25 Cheap, Fun Summertime Things To Do

It’s getting late in the summer and you may be finding it hard to keep your guys occupied.

But don’t despair! There are lots of things to do that are not only fun, but easy and readily available. And who says that entertaining young children has to be expensive? Not me!

Why not give your pocketbook a vacation, too, and go old-school when it comes to playtime?

Here are a bunch of fun, cheap ideas to inspire some down-home entertainment for you and your little ones. If you have a gem that I’ve missed, please share the wealth and send it in.

1. Popsicle Pouch — this is the old game of Hot Potato using a zip-lock bag filled loosely with ice cubes instead of a spud. Same rules apply: Sit the kids in a circle and pass the bag around while music plays. When the music stops, the one holding the bag is “out.” Keep the game going longer by making sure the bag has gone around a few minutes before you stop the music.

2. Get a bubble machine, take it outside and let the kids chase after them till they’re tired out. Or, you can make your own bubbles. You will need:

1 pkg. unflavored gelatin

1 cup just boiled water

1 1/2 to 2 oz. glycerin

8 1/2 oz. Johnson’s Baby Shampoo

Stir the gelatin into the water till it dissolves. Mix in glycerin and shampoo. Stir gently. Mix will gel slightly as it cools.

3.Get a subscription to Family Fun Magazine for $10.00 a year (or check them out online). They have tons of game ideas and lots of arts and crafts projects of varying degrees of difficulty that you can do using materials from your own cupboards.

4. Go to the library! Most of them have Story Time, Reading Incentive Programs, and other activities for kids.

5. Wash the dog. Yep, it’s a lot of fun to take Fido outside and give him a bath. The more he shakes, the more they laugh. Or, wash the car. That’s fun, too.

6. Make a treat for the birds. Just get a pine cone, slather it with peanut butter, roll it in birdseed and hang it on a tree in your yard. Then keep a log of what kinds of birds come to visit.

7. Get some sidewalk chalk and let your little Picassos create masterpieces on the driveway or sidewalk. Make a hopscotch for them and teach them the game. Play tic-tac-toe or make a road that they can follow on their trikes.

8. Check out a local museum. Target and Bank of America are both sponsoring free museum days this summer. Grab a friend, pack up the kids and some lunch and get a little culture without spending a dime!

9. Have a bicycle parade! Round up some neighborhood kids and moms and let the kids decorate their bikes and trikes with crepe paper streamers on the handle bars and playing cards attached to the spokes. Then have them line up and ride around the block or yard.

10. Start a summer scrapbook. Get a photo album with plastic sleeves and have your child do an “art project” after a day at the beach, the zoo, a birthday party or a nature walk. Collect a few items from those excursions, like a ticket stub, a snapshot, an invitation, leaves, twigs and grass, or a wrapper from an ice cream — anything at all — and use that as a starting place.

You can write a little about the day on a piece of computer paper, they can draw and paste their treasures (and if you’re brave, maybe add some glitter, too), then just stick it in the plastic sleeve. Start at the beginning of summer and keep it going till fall or make it about a specific event, like a trip to Disneyland.

11. Make an indoor tent city. Move some chairs close together and cover them with blankets or sheets. Little kids love to hang out and play inside with their favorite toys or books. You can hear everything that’s going on but they don’t know that. This one is good for MANY years. The older they get, the more time they spend decorating and outfitting the nooks and crannies of their private clubhouse.

12. Make your own Play Dough:

1 cup flour

1 tablespoon of oil

1/2 cup salt

1 cup water

2 teaspoons cream of tartar

food coloring.

Combine flour, salt, cream of tartar in bowl. Gradually stir liquids into dry ingredients. Stir in food coloring or juice (add small amounts at a time). Cook in saucepan over medium heat until a ball forms. Clay will darken slightly when cooked. Remove from heat and knead until smooth. If sticky, cook for a few minutes longer.

Set them up at the table and let them play with a kid-sized rolling pin, a garlic press, cookie cutters, plastic knives (always with supervision), little molds, and anything else you can think of. You can cover the table with a large cutting board or a plastic tablecloth if you want. Lots of fun for pennies.

13.  Play Sardines. It’s like Hide and Seek only in reverse. One person hides while everyone else closes their eyes and counts. Then the seekers spread out to look for the hider. If they find her they hide along with her, packing themselves in like sardines. This keeps going until there is only one seeker left and then that person become the next hider.

14. Set up the plastic kiddie pool, put the hose inside turned on to just a trickle and bring out a bunch of plastic cups, bowls, measuring cups and sand toys. Or if the hose isn’t close, just add a few inches of water to the pool. Put the kids in their swimsuits, add sunscreen, a hat and some water shoes. They will spend hours pouring water from one thing to the other and watching it come out of the hose. If you don’t have a kiddie pool, just use a bucket and fill it with water. But, of course, for safety reasons, you MUST be present at all times whenever water is involved.

15. Have a scavenger hunt. Make a list of easily found nature items like a dead bug, a feather, a flat stone, a leaf with jagged edges. Give your child a brown paper bag, go for a walk and try to find everything on the list. Celebrate later with a popsicle or frozen yogurt.

16. If you have access to a pool buy some rubber pool rings and throw them in while your kids close their eyes (this one assumes your children can swim). Then count how long it takes them to find and retrieve them all (no getting out of the pool to locate them first).

17. Make a cool delicious smoothie. Mix one part orange juice with one part papaya juice and about 6 ice cubes. Top with a little grenadine syrup. Mix it in the blender and serve it with a straw, outside. Have the kids sit back, gaze at the clouds and decide what they look like as they enjoy their drink.

18. Play frisbee golf. Each player needs his own frisbee. Pick a target, like the fence post or the garbage can, and take turns throwing the frisbee to reach the goal. The winner is the one who makes it there in the fewest number of tosses.

19. Play Two Truths and One Lie with your kids and a couple friends. Each player tells two truthful things about herself and one lie. The others must guess which is the lie. This is a good one for the car, too.

20. Go to the beach and make a sand castle. Use any kind of bucket but if you want to go really intense, check out this sand brick builder . Your kids will have a blast making an igloo or a serious looking castle!

21. Set up a small tent in your backyard and let your kids pretend they are deep in the woods camping. They can eat their lunch in there and set things up just as they would if they were on their own in the great outdoors. Allowing your kids the time and space to develop their imaginations is truly the gift of gifts. A good, strong imagination is essential for creativity, problem solving and the ability to enjoy and make the most of one’s life. But it requires plenty of free, unstructured time with just a few props to help them get started.

22. Turn on the sprinklers and let them run through them. You loved it and so will they. We’ve got to remember that for a little child, simple is GOOD!

23. Play water balloon catch. Get one empty plastic gallon-sized milk jug for each child. Mom or dad can cut off the bottom and tape with duct tape so there are no sharp edges. Fill a few water balloons to the size of grape fruits. Toss the balloons back and forth as many times as you can without dropping and popping them.

24. Play Catch and Release with your toddler. Fill a couple ice cube trays with water. Add food coloring and freeze. Then, fill the kiddie pool with water. Throw in the ice cubes and let your toddler practice scooping them out with a small bucket and transfering them to a plastic bowl. Always stay close, close, close when a toddler is anywhere NEAR water (I know you know that).

25. Play Hole in One, another toddler favorite. Fill the kiddie pool and float a few frisbees upside down in it. Give your toddler a sponge and let him practice his aim.

Now that I’ve gotten you started, I’ll bet you’ve thought of lots of other fun and simple things to do. Send your ideas in to share and don’t forget to enjoy these long, warm days together.

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Ellen W. Schrier, LCSW, is a family therapist and the mother of three adolescent/young adult kids.


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One response to “25 Cheap, Fun Summertime Things To Do”

  1. Dog Days Of Summer

    […] into the hot zone, stay inside and use the air conditioning. For some fun summertime activity ideas, click here. If you don’t have A/C, head to the mall, public library or local cool-off center in your […]

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