Why Kids Benefit From a Summer To-Do List

Play is important for kids, especially in the summer. But the days are long, and they may need help filling them with productive activities. . VP Photo Studio/Shutterstock

If you have school-aged kids on summer vacation, how long will it be until one of them complains about being bored*? I give my elementary-schooler three days, but I bet it's barely three hours before she asks to use something with a screen, whether it's games on her iPod or shows on the TV.

Limiting kids' screen time gets harder to do on lazy summer days, especially when kids have to occupy themselves while parents work, run errands or do other adult things. But so-called "before you can play" lists circling on social media may be able to help.

I'm not a huge fan of the name, as play for kids is hugely important and should be a priority, especially in the summer. Instead, I think of it as a task list for kids consisting of chores, fun physical activities and creative brain games that must be completed before they've earned the right to sit and stare at a screen.

The bare necessities

There are lots of variations and customizations for lists, but they all generally include the following basics:

1. Chores. They must tackle some reasonable, age-appropriate chores, such as making the bed, picking up a room, or folding laundry. You can decide which chores and how many, depending on what you think is reasonable. One day maybe they clean out all their drawers and remove clothes that don't fit. Another day they might clean out their closet. It can be a short chore list on some days and a longer list on others.

2. Physical activity. They must do some sort of exercise for 30 minutes, whether it's playing in the yard, running around a track or dancing in the living room. You can adjust the amount of time or activity to suit your child.

3. Brain-boosting work. Exercise is good for the body, but the mind needs a workout, too, which is why kids should spend another 30 minutes reading, doing a puzzle or perhaps practicing a musical instrument to keep those brain gears working. Math workbooks or other creative projects such as painting or coloring are good options, too.

4. Self-care. Sometimes kids need reminders about basic personal wellness. Have they brushed their teeth, showered, brushed their hair, trimmed their nails and/or dressed in clean clothes? Have they put on sunscreen for their time outside, taken their vitamins or eaten a healthy breakfast?

5. Help. Have they asked a family member if they need help with anything? Maybe a brother needs help putting fresh sheets on a bed, or a grandmother could use a hand hauling boxes in or out of the basement. Some days, no one will need anything — but it never hurts to ask.

You can make your own list or print out an existing one and hang it on their bedroom door or the fridge. That way it's an easy visual checklist for the kids, and when they're done, they can be confident of a "yes" from you when they beg to pick up their phones.

*The rule in my house is that whoever says "I'm bored" has to clean something of mom's choosing. Since I implemented that rule (which came courtesy of a wise aunt-in-law), I don't hear that phrase much, and if I do, it's followed immediately by a retraction.