Who doesn’t love summer? For school kids, it’s a much-anticipated vacation from study. For parents, it’s a break from supervising homework and packing lunches. Even if the children in the family are younger than school-age, almost everyone enjoys the slower pace and long, warm days of summer. Sooner or later, however, parents are bound to hear, “I’m bored.” That’s the time to consult this list of summer activities for kids. Better yet, take a look at 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 clear sky to enjoy an evening of stargazing. Put blankets on the lawn and stretch out on your backs so you don’t have to crane your necks. You can get a stargazing app for your smartphone that will help you identify stars, planets and constellations. Simply open the app and 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.
If you want to take stargazing to another level, check out some of the websites offered by sky watchers. The website Sky and Telescope has a feature called “This Week’s Sky at a Glance” that will update you on what to look for each evening. If you are thinking of buying your own telescope, the Smithsonian has some good advice on its website. It suggests that amateur astronomers wait a bit before purchasing their own equipment. It also suggests looking for 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 for you and the children to learn more about what goes on in space. In a planetarium, you aren’t looking at the actual night sky but at 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 that are age-appropriate for your kids.
2. Go on a Quest!
What kid wouldn’t like to go on a quest? There are at least three different questing activities that will get your children outdoors and 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 areas and post online clues to help searchers find them. The clues may be straightforward or in the form of riddles or poems. Each letterbox contains a logbook and a stamp. Letterbox seekers carry their own logbooks and individualized stamps. When they find a letterbox, they stamp its logbook with their own stamp, and then use the stamp from the letterbox to mark their own logbook. 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 smart phones to locate the caches, which often contain small toys or prizes in addition to a logbook. Searchers log their finds online as well as in the logbook. Some caches are easy to find. Others are difficult. Serious hobbyists like to claim FTF (first to find) honors for a cache. 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 series of easier activities. The first step is usually a string course, in which children travel to a series of markers marked by a string while following along on a map. Children 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 use those bikes that may not get much of a workout during the school year. Bike trails are usually the safest place to ride, but you can ride in your own neighborhood if it is bike-friendly. Sidewalks are safer than roadways, but bikes may be prohibited on sidewalks in some areas. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) does not recommend allowing children to ride on most roadways until they are at least ten years old. You can find lots of bicycle safety tips on the NHTSA website.
Of course, you will use bike helmets. Adults should wear them, too! Take the opportunity to teach children important safety rules, such as how to use hand signals when turning or stopping. When children are old enough, they should be shown how to maintain their bikes. They should be taught to do an A-B-C check before they ride. The A is checking the air in the tires. The B is testing the brakes, and the C is making sure that the chain has lube. They should also be taught how to change a tire.
When children are old enough, take them for a nighttime bike ride. Riding at night can be a magical experience, because the sights and sounds are so different from the daytime. Of course, you’ll equip all bikes with lights both front and back. Everyone should wear a combination of brightly colored clothing for dusky conditions and reflective clothing for when it is fully dark. Bikes should have reflectors, too.
Group rides can be a novel experience. Check for family-friendly bicycle clubs in your area, or for bike rides sponsored by your local parks department. Biking is a wonderful activity for family vacations, too. Many resorts supply bicycles, or you can sign the family up for a guided bicycle tour.
4. Go in Search of Ice Cream
No food is more associated with summer than ice cream, and there are lots of ways to enjoy it. Touring an ice cream factory is a cool outing. You and the kids can see how your favorite flavors are made, and everyone gets 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. Use small scoops, because most of the concoctions may get tossed!
- 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 the kids provide the agitation. Search online for recipes and more complete instructions.
- Ice Cream Taste Test. Buy pints of several different brands of ice cream and see which is the best. For the most scientific taste test, make all the containers the same flavor.
- 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. Sometimes local events provide more pleasure with less hassle.
Typical festivals feature rides for the 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 experience. Be sure to pack blankets or wraps and bug spray. Depending upon your vehicle, you may want to bring chairs so you can sit outside.
If your area lacks 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. Search the schedules for family-friendly offerings. Summer concerts are also fun. Consider passing on the big names and instead supporting your local musicians. Many symphonies offer summer concert series. These are often free or lower in cost than comparable events held indoors.
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. You can also take advantage of promotions. Don’t worry too much about getting good seats. Most kids are going to be more interested in the food, the mascots, the Jumbo-tron and the crazy fans than in the actual game.
You have choices to make at the game, too. You can save money by eating before you go to the game or by bringing in your own food, which is usually allowed. You can buy fan wear at your local department store instead of at the game. 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 so you can go more often.
8. Get Wet and Wild!
The multiple chances to get wet are one of the best things about summer, according to most kids and some parents. In fact, some of the best summer activities for kids involve water. Try these!
- 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 in 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 to their use. Try water balloon badminton, catch or dodge ball.
- Swim Lessons. Every child should learn to swim, and summer is perfect for swim lessons. Children who already know the basics can take lessons to learn other strokes or to explore diving. Aquatic teams offer a chance to improve skills while competing and experiencing the group camaraderie.
9. Gone Fishing!
Catching their first fish is a thrill that most kids will remember for a long time. The simplest way to take children fishing is to do it from a pier or from the shore. Once the kids get the hang of it, taking them out on a boat adds another layer of adventure. You can go on a chartered trip if you don’t own a boat, or get a friend to take you out.
If you have a lot of fishing experience, you’ll know how to teach children, although you may have to adjust your expectations. Mastering a rod and reel can be difficult for children, and they may lose interest quickly. Some parents prefer to start their kids out with a cane pole. To avoid fishhook accidents, look into barb-less hooks or devices that hide the hook during casting.
If you are a novice, check with state and local parks. Many of them offer fishing clinics for kids, and they may even have equipment for youngsters to use. You’ll need to get a fishing license for yourself, even if you’re only helping the kids. In most states, children don’t need a license until they are 15 or older. Check the laws in your state, and get a guide to fishing regulations, too. Fines for not observing fish and game laws can be hefty.
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.
If you visit a national park, you and the children will probably have the opportunity to go on guided hikes and participate in campfire programs. Most parks also have unique offerings. For example, you can sled down a sand dune at Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado, explore tide pools at Redwood National Park in California or take a train ride in Cuyahoga Valley National Park in Ohio.
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. The kids can plant sunflowers from seeds because they mature 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. You and the children can harvest the seeds from the dried flower heads and grow the flowers for free the following year. You can also use marigold petals in salads!
- Morning Glories. These vines can be grown from seed or bought as bedding plants. They love the sun and are generally drought-resistant. They get their name because they usually open in the morning and close in the early afternoon, but that depends upon your climate, the weather conditions and the variety. Children usually like the vivid trumpet-shaped flowers and are fascinated by the way the vines climb.
- Phlox. Every garden needs a good-smelling flower, and this flower with the weirdly spelled name fits the bill. They are drought-tolerant and come in shades of 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 plants will attract the butterflies that live in your area. Butterflies lay their eggs at different times according to the region and the species, so you may not get to experience a butterfly life cycle during the summer, but you can at least provide the habitat that these beautiful creatures require.
12. Cultivate Some Veggies
Flowers may appeal to our aesthetic sense, but vegetables appeal to something just as important – our appetites! Your children may or may not like vegetables, but they are almost certain to enjoy growing them. They may eat more vegetables if they have had a part in growing and picking them.
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 don’t have a lot of room, you can cultivate a herb garden. Herbs are pretty to look at and lovely to smell. Growing them can also encourage the children to expand their culinary skills.
13. Be Summer Naturalists
Summer is an ideal time for children to learn about nature. The summer world is full of fascinating creatures and plants. Try these summer nature activities.
- Pond Life. Equip the children with rubber boots. Cut plastic milk jugs into big scoops and show the children 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 look at 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 the children look for microorganisms.
- Species Identification. Show the children 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 identify which type of spider made them.
- Night Nature Hikes. Take the children for a walk at night and listen for the sounds of insects, frogs and birds. Take flashlights, but turn them off periodically to experience the darkness. Look for fireflies. If you get lucky you may hear or even see an owl.
- 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
When your children go back to school in the fall, you don’t want them to have to spend time recovering the skills they have already learned. It’s especially important for them to retain their reading skills. No matter how old they are, your children will love being read to, but be sure they read on their own as well. Most community libraries have summer reading programs, where children record the books they read and receive rewards for participating. Sign them up!
You can also look for opportunities to hone your children’s math skills. They can practice measuring and fractions in the kitchen. Many card and board games foster counting skills and the four basic operations of arithmetic – adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing. Let the children use their money skills by budgeting for some of the activities that they want to do and paying for some purchases with old-fashioned cash.
There are excellent educational apps and websites that your children can use, but by being involved in your children’s summer activities, you’ll find many screen-free opportunities for learning. When you do let your children 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 laugh, learn and have fun. And at the end of the summer, you and your kids will be closer than ever.