For some people I know, summer vacation has already begun. For others, it won’t begin for a few weeks.
I have a true love/hate relationship with all things technology. On the one hand, I love keeping up with friends and family over facebook. I love that I can get directions to anywhere from my phone. And, when my kids spend hours a day playing video games or watching television, they’re like little trolls (I wonder if I’m a little more troll like when I spend too much time on my screens, too).
One of the things I find helpful is to have ideas for other things to do on hand, so when my kids claim there’s “nothing to do” I can have ideas ready.
This list is very much grounded in my little corner of Central Florida, but my hope is that these ideas/activities give you some inspiration to explore your corner of the world no matter where you are.
Category 1: Get Outside (mostly free)
It is summer, and I know it’s hot, but you need to go outside. As one of my favorite quote says, “Don’t forget to drink water and get some sun, because you’re basically a house plant with complicated emotions.”
My kids love a trip to the playground. Sometimes I don’t go because I make it too big in my mind: “It will take too long.” “It’s too hot.” “It’s easier to stay home.” But I have found that stopping at a playground — even for as little as 15 minutes — really helps my kids use their energy, have fun, and makes them better humans to live with.
- Nature walk or Trail
My community has a real treasure of a park called The Enchanted Forest Nature Sanctuary. It has short trails, a butterfly garden, a visitor center where you can learn about our local ecosystem, and it is free. Thanks to their programming and guided hikes, I have learned about gopher turtles, the scrub, and why the sand is sometimes red in my yard here. I highly recommend visiting a place like this over the summer.
Wherever you are, your local county government probably has some kind of park service, and I think that checking out these treasures is a great way to get to know your community and get outside.
- Find some water
I have the distinct pleasure of living very close to the ocean. However, I have lived very close to the ocean for 10 years and almost never go to the beach. So, this year, I bought a pass to the Canaveral National Seashore to MAKE myself go to the beach more.
I imagine that if you are a human being who lives in a place where there is internet access that your community is near SOME kind of body of water. It might be a kiddie pool in your back yard (see #10), a spring, a creek, a lake, a river, or a pool, but there is water near you. And you should go visit that water. You do not have to put your body in the water (although I think that’s good for all of us too), but you should at least spend some time near the water.
My daughters love riding their bikes around our neighborhood and driveway. We got my three year old’s bike from the thrift store for $5. They also have enjoyed scooters. They’ve asked about roller skates (we’re not there yet). But getting them moving whether it’s in your neighborhood or on a local trail is great for their balance, fitness, and confidence.
- Visit the Library
My daughters and I have started visiting our local library, and in addition to all the books (which I’m so here for), the library often has activities, classes, story time, and other great things to help kids. Our library has a summer reading challenge, which is important to help kids practice their skills from school over the summer.
One adventure I’m planning with my daughters is that our public transportation service is offering kids free rides to the library with their library card, which I think is a wonderful partnership!
- Volunteer/help a friend
I think it’s good for all of us to contribute to our community in ways that we can. Maybe you want to go pick up trash at the park. Maybe you can visit a neighbor who’s been sick. Maybe you want to mail cards to your relatives who are far away. Maybe you can do a more ambitious project. But I think that we do ourselves, our kids, and our communities a big service by finding ways to pitch in and improve the world around us.
Category 2: Things to do at home (that are low cost)
These things are quick, entertaining, but also really easy to forget. I love the blog “Fun at home with kids” and Asia Citro’s ideas and tips for screen free fun, and highly recommend her books. She has recipes for play dough if your child has allergies, ideas for pretend play, at home science experiments and more!
- Play Dough
Play dough is so fun. It’s good for kids hands and keeps them busy. It’s a nice way to learn to model and create things. Asia Citro has lots of inexpensive recipes for play dough you can make at home (which is a god send for people with allergies), but I think it’s worth it to splurge a little for the stuff from the store just because I don’t want to make it.
- Paint on canvas (these things are remarkably cheap and make wonderful gifts for people who love your children)
- Big roll of paper
My kids have figured out how to get computer paper out of my printer to color on. This is cheaper than some forms of entertainment, but…also annoying when you run out of paper all the time.
Enter giant rolls of white craft paper (A tip I got from one of Asia Citro’s books). This is great for banner making. comic strips. scenery for their toys to play on. It works well with water colors, markers or crayons. It is good stuff.
- Backyard “pool”
Kiddie pools are very inexpensive. Add a strainer, bucket, rubber duck, and boat, and you have a lot of fun. (Don’t forget sunscreen. And always watch your kids when they’re playing around water because drowning is bad.)
- Water balloons
Thanks to bunch of balloons, water balloons are fun again. Apparently, they don’t biodegrade quickly (though they will in a couple of years), so you should still pick up the pieces to save your local wildlife.
I am waiting (impatiently) for my kids to be old enough for a puzzle quest. By which I mean a 250, 500 or 1000 piece puzzle that we can all work together on for days or weeks. I love putting together puzzles, and think that the idea of a several day or week (depending on your kids) project like a large jig saw puzzle is a great way to stay busy!
- Vinegar and Baking Soda
There are so many ways to have fun with vinegar and baking soda. You can trap toys in a baking soda shell (needs to be prepared beforehand) and rescue them with a squirt bottle full of vinegar and a splash of dish soap. You can add food coloring. Create a car wash. Make a volcano. SOOOO many things.
Also, even a giant box of baking soda and a huge container of vinegar are only going to cost less than $5. So, let them enjoy the chemical reaction!
- Sand Play
Did you know that play sand at a home improvement store is very inexpensive? I was very surprised to discover this (especially considering that small quantities of colored play sand cost LOTS of money in the toy section of stores).
Going back to my inexpensive kiddie pool idea, we spent $10 dollar last weekend making our kids a small sand play area. They really like it. It’s good for their senses, gives them something to do outside, and they can’t drown in it.
(And since my sister reminded me that snakes like sand, do cover up your DIY sand pit when you’re not using it.)
I may elaborate on getting my kids to do chores at a later time. But I think that it’s important to teach our kids how to do things like laundry, vacuuming and washing dishes. And the summer is a good time to dig deep and do that teaching because your kids aren’t getting lectured to all day at school. They have time to struggle productively, and they can learn.
- Learn to cook
In the same spirit of chores, summer is a good time for your kids to try out their cooking skills. They can spread peanut butter and jelly on a sandwich. They can get themselves apples from the refrigerator. They can probably even boil water and add spaghetti sauce. Giving them basic kitchen skills is a gift to them, to you, and now is a great time to give it a shot.
Category 3: Medium Cost Adventures
I live in the shadow of Disney World, Universal Studios and a zillion other incredible theme parks. I, unfortunately, do not like crowds and driving, so these attractions are largely wasted on me. I prefer to visit these parks in the Winter time when it’s “less crowded” (but still very crowded) and feels a little less like the surface of the sun.
However, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t surprisingly wonderful local attractions in your community that cost less in admission and might be very interesting to your young kids without breaking the budget.
- Check out local landmark
I’ve noticed that in my community there are local landmarks that I don’t often visit. There’s a free Space Walk and Aerospace Museum, the White Sands Buddhist Center, and several other small but cool attractions that don’t cost a lot of money or take a lot of time to visit. I’m sure there’s something like this in your community, and visiting these places supports your local community and helps your family appreciate where they live.
I LOVE zoos. This year we bought annual passes to our local zoo, so we’re going to make an effort to make a few trips this year. Maybe you live near and aquarium, a zoo, or a wildlife center of some kind. These places do great work of educating their communities and helping wildlife, so I think it’s worth the money to visit a place like this.
- Botanical garden
Wherever you live, you probably live near a botanical garden of some kind. I know many people who’ve enjoyed our local botanical gardens. Even if they’re small, you can (if you aspire to not have the worst lawn in your neighborhood) learn what grows well in your area, or just enjoy the fact that other people are good at growing plants.
- Visit your local museum
Does your town have a quilting museum? A local historic society? A planetarium? These places are very cool! And like I said about the landmarks, they may not be big or involved to go and visit. Sometimes it’s tempting to think, I need to take my kids to the Smithsonian or the MET, but start small and train them in museum things before you make a big trip to see an overwhelming collection.
- Cupcake or ice cream date
If you haven’t figured out at this point on this list, I am kind of fanatical about supporting local businesses. I have made a ritual this year of visiting a local bakery and getting cupcakes with my daughters about once a month (we also visit our local comic book store). My girls look forward to these dates and it helps commemorate our month in a special way. Since it’s summer, we’re probably going to switch to ice cream. But I think they’ll enjoy this too.
- Choose a Quest
One way to appreciate the summer is to start something that will take awhile. Read all the Harry Potter Books. Plant a garden. A 1000 piece puzzle. Give your kids something that will take a while that they can chip away at (or watch bloom) through the season. I think this is a great time to help your kids work on a longer term goal or project to help them build grit and resilience.
- Consider a season/annual pass
As I mentioned, our family got an annual pass to our zoo because we like going there. I like not feeling like I have to fit everything into one trip. And I really like zoos. Also, since I live in a place with so many great attractions, I think systematically getting season passes to the ones I’m most interested in is a good way to savor the amazing things available to me. We have the Orlando Science Center, The Kennedy Space Center and other great places to visit nearby, and as my girls get older, I want to feel like we can savor and enjoy them.
- Lemonade stand
My daughter got it into her head somewhere that she needs to have a lemonade stand. And, since my husband loves her entrepreneurial spirit, we’re going to have a lemonade stand. I expect it to cost more money than it makes, but it will be a valuable learning experience (for them). But I do think that in the spirit of fostering kids’ self-sufficiency that if they want to start a little hustle over the summer, they should go for it!
- Try something new
As a Martial Arts instructor, I feel obligated to tell everyone that this is a great time of year to try a new sport or activity. I think school can be very stressful for kids and take a lot of their energy and brain power, and I’m not surprised if they get home and just don’t have anything left for an activity. But in the summer, an activity can be just the thing to develop knew skills, meet knew people, and develop the comfort and interest in something new to carry through the school year.
I think a day camp is a great venue for trying something new. This year we’re doing this for the first time with our kids, but we hold day camps in the summer, and I think it’s a great way for kids to be exposed to the idea of a deep dive into something to learn something new and develop a passion or interest.
In the spirit of trying something new, an art class, language lessons, piano lessons, Martial Arts classes, etc. are all great things to try in the summer. You can do them over the whole summer, for a one night paint class, or in a camp setting. But, I think feeding your mind is really important in the summer time.
I bet that your community has some kind of festival this summer. Maybe a 4th of July Fireworks display? A live music series? As a super introverted person, I know that if it were up to me, I would never go anywhere and my life would be super boring. But, because I own a business in a small town, I’ve been going to these community events for years, and they’re really lovely. I think they’re a great way to find out what exists in your town, to feel connected to your community, and to have fun.
- Go to a group sporting event
I would not normally have recommended this, but Brené Brown says that group sporting events are good for our sense of belonging and community, and I believe her. So, whether it’s watching the Women’s World Cup with friends, the World Championships for your Martial Arts organization, your community’s AAA baseball game, or cheering on your kids’ summer league — know that it’s good for you and enjoy.
- Look at the Stars
I know that the summer days are long, so it take forever for the sun to go down. But, like many things, I think it is good for our souls to look at the night sky. This is a good time of year to stay up late and admire the constellations.
I know this is a lot. I don’t think I’ll do all of these things this summer. But, as I said at the beginning, if my kids are not going to sit at home watching television all day all summer, it’s going to be because I have LOTS of other options. I hope this helps you. It’s good for me to have the choices, too.