Is school out in your family? It’s out in ours and I’m already feeling the crunch of unfilled time. Here’s a list of free things to do with your kids (although some do involve inexpensive things you’d find around the house):
1 /// Grab some white drawing or construction paper and make art using only things you’d find outside. Smearing flowers, leaves, and dirt on paper is surprisingly satisfied and you can get some lovely colors from things you find in the neighborhood.
2 /// Go on a garbage walk. Take a paper bag (and perhaps some gloves) and walk for a block or two collecting all of the little pieces of litter that have collected. A good eye-opener about keeping the neighborhood clean.
3 /// Get a library book on stars and planets. See how many you can see from your house on a cloudless night.
4 /// Use a paintbrush and some water to “paint” the hot cement and see how long it takes for the pictures to vanish. This is a great game for little kids.
5 /// Drag two blankets outside and have a jumping contest from one to the other, moving them a little farther apart each time.
6 /// Use a dry-erase marker to write numbers on a glass. Each time you write a number, have your child put that many straws into the glass. (A counting exercise.)
7 /// Cut confetti from junk mail, either by cutting strips into bits or by cutting out circles. Use the confetti to decorate the table on a Friday night to welcome the weekend.
8 /// Find letters of the alphabet around the house (or around your city) and take pictures of them with your cell phone. Once you have one of each, put them together and print them out in order (the contact sheet setting on your printer will print many at once). You can also print them out haphazardly and task your kid with cutting them out and gluing them in order into a notebook.
9 /// Make a fort out of couch cushions and blankets. Or drape sheets off of your dining room table if that works better for you.
10 /// Make fruit juice popsicles. If you don’t have a popsicle mold, kid cups with aluminum foil over them and a kid utensil works just as well. Try adding some chunks of fruit or layering different kinds of juice/yogurt to keep it interesting.
11 /// Call the fire station and ask if you can come by to see the truck. They also might have activities about fire safety, so be sure to ask about that as well!
12 /// Draw a map your city in sidewalk chalk so that your toy cars will fit on the roads. Include the house, the school, the grocery store, and other places your kid will recognize. Give each family member a car so they can go wherever they want.
13 /// Ask your librarian if your city offers summer passes for any of the local attractions. Most cities do!
14 /// Give your kid a crash course in cell phone photography, talking about posing, lighting, and making interesting photos. Be the subject or help them shoot photos of their favorite toys. Print out the best to hang on the fridge.
15 /// Find an outdoor concert and take blankets, snacks, sunscreen, and tons of water.
16 /// Spray windex on crumpled up balls of newspaper and let them wipe down the windows and any glass patio furniture.
17 /// Make houses out of playing cards. For little kids, line the cards up end to end to make roads for toy cars.
18 /// Try out hair tutorials you find on Pinterest.
19 /// Pack an emergency kit together, using things around your house (flashlights, medical supplies, bottles of water, extra blankets, etc.). Talk about emergencies and write down other things you might need.
20 /// Do a serious park comparison between 5-10 parks. Rate the slides, swings, shade, and climbing equipment on a scale of 1-5 stars.
21 /// See if a community garden will let you trade some time weeding for a few fruits/veggies.
22 /// Visit the state capitol or other big city buildings to talk about the architecture (keeping it simple, of course). Other interesting buildings to visit include hotels and school campuses. You might want to consider taking a sketchbook if your kid would like capturing what they’re seeing while they’re there (in the blessedly cool air conditioning).
23 /// Freeze ice cubes with food coloring in them and use the ice to paint outside.
24 /// Pull out the when-would-you-need-this? stuff from first aid kits and set up a toy hospital.
25 /// Start a city sticker album. Surprisingly, you can get stickers most places you go. Ask cashiers or the customer service people while you’re out and if you get a sticker, put it in the book and write down where you were when you got it. Get creative – bakeries, card stores, small boutiques, museums, etc. often have stickers to give out.
26 /// Visit a splash pad if they have one in your city. If not, turn some music on and have a dance party on your lawn while the sprinklers are on.
27 /// Ask your local news station if they ever let people come to watch some of the tapings. Two of the stations here do, so you might get lucky!
28 /// Start a rock collection. Walk around the park, your neighborhood, or local nature areas and gather rocks. (Note: Taking rocks from people’s gardens is cheating and taking them from national parks is illegal.)
29 /// Put wet paper towels in a clean clear jar and stick different kinds of beans between the towels and the glass. Put in a sunny window, rotating occasionally. Which ones are growing?
30 /// Take a notebook and write the letters of the alphabet, one per page, on the first 25 pages. Have your kid cut pictures out of magazines and junk mail and glue them to the page that has the letter the picture starts with. If they can’t find anything, have them draw something.
31 /// Give them a washcloth and some water and tell them to clean the kitchen floor. The results won’t be perfect, but it will keep them busy for a while!
32 /// Teach your kids to play hopscotch. If it’s too hot outside, use masking tape on your hallway floor.
33 /// On a very hot day, take some old crayon nubs and put them between two pieces of wax paper, using masking tape to tape them to the cement. Check back after a while to see what has happened to the crayon. That night, when the wax has hardened, your kid can cut shapes from the wax paper.
34 /// Split dandelion stems in two (the long way) and make bracelets by tying half of one flower’s stem to half of the stem of another flower. Or Google “how to make flower chains” and ignore this.
35 /// Find out when a community dog walk is going on in your city. Get a library book on dogs and go sit on the sidelines, trying to identify which breeds you can see.
36 /// Get a library book about bugs and go bug hunting. See if your kid can find likely bug homes in your yard or at the park (under rocks, etc.). Take photos of the bugs instead of trying to capture them in jars.
37 /// Go to the mall and make a game out of figuring out which stores smell the best. Find the top 3. (Warning: this might lead to spontaneous ice cream/cookie/chocolate/soap/candle purchases.)
38 /// Make stilts out of cans. Take two large cans of equal size and use a can opener to poke two holes on either side of them, up toward the end that hasn’t been cut open. String large pieces of elastic through the holes and extend them all the way until you can tie the ends on your kid’s shoulders. Let them clomp around outside.
39 /// Wash the outdoor toys with some big sponges and a bucket of soapy water.
40 /// Attend a kid computer training at your local Apple store.
41 /// Hide articles of clothing in the morning and play warmer/cooler to see if your kid can find them. (Note: this is only a good game if your kid is a morning person. I am not a morning person and if Kyle hid my clothes in the morning he’d be asking for it.)
42 /// Set up a stuffed animal zoo, creating pens out of laundry baskets, boxes, blankets, etc.
43 /// Put blankets out on the grass and try to see shapes in the clouds. If you’re in the desert and your clouds are non-existent/boring, pretend the sky is an ocean and talk about the fish that must be swimming around in the “water”.
44 /// Pull out your fancy clothes, costume jewelry, and rarely-used purses and let your kids dress up.
45 /// Try washing clothes outside if you have a kiddy pool or a large plastic tub that will hold water. Scrub them with soap, rinse them, and then hang them to dry. Talk about how nice it is to have a washing machine. (If your kids don’t believe you, make them wear the stiff and slightly-soapy results of their labors.)
46 /// Get a large piece of posterboard and draw the simple outline of a house with 4-5 rooms (like a dollhouse). Let your kid cut pictures out of magazines and junk mail to “furnish” the house.
47 /// Too hot to run around outside? Try some yoga. Get a DVD from the library or check out tons of free videos available on YouTube. (Many on-demand services also have yoga.)
48 /// Sit in a place where there’s a lot of foot traffic. (The mall, the park, or even the airport is good for this.) Predict how many people wearing a certain color of shirt/hat/shoe will walk by in the next 15 minutes. Count them and see how close you were.
49 /// Make a mix tape. Listen to songs together and arrange them in a playlist. Enjoy the playlist while you color, sort laundry, or do some other parallel quiet activity. You can also burn the playlist onto a CD and have your kid color paper CD wrappers (easy to make if you don’t have any) to give the CD as gifts to friends/relatives.
50 /// Read in the shade. That’s our favorite thing to do in the summer.