That final school bell of the year has rung; kids everywhere dance out of their schools, euphoric, as school papers fall from the sky like at the start of every ’80s summer movie. Jubilation builds at the thought of no more homework, no more teachers, and no more school. However, before those papers even hit the ground, you hear those four little words. You know, the ones that are as annoying as nails on a chalkboard, especially to any parent with hopes and dreams of doing anything productive over the summer:
There’s nothing to do!
Of course, they’ve crawled through piles of toys, around stacks of books, and over boxes of games to tell you this, but nonetheless, your kids may need a little help in the entertainment department this summer. Fortunately, there are many things you can do with your kids that are free or don’t cost a lot of money; you just need to use your imagination and know where to look.
A Summer List
Start by making a summer list. Make it big and colorful and post it in a prominent location such as the kitchen. Your kids can look at it every day, being reminded of everything they’re going to do this summer. It creates a summer-long goal: to complete and cross as many things off the list as possible. It also offers a plan and a go-to list of things to do when you inevitably hear those four little words.
If you already have plans for any trips or events this summer, include them on the list along with things you may do on the trip, such as going to an aquarium. Get your kids’ input, but remember, this is actually a strategic plan of attack (on their boredom!), and you’re trying to spend as little money as possible.
Some Cool Ideas
Items on your list can be big or small, take hours, or take just a few minutes. There should be a lot to choose from, but if your goal is to complete them all, keep the number reasonable. Leave some room at the bottom of the list to add things later on if necessary. Ensure that your summer list includes many outdoor activities as well as indoor ones for rainy days. Remember, it’s going to be hot, so include numerous ways for them to stay cool.
1. Visit a museum
Your local library is a great source for busting boredom. Many schedule events such as concerts, author talks, and kids’ crafts and activities, but some of the best things they offer are free or discounted passes to museums, aquariums, or other local attractions.
2. Pool time
Public pools are a great place for your kids to have some fun and make some new friends (or meet up with some old ones).
3. Go for a rain walk
A rainy day doesn’t mean your kids are stuck inside. On a walk in the rain in the woods or at a local park, your kids will see many critters that love to come out in the rain, such as newts, frogs, and worms.
4. Enroll in a summer reading program
Back to the library you go! Most of them have programs to keep your kids reading over the summer, often with craft times and other events that include contests and prizes for putting in reading time.
5. Go to a free movie
Many movie theaters have summer programs that offer free or discounted movies for kids before the start of normal business hours. Some will even allow you to bring your own movie snacks.
6. Have a cooking contest
Let the kids raid your pantry for ingredients and see who can create the tastiest concoction. Bonus for you: your kids are helping you clean out the pantry!
7. Take a hike
This can be anything from climbing a mountain (bring appropriate supplies) to a trek to the nearest ice cream stand.
8. Camp in the yard
Backyard camping is fun for all. If you have a fire pit, let the kids cook up some tasty hot dogs and s’mores.
9. Get messy
Mix cornstarch with enough water to create a thick paint consistency and divide into several plastic cups, adding a little food coloring to each to make an array of colorful paints. Give the kids some sponge brushes and let them paint the driveway, sidewalk, or each other (have them wear old clothes). Rain will wash away the mess outside but be sure to rinse the kids’ clothes with a hose outside because the cornstarch can clog your washer or water pipes.
10. Find a sprinkler park
Sprinkler parks are popping up all over, and they’re often part of free municipal parks.
11. Start a garden
Taking care of a garden will give them something to do all summer, and it’ll give them a sense of accomplishment when they see those veggies or blooms.
12. Make a movie
Help them come up with the script, and then help with the filming. This can be a simple afternoon project or a summer-long one including lots of scenes and location shots. Fun special effects exist online, and most computers these days already have some kind of video-editing software.
13. Have a minute game contest
Minute games are challenges done for a minute, such as bouncing ping pong balls into a cup, moving a cookie from your forehead to your mouth without using your hands (have your phone handy to record that one!), or plastic cup stacking. Make a scoreboard to keep track of who wins each contest and give prizes at the end.
14. Teach an old dog a new trick
Get Duke in on the fun. Your kids will love teaching him something new, and Duke will love the treats!
15. Go on lots of picnics
You don’t need a trendy basket to go a picnic. Pack up their regular lunch and a blanket and find a spot at a local park where your kids can burn off some energy afterward.
16. See a movie under the stars
During the summer months, many libraries and municipalities show movies outside on a big screen. Pack some snacks, lawn chairs, and sleeping bags and enjoy the show!
17. Find new playground
Add to your summer list “Find 5 New Playgrounds.” Your kids will love the change of scenery.
18. Catch fireflies
Get a net and see how many you can catch on a warm summer’s night. Put them in a mason jar and enjoy the show, but be sure to let them go when you’re done.
19. Go on a nature scavenger hunt
Make a list of treasures for them to find, such as acorns, a stick shaped like a Y, a black rock, and any other unique items you can think of.
20. Make fairy houses
Use only things from nature. It would be a good use of the treasures found on your nature scavenger hunt.
21. Go geocaching
Download a geocaching app. It’ll have GPS coordinates that you can find on your phone to locate the caches, which usually have a logbook for you to sign along with a trinket that you can take or leave for others to find. Have the kids bring their own trinkets to add to the cache.
22. Make icebox cakes
Icebox cakes require no baking. Line a bread pan with plastic wrap and then layer ice cream sandwiches, fruit, cookies, rainbow sprinkles, or other treats between layers of whipped topping. Freeze overnight, turn out onto a plate, slice, and enjoy.
23. Have a paper airplane contest
The kids can look up designs online or come up with their own. Find a hill or high place to launch them from and see whose travels the furthest.
24. Go boating
Use things from nature such as leaves, sticks, acorns, and walnut shells to construct some boats. Find a stream and let them set sail.
25. Make robots from recyclables
Use items you’d normally recycle such as cans, cardboard, bottle caps, and pieces of plastic to make robots.
With a well-planned list of things to do, you’ll be prepared for your kids’ claims of having “nothing to do.” When they return to school and are asked what they did over the summer, instead of the usual one-word answer (“nothing”), they’ll have all those things you did on your summer list fresh in mind, all done without spending a lot of money.