Summer reading programs have been around since ...sheesh, since a LONG time ago. I love to get grade-level reading lists off line or from school or TEA site and you can use that as incentive too. Go to library every other week and get books off list then have a reward two weeks later when you turn them in....pizza? movie? one electronic blitz day etc.
Jot down what you think is important for your children to know when they leave your house in a few years....cook a meal? grocery shop? iron clothes? type well? clean house? Call it Life Skills. Schedule opportunities for them to develop these skills.
Typing software is $10...my kids love it. I want them to type well, so I'm ok if they want to spend time learning.--even if it looks like a video game.
You could put together a summer-long project that could be addressed a little each day. Like a fun research project with a more relaxed approach than school projects.
A photography project could include fun software, a gift book for a grandparent, scrap booking or on-line contests.
Biographies on baseball players or the history of the sport could be celebrated with a late summer Ranger game.
Cooking projects could result in a personalized cook book to take when they leave home.
Girls might enjoy researching all the aspects of wedding planning...fashion, budget, food, flowers...a notebook of information and their preferences would be fun to see again in several years.
Anything could work, just so they are reading and writing each day, and receiving a fun treat at the end.
THE SECRET......You make up a list of little random projects that you would love to have done. Like: unmatched socks, sort junk drawer in kitchen, straighten pots/pans, weed flower garden, iron pillow cases (which is really the best way to teach them to iron real stuff), clean out a shelf in the fridge, etc. Walk around your house and make a wish list.
Then when someone announces there is "nothing to do", you say, "oh you may pick a job off the list...We always have plenty to do around here:)" When they change their mind and say "never mind, I'm not bored" stick with it and calmly say, "I'm glad, but since you have a little extra time would you please choose one job off the list and then when you're done, you may go and do whatever you had in mind."
Whenever they are cranky or not pursuing peace, you simply say, "I can tell you have a lot of extra time on your hands, so please pick something off our family to-do list. You're free to do whatever you like when it is done. Turn and walk away.
If they chase you griping, simply say, "I can tell you didn't feel like doing one job off the list. Please choose two jobs and you are free to do whatever you like whenever they are both done." Turn and walk away. I suspect they will only follow you with gripes one or two more times:)
Whenever two of mine are arguing, I say, "Each of you need to go find 5 pairs of socks out of the bin and take them to the right person's drawer, then find something fun to do." Again, if they balk, you calmly increase the 5 to a 7 etc.
I think kids need free time. They need to be bored so that they'll be creative and think of something. I just don't allow them to grumble and complain throughout the process.
Sometimes I sit with my kids and brainstorm fun things that they would like to do. Some are big and I try to make that happen before the end of summer (or a scaled down version) some are medium and i try to set that up once a month or every few weeks. Many are no big deal and so we try to fit it in to each week. They have ownership and you hear from them what's important to them.
What strategies work great at your house? Respond, if you please:)