Summer is NOT over. Oh, it may feel like it now that school has started and Halloween accouterments are on store shelves. But it’s officially still summer until September 22nd.
There’s still plenty of time to fit in summer-y pleasure for your family. Not pricey get-your-ticket, wait-in-line amusements, just the sort of fun that stretches a barefoot, carefree feeling well into autumn’s first chill.
Do something messy outside.
1. Take a meal outdoors and sit on the grass to enjoy it. In our family, at least once every summer, we eat directly from the plate without hands or utensils. We call this “trough feeding.” Bet you can’t do it without laughing through the whole meal.
2. Designate an area of the yard where kids can play right in the dirt. They might want to use it to build mountains and valleys for their toy dinosaurs, cars, or action figures. They might want to dig holes, perhaps looking for archaeological finds using Hands-On Archaeology: Real-Life Activities for Kids as a guide. For a real mess, give them enough water to make a mud pit. Your status as an epic parent will linger (so will the stains).
3. Mix up some washable paint, then let the kids paint designs on the driveway.
4. Make drip castles at the beach or in the sandbox.
5. Throw a BYOB party. This is cheap, imagination-driven fun. Guests are charged with one simple task: Bring. Your. Own. Box. Together kids can construct a fort or spaceship or whatever they please out of the boxes, then spend hours playing in it. There are plenty of other ways to amuse kids with cardboard boxes too.
6. Roast or boil fresh corn at your next picnic, tossing cobs over your shoulder as you finish. When it’s time to clean up, offer a prize for whoever picks up the most cobs. (A great prize is offering to read a few extra chapters aloud in the book you’re doing together.)
7. Form bubble snakes using old mismatched socks.
8. Make sponge bombs out of household sponges, then soak and use for tossing games. Unlike water balloons, these are reusable. They also make a lovely smacking sound when dropped on an unsuspecting sibling from the top of a slide. Don’t say we didn’t warn you.
Get some exercise.
9. Make foam swords. For peace of mind you may also want to make foam-covered shields, foam body pads, and operate on a no-running-hits/no-face-hits rule. Any violation and parents get to use the swords. Or simply fence with cardboard tubes. The Cardboard Tube Fighting League rules are worthy indeed.
10. Go hiking. Before leaving, decide what each of you will keep your eyes open to see. Your son might decide to look for things that fly. Your daughter might decide to look for the color red. You might keep an eye out for poison ivy. It’s interesting how much more cued all of you will be to your surroundings when really looking.
11. Set up a bike, trike, or scooter obstacle course. Mark the course with sidewalk chalk or masking tape. The course may lead them around cones, through a sprinkler, under crepe paper streamers hanging from a tree branch, and on to a finish line. Next, encourage them to set up their own obstacle courses.
12. Find out how advanced hooping has become and how to get your kids started. You’ll want to provide a good example of hula hoop enthusiasm. Here’s how to make a hoop that will fit your, ahem, grown-up hips.
13. Take after-dark walks. Kids enjoy this even more when they are in charge of the flashlights.
14. Set up relay races. It’s a great way to get your loved ones to hop in sacks and crawl with laundry baskets. When summer is gone you’ll want those photos.
15. Go on a camera scavenger hunt. First choose a theme, like Ten Things That Move or A Dozen Yellow Things. Then send kids out with cameras (disposable, digital, or cell phone cameras) to grab some images. Encourage them to find creative, funny, and unusual ways to interpret the theme. Pop the photos up on the computer screen or take disposable cameras to a one-hour processing shop.
16. Set up backyard bowling. Save 10 empty plastic bottles, set them up in a triangular pattern, then roll a ball toward them. This makes a satisfying clatter on the driveway. For a bigger challenge, fill the bottles a third to half full. Teach older kids how to keep score.
17. Ask the oldest people you know to tell you about games they played when they were growing up. Then play them. Better yet, play them with those elders.
Make something tasty together.
18. Anything cooked outside tastes better whether on the grill, over a fire pit, or over a real campfire. Slice a few inches open on an unpeeled banana, stuff in a dollop of peanut butter and a few miniature marshmallows, then grill till it becomes a warm pudding in its own banana container. Bake brownies or cake inside hollowed out oranges over a fire pit. For more ideas check out Campfire Cooking, Scout’s Outdoor Cookbook, and Easy Campfire Cooking.
20. Make homemade, corn syrup-free marshmallows.
21. Write a message or draw a picture on the skin of a banana using a toothpick or pencil. It’ll darken within an hour.
23. Keep fruits like bananas, mangoes, pineapple, strawberries, and peaches in separate containers in the freezer. On different days let each child take a turn concocting a smoothie for the family by blending his or her choice of fruit with juice and/or yogurt in the blender. Serve in tiny cups for taste testing. Encourage the creator to come up with a name for the frozen delight,
24. Make burp juice. Show kids how to mix a quarter cup or so of juice concentrate (undiluted) into eight ounces of unsweetened seltzer water. Adjust to taste with more juice or seltzer. Add ice cubes, then drink. It has the same carbonation level as soda without sugar or food coloring. We call it burp juice in our house because quick gulps bring on burps.
25. If you’ve got a food dehydrator and some monster zucchini, make zuke gummi fruit. Surprisingly tasty and surely a zillion times healthier. Remember, when kids help they’re much more likely to eat the results.
Engage in some science.
26. Make rock candy that actually works.
28. Engage in some nephology.
29. Draw the solar system with sidewalk chalk.
30. Do some ice cube experiments.
31. Race balloon rockets.
Make it an adventure.
32. Camp out in the backyard. Tell stories, play hide and seek in the dark, let kids use flashlights as they please.
33. Get retro and experience a drive-in movie with your kids. You can search this database to find one nearest you. If there’s no hope of finding one remotely close by, set up a backyard movie theater. You might want to invite the neighborhood for an 80’s film fest. To give it that drive-in vibe, kids can make their own cars out of cardboard boxes. That way during the movie they can sit with their feet up on a cardboard dash and spill popcorn all over the cardboard interior without anyone bugging them about it.
34. Give the kids a budget and let them plan what they family will do next Saturday.
35. Most important of all, leave time for make-believe, daydreams, and on-the-spot fun.