Children need to play. It is a basic human activity, and engaging in lots and lots of unstructured and imaginative play is vital to children’s healthy mental, physical, and emotional development. Play is an exercise in leisure. As Josef Pieper said in his seminal essay Leisure, the Basis of Culture, leisure is nothing less than “one of the foundations of Western culture” (19). For more on the crucial importance of play in a child’s life, we encourage parents to read Dr. Anthony Esolen’s excellent book Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child.

Productive Boredom

Time to be bored is one of the best gifts you can give your children. If they’re not used to being bored, at first children will whine, complain, beg you for to use their screens, and may even throw a tantrum. Be ready for that. Push through it; resist the temptation to give in to your child’s demands. When your child whines, respond with a simple phrase in a calm, soothing tone: “I know.” In time (and sooner than you think) your child will realize you’re not going to give in and will turn to entertaining themselves. She might pull out some toys she hasn’t played with in months, get out the art supplies and start making you a picture, or even read a book. Children are born knowing how to play; all adults have to do is create enough space for their natural ability to shine.

For more on how to help your child learn to deal with boredom, we encourage you to read Dr. Charles Fay’s article, “Don’t Raise an Entertainment Junkie.”

The Damaging Impact of Screens

There is increasingly-overwhelming evidence—medical, scientific, and anecdotal—that excessive and unsupervised use of screens in children is harmful to their mental, social, and emotional development. At Great Hearts Irving, we can confidently add that the unsupervised use of screens (and especially social media) is equally harmful to children’s moral development as well. We implore you, do everything you can to avoid plopping your children down in front of the TV, the tablet, or the video game for hours on end.  Limiting screentime and access to screens is a more crucial aspect of parenting than ever.

Many parents have also found success by using Love and Logic techniques to set limits firmly but lovingly. We recommend, for example, using enforceable statements such as, “Children are welcome to be on a screen when I can see and hear what you are doing.” “I allow children to use devices who are pleasant when I say it’s time to put them away,” or “I allow children to use devices after their homework and chores are finished.” More information about the dangers of unhealthy technology use and technology addiction in children as well as invaluable tips for setting limits effectively can be found at

One of the very best ways to limit screentime in children is to replace use of electronics with other, healthier activities. Below you will find numerous wholesome activities we recommend. We have so many suggestions, we’ve divided them up into categories. You will find information on:

Local Museums

The Metroplex is home to many world-class museums. The following museums have permanent collections which are 100% free to visit:

The following charge admission but come highly recommended by our teachers:

Nature Centers and Outings

It is crucial for children’s healthy development that they spend time in nature. Here in the middle of the concrete jungle, it’s important to create opportunities for our kids to see plants, animals, and wild native habitats for themselves. Here are some local spots you can make an outing to:

Acts of Service

One of the best ways we can spend our extra free time over the summer is by showing the virtue of citizenship and performing acts of service for our family members, friends, or neighbors. Here are some ideas:

  • Visiting grandparents or other elderly relatives
  • Visiting relatives sick at home
  • Volunteering at a local shelter
  • Interviewing an neighbor, community helper, or elder
  • Helping with the laundry
  • Matching all the socks in the drawer
  • Bringing snacks to the local Fire House
  • Offering to mow your neighbor’s lawn or weed their garden
  • Offering to walk a neighbor’s pet
  • Picking up trash at the local park
  • Cleaning out the garage
  • Cleaning and organizing a closet

Outdoor Activities

Children should spend lots of time outdoors. Everyday bumps, bruises, and scrapes from playing ball in the yard, climbing a tree in the park, or slipping up the hill while on a family hike are a sign of an active, healthy childhood lifestyle. Some ways your family might spend time outdoors this summer include:

  • Playing in the sprinkler
  • Making a homemade slip-n-slide
  • Having a water balloon fight
  • Creating a scavenger hunt in your backyard or neighborhood
  • Making stained glass chalk art (works well on wooden fences)
  • Learning to do the splits, the backbend, or a cartwheel
  • Playing Elastic Jump Rope
  • Taking a nature walk
  • Having a picnic
  • Visiting the library (and getting your very own library card!)
  • Going on a treasure hunt
  • Having a family cookout
  • Playing catch
  • Planting in the garden
  • Digging up worms to go fishing
  • Going fishing!
  • Going swimming (ideally in a non-chlorinated body of water)
  • Going to the park
  • Going to the zoo
  • Going to a botanical garden
  • Going on a family hike
  • Collecting rocks, feathers, shells, or other natural things
  • Organizing a neighborhood game of street hockey, stick ball, or kickball
  • Flying kites
  • Riding bikes
  • Climbing trees
  • Building a fort
  • Taking a walk
  • Taking a walk in the rain and splashing in puddles
  • Making a game of hopscotch with sidewalk chalk
  • Learning how to play hopscotch
  • Making and playing a game of foursquare
  • Taking the neighbor’s dog for a walk
  • Reenacting famous battles or duels from history
  • Finding pictures in the clouds
  • Camping out in the backyard
  • Bird-watching
  • Catching insects
  • Gathering leaves to use in identifying types of trees
  • Stargazing

Don’t forget the hats, sunscreen, and mosquito spray! And be sure to drink plenty of water.

Indoor Activities

Outdoor play is always better than indoor play, but we know that Texas weather can be fickle. When it’s just not possible to be outside, here are some indoor activities you can use to keep your children off screens:

Arts and Crafts

One of kids’ favorite things to do indoors is to make something creative. Here are some ideas for crafts:

  • Sewing something
  • Learning to knit (finger knitting is especially easy)
  • Tie-dying a book bag or t-shirt with natural dye from food
  • Painting rocks for the garden
  • Printing out some family photos and make a collage
  • Learning to fold origami
  • Making a bird or butterfly feeder
  • Writing and illustrating your own storybook
  • Painting a picture
  • Doing a jigsaw puzzle
  • Building a model car
  • Building a birdhouse

Summer Activities

Summer Break is one of the grandest American traditions and sets the American educational system apart from its counterparts in Europe and elsewhere. While most of the activities above (especially the indoor activities) are great choices year round, here are some specific to summertime:

Special Summer Recommendations from Mrs. Pantin

Visit my hometown of Albany, Texas on either of the last two weekends in June. There is much to do: BBQ on the courthouse lawn, a free organ concert at Matthew Memorial Presbyterian Church giving a chance to hear a rare, “tracker” pipe organ, and, most especially, the annual production of the Fandangle, “Texas’ oldest outdoor musical.”

I also recommend a trip east to Carthage, Texas. Outside of town (ask at the Courthouse for directions) is the last surviving international boundary marker between the United States and the Republic of Texas.

Lastly, grow your own sweet potatoes! Sweet potatoes thrive in the heat of the Texas summer sun. North Haven Gardens in Dallas offers several types of slips, and they’ll be ready for harvest in late October if planted the first week of June. Water evenly.

For more ideas on great activities for kids, we recommend two very new (but very old-fashioned) books: