Tips to keep your kids out of trouble this summer

OPINION - Summertime and the living is....not so easy if you have kids to keep active and entertained when school is out...

Luther Vandross was outed as gay after his death.

Summertime and the living is….not so easy if you have kids to keep active and entertained when school is out. The summer months are a great time to keep the learning going by traveling, taking part in camps and visiting with family. Here are some tips from parents, educators and other experts about how to keep your children busy while they are out of school.

Plan and plant a vegetable, flower or herb garden. If you live in the city with no open space, plant your garden in pots. Be sure to ask at your local garden store or county extension service about the types of plants that grow best in your climate, or do your own research on the Internet. Be sure to take note of soil, sunlight and other conditions your plants will need to flourish.

Keep a journal. “I always tell my kids to journal about their summer vacation,” said Wanda Leonard, a seventh grade teacher in Marietta, Ga. “When kids come back to school we always ask them to write about what they did and they say, ‘Nothing.’ Leonard has her 13-year-old son put together a book that includes his writing and photographs from summer vacation.

Challenge your kids to read a certain number of books in a specific time frame and write reports on what they’ve read. Books open a child’s mind to a whole new world. Barnes and Noble and other bookstores have incentives for kids who read a certain number of books. Reading seven books and completing a reading journal may get you a free book at some stores. Check your local library to see what contests and incentives they offer.

Have your children and teenagers plan a “stay-cation.” Make a list of places to visit in your town or in nearby cities. Consider having them research the costs of the activities, hours of operation, etc. Encourage them to check Web sites for special deals and coupons. Almost every attraction has special discounts available on certain days.

Children and teenagers can be packrats, just like adults. Show them how to turn old toys, books and clothing into cash by cleaning out their closets and having a yard sale. They can price the items, make signs and pocket the money they earn. They can sell water, lemonade, cookies and muffins to make even more cash.

Help an older relative or neighbor do chores. Volunteering makes people feel better about themselves, said entertainer and philanthropist Bill Cosby. During his commencement speech at Hampton University in May, Cosby urged graduates to find a student and become a mentor. May public libraries, museums and social service organizations offer volunteer opportunities for students. If you are in Washington, D.C. on June 21, come by the National Mall and take part in the United Way and Target’s summer reading backpack event. Organizers plan to stuff 50,000 backpacks with books and donate them to needy students. Information:

Keep your mind and body healthy by taking advantage of summer camps and recreation activities. Check with your local YMCA or Boys & Girls Club of America. These organizations offer classes and camps geared toward healthy living and youth development. The Y has half day and all day camps that introduce children to the arts, t-ball and soccer, horseback riding and camping. Information: For more information about Boys & Girls Club of America, go to:

Take swimming lessons. According a study by USA Swimming, nearly 60 percent of African-American children cannot swim. Learning to swim will reduce your child’s chances of drowning. Swimming is a skill people can use all their lives, said Laritha Johnson, an aquatics instructor at the Southside YMCA in Chicago. “We have 87-year-old seniors who may not be able to do anything else but they can swim,” she said. Swimming is a great form of exercise. And the Y includes rescue skills as part of their classes, said Johnson.

Form a book club with friends. Most students have required reading lists over the summer. Why not pull out your books and compare notes in a casual format? Consider having a book club slumber party.

Travel with friends and relatives from different generations. Older people have a unique perspective on life and don’t mind sharing it. Traveling with family strengthens those bonds. If you are blessed to have relatives who want to keep your children for an extended period of time in the summer, take advantage of the opportunity to take a break from parenting. Children can learn so much from their grandparents, particularly if they live in another part of the country.

Allow your children to be responsible for dinner once or twice a week. The summer is an ideal time to practice new recipes and children can pick up math skills while measuring the ingredients. Many simple recipes can be found on the Internet. Some supermarket chains, like, Publix, offer recipe cards for free.