With millions of American schoolchildren starting summer vacation, cries of "I'm bored" will soon ring out across the nation. Swimming lessons and trips to the mall can fill only so many hours. Before you give up and hand over the TV remote, consider some activities that can be productive, safe and fun for kids of all ages.
Teach practical skills. We've all had friends who somehow reached adulthood never having washed their own socks or bought groceries. That's why my wife and I are strong proponents of teaching our kids self sufficiency. We've come up with additional jobs they can tackle during vacation for extra spending money, over and above their modest allowances.
Along with routine age-appropriate tasks like washing the car, yard work and babysitting, look for more creative ideas like scrapbooking old photos or weeding through closets for garage sale items. Target activities that not only ease your own workload but also increase the amount of time you can spend together.
Boost financial abilities. As your kids get older, start sharing activities that teach them personal financial management skills. For example:
* Involve them in balancing your checkbook and paying bills. They'll probably be amazed to learn how much things like utilities, rent/mortgage and groceries cost.
* Enlist their help planning vacations by researching travel costs online, calculating gas mileage, estimating hotel bills, etc.
* When planning a major purchase like a house or car, engage their help researching and comparison shopping, and explain how sales tax, loans and real estate broker commissions work.
Provide safe online activities. Although you don't want your kids spending all their time online, possessing strong computer skills is vital for today's students and tomorrow's employees. Fortunately, there are many family friendly websites where you can steer your children. The American Library Association has a clearinghouse of safe, appropriate websites for kids of all ages @link href='http://www.ala.org/greatsites.com'target="_blank">www.ala.org/greatsites/link
You'll find math and word games, specialty sites on animals, science, literature, history, current events, the arts and much more.
Some of the better financial education sites I've seen are:
* You Are Here, an animated site offered by the Federal Trade Commission, where 5th through 8th graders wander through a virtual "mall," playing games and learning key consumer concepts such as the impact of advertising, how to spot scams and protect personal information @link href='http://www.ftc.gov/youarehere'target="_blank">www.ftc.gov/youarehere/link
* Money Smart, a financial education program developed by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation that includes contents for young adults @link href='http://www.fdic.gov/moneysmart.com'target="_blank">www.fdic.gov/moneysmart/link
* MyMoney.gov, the U.S. government's website dedicated to teaching people of all ages the basics of financial education @link href='http://www.mymoney.gov'target="_blank">www.mymoney.gov/link
* Hands on Banking, a free, interactive program from Wells Fargo that teaches financial basics and smart money management skills @link href='http://www.wellsfargo.com/handsonbanking'target="_blank">www.wellsfargo.com/handsonbanking/link
* Financial Soccer, a fast-paced, interactive video game created by Visa Inc. and the Federation Internationale de Football Association, which incorporates soccer's structure and rules to teach children and young adults the knowledge and tools they'll need to establish and maintain sound financial habits over a lifetime @link href='http://www.financialsoccer.com'target="_blank">www.financialsoccer.com/link Financial Soccer is free and can be played online or on CD-ROM.
So, the next time you hear, "I'm bored," have your checklist ready – just don't be surprised if they go outside to play instead.