Summer Strewing: How to Keep Your Kids Busy

A few weeks ago,  I wrote about giving your children  A Real Childhood Summer by getting rid of video games and social media. I know it may seem extreme, but it is so easy to slide into letting our kids sit in front of the screen too much. Just take a look at these stats:

Children and teens between the ages of eight and eighteen spend about six and a half hours each day with various forms of media. Three hours, on average, are spent watching television, approximately two hours are spent with a radio, CD, or MP3 player, and another hour or more is spent on the computer outside of schoolwork….

In an average week, a boy spends forty-five and a half hours, or more time than he would spend at a full time job, with either television, computer, music, or MP3.- Meg Meeker, M.D.,  Boys Should be Boys.

6.5 hrs a day on media? 45.5 hours a week on media? That’s what I call extreme!

I know that putting an end to video games and TV is not as easy as it sounds. When I was growing up, all the children in the neighborhood played outside together. We were rarely at a loss for things to do and kids to play with. Nowadays, I don’t see a lot of kids playing outside (other than my own). It seems that most children either spend their free time consuming media or they are too busy with organized sports and camps. Gone are the days of sandlot ball and neighborhood play, at least in my neck of suburbia.

This poses a new challenge for us parents. Childhood experts stress the importance of unstructured play, and yet the lack of suitable and available companions can make this unstructured playtime boring and dull.

So what can we do? Here’s one idea that might help: Strewing.

Strewing is a technique used by many unschoolers whereby the parent strategically places books and interesting educational or creative materials about the housewith the intent of piquing the curiosity and sparking the interest of their children. These materials are supposed to invite children to explore and discover. They can be as simple as colorful science and history books placed throughout the home,  or a bag of popsicle sticks along with pictures of things they can build. Or, they can be more involved, such as a planting table with pots of soil, packets of seeds, and a book on plants.

There are some requirements for strewing to be effective:

  1. Don’t make strewing into a type of summer school. Strewing is an invitation to discover, not a requirement to study. Drop all your expectations of what your children will do and learn with the books and materials you have strewn. If your child makes a rail road instead of the Eiffel Tower with those popsicle sticks, no big deal. The idea is to let your children learn through play and develop hobbies and interests.
  2. Be available to answer any questions they have. Encourage your children and show enthusiasm for whatever it is they are taking interest in, even if it is a collection of dead bugs.
  3. Offer a variety of books and activities throughout the summer. But make sure they are high quality and educational. Kids don’t need more cheap plastic toys.

So what do we strew? Anything that might capture your children’s interest. Here’s what my kids are up to:

Feisty has been walking around with his nose in The Reader’s Digest Guide to North American Wildlife. Ever since we found a snake in our back yard, he’s been interested in snakes. He  has also been enjoying the Paint by Number Museum Series and  Zoo Origami. The Dangerous Book for Boys gives him several ideas of things to do.  He can spend hours building robots and knick-knacks with wood, a glue gun, nails, and an assortment of screws and rubber washers.

I  have to admit, I don’t need to do much strewing for Rascal and Princess. They just play and play and play. They dress up in costumes, build forts,  play with the water table, and ride their bikes. Princess loves to rummage through my kitchen supplies and pretend she’s cooking. But I do strew a little… mostly easy crafty activities. You’ll see futher on.

As the kids get older, it’s a good idea to encourage them to develop hobbies and special interests. All-Star is a bit of a baseball fanatic, so he spends a lot of his time pitching to any sibling he can get to be his catcher. Both Feisty and All-Star keep themselves very busy with baseball cards. No need for me to strew those; the boys strew them all over the house themselves. Trading cards teaches them negotiation skills and sorting them teaches the boys to be organized.

One thing I noticed about my boys is that they love to make up their own clubs. For a few years it was the Super Grande Club; next it was the Orioles Club. Now it’s the RBR Club (Red and Blue Rockets).  They come up with a roster, make a logo,  plan activities, and even save their cash for club gear. (flash lights, backpacks, water guns, etc.) Whether or not they actually do all the activities they plan is secondary. Just dreaming up their club is half the fun.

Big-Sis has spent past summers sewing dresses for dolls, her sister, and for herself. Now she is really into writing. Being able to self-publish on createspace has really inspired her. She writes her stories in a spiral-bound book, usually outside under a shady tree and then types it on the laptop.

I have lined up a whole lot of activities I found on Pinterest. My kids have already done several of them –  they are oodles of fun! Take a look: Summer Strewing Ideas. It’s a mix of activities for big and little kids using simple and cheap materials.

With so much fun stuff to do, our kids have no need to watch TV or play video games. Instead, let’s encourage them to fill their days with wholesome, creative play that make summer a time of discovery and joy. Happy strewing!







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