By Polly Conway, Common Sense Media
Summer means fun stuff like swimming, camping, bike riding, and ... lots of TV. According to a study by Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health, kids watch about 20 more minutes of TV a day in the summer than during the school year. But that doesn't have to be a bad thing. Here's an idea: Combine their favorite shows with cool activities to get them moving and thinking. These fun -- and smart -- ideas are all super easy to do (because it's your summer, too).
Peg + Cat, age 3+
Peg and her feline friend Cat always have a problem; luckily, it's easily solved by math!
- For a fun measurement-based activity, ask preschoolers to help with simple cooking tasks, including sorting and counting vegetables or measuring sugar and flour for cookies. This could also work for an outdoor "recipe" like mudpies, using leaves, sand, pebbles, and the like.
Gigantosaurus, age 4+
Young dino lovers will enjoy adventuring with this crew of dinosaur pals who are hunting the great Giganto, as well as learning about how to get along and have fun.
- Kids can press small dinosaur toys into clay or Play-Doh to create "fossils." Or, use that clay to create dino skeletons.
Julie's Greenroom, age 4+
Legendary actor and singer Julie Andrews leads a cast of puppets who love learning about the arts.
- For your own musical-loving kids, try having them write and perform -- or just improvise -- their own short play or concert. Turn the living room or backyard into a theater using sheets as curtains and invite all your stuffed animals and dolls to be the audience.
Bug Diaries, age 4+
Bug buddies Fly, Worm, and Spider solve problems, see the world in their own special ways, and express themselves by writing in their diaries.
- Kids can learn how to journal; make it a nightly ritual or a special event; have them take their journals to the park and write about what inspires them in nature -- they could even write about bugs!
Wallykazam, age 4+
Young troll Wally has a magic stick that creates objects out of words -- which means lots of great adventures for him and his friends.
- If your kids are just learning reading basics, walk around the house or a park together and come up with words that rhyme with what you see -- for example, "cat" and "hat" and "tree" and "bee."
Craig of the Creek, age 6+
Craig and his friends find fun and an escape from the real world when they visit their neighborhood creek.
- If you're not near a creek, set up a water table and explore different ways to make the water flow. Or, check out local nature preserves, state parks, and other outdoor areas. Do your own exploring, or take a guided hike and learn about the natural world not too far from your home.
- Minecraft fans can try their hand at their own engineering projects. Design a machine with a purpose using Legos or household items.
American Ninja Warrior, age 9+
This fun whole-family show pits super-sporty contestants against a nearly impossible obstacle course.
- Turn your backyard or living room into your own version of Mount Midoriyama. Indoors, you can lay out pillows to jump on (or between) and have kids crawl under tables. Outside, the sky's the limit!
Mighty Mustangs, age 9+
A diverse group of girls make up the Mustangs, a soccer (or football, as this Aussie show calls it) team that works together to win at the game and at life.
- You don't have to be on a team to grab a ball, take it to the park, and kick it around Mustang-style with some simple practice activities.
Nailed It!, age 10+
Regular folks attempt (and usually fail) to replicate complicated desserts in this hilarious faux-game show.
- Find a crazy recipe online and make a day of cooking it (laugh at mistakes and focus on doing your best versus creating a perfect result).
Andi Mack, age 10+
Energetic, creative tween Andi loves making jewelry and crafts in her backyard "Andi Shack."
- Learn a simple skill together (crocheting, weaving, drawing) and set up your own "shack" for creative summer pursuits.