The countdown is on. Memorial Day is behind us and the unofficial start of summer has begun. Lazy days at the beach, picnics, corn on the cob, fireworks, and iced tea are all waiting for us. So are the kids and that dreaded phrase, “I’m bored.” I love having my kids at home for the summer but it doesn’t take more than a day or two off of school and I have to get creative to keep them busy.

The one thing I don’t want to happen every summer is for my kids’ minds to go blank from all they learned during the last school year. That being said, quite a few years ago I was inspired to create a fun way for my kids to not only be entertained, but to keep learning. Our family instituted what began as a summer reading program, but developed into so much more. It’s fun, easy, and very cost effective and that is a winning combination for any summer activity.

Here’s how we do it:

Get a notebook that is designated strictly as the summer reading program book. Since I have two kids, I divide the book into two sections, one for each of the kids. On the inside front cover I write the “rules” for the summer. For each half hour they read, they get a sticker. For every five stickers there is a reward. In the years after we started this, they could also earn stickers by doing a half hour of math or taking a spelling test. There are so many education sites on the Internet that will direct you to grade appropriate learning tools. My kids also both play instruments so practicing for a half hour led to earning a sticker.

The fun part is to sit down with the kids and come up with the rewards. They should get incrementally bigger with the more stickers they earn. While this sounds like it could cost a lot of money, it doesn’t have to. Some of the rewards we’ve used in the past are things like: picking the movie for family movie night, a picnic with their favorite foods, selecting the ice cream at the store, staying in their pj’s all day, camping out in the back yard…you get the idea. There is usually a “grand prize” if they earn a set number of stickers. For younger kids, a goal of 50 stickers for the summer may be a good challenge. The reward for reaching that goal should be something out of the ordinary, like a trip to the zoo or the Science Museum. It can be a trip to the Mall of America with a friend of theirs. Mini golfing was always a favorite reward for my kids. If money is an issue, then a sleepover with a few friends or renting a few video games or movies could be an option.

I think if parents, and kids, go into the summertime with a plan for ways to keep busy, and have fun doing it, there is less room for boredom. It’s rewarding to see my kids keep learning. Every summer they look forward to sitting down and developing the reward system. A little friendly competition burns between them and helps encourage them to read more, practice more, learn new math skills, and keep a sharp mind. So, don’t panic – plan, and see how it makes for a fun summer.