I love that summer for us is unstructured. We participate in minimal camps and have few planned activities as I tend be more spontaneous and like to see how each day unfolds. Some days this works beautifully and the kids build forts, we end up meeting friends at the park, or they spend hours swimming. Other days they are “bored” by 8am and we are all ready to strangle each other. On those days, I pull out my center boxes.
Center boxes are something I started several years ago when my kids were outgrowing their afternoon nap, but I still needed some time to myself to maintain my sanity. Now each year I update them with new age appropriate activities. You can easily make your own center boxes with things that you already have in your house, a computer, and a printer.
Here’s what you do to make your Center Boxes:
First, go on a scavenger hunt around your house.
Gather things that your kids can do independently, are small enough to fit in your boxes, and are not messy. I am always surprised by how many things I find! Leave these all in a pile on your dining room table and try not to be bothered by the mess.
Next you do some research online.
I like to search Pinterest for activities that are age appropriate, free, and printable. You can find some of my favorite activities on the SMB Pinterest page. Print out and prepare your favorites and add them to your pile.
Now it’s time for my favorite part – organizing!
Each year I change how I organize my boxes based on the number of kids I have (we have adopted twice in the past four years, we don’t just randomly collect stray children off the street) and their ages.
Preschool aged kids can typically do the same activities and share boxes, but once they hit school age they need to be differentiated quite a bit. However you decide to organize your boxes, you still need to sort your activities into categories. The categories I use are: math, language, problem solving, skill, and art.
Once your activities are sorted into categories you can decide how you want to arrange your boxes. Some years I put one activity from each category into a box. Each box ends up with 4-5 activities that hit on each of the different learning areas. This year I decided to group activities from the same category together, and then differentiate them by age. I ended up with a math box for my older two and one for my younger two, a language box for each, and then skill, art and problem solving to share. I also made a box for each kid that has their summer packet, math workbook from the previous year, and several of those workbooks you can buy at Target in the dollar bin.
Fill up your boxes, label them, and you’re ready to roll! The first time I made these boxes, the only thing I spent money on were the actual boxes! I found some that I liked at Walmart for less than $4 each and bought about ten. You might already have something around your house you can use, or gallon Ziplocks could work just as well. I cleared out a space in my linen closet and stacked them all in there.
One last tip before you let your kids loose with their centers.
If you really want this to be an independent time when you can shower, cook, exercise, or nap (don’t judge, you know that’s what we all want to do), you need to teach your kids how to use the boxes. Demonstrate how to use each activity correctly, let them practice while you’re there to help, and make it clear that they are to play with their center box independently until you tell them it’s time to stop. I’ve also found that it gets my kids excited about the center boxes because they know what fun things are inside!
Here is a list of the activities in our boxes this summer:
- Creative (art): Water Wow books, dry erase boards, color wonder book and markers, finger puppets, reusable paper dolls
- Skill: shoe tying card, handwriting practice cards, lacing cards, stringing beads, fasteners felt book
- Language (1-3): ice cream contractions, contraction dominoes, parts of speech clothespin cards, compound word puzzles
- Language (K): magnetic letters, sight word cards, letter flip book, upper and lower case letter matching, rhyming robots
- Math (1-3): counting money cards, addition flash cards, subtraction flash cards, pizza word problems, roll add and cover with pattern blocks
- Math (K): shape matching, same or different cards, number word matching, build a pizza activity
- Problem solving: pattern blocks and cards, calculator math cards, puzzles