What should kids do over the summer?

Well now that’s both an easy and a hard one, because there’s no right answer. There are more like 100.

Let’s just start with my Top 10 GREAT ways to spend the summer.

10. READ. And by read, I mean read…anything. I probably don’t need to extol the virtues of reading to my choir here, but trust me: kids can read the newest best seller, or have fun with old Lego books. It doesn’t matter; I just want to see their eyes and ears on words. The paper based, hardcover book is beginning to become a lost art, but I see it as even more special for all that. Help your child experience the joy of reading beautiful books, and then give him or her your blessing to lie around and read!

9. DO MEDIA, but from the other angle. My kids want to “do media” all the time. I mean, if iPads could feed them, they’d have breakfast served by an iPad daily. So I make a deal: you want media? Then you get to MAKE media. In other words, program, or read up about it. I recommend MIT’s project, Scratch, for younger or more beginning students https://scratch.mit.edu; there are also Ted Talks and more.

8. WRITE. Every child can write a book about anything. The very act of writing teaches careful articulation, vocabulary assessment, creativity, imagination and all those other good things that play out positively in school and in versatile thinking. As a plus, kids can then try illustrating those books. And by write, I also mean type. Just the act of creating is exciting, and with more practice, it gets easier and more fun. Look into nanowrimo (http://nanowrimo.org). 

7.  SHADOW. For teenagers, shadowing, interning and volunteering are amazing. Your child can ask friends’ parents, neighbors and even your colleagues if it would be possible to spend even one day shadowing in a work environment. Just as easily, your child could invite one of these professionals to coffee or boba.. Having even one professional or informational conversation can give young people insight into careers and fields, and help direct choice of major, course of study, and more.

6. TAKE A CLASS. The school year is a nutty time for pretty much everyone. But often summer grinds it all to a near-halt and kids do find themselves with time. There are fun classes that local students can take; they can look into college campus programs (normally for rising high school juniors and seniors); they can look into classes at local community colleges; or they can take classes at community centers. Summer coursework is a fantastic way to test interests or even get ahead for the coming academic year.

5. VISIT COLLEGE CAMPUSES LIKE A TOURIST, JUST FOR FUN! It can be incredibly fun to do informal college visits. Colleges are always vibrant – or if not, they should be! – and making a visit is always a learning experience. There are often plays on stage, cool speakers and intriguing student publications to check out, so why not? They are supposed to be our intellectual epicenters, so check them out! 

4. WORK. Yes! Just work! Take a classic summer job: lifeguard, help at snack shack, coach, babysit, dog walk … gain life experience, responsibility, independence, and savings that can later be used for tuition, smoothies, pizza and collegiate clothing. Many families believe that students should have profound community service experiences or build the next turmeric-powered vehicle, but the truth is that a good old fashioned job where one says, “May I help you?” or walks a small child to a park certainly earns my respect. Learning to be humble, earn for oneself and to work hard is invaluable.

3. SERVE. I say serve in the purest sense. Everyone should do it, but not in a way that's forced. Work with your personal momentum! 

If your child really loves animals, he or she should contact ARF in Walnut Creek, or a similar organization. There are opportunities to serve food or donate canned goods, but there are plenty of lesser known opportunities – and by less well known, I mean kids can create them if they don’t yet exist! Let me clarify: let’s say I want to help women seeking work but I don’t know where to start? I need to start by asking around! Sooner or later, someone will probably mention Wardrobe for Opportunity or similar (https://www.wardrobe.org). And there I go. I can contour my service to be personally meaningful and impactful. I can call a local hospital’s Child Life department and ask what they need. Initiative is powerful and empowering. Make service matter. Mindful service can be transformative; even if it’s not transformative for the person offering help, it makes a difference to someone else. Classic win-win. Service also just means bringing a neighbor who might be lonely a cup of soup and a conversation! These are the things that matter! 

2. PLAY. I can’t emphasis this enough. Kids need fun and rest! It’s great to work part-time, or to read a great novel. But don’t pack the summer. Play a bit!

1. LISTEN! And by listen, I again mean read, but with a twist. Reading and “hearing” words is a bit of a lost pleasure for many teens, especially. So I’m going to stretch my definition of reading a little. Books on tape, podcasts, and similar are fantastic ways to learn, think and enjoy ideas. My little kids were recently listening to Cornelia Funke’s Dragon Rider in the car, and I simply can’t get enough of it. The beautiful writing, incredible reading by Brendan Fraser and loveliness of the imagery is addictive. Books fire the imagination and enhance our creativity and reading skill. Listening is also a form of reading, the way I see it. Anything that gets one’s mind into stories is a gift.  


reading for fun, and what to read?

Reading is taking a hit. At least the old page-flipping, ink-on-paper kind of reading. 

Please know that if I could write with ink and quill right now, I would. (Maybe that is the app I developed in my parallel universe life, where I have sweet technological and app-making skills.) But seriously. There is some empirical evidence to suggest that while any reading is good, old-fashioned page flipping is better. 

Score one for this crusty old Shakespeare lover! Consider this piece by Scientific American:


To be fair, I'll add a concession. Any reading is good, even Minecraft manuals (or so I tell myself as a parent). Here are some of my favorites, for unusual and engaging reading for junior high and high school students, and if there's time, parents too. I've added a few notes about these books, and why I think they're worth your time and consideration. As with any new material, please review for appropriateness for the specific reader. These books won't hurt with vocabulary building, reading skill and by default, test prep either!

1. Slaughterouse V by Kurt Vonnegut (Uncommonly written, cleverly styled, sardonic war novel about the fire bombing of Dresden)

2. Catch 22 by Joseph Heller (Witty, ironic and iconic story set during WWII)

3. The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett (Published in 1911, an absolutely beautiful novel that, though very much embedded in its original time and place, is engaging, sweet and focused on children) 

4. The Giver by Lois Lowry (One of the earlier dystopian novels, The Giver is a fascinating, simple study of a society that wants to heavily influence how people live and understand their world) 

5. The Maze Runner series by James Dashner (I was totally surprised and wowed by this series; like The Hunger Games books do, the Maze Runner novels assess a society where invisible forces control people's lives, ostensibly with "good" intentions)

6. Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card (Not quite a dystopian novel, this deeply philosophical Sci-Fi book of genius still touches upon the way that societies sometimes use their children in destructive ways, even with those same "good" intentions)

7. Candide by Voltaire (Not just a literary classic, this unusual book is full of dark humor and is at points laugh-out-loud funny; it will be very unfamiliar in style and content to most younger readers, but it is packed with cleverness and insight, with a distinctly European flair)

8. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury (A book about books, this short and intense work brilliantly captures what it means to lose - or keep - intellectual meaning and reality. I might call it a "light" alternative to 1984)

9. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger (If you haven't read it in some years, or if the high school isn't teaching it, it is simply a must read - best for juniors or seniors, due to language/content) 

10. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain (Many high schools do not teach Twain anymore, which strikes me as a great loss; this text earnestly and powerfully takes on slavery, racial stereotyping and the beauty of one socially-undamaged child's understanding of friendship and human connection)

Happy page-flipping! Or Kindling. Just kindle the joy of reading, and I'm good.