Summer is the best! With school out, kids get that much-anticipated vacation from studying and for parents it’s a well-deserved break from supervising homework and packing lunches. The days are long, the weather is warm, this is a time for adventure. At least that’s what everyone expects. Yet sooner or later, from the direction of the couch, a raucous little voice will inevitably exclaim, “I’m bored”. That’s when you bring up this list of awesome summer activities for kids and become a hero! Better yet, go through it now. Otherwise, you might miss out on some of these fun summer activities. And that would be a shame.
1. Marvel at the Night Sky
If your yard has a relatively unobstructed view of the sky, all you need is a cloudless evening to enjoy stargazing. Just put a blanket on the lawn and take in the marvels of nature. There’s no need for astronomy classes, your smartphone will help you identify stars, planets, and constellations. Download one of the countless apps available now, and simply point your phone at the night sky for information about a particular segment of the heavens. A good pair of binoculars will give you and the children a better look at the moon, planets, and star clusters.
Check out some of the websites offered by sky watchers and take stargazing to another level. For example, the Sky and Telescope site has a feature called “This Week’s Sky at a Glance” that will update you on what to search for each evening. If you are thinking of buying your own telescope, the Smithsonian has some good advice on its website. While you’re still an amateur astronomer, it’s better to wait a bit before purchasing your own equipment. Instead, find an observatory or astronomy club that offers stargazing parties. Such events often allow participants to look through some amazing telescopes.
Visiting a planetarium is another way to learn more about what goes on in space. In a planetarium, you aren’t viewing the actual night sky but simulations on a dome-shaped structure. Chances are that there is a planetarium in your area. Do an online search and see what programs are offered for kids.
2. Go on a Quest!
Kids absolutely love quests! And there are at least three excellent questing activities that will get your children outdoors and ready to hone their searching skills. Each has its own unique culture. Also, some are more commonly practiced in particular areas of the country, so you should do a little research before deciding upon one of the three.
- Letterboxing. This type of treasure hunt originated around 150 years ago and has evolved over time. In the version practiced today, letterboxers hide small boxes in public places and post online clues to help searchers find them. The clues may be straightforward or take the form of riddles or poems. Each letterbox contains a logbook and a stamp. When letterbox seekers find a box, they use the stamp in the box to mark their own logbook and leave their own stamp in the letterbox’s logbook. This creates a record of their discovery. Enthusiasts use several websites, with Letterboxing.org being the most popular.
- Geocaching. This questing activity is similar to letterboxing, except that the boxes – known as caches – are listed online by their longitude and latitude. Searchers use GPS gadgets or their smartphones to locate the caches, which often contain small toys or prizes in addition to a logbook. Their findings are logged online and in the logbook. Some are easy to find, others quite difficult. Serious hobbyists like to claim FTF (first to find) honors for a stash. The most popular website is Geocaching.com.
- Orienteering. This activity is somewhat different from letterboxing and geocaching in that participants aren’t questing for a particular item but are seeking to complete a course. They negotiate the course using maps. Children are taught orienteering through a number of easier activities. The first step is usually a string course, where you need to travel to a series of markers connected by a line while following along on a map. Kids then graduate to a white course, which is a short marked course that participants can complete with the use of a simplified topographical map. You can learn more at OrienteeringUSA.com.
See also: 13 Food Activities for Kids.
3. Hit the Bikes!
Summer is the perfect time to dust off those bikes that may not get much of a workout during the school year. Designated trails are generally the safest place to ride, but if your neighborhood has bike-friendly roads, then that’s a great option too. Keep in mind that some areas may prohibit bikes on sidewalks. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recommends that little ones under ten years old stay clear of most roadways. You can find lots of bicycle safety tips on the NHTSA website.
Of course, you will use helmets. Adults have to wear them too! Take the opportunity to teach children important safety rules, such as how to use hand signals when turning or stopping. When kids are old enough, they need to be shown how to maintain their bikes by following the A-B-C routine. A is checking the air in the tires. B is for testing the brakes, and the C is making sure that the chain has lube. They should also be taught how to change a tire.
As your kids grow older, consider taking them on a nighttime ride to experience the magic of cycling in the dark. Make sure all bikes are properly equipped with front and back lights, and everyone wears a combination of bright clothing for dusk and reflective clothing for complete darkness. It’s also necessary to have reflectors, which increase visibility and promote safety.
Group rides can be a wonderful experience for families. Look for family-friendly bicycle clubs in your area or bike rides sponsored by your local parks department. Biking is also a great activity for family vacations, as many resorts offer rental bikes or guided bicycle tours that the whole family can enjoy.
4. Go in Search of Ice Cream
There’s nothing quite like a refreshing ice cream on a hot summer day. And is there anything better than touring an ice cream factory, seeing how your favorite flavors are made, and everyone getting a free scoop at the end?
If you don’t have a factory near you, have some tasty fun at home!
- Make Your Own Soda Fountain Treats. Make sundaes by topping ice cream with flavored syrups, sprinkles, chopped nuts, and whipped cream. If you have bananas, make banana splits. Try your hand at floats, malts and milkshakes, too.
- Invent a New Flavor. Start with plain vanilla and let the kids add other foodstuffs and flavorings. There hasn’t been a bad ice cream flavor yet, but some experiments may be unpredictable, so use small scoops.
- Go Out for Ice Cream. Stopping for a cool scoop is a perfect end to many outings. If you have an ice cream shop in your area, walk or bike to it for a chilly treat.
- Make Your Own Ice Cream. You can help the kids make their own ice cream. If you don’t have a freezer, put your ice cream mixture in a plastic zipper bag, sandwich it between two zipper bags of salted ice and let them provide the agitation. Sounds unbelievable, but it actually works! You can even make it a competition. Search online for recipes and more detailed instructions.
- Blind Ice Cream Taste Test. Buy a variety of ice cream flavors, including ones that your kids already love and some new and adventurous flavors to try. Placing each flavor in a separate cup or bowl, give each child a spoon and have them try to guess without looking.
- Buy from an Ice Cream Truck. Stop an ice cream truck in your neighborhood or at the local park or playground and let the kids pick out a treat. Sure, they’ll probably go for the gaudiest, most overpriced item on the menu, but it’s something every child should experience at least once.
- Make Dessert for the Family. Let the children help you make an icebox pie or other fancy ice cream dessert to top off dinner. Since most recipes don’t require cooking (unless you’re tackling Baked Alaska!) ice cream desserts are safe for your little chefs.
5. Celebrate at a Fair or Festival
Summer is prime time for outdoor events such as festivals, fairs, and carnivals. The big events, like state fairs and children’s festivals, get most of the press, but they can be crowded. Local events generally provide more pleasure with less hassle.
Typical festivals feature rides for children and stages for performances in music and dance. Face painting, races, petting zoos, and carnival-style games are other common offerings. Also, most festivals feature amazing street food!
6. Catch an Outdoor Performance
Have your children even been to a drive-in theater? Amazingly, there are hundreds still open in the United States, so it may be possible for them to experience a slice of old-time Americana. The kids will love the idea of going to the movies in their pajamas! You can bring your own snacks to a drive-in movie, but a visit to the snack bar, if your theater has one, is still part of the drive-in charm. Be sure to pack blankets or wraps, and bug spray. Bring chairs if it’s possible because sitting outside might be even better.
For places that lack a drive-in, check to see if a local park shows movies during the summer. Many do. Some water parks and swimming pools even offer float and watch nights!
If you’d like to expose your kiddos to something a little more highbrow, check your area for outdoor theater productions or theater in the park. Look for family-friendly shows on the schedule, and enjoy the experience of live acting under the stars. Summer concerts are also a great way to enjoy music as a family. Consider supporting local musicians and attending smaller events instead of big-name shows. Many symphonies again offer summer concert series, which are often free or more affordable than indoor events.
7. Take Them Out to a Ball Game
In planning your summer activities, don’t forget the “boys of summer”. Tickets to a major league baseball game can be expensive, but weekdays and weeknights may be affordable. Take advantage of promotions and don’t worry too much about getting good seats. Most kids are going to be more interested in the food, the mascots, the Jumbotron and the crazy fans than in the actual game.
You have choices to make at the game, too. Save money by eating before going to the match or bringing in your own food, which is usually allowed. Fan wear at the local department store is typically more affordable than from the team shop. But if you’re only going to do this once or twice, you may want to do the whole experience, which means eating ballpark food and buying overpriced souvenirs. Some memories are worth the price tag.
If you and a child share an interest in baseball, you are super lucky. You’ll have a great time anticipating your outing, sharing commentary during the game, and doing a play-by-play recap later. In this case, you may want to follow a local minor league team or college team. Going to these games is much cheaper, meaning you can go more often while still enjoying the excitement of the sport.
8. Get Wet and Wild!
A summer splash is something both kids and parents appreciate. In fact, some of the best summer activities for kids involve water. How about you give these a try:
- Places to Get Wet. If you have a backyard pool, you’ve got it made. If not, visit neighborhood or municipal pools. Spray parks are perfect for the younger set. Water parks are pricey but worth a splurge once or twice a summer.
- Outdoor Water Toys. A simple lawn sprinkler can serve up hours of diversion, and there are also fancier versions designed just for child’s play. Slippery slides offer rowdy fun, and water tables are good for tamer amusement.
- Water Balloons. Besides the classic water balloon fight, there are hundreds of ways to have fun with water balloons. Lots of games can be adapted for their use. Try water balloon badminton, catch or dodge ball.
- Swim Lessons. Swimming is an essential skill that every child should learn, and summer is the perfect time for swim lessons. Children who already know the basics can take the time to improve their technique, learn new strokes, or explore diving. Aquatic teams provide an opportunity for them to enhance their abilities while competing and experiencing the camaraderie of working together as a group.
9. Gone Fishing!
Catching their first fish is a thrill that most kids will remember for a long time. The simplest way of introducing children to fishing is by going to a pier or from the shore. Once they get the hang of it, taking a boat out just adds another layer of adventure. If you don’t own a boat, you can go on a chartered trip or ask a friend who shares this passion and is willing to help.
When you have a lot of fishing experience, teaching can come easily, although expectations may need to be adjusted. Mastering a rod and reel can be difficult for children, and they may lose interest quickly. Some parents prefer to start their little ones out with a cane pole. To avoid fishhook accidents, look into barb-less hooks or devices that hide the hook during casting.
If you’re new to fishing, check with state and local parks for fishing clinics and equipment rentals that are appropriate for them. It’s important to obtain a fishing license for yourself, even if you’re only helping the kids. In most states, those under 15 do not need a license. Be sure to check the fishing regulations in your state and follow them to avoid hefty fines for not observing fish and game laws.
10. Explore Your Parks
When planning your summer activities, don’t forget to include national and state parks, forests, and seashores. Parks provide beautiful scenery, numerous recreational activities, a chance to see wildlife, and a generally more unspoiled view of the world. Some offer history lessons, too.
The National Park System (NPS) caters to youngsters with programs such as Junior Rangers. To earn a Junior Ranger patch and certificate, a child completes a series of activities at a national park. The Webrangers program allows students to learn about national parks at home and earn a Webrangers patch. The NPS also offers activity books about caves, bats, archaeology, paleontology, underwater life, eclipses, and several other topics. Children can complete them at home and earn a patch.
Visiting a national park offers many opportunities for families to engage in guided hikes and participate in campfire programs. Each park also provides unique experiences that set it apart from others. For instance, at Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado, you can sled down sand dunes, while at Redwood National Park in California, you can explore tide pools. Cuyahoga Valley National Park in Ohio offers a train ride, providing a unique perspective of the park’s beauty and scenery.
If you don’t live near any national parks, check out state parks or other parks in your area. Many towns and cities also offer special park programs for kids.
11. Grow a Bouquet
Gardening is a first-rate activity for kids. It’s active, educational, and engaging. Many children especially take to growing flowers because they are so pretty. You can grow flowers from seed or buy bedding plants. Growing from seeds is more educational, but seeds are usually started in the spring, not in the summer. Here are some easy-to-grow summer options.
- Sunflowers. Because they grow to great heights and produce large blooms, sunflowers are a favorite of many kids. When the flowers mature and dry, they produce sunflower seeds that make good food for the birds. This can be an interesting project, planting sunflowers from seeds as they develop in less than 6 weeks. Also, they withstand heat well and may last into the fall.
- Marigolds. These tough little beauties can be grown from seed or bought as bedding plants. They are good for cutting, except for their pungent odor. The smell, however, resides mainly in the foliage, so you can strip the leaves from your cut flowers if the odor bothers you. The seeds can be harvested from the dried flower heads and grown into flowers for free on following years. You can also use marigold petals in salads!
- Morning Glories. These sun-loving vines can be grown from seed or bought as bedding plants, and are generally drought-resistant. They usually open in the morning and close in the early afternoon, and that’s how their name came about. Still, that depends upon your climate, the weather conditions and the variety. Children typically like the vivid trumpet-shaped flowers and are fascinated by the way the vines climb.
- Phlox. A fragrant flower is a must-have in any garden, and this particular plant, despite its unusual spelling, fits the bill perfectly. It’s also drought-tolerant and available in a range of shades, including pink, purple, and white.
- Zinnias. Sometimes called old maids, these sturdy bloomers come in a variety of colors and sizes. They make good cut flowers.
Another good activity for kids is to plant a butterfly garden. To create a butterfly-friendly habitat, you’ll need two types of plants: nectar plants to attract and feed the adult butterflies and caterpillar food plants. You can talk to nature centers in your area to find which local plants are suitable. Butterflies lay their eggs at different times according to the region and species. Therefore, you may not get to witness a complete butterfly life cycle during the summer. However, you can still create a habitat that provides the necessary resources for these beautiful creatures.
12. Cultivate Some Veggies
Flowers may appeal to our aesthetic sense, but vegetables appeal to something just as important – our appetites! Your kids may or may not like vegetables, but they are almost certain to enjoy growing them. Knowing they’ve had a part in growing and picking them might just sway their opinion.
For a varied harvest and a more complete educational experience, include some root vegetables such as carrots, some vining plants such as cucumbers, some bush plants such as tomatoes and some leafy greens such as lettuce.
If you’re short on space, consider planting a herb garden. Herbs not only add beauty and fragrance to your garden, but they can also inspire children to learn more about cooking and expand their culinary skills.
13. Be Summer Naturalists
Summer is an ideal time for children to learn about nature. It’s when the world feels so much alive, and there are fascinating creatures and plants everywhere. Take advantage and try some of these summer nature activities:
- Pond Life. Equip the children with rubber boots. Cut plastic milk jugs into big scoops and show them how to scoop up water. Help them pour it into a shallow tray, then look to see what kind of creatures they have captured. You may find fish, tadpoles, insect larvae, and water bugs. Let the children examine them through a magnifying glass. They will also like observing the many water bugs skating on the surface of the pond that may be too swift to capture. If you have a microscope at home, take some water samples home and help them look for microorganisms.
- Species Identification. Show them how to use field guides to identify the birds, reptiles, amphibians, insects, and spiders in your yard or in a nearby park. Take pictures of the spider webs you find and determine which type of spider made them.
- Night Nature Hikes. Take the kids for a nighttime walk and listen for the sounds of insects, frogs, and birds. Bring flashlights, but remember to turn them off periodically to experience the darkness. Keep an eye out for fireflies, which can add a magical touch to the experience. With any luck, you may even hear or spot an owl in the quiet of the night.
- Botany Activities. Don’t forget to include some activities about plants. Help the children collect seeds or seed pods. Look for mosses, fungi, and lichens. Try the art of pressing leaves. You may just grow a young botanist!
14. Stay School-Ready
As the fall semester approaches, it’s important for children to retain the skills they’ve learned during the summer. Reading is an essential skill to maintain. Kids of all ages enjoy being read to, but it’s also indispensable for them to read on their own. Many community libraries offer summer reading programs, where readers can track the books they’ve read and earn rewards for participating. Make sure to sign yours up for these programs to encourage them to continue reading and prevent any loss of skills.
Summer is a great time to encourage your kids to practice and develop their math skills. In the kitchen, they can practice measuring and fractions while helping to prepare meals. Many card and board games also foster counting skills and the four basic operations of arithmetic, such as adding, subtracting, multiplying, and dividing. Encourage your children to use their money skills by budgeting for some of their preferred activities and making purchases with cash. These opportunities will help them further develop their math skills while also having fun.
There are excellent educational apps and websites out there, but by being involved in their summer activities, you’ll find many screen-free opportunities for learning. When you do let your kids have screen time, whether it’s for a movie, a video game or an educational activity, it’s optimal for you to watch or play with them.
Fun for You, Too!
Whatever summer activities you choose to enjoy with your children, several things will happen. You’ll have some mishaps. Sometimes you’ll get frustrated. But you will also laugh, learn, and have fun. And at the end of the summer, you and your kids will be closer than ever.