Every mom has heard those pitiful words from her young child at some point. But in recent years I've heard those same words from full-grown adults. Most often I've heard the sentiment expressed about the offerings of the mid-size town in which I live.
"There's just not much to do here," I hear young moms and dads say. "There was so much more to do where we previously lived."
I grew up in a small town about an hour's drive outside of Atlanta with two parents who didn't believe in driving into the big city every week (or even every month). Since then I've lived in even smaller towns as well as larger cities. I've lived where there are major league baseball teams to root on and I've planted myself where little league games were the highlight of the week. I've lived where we had our choice of every fast food chain and restaurant imaginable and I've lived where a trip to the Dairy Queen was a true treat.
Trust me, there is plenty to do in this isolated, but good-sized town in which I live now. We have mountains to climb, movies to choose from, restaurants to dine in, an indoor/outdoor pool to splash in year-round, play groups out the wazoo, and so many parks that I haven't even found them all yet.
The bigger problem, I think, is that our worst fears have come true. We have indeed, over that past 30 years, raised up a generation that doesn't know how to entertain themselves. And before you get the idea that I'm preaching to you from my lofty perch, let me set the record straight. I've whined about the lack of things "to do" myself at times. Regardless of our ages, most of us in America have become a people who crave spoon-fed entertainment. Maybe it's because we were raised that way, or maybe the culprit is all the time-savers we now have producing extra free time we struggle to fill.
I think it's time we reassess how we spend that free time. If we don't want our children to grow up demanding even more avenues for entertainment (and trust me, we don't), then we'd better start teaching them how to use their time in more productive and yet still enjoyable ways. Instead of demanding to be entertained, let's take the high road and get creative with our time and energy. Let's develop some better uses of our Saturdays and evenings and summers. And let's teach our children to chart their own free time courses.
So here are just a few suggestions for what you and your family might do the next time you're tempted to say, "There's nothing to do."
- Read. That's what my mom always told me. And truthfully, this is one of the best fall-backs I know of. But there's more to it than just turning on your Kindle. Make a family trip to the local library, check out a bag full of books, find a nice spot outside, spread out a blanket, and have everyone lie down and read. You might even find a classic youth fiction book that you could take turns reading aloud.
- Bake a treat for your neighbors. Whether you have new neighbors or the same ones you've been waving at for years, do something nice for them as a family. Bake some brownies or cookies and package them up nicely. Load the treats up in your little red wagon and make deliveries as a family, pausing to visit a while if they allow.
- Plant a garden and care for it. Therein lies my mom's response each time I'd complain about nothing to do. I'd be handed a bucket and sent to our rather large garden to collect butter beans. Then I'd have to shell them. You may not have room to plant a half-acre garden, but you can plant one in pots. A small garden produces plenty of work as well as delicious and satisfying vegetables and herbs.
- Volunteer. You may be able to find organized volunteer opportunities in your town. But if there are no situations where you can sign up for a weekly or monthly service slot, you can still get out and work to better your community. Pick up trash along the streets in your neighborhood, hand out chilled water bottles at the little league ball park, visit a nursing home once a week, or pull weeds on your church's property. Teach your children to voluntarily use their time to serve others.
- Go on mission. You don't have to wait for your church to organize a mission trip in order to serve in the Lord's name. Just get out in your community and share His love together. Go door to door in your neighborhood issuing a personal invitation to visit your church. Take a family prayer walk around your neighborhood once a week, even eventually taking the initiative to ask some of your neighbors how your family can be praying for them. Or invite your unchurched neighbors over for a cookout; develop a relationship with them so you'll eventually have the opportunity to share the gospel.
- Sponsor a neighborhood game. You don't have to fool with sign-ups or organization. Just get out in the front yard or cul-de-sac and start playing wiffle ball or throwing the Frisbee. As neighbors walk or bike by, ask them to join you. Before you know it, yours will become the home that's known for neighborhood activity.
- Visit your first responders. School groups aren't the only ones who can visit the fire or police stations. You can call and schedule a tour just as well. And when you go for your visit, remember to take them a plate of family-made cookies or brownies to express your appreciation.
- Initiate a play group. No moms group in your small town? Well, start one. In this day of social media it's as easy as posting your plans on Facebook or Twitter. But you can also advertise at your church, library, or grocery store.
- Start a game group or book club. These groups take every form imaginable. You can initiate a women's only bunco group, a mom and kids book club, or a couple's spades and supper group. Don't wait to be invited to one. Start one!
When our kids whine, "There's nothing to do," we try to give them creative solutions to the age-old problem. Maybe it's time we get a little creative as the heads of the household, too, and resist the urge to complain that no one else is entertaining us.
What creative solutions would you like to add to my list? I'd love to hear your ideas for creatively filling our free time.