One summer, in her high school years, my friend looked back and realized that all she did was sit inside and watch television. A sinking feeling was left in the bottom of her stomach once she realized that her entire summer was wasted. When children sit down with pen and paper in hand after a school break; Christmas, summer, or the like, and they are encouraged to write a few paragraphs about what they did during their vacation, what will they say?

Will their minds draw a blank or gravitate towards their favorite movie or television show? I hope when my children look back on their vacation time that their memories are flooded with quality time spent with family and friends. Or times when they chose to make, create and do instead of striving to beat the next level of a video game.

Character is defined as, “who we are when nobody else is looking.”

I share this character quote with my children many times, especially when they need to be reminded to do what is right at all times, not just when I am peering over their shoulders. This is also important to remember when it comes to how they are encouraged to spend their free time.

In these growing, moldable years, we need to ignite the fuse of productivity in our children’s lives.

What exactly does this look like?

Children need to be given the right tools be grow up into productive members of society. Just as they need to be taught to play fair, share and be kind, they need to be taught how to make wise decisions in their free time. If they are taught to be productive with their hands at a young age, then when they are older they will seek out innovative ways to pass the time. Rather than waiting for excitement to find them, they will be the ones creating it.

Preschoolers: Prepare busy boxes for them. If you have older siblings to teach during the day, your preschooler can then be directed to a busy box to entertain them while you are working with the older ones. Fill boxes with toys you pick up from yard sales or thrift shops throughout the year. Try a box with seashells in the summer or a variety of felt flowers in the spring. Switch the boxes up every so often and watch your child’s face light up.

Younger Elementary: Set aside an area filled with puzzles, board games, craft materials and piles and piles of paper. Don’t forget the scissors and glue. Direct them to this area on rainy days and encourage them to let their imaginations go wild. Another productive hobby is exercise. If an organized sport is not an option for your family, your child can still be active at home. Create a playlist on YouTube with kid-friendly exercise routines, stretching exercises or dance moves. When your child seems to be bouncing off the walls, needing to release some energy, direct them to this fun option!

Tweens: By this stage in life your child most likely has developed concrete interests and hobbies. Some children are drawn to outdoor activities such as fishing, archery, swimming and the like. Others are into sports, some music, others computers and the list goes on. Whatever interests your child, find a way to expand their horizons. If they have free time and are drawn to Legos or K-Nex, give them challenges. Have them make a creation with a purpose. Make up a list of challenges such as creating something that can move on it’s own, one that can lift something or one that can hold a heavy object without collapsing. If your child loves TV, encourage them to make their own videos. Yes, there’s an app for that! If they love computer games you can find simple software where children can develop their own programs.

Teens: Your teen needs to know that they have skills. When they have confidence and believe that they can in fact build, create or do, then they will. Your daughter might find enjoyment in knitting, sewing or crafting. Encourage her in this. Your son might find satisfaction in using his hands to create on a scroll saw or by drawing or painting. When it is your teen’s downtime, encourage them in these hobbies. This is the stage in their lives when they are trying to figure out who they are and what they are good at, give them a chance to try, fail, succeed and thrive. Sign them up for classes to gain more skills. It is important for them to know that they can always get better and learn more.

Children need to be taught that life doesn’t just happen, they need to be proactive. If your child struggles with low self-esteem then it might be easy for them to become absorbed in all the wrong things, including laziness. Encourage them to develop into who they are at a young age. Help to draw out the positive qualities that you see in them and help them to shine!

Here are a couple of excellent resources to encourage children to make a difference in the world: