This post is part of a series of posts about the systems I use during the summer to help keep our days simple, fun, educational and productive. You can find all other posts in the series here: Stress-Less Family Summer System.
Quick note: Being organized is a talent of mine. Being crafty is not. My system is organized and works well, but it isn’t overly cute. (-: If you are crafty and decide to use some or part of my system, I’d love to see some pictures of it “cute-i-fied!” Email them to me (firstname.lastname@example.org) and I’ll add them to the post!
In our summer schedule (see 2nd part of post below), there is a lot of room for unstructured play. The kids have 3 hours every morning and often if they are out of money for screen time, they have time in the afternoon as well. I feel like they need to learn to be able to play on their own without constant encouragement and direction from me. But they are young and the truth is they just can’t always think of something to do. So, if they are bored, they can pick something to do out of the bored bucket.
Where I got my ideas
I’ve seen lots of these buckets around (there are great ones here, here, here and here), and I’ve even tried to make one for us a few times before. But the problem I’ve personally ran into in the past is that a lot of the activities were too advanced for my young kids. Or they required a lot of involvement from me. This meant that sometimes my kids would pick something and I’d say “Uh….ummm…..I….uhhh…..don’t’ think we can do that right now,” and I’d feel bad and guilty. Plus it took some of the fun out of the idea of the bucket for the kids. They didn’t really get to do anything they picked out. So, I went through all the great posts I linked to above and used some ideas from each plus some of my own to come up with a list of over 100 activities that my kids can do on their own.
At the very end of this post, there is a list of every single activity we have in our bored bucket. I listed them all at the end b/c it is a very long list and I don’t want you to have to scroll through it to get to the info about our schedule. (-:
Types of activities
Most of the activities are on the “average fun” level such as stacking cups or practicing cartwheels. A few are “super fun” such as eating a Popsicle or getting some free screen time. And a few are actual chores / jobs. So, they never know what they are going to get!
After trying a few different things, we come up with some bored bucket rules that work well for our family:
- When someone wants to pick something out of the bored bucket, they have to gather all other siblings who want to participate.
- Everyone who chooses to participate has to do whatever is picked out of the bucket.
- If someone chooses not to do something that is picked (b/c it is a job or something), they cannot do the next fun thing picked.
- Most activities need to take at least 20 minutes (for example if they pick “play with trains” they can’t just play for 2 minutes and want to pick something else.)
As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, I’m not the most crafty person in the world, so our bucket is simple. I used a small bucket I’d found at Ikea, added a “I’m bored label using masking tape, and wrote on colored craft sticks with permanent marker:
Bored Buckets as gifts:
Bored buckets can also make fantastic gifts for any mom with young kids. I’m making one for six different friends. I plan on putting about 50 activities that would work for most anyone on sticks in jars and then giving them 50 blank sticks to add things that would work well in their family. And I’m just using simple half-pint mason jars:
I’m not 100% sure if it is me or my kids, but life is so much better around here when they know what to expect each day. We thrive on structure.
I’ve always loved schedules and lists and predictability. I simply feel less stressed that way. But when I talk to my sister who is a child behavior expert, she tells me that almost all kids, even very young kids, are happier, more obedient and better able to deal with change when they have structure in their lives.
So, I have come to believe that it is both my kids and I that do better when we know what to expect each day.
That doesn’t mean we’ve eliminated all spontaneity, but having a schedule allows us to break away from it occasionally without creating chaos.
I will share our schedule with you to give you an idea of what works for us, but I don’t think there is anything magical about what our actual schedule is. The “magical” part is simply having a schedule period. Your schedule will be different from ours, but as long as you and your kids know what to expect each day, I believe there will be less stress in your life!
And as a disclaimer….this schedule is my goal. I don’t think there has been one day where I’ve been absolutely perfect in following it. Things come up and we adjust. So, please do not let this get you down if you don’t have a schedule or don’t always follow the one you do have. We are far from perfect in following this! But having it at least gives us some direction, structure and expectations.
During the summer my kids tend to stay up later and sleep in a bit, so we have breakfast a bit later. I still get up between 6:30 – 7:00 to read scriptures and exercise. If the kids get up before 8:00 they simply read in bed or play downstairs until breakfast time. They whined the first few days: “WHEN is breakfast????” but now, they simply know it doesn’t happen until 8:00.
The kids have about 30 minutes each morning to get their chores done. If they aren’t done by 9:00, they don’t get paid for them. I use this time to work in the yard. You can read more about our chore system here: Family store and chore system.
All four kids work on something educational during this time. If they do it without whining, they can earn $3 in play money (see chore system for more info). They tend to need help / assistance during this time, so I stay in the kitchen with them and work on dinner prep (chopping veggies etc). More info link coming soon
During this time the kids can have friends over, go to friend’s houses, play outside, play in the playroom, do dressups, color etc. If they can’t think of anything they want to do, they can also pick something out of the “bored bucket.” But this is play on their own time. I believe very strongly that kids should be able to play independently without the constant encouragement of an adult. So, I am available to help with little things like getting a dress on or setting up a game, helping with a band-aid, getting excited about a picture drawn or tower built etc, but I am not actively involved in playing with them. I use this time to respond to emails, do house chores, make phone calls etc. Each Wednesday during this time, the kids all go to a sitter’s (a dear friend of mine with kids of similar ages) and I write the blog articles for the week.
Not much to explain here…… (-: We eat and then they kids help me get the kitchen clean when we are done.
Quiet Room Time: 1:00
The kids all head to their rooms for about 90 minutes each day for “quiet play.” They can each come out once to go to the bathroom, get a drink or show me something they’ve made. If they follow that rule, they get $3 at the end of quiet room time. If they get out twice, they don’t get any money and if they get out more than twice, they have to pay me $1 each time. Generally, they are pretty good about staying in their rooms and I have an hour an a half to work on things by myself while it is quiet such as phone calls, writing, or occasionally taking a nap. (-: More info link coming soon
Clean Playroom:2:15 / 2:30ish
No matter how often I encourage my kids to put away one toy before they get out another, they inevitably forget and the playroom area ends up a bit (or a lot) messy. Anyone who helps clean it up after quiet room time gets a snack when it is clean. If you choose not to clean up, no snack. We have four “playroom jobs” and each kid gets a different one every day:
Mommy Time: 2:45
As much as I believe in independent play, I just as firmly believe that kids need quality time with their parents everyday as well. One on one time is important, but nearly impossible for me on a day to day basis with my young kids. We get that in through dates and “talent fingers” (I’ll explain another time), etc. But “Mommy time” allows me to spend some quality time with all four kids as a group each day. At least once a week this time starts early and ends late and we actually go somewhere fun. More info here.
Store Open: 3:30
This is when my kids can “buy” screen time. The store stays open until 5:00. At 5:00, they need to get ready for dinner (wash hands, straiten up, help set the table etc.). I use this time to clean or work on non-computer projects (since my kids are usually on my computer).
We eat dinner as a family around 5:30 every night.
Chore / Goals: 6:00
The kids have until 6:30 to get their evening chores done. Once their chores are done they can work on their “summer skills” (goals) if they choose with Mom or Dad. If they work on them, they earn $3. Once their goals are done, or if they choose not to do them, this is typically play with Daddy time. Catch, board games, soccer etc. Sometimes we go to a friend’s / cousins house after dinner / chores. Link to More Info on Summer Skills coming soon
My kids tend to go to bed around 8:00 in the summer though it varies night to night depending on what we have going on. We tend to spend more time with neighbors and cousins during the summer so sometimes we aren’t home at 8:00, but we try to get them in bed around 8:00 on most nights. When they are in bed on time, they get to read until 8:30.
Bored Bucket Activities:
Alright, here is the list of 100+ bored bucket ideas that your kids can do all by themselves:
- Read 2 books
- Play Simon says
- Pretend you are a pirate
- Run around the house 5 times
- Play with trains
- Pretend you are Nephi (a prophet in the Book of Mormon)
- Play a song on the piano
- Play with stuffed animals
- Draw a robot
- Sing your favorite primary song (primary is the children’s organization in the LDS church)
- Play charades
- Make up a new song
- Play with cars
- Pretend you are Nanna
- Play hopscotch
- Draw with sidewalk chalk
- Play connect four
- Ride bikes
- Pretend you are Noah (from the flood in the Bible)
- Draw a picture of Mommy
- Play hide and go seek
- Play with play-doh
- Draw a picture using your feet
- Play dressups
- Pretend you are Granna
- Play catch in the backyard
- Ride scooters
- Tell your siblings 3 things you are grateful for
- Pretend you are Moroni (a prophet in the Book of Mormon)
- Do 20 jumping jacks
- Read the friend (a magazine published by the LDS church)
- Turn on music and dance
- Pretend you are a daddy
- Draw your favorite three foods
- Eat a healthy snack of your choice
- Pretend you have a super power
- Do something nice for your sister
- Do puzzles
- Stack cups (we use bathroom cups like this and just keep them in a ziploc when they are done)
- Find shapes / figures in the clouds
- Pretend you are princesses and knights
- Say three things you like about each of your siblings
- Pretend you are Granster
- Draw a picture of Daddy
- Pretend you are Ammon (a prophet in the Book of Mormon)
- Play Monopoly Junior
- Make up a new game
- Pretend you are David (from David and Goliath in the Bible)
- Read 1 book
- Eat a fruit
- Pretend you are a mommy
- Draw our house
- Draw a map of our house
- Play in your tents (we have a couple of small pop up tents)
- Have a race
- Pretend you live in China
- Pretend you are Grumpa
- Build the highest block tower you can
- Do something nice for your brother
- Play “wolf are you coming?”
- Pretend you are Daniel (in the lions den from the Bible)
- Color a picture to give to someone
- Pretend you are a cowgirl / cowboy
- Read 3 books
- Pretend you are a doctor (use the doctor dressup stuff)
- Play with Alphie.
- Have a pillow fight
- Draw a picture of what you want for Christmas
- Pretend you live in Japan
- Jump on mattresses (we pull the boys twin mattresses into the living room and let them jump)
- Play with Mr Potato head
- Play “What’s the time Mr Wolf?“
- Make and obstacle course in the basement
- Drink a glass of water
- Pretend you are a teacher. Play school
- Paint with water outside
- Have a soccer game in the backyard
- Play with beans (we have a huge tupperware full of dry beans and scoops / bowls etc)
- Practice cartwheels
- Pretend you are blind
- Eat a vegetable
- Play Blink
- Read a scripture. Talk about what it means
- Play games on the iPad for 20 minutes
- Play in the pool (a small kiddie pool we have in the backyard)
- Eat one piece of candy
- Watch “Talking Words Factory” (a Leapfrog movie)
- Watch a short movie (Super Why, Wordgirl, Dinosaur Train etc. Whoever picks the stick picks the movie). This is in the bucket four times.
- Eat a Popsicle
- Play in the sprinklers
- Play Life on the iPad
- Watch an episode of Veggie Tales.
Chores / Jobs:
- Dust (I decide where when they pick the stick)
- Do extra homework for 20 minutes
- Do playroom job #3
- Clean your closet
- Clean the chairs / stools
- Organize all the red / green buckets in the playroom
- Wipe down the kitchen cupboards
- Clean windowsills (I decide where when they pick the stick)
- Clean all the doors
- Straiten living room
- Do playroom job #2
- Vacuum a bedroom (I choose which one when the pick the stick)
- Empty small trash cans into large one
- Put away stuff in down / up baskets (we have a basket at the top and bottom of our stairs for things that need to go down or up)
- Clean the mudroom
- Clean under your bed
- Clean walls (I decide where when they pick the stick)
- Clean under the couch
- Clean all doorknobs
- Sort laundry
- Do playroom job #1
- Clean baseboards (I decide where when they pick the stick)
- Vacuum family room
- Do playroom job #4