Are your kids itching for some excitement? While most children can’t wait for summer vacation, the reality of long, lazy days turns into long hours of boredom for many. And left to their own devices, most kids are more than happy to hunker down in front of the computer, TV, or video game system. Shoo the kids outside with these fun, healthy activities. (Don’t worry—we’ve included a couple of rainy day options as well.)
1. Bird Watching
Step #1: Head to your local library and check out a field guide to common birds in your area. Step #2: Create a simple checklist for your child. If your kids are older, a text-based list (“robin,” “pigeon,” “red-winged blackbird”) will be just fine. If your kids are younger, try a picture-based list; you can print photos you find online and affix them to the list. Then head outside with your child. Parks, hiking trails, open fields, and nature preserves are all good places to look for birds.
The best part about birdwatching? It’s a potential lifelong hobby that can keep your kids occupied and interested (and outside) throughout the warmer months for years to come. Encourage kids to bring their checklists along on family vacations; different parts of the country boast different kinds of birds. Studying birds might also inspire your kids to set up their own feeding stations and bird baths.
Supplies needed: seeds and dirt. It really is as simple as that!
Kids of all ages enjoy working up the soil, planting seeds and watching their seeds grow. If you don’t have room for a full garden, try container gardening: get a few window boxes or pots, fill them with soil and add seeds. Follow the directions on the seed package regarding placement and care.
Choose seeds that will grow edible veggies. Then, in a few weeks or months, you and your kids will have fresh, homegrown produce to eat—and even the most reluctant eaters are often eager to try something they’ve grown! Simple, easy-to-grow crops include radishes, lettuce, beans, and peas.
Gardens need attention all summer long, so your kids can help prep the garden, plant the seeds, weed, water, and harvest. They may even want to help prep the food. If you’re feeling really adventurous, try freezing or canning some of your harvest.
Want to keep your kids busy for hours? Hand them some wood, hammers, and nails. (Cardboard, table knives, and paper fasteners work great for the younger crowd—and are a good option for rainy day fun as well!)
Review the basics of tool safety first. (Safety goggles should be worn when cutting wood, keep fingers away when hammering nails, etc.) Then show your kids how to handle the tools. You might be amazed—kids as young as five can be surprisingly adept with a hammer and nail! Supervise your kids until you’re absolutely confident that they know what they’re doing, and even then, remain close by.
Allow them to create their own masterpieces. Some kids will want help to craft a recognizable object, like a birdhouse. Other kids will use their imaginations to invent all kinds of contraptions!
4. Messy Art Party
Invite some friends over for a fun and fabulous intro to the arts. Spread out rolls of cheap butcher paper (or end rolls of newspaper, sometimes available at newspaper offices). Let kids dip their feet, hands, cars, trucks, and other objects in the paint and create “art” on the paper. Spring for a few cheap canvases, hand the kids some paint brushes and show them how to splatter and drip paint à la Jackson Pollock. Get out glue and poster board and encourage kids to create collages using found materials. (Hold a 60-second hunt through the yard first!) Have sidewalk chalk available so that kids of all ages can draw and doodle on the pavement.
If at all possible, have a water source (a hose, a kiddie pool filled with water) nearby. It’ll come in handy to help the kids clean up—and may even inspire a water fight!
An ideal option for hot, humid, or rainy summer days, bowling is an ideal family activity. Most bowling alleys now offer bumper bowling for younger (or not-so-talented) bowlers; some offer sessions of night laser bowling to attract tweens and teens.
Bowling is another potential lifelong hobby—and it’s relatively inexpensive too. Sign your kids up at kidsbowlfree.com and they’ll receive certificates good for two free games of bowling, per day, all summer long, at a bowling alley near you.