There’s still plenty of time to fit in summer-y pleasure for your family. We don’t mean pricey vacations or waiting in line at the amusement park. Just the sort of fun that can stretch the barefoot, carefree feeling well into autumn’s first chill. We’ve shared lots of activity ideas with you over the last few months. Here are a few highlights to help you make the season’s fun last.
Do something messy outside.
1. Take a meal outdoors, sit on the grass, and eat directly from the plate without hands or utensils. We call this “trough feeding” and do it at least once every summer. Bet you can’t do it without laughing through the whole meal. Bet you’ll also find yourselves talking about how different animals eat.
2. Make drip castles at the beach or in the sandbox.
3. Designate an area of the yard where kids can play right in the dirt. They might want to use it to build mountains and valleys for their toy dinosaurs, cars, or action figures. They might want to dig holes, perhaps looking for archaeological finds using Hands-On Archaeology: Real-Life Activities for Kids as a guide. For a real mess, give them enough water to make it a mud pit. Your status as an epic parent will linger (as will the stains).
4. Mix up some washable paint, then let the kids paint designs on the driveway.
5. Throw a BYOB party. This is cheap, imagination-driven fun. You wield cutting implements and supply lots of tape. Guests are charged with one simple task: Bring. Your. Own. Box. Together kids can construct a fort or spaceship or whatever they please out of the boxes, then spend hours playing in it. There are plenty of other ways to amuse kids with cardboard boxes too.
6. Make sponge bombs out of cheap household sponges, then soak and use for tossing games. Unlike water balloons, these are reusable. They also make a lovely smacking sound when dropped on an unsuspecting sibling from the top of a slide. Don’t say we didn’t warn you.
Get some exercise.
7. Set up a bike, trike, or scooter obstacle course. Mark the course with sidewalk chalk or masking tape. The course may lead them around cones, through a sprinkler, under crepe paper streamers hanging from a tree branch, and on to a finish line. Next, encourage them to set up their own obstacle courses.
8. Find out how advanced hooping has become and how to get your kids started. You’ll want to provide a good example of hula hoop enthusiasm. Here’s how to make a hoop that will fit your, ahem, grown-up hips.
9. Become an orienteering family.
10. Set up relay races. It’s a great way to get your loved ones to hop in sacks and crawl with laundry baskets. When summer is gone you’ll want those photos.
11. Make foam swords. For peace of mind you may also want to make foam-covered shields, foam body pads, and operate on a no-running-hits/no-face-hits rule. Any violation and parents get to use the swords. Or simply fence with cardboard tubes. The Cardboard Tube Fighting League rules are worthy indeed.
12. Play classic outdoor games, the ones every kid should know.
13. Set up backyard bowling. Save 10 empty plastic bottles, set them up in a triangular pattern, then roll a ball toward them. This makes a satisfying clatter on the driveway. If you like, teach your kids how to keep score.
Make something tasty together.
14. Make frozen hot chocolate. Either freeze some chocolate milk into ice cubes, then blend with an equal amount of liquid chocolate milk or try a recipe using hot cocoa mix.
16. Show kids how to mix a quarter cup or so of juice concentrate (undiluted) into eight ounces of unsweetened seltzer water. Adjust to taste with more juice or seltzer. Add ice cubes and drink. It has the same carbonation level as soda without sugar or food coloring. We call it burp juice in our house because quick gulps bring on burps.
18. Write a message or draw a picture on the skin of a banana using a toothpick or pencil. It’ll darken within an hour.
19. Cook something over a campfire or fire pit together. Standards are a hot dog or marshmallow on a stick, although you can find 100 other ideas in Campfire Cooking.
21. Keep fruits like bananas, mangoes, pineapple, strawberries, and peaches in separate containers in the freezer. On different days let each child take a turn concocting a smoothie for the family by blending his or her choice of fruit with juice and/or yogurt in the blender. Serve in tiny cups for taste testing. Encourage the creator to come up with a name for the frozen delight,
23. Let your children eat from tiny dishes. No need for a tea set, you probably have the right sizes in your cupboard. Use the smallest appetizer plate for a dinner plate, a custard cup or ramekin for soup or cereal, and a shot glass or other tiny vessel for milk or juice. Baby forks and spoons are perfect miniature utensils. Smaller dish size automatically scales down portion size, meaning kids will actually have room for second helpings. Encourage them to serve themselves. They can refill glasses using a tiny pitcher, creamer, or even a small measuring cup with a spout. I know teenagers who still think that eating with tiny dishes is a hoot. Want to take the tiny theme farther? Make ridiculously cute tiny treats, like “donuts” made from decorated Cheerios. For instructions and inspiration, check out the American Girl book, Tiny Treats or pre-order the more detailed upcoming book, Tiny Food Party!: Bite-Size Recipes for Miniature Meals.
Do a quick project.
23. Make target shooting a sweet experience using homemade marshmallow shooters.
24. Paint without using your hands. Try taping the brush to a remote control toy, dangling it by a string, or rolling it across the paper. Or you might paint as this talented young artist does, by holding it in your mouth.
26. Save cardboard tubes, boxes, string, and other supplies to make your own robots. Light-up LED eyes would really enliven this project.
27. Make a few sock puppets. Add features like ping pong ball eyes , yarn hair, and cardboard mouth. For more ideas grab a copy of Puppet Play: 20 Puppet Projects Made with Recycled Mittens, Towels, Socks, and More. Once your puppets are ready, create a theater out of a large cardboard box, practice a few scenes, then put on a performance.
28. Learn to play a free instrument you already have. (Really, it’s in your kitchen.)
30. Let yeast blow up a balloon. Have kids write their names on balloons with a permanent marker. Using a funnel, let them fill each balloon with 1 teaspoon sugar and 1 teaspoon dry yeast. Add a little warm water to each balloon, tie shut, and shake to mix. Then put them outside on a hot sunny day. Check to see how big the balloons have gotten every ten minutes or so. Guess what might happen to balloons that get too big.
Turn it into an adventure.
31. Stage a treasure hunt. First, hide a prize. The prize doesn’t have to be a toy (it could be a cool drink or a packed lunch!). Next, hide clues. For non-readers the clues can be rebus pictures, digital photos, or magazine cut-outs. For readers try riddles, short rhymes, or question-based clues. Each one should lead the child to a spot where the next clue is hidden. If you have more than one child let everyone search for clues and figure them out together. Or stage treasure hunts for each child in turn using the collaborative efforts of those who are waiting. Once kids are familiar with treasure hunts they can easily set them up on their own. To get you to play they may turn off your cell, hide it, and chortle gleefully while you track it down.
32. Camp out in the backyard. Tell stories, play hide and seek in the dark, let kids use flashlights as they please.
33. Get your kids to predict the future. Better yet, write to your future selves. The kids may want to write to themselves as they’ll be in ten years or at your age. Don’t make this a child-only activity. Sit down and write to your future self too. You’ll want to include a description of an average day, list some favorite foods and activities, and imagine what you’ll be doing at that future date. Now seal those envelopes, write “Do Not Open Until ______” on the outside, and keep them somewhere you’ll remember.
34. Get retro and experience a drive-in movie with your kids. You can search this database to find one nearest you. If there’s no hope of finding one remotely close by, set up a backyard movie theater. You might want to invite the neighborhood for an ’80s family film fest. To give it that drive-in vibe, kids can make their own cars out of cardboard boxes. That way during the movie they can sit with their feet up on a cardboard dash and spill popcorn all over the cardboard interior without anyone bugging them about it.
35. Give the kids a budget and let them plan what they family will do next Saturday.