While it’s easy to find fun, educational activities for little kids, once they hit pre-teen and teen years, it’s much harder. Companies either stop making kits for them, or you get eye-rolls and groans when you suggest something too uncool. But our older boys need to tinker, build, and create as much as our younger kids do. We’ve rounded up the best activities to keep older boys, about 12 and up, engaged in hands-on activities they actually enjoy.
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Build Useable Projects with a Eureka Crate
Our older boys love the complexity of Eureka crates and how they result in a fun, usable product at the end. So far, our boys have made a ukulele, a pinball machine, a desk light, and a mechanical pencil sharpener – and they all work! Unlike many other projects, they come back to these over and over to use or play with. And there’s nothing like seeing a 13-year-old light up when he talks about how he overcame a challenge to finish the build.
You can get a subscription to Eureka Crate here, so your son can have a new project every month, delivered right to your door. At our house it’s always just in time to beat boredom. Or, you can pick your own project and get an individual crate here.
You can read our honest review of the Eureka crate and other KiwiCo crates here.
Whittling is making a come-back! Even if your kid’s grandfather didn’t teach him, he can learn the basics quickly, and you’ll be amazed at what he can create in a short time.
This is a great hobby to start with if you aren’t sure what your child will like, as it’s very inexpensive to get into. All you need is a knife and some wood (and we recommend a pair of safety gloves like these). Or you can snag it all in a starter set like this one.
You can find tons of beginner whittling tutorials on YouTube, or for a screen-free tutorial, grab one of these books: 20 Minute Whittling Projects
Learn to Play an Instrument
Playing Music is a lifelong skill and learning how to play an instrument is a rewarding way to build discipline. One of our kids started playing at age 12, and went on to teach himself several instruments in his spare time. He eventually received a scholarship for playing in the marching band at his university. And there’s even more reasons to learn an instrument – research shows that learning an instrument builds new connections in the brain, improves reading ability, and decreases anxiety.
It’s easier, and less expensive, to get started than ever before. There are so many great YouTube channels and online classes out there that teach the basics of pretty much any instrument your teen may be interested in trying. Search your local buy and sell groups or Ebay for used instruments, or reach out to someone you know who might be done with theirs. It’s not hard to find free pianos, if you’re willing to start with a big instrument!
Learn to Code
Coding is not only an amazing outlet for creativity, but it promotes a very solid (and highly sought after) job skill. There are so many resources online, but a few great places to get started are Code.org or Khan Academy’s computer programming classes.
And if they’re ready to just jump right in designing apps or games, using a tool like Stencyl or Scratch will allow them to get started right away. They both have detailed tutorials that are easy to follow, and will have your teen creating games in no time. You can see our full list of favorite coding resources here.
Start a YouTube Channel
If your older kid has a skill or a particular interest, starting a channel on YouTube can be a great outlet for creativity. From cooking to crafting to playing games, there’s always people looking for entertainment online. Kids will also pick up valuable skills like video editing, running a business, and marketing.
A big caution on this one: You’ll definitely need to talk about safety precautions with your teen, and help them to be educated about online safety (which is a good life skill anyway!).
- Assume what you do on the internet sticks around forever. Because it does. Anyone can download a video and save it to their own computer. Once it’s posted, it’s there forever somewhere.
- Be prepared to grow a thick skin. Consider turning off comments on videos (or monitoring them closely). Be prepared that trolls will say some awful things.
- Talk about safety as far as location and passwords.
This isn’t a hobby to jump into without a solid foundation of knowledge and preparation, but a well supervised YouTube channel can be an incredible learning experience and build real world skills.
Write a Book or Create a Comic
Have a kid who enjoys writing or is artistic? Encourage them to practice their craft.
Amazon KDP has a very low barrier to entry (it’s incredibly easy to get a book published on there, though less easy to get consistent sales!). Not only does it give them an outlet for creativity, but putting out a tangible product they’ve created for others to enjoy builds confidence and gives them life skills that can’t be learned in a classroom. They have incredibly helpful videos and walk you through step-by-step what you need to get done.
Making Comics – This book isn’t just amazing for creating a comic or graphic novel, but for story telling in general. It’s less of the nitty-gritty of publishing details, and more of the process of creating an amazing comic and story.
How to Make Webcomics – While this book is slightly dated, it still has some great tips and advice for the actual publishing and promoting of comics online.
Ask your pre-teen or teen which of these might interest them. If they really want to learn an instrument or start a YouTube channel, give them ways to earn some of the start-up costs so they are fully invested. It’s easy to let our older boys skate by and stop exploring when we have a harder time finding productive activities for them to do. But a little encouragement, and a lot of support, and they can continue to learn new skills and build confidence and real world experience in fun ways, all the way through their teens.