I have the best intentions. I find myself saving articles with activity ideas. I pin tutorials on Pinterest. I buy all sorts of fun project books. But I’ve learned that down time is the most important aspect of summer fun. I think all of us suffer from a daydreaming deficit. So I offer the following ideas in the spirit of balance.
Daydreaming + lively fun = summer!
1. Let little ones paint the house, car, driveway, and everything else. All that’s needed are wide paintbrushes and an empty paint can or small bucket of water. Water wiped on with a brush temporarily darkens many surfaces, giving toddlers the satisfying impression they are “painting.” It dries quickly so they can paint again.
2. Take late-night walks. Kids enjoy this even more when they are in charge of the flashlights.
3. 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.
5. 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.
7. Go hiking. Before leaving, decide what each of you will keep your eyes open to see. Your son might decide to look for things that fly. Your daughter might decide to look for the color red. You might keep an eye out for poison ivy. It’s interesting how much more cued all of you will be to your surroundings when really looking.
9. Transform old broken crayons into newly shaped Hot Car Crayons.
10. Go on a camera scavenger hunt. First choose a theme, like Ten Things That Move or A Dozen Signs of Summer. Then send kids out with cameras (disposable, digital, or cell phone cameras) to grab some images. Encourage them to find creative, funny, and unusual ways to interpret the theme. Pop the photos up on the computer screen or take disposable cameras to a one-hour processing shop.
11. 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.
12. Set up a backyard movie theater. 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.
13. Learn to juggle.
14. Use household items to make giant bubble snakes.
15. 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.
16. Set up a backyard zip-line between two trees.
17. Learn applied math by making 3-D models out of paper plates.
18. Listen to a recording of an old radio show, like the original 1938 broadcast of War of the Worlds, then make your own audio story complete with narration and sound effects. Toss in some campy advertisements for extra fun.
19. 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.
20. Fill your passports. Well, homemade passports. Give each child a small blank book. Together with your kids make a list of parks, fairs, festivals, and other events you’d like to attend. Each time you do, bring back a souvenir. It might be a leaf, a ticket stub, or a photo. Paste it in the blank book with a sentence or two about the adventure. At the end of summer you’ll have a book of memories.
21. Make homemade playdough using one of these six recipes. No mess to clean up indoors when they use it on a picnic table.
23. Invite some kids to come over, bringing their ride-ons. Supply crepe paper, plus arty odds and ends. Give everyone time to decorate their bikes, then take turns leading a bike parade. A kazoo concert after the parade adds to the festivities.
24. Let each child plant one “crop” in the garden that is his or hers to tend. Fast-growing plants like sugar snap peas, radishes, and green beans are ideal. Let the kid farmer in charge be the one to check regularly for weeds, watering needs, and harvest times.
25. Throw a backyard Olympics party. Create competitions like sack races, tumbling, Frisbee discus throws, and tossing bean bags into a bucket. Here are more ideas for child-sized Olympics fun.
26. Play games safe enough for little ones using pool noodles. First cut a few pool noodles in half. Toss balloons across the yard. Chances are they’ll come up with games on their own. If they need a little nudging, suggest goals like cooperative lifting of balloons to see how far they can carry them together.
27. Use an old clay pot to make a toad house in the yard.
28. Make a movie. Remember Spielberg started making movies as a kid so make sure you save your child’s film for posterity, just in case fame hits.
30. 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.
About Laura Grace Weldon
Laura Grace Weldon is a writer, editor, conflict resolution educator, and marginally useful farm wench. She is the author of Free Range Learning: How Homeschooling Changes Everything. She lives with her family on Bit of Earth Farm. Check out life on the farm at http://bitofearthfarm.wordpress.com/ and keep up with Laura’s relentless optimism at http://lauragraceweldon.com/blog-2/