the street at 8:04 on the dot doesn’t mean kids will stop craving routine. Having a plan for summer days can make the long stretch of nothingness more productive, manageable and fun for children of various ages.

According to a PBS article, “the challenge is to develop appropriate daily routines for children which offer them a sense of consistency and security, yet remain flexible and responsive to the individual needs of each child.” While routines may seem limiting, especially when the last day of their bell-based school schedule has become a distant memory, routines can actually give children more freedom to thrive within the given constraints.

For kids with emotional or developmental issues, routine can not only be a suggestion, but an essential to a successful summer transition.

For a flexible-but-routine-based summer schedule, have a rainy day and sunny day plan option, a daily family activity calendar or a bucket list. Kids can be heavily involved in creating these plans, too. Abercrombie’s family bucket list includes everything from small pleasures, such as popsicles, to larger trips like visiting COSI or the Cincinnati Nature Center.

For some quick ideas, check out Cincinnati Parent’s list of 100 things to do in Cincinnati.

A calendar of summer events for the Stephenson family of Northern Kentucky.

Erin Stephenson, Northern Kentucky mom of 6- and 3-year-old girls and a baby due this month, made a comprehensive calendar of free and cheap events near her family, including free movies in Florence and events at Erlanger Train Depot Park.

“In order to keep my sanity, I try to keep my kids busy at least every other day by scheduling some kind of activity. My oldest has sensory processing disorder, so I try to incorporate something that will help her with it,” Stephenson said. That includes using fine motor skills, heavy activity and more.

“We usually go to splash pads, the zoo, the Cincinnati Museum Center, Recreation Outlet, Smale Park, swimming, parks, library events or just hanging out with friends,” she said. “We enjoy the summer by staying busy and having fun together.”

Regardless of the outing, leaving home at a similar time daily, eating together as a family and throwing in some spontaneous activities will eliminate some of those I'm-so-boreds you heard last summer.

Not a “Pinterest parent?” For those rainy “crafty” days, you can literally purchase a premade summer calendar full of activities that are easy to do at home. Also, if your children -- or “littles,” as they call them -- are on the younger side, an air-conditioned play date at The Red Balloon may be in order.

Tip #3: Your kid needs a hobby.

Snapchat is not a hobby. But designing an app might be.

A fidget-spinner is not a hobby. But what if your kid built them? Netflix is not a hobby. Well, it is, but maybe not the kind your child needs to mentally develop this summer. (See Tip 1.)

Helping your child match up an unexplored interest with a hands-on activity can be the difference between a normal summer at the pool and a summer that shaped a future career interest, or at least engaged your child mentally for some period of time.

Better Homes and Garden suggests leading by example. If a parent has a hobby, a child is more likely to develop their own interests. It also suggests that your child’s mental challenge -- such as building 6-foot-tall forts out of marshmallows and toothpicks, becoming a photographer or designing an app -- may take up some of your space. So, be prepared to sacrifice a corner of a room.

Exposing your child to others interested in that topic can spur their passion forward. Volunteering with your child at an animal shelter could take your child’s “kittens are cute” obsession from making cat memes to a meaningful and selfless pastime.

Tired of making dinner? There may be a secret cook in your 6-year-old. Here’s how to involve kids in the kitchen based on each age group. Disclaimer: get your aprons ready.

You may even have a future travel agentin your family.

With some basic guidelines -- example: “We will be in South Carolina the last week of June and have $500 to spend on activities” -- your child’s mind, Googling skills, and creativity may go wild creating an itinerary.

Who knows? Maybe you will find yourself sitting on the beach that your teenager chose eating a steak dinner your 8-year-old made. Or maybe not.