May 25, 2009 in Features

Keeping kids busy during break on a budget

Megan K. Scott Associated Press
Courtesy of Lifestyle Family Fitness photo

Teenage girls do crunches at a Tampa, Fla., Lifestyle Family Fitness, which offers a free two-month membership to children between the ages of 12 and 17. Courtesy of Lifestyle Family Fitness
(Full-size photo)(All photos)

6 ways to keep ’em busy

Looking for ways to keep your tween or young teen busy over the summer? Here are six ideas to pull them away from the computer, the television and the cell phone:

1. Look into teen classes, said Carol Weston, advice columnist for Girls’ Life magazine. Summer school might not excite, but seek out classes in areas kids may have an interest in, like writing, drama, art or lifeguarding. If transportation is a problem, coordinate with other parents.

2. Help kids find work, such as baby-sitting, car washing, dog walking or lawn mowing. Perhaps you know someone who could use some extra help in their office. Kids want to make extra money.

3. Check churches, soup kitchens, senior centers, animal shelters and the like to see if they need volunteers.

4. Investigate local summer programming. Try the YMCA, library, colleges, museums or even health clubs.

5. Consider a kid swap, suggests Weston. One parent can take the kids on an outing one day, another can take them somewhere another day.

6. Explore summer camp options. Many have counselor-in- training or other programs for teens. For pricier specialty or residential camps, ask about financial aid or a group rate if several kids enroll together. Find camps at

Kiley Krzyzek is going to be a counselor-in-training for a month this summer. She’ll do choir camp for a week.

But it’s the rest of the time the 14-year-old wants to fill up, the weeks when there is nothing going on.

“At first, it’s a big relief to be off from school without extra work and stress,” said Kiley, of West Hartford, Conn. “But then it gets to be too boring. You find yourself watching TV too much, on the computer too much.”

Many parents of tweens and young teens are looking to beat summer boredom as the economy puts pricey specialty camps and residential camps out of reach.

Residential camps cost anywhere from $325 to $1,200 a week, according to the American Camp Association. And some day camps charge for counselor-in-training programs for young teens.

Anne Wear, 42, of High Point, N.C., said she can only afford to send her almost 13-year-old daughter to day camp for five weeks; the rest of the summer she’ll remain at home.

Wear recently took a 20 percent pay cut and has two younger children; one will be going to day care, the other to camp.

“With my pay cut and the economy the way it is, we can’t afford to do more than that,” said Wear, who works in public relations.

Summer is tough for tweens and young teens, experts say. Kids in that 12-15 age range are old enough to stay home by themselves but too young to drive or get jobs other than things like baby-sitting and mowing lawns.

But while it can be easy and cheaper to leave kids home to entertain themselves when parents are working, too much unstructured time can lead to boredom, said Denise Restauri, founder and CEO of, a social networking site for girls ages 10 to 15.

Kids want to be active, said Restauri, and many are so overprogrammed they don’t know what to do with free time.

That can turn into a lot of television watching, computer playing and texting.

Lee Ann Fleming, 46, of Centennial, Colo., whose son just turned 12, said she found a local program this summer for kids ages 11 to 14, but can afford to send him only a couple of days a week.

Fleming works from home, so she can supervise somewhat, but there will be stretches where she will be working.

“He’ll read a lot. He’ll draw,” she said. “There’ll probably be too much time watching mindless television. I don’t know what else to do.”

Allison Minnick, 49, a stay-at-home mom in Littleton, Colo., worries her 13-year-old son is too attached to his cell phone (texting) and iPod touch (playing games).

Her son likes to skateboard with friends in the grocery store parking lot, which she is not crazy about either. She signed him up for baseball two nights a week and is considering a boxing class.

In the meantime, her 11-year-old is going to cheer camp for a week and taking English riding lessons.

Suzanna Narducci, co-founder of, a site for parents of preteens, suggests parents look for activities that are specific to children’s interests, whether it’s music, art or science.

Her 12-year-old daughter is going to sleepaway camp for four weeks and her 9-year-old is doing a day science camp program at a local university.

“We are hoping to go on vacation for part of the summer,” said Narducci, of New York City. “Otherwise the kids will hang out here and we will explore the city.”

That kind of balance between downtime and activities is good for tweens, who need a break from school and shouldn’t be programmed all summer long, said Carol Weston, advice columnist for Girls’ Life magazine.

Summer is a great time for them to develop new skills, especially if there is something they want to learn, she said.

Not to mention that too much time on their hands can lead to trouble, said tween and teen expert Annie Fox: “Anything seems like a good idea because there is nothing happening.”

Young teens are trying to find activities to fill their summer weeks.

Courtney Mansfield, 12, of Rye Brook, N.Y., is going to visit a cousin in Ireland; unlike last summer, many of her friends will be around (they say they are too old for camp, she says).

She said last summer, she read, watched Disney and played on the computer. But even with a more action-filled summer, she’s usually glad when school starts again.

“In the beginning of summer, I am really happy to be out school,” she said. “But at the end I get really anxious and want to go back.”

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