I’m a stay-at-home mom. I feel like I JUST wiped the tears of sadness from my face after sending my one and only child to kindergarten. I was JUST wondering how I was going to manage a new life of flying solo. And now, in the blink of an eye, class has been dismissed for the summer. Now I have a busy 6-year-old who has newly formed expectations of a structured day with lots of snacks. And like so many parents across Michigan, I find myself waking up every morning to the words, “I’m bored.”

Look, I’m a planner by nature, but I don’t feel like I prepared adequately for this summer. Can anyone else relate? The one thing I’ve figured out, though, is that that’s ok. Because you don’t need super elaborate plans – you don’t even need a bunch of money. You do need help though, right? Me too. Stick with me – I’ve come up with a few ideas that could help us all out.

Everything below is based on our biggest helping hand this summer: the element of surprise. I’ve tested these ideas out and found that they work best (in other words: they last longer for the kid and are less stressful for you) when you do a tiny bit of prep work ahead of time.

  1. Repurpose old toys.  There was a time when my son was obsessed with little toy trucks, dinosaurs, and Spider-Man action figures, but now most of those toys are lying at the bottom of a toy box. One night after my son went to sleep, I gathered up a few handfuls of the little plastic toys and I froze them in a block of water. The next time it was hot and my kiddo was bored, I took the ice block outside and told him to “free the toys!” He tried scrubbing the block with different things outside, pouring water on it, and rolling it around the yard. Next time, if there’s room in my freezer, I might try a few smaller blocks to see which version keeps him entertained longer. Let me know if you try it, and what works best for your kids.
  2. Balloon games. I always have a bag of balloons on hand. They’re cheap and a lifesaver for bored kids. Next time boredom strikes at your house, try striking up a game of tennis using paper plates and balloons. Or have a race to see who can collect the most of a certain color in a certain amount of time. Blow up smaller balloons and challenge your kid to carry them between their knees across the room. And don’t forget about water balloon fights… Just keep in mind that balloons can pose a choking hazard to young children and animals, so be sure to monitor the fun and the clean-up.
  3. Glow Sticks. Just in from outside, and already fielding inquiries about “what’s next?” Break out a bag of cheap, dollar-store glow sticks for an impromptu bath party. This is especially fun when it’s far away from bath time.  Feeling even more adventurous? Have a kiddie pool? Take the party outside! Add bubbles, and even music.
  4.  Speaking of bubbles… What about setting up a bubble experiment outside? Grab the dish soap, a kiddie pool if you have one, or a large cookie sheet. Make your bubble solution (here’s a simple and cheap recipe using dish soap, sugar, and water). Then try different objects to see if they work as bubble wands. I’ve had success with hula hoops, my hands, straws, and even the part of the “bunch-o-balloons” contraption that you throw away after you’ve inflated the balloons. Here’s how to make a DIY giant wand with sticks and rope. Here are ways to use plastic cups, a funnel, soda bottles, and pipe cleaners.

Summer break can be long and hot. But it doesn’t have to be boring, or break the bank. Instead, bank on the element of surprise – then share your ideas with other parents. We’re all in this together!