Q&A: bored kids

Kari writes:

"It's only the end of June, and my 5-year-old and 3-year-old are already complaining that they are bored. There are no day camps for kids this young in our area. I'm hoping you and your readers will have some ideas to keep us all from killing each other before school starts again at the end of August."

I'm not sure I'm the person to ask about this, since my solution has been to cram the whole family into a rental car and drive all around the Midwest for five weeks. (The trip odometer flipped to 1800 miles yesterday, and we still have two weeks left of the trip.) My kids haven't had time to be bored, what with the confusion about whose house they're waking up in this morning, the vague stomachaches from too many brats and frozen custard, and all the lake sand in their cracks and crevices.

When I'm in NYC, we just spend all day long at the playground, going inside at midday to get out of the sun a little. If I lived in a house with a yard, I'd probably do what my parents did, which was designate a big corner of the yard to be a dirt pit. All the kids in the neighborhood used to congregate in our yard to dig in the dirt and mud. My parents had a crappy-looking yard, but the kids were happy (and practicing teamwork), and my parents always knew where we were.

In theory, I'm completely in favor of boredom for kids. It forces them to be creative and come up with things to do on their own. But the "I'm bo-ored!" refrain can really get on your last nerve. So maybe you can make a weekly plan for one activity a day, whether it's a trip to the library (library reading contests can take up lots of time, and get your kids excited about books) or making a volcano in the back yard (or on a cookie sheet with a lip in the house--if you do it outside, you can use dirt instead of the doug to hold the bottle) or doing some cooking project (homemade bread takes a long time and needs no specialty equipment) or having a playdate with another kid from school. That one activity can give some structure to the day, and the kids can fill up the rest of the day with free play.

If the complaints get too hot and heavy, you can always confuse them by using the line my dad always laid on us: "Boredom is the soft underbelly of insensitivity." By the time they figure out what it means, they'll be leaving for college.

Readers, help us out, please. How do you keep your kids occupied enough but not too scheduled in the summer?