Do-it-yourself fun to keep kids amused this summer
If they aren’t out of school already, kids will be starting their summer vacations soon.
It won’t be long before parents start hearing that age-old refrain — “There’s nothing to do!”
What’s the over/under on that? Probably about one week.
The best way to avoid the whining is to be prepared with a long list of activities to keep kids occupied through the lazy days of summer.
There are plenty of amusement parks and paid activities to choose from, but sometimes you just don’t feel like packing everyone in the car or shelling out a lot of dough.
Here are some ideas for homemade fun, mostly using supplies you’ll already have around home, can find at the dollar store or can improvise. The best thing is that they can be shared with the neighborhood kids, too.
Get ready to be the coolest parents with the coolest house on the block.
Balloon volleyball — Lay out a rope for a “net” and substitute the balloon for a ball. Alternate serves. First team to 21 wins — if the balloon pops on one side, give the opposite team an extra point.
Driveway mini-golf — Use whatever you can find in the garage or basement to create obstacles. Mark “holes” with chalk. Any small, lightweight ball will do; use pool noodles or even sticks for clubs.
Obstacle course — Boxes, Hula-Hoops and other toys can be used to mark the course. So much the better if you have a swing set or backyard fort to incorporate.
Frisbee tic-tac-toe — Create a grid on an old shower curtain or drop cloth. You’ll need nine Frisbees to stand in for X’s and O’s. Have players stand behind a line and alternate tossing.
Meet Mother Nature
Nature walk — Take a walk around the neighborhood or in a local park to look for birds, bugs, interesting plants and other flora and fauna. Take cellphone photos of those you can’t identify to look up later.
Fairy house — Entice imaginary fairies into your yard by building them a teeny-tiny home of twigs, leaves, moss, small cardboard boxes, popsicle sticks or old dollhouse furnishings. Set it in a flower bed or under a tree or bush.
Plant a mini-garden — Dig a small plot or use containers to grow some vegetables or flowers. Teach kids the basics of watering and weeding. Keep a log or take photos to track the progress of their produce.
Build a birdhouse — Glue popsicle sticks together or decorate a small cardboard box. Do some research on birds that visit or make a home in your yard. Try an app for identifying bird calls.
Wet ’n wild
Paper boat race — Construct some boats out of stiff paper. Propel them across a wading pool by blowing air through straws. After a rain, float them in a puddle or gutter.
Backyard water park — Turn on the sprinkler, fill up watering cans, water guns and some balloons and let the fun begin.
Bodacious bubbles — Get bottles of bubble solution, or make your own, and see who can blow the biggest, longest or craziest-shaped bubble.
Ice sculptures — Fill containers of different sizes and shapes with water and add different shades of food coloring. When they’re frozen, take outside and pop the ice blocks out of the molds. Hurry up and build before they melt.
Sponge relay — You need two buckets for each player, one filled with water and the other empty. Set them some distance apart and give each kid a sponge. The object is to soak the sponge in the full bucket and squeeze it out in the empty one. Fastest player to make the transfer wins.
Arts and crafts
Body painting — Dress kids in old clothes or swimsuits, give them washable tempera paint and let them use themselves and each other as canvasses. Wash it off later in the sprinkler.
Nature prints — Dip flowers, twigs, leaves, cut vegetables or other natural materials into tempera paint and blot on paper.
Rock out — Collect some rocks with interesting shapes and paint them to resemble animals or funny faces.
Fun after dark
Glow stick bowling — Pop the sticks and place in 10 empty water bottles. Bowl them over with a lightweight ball.
Firefly hunt — Gently catch a few lightning bugs in a jar — but remember, this is a catch-and-release activity.
Stargaze — Learn the names of a few easily found constellations and try to spot them in the night sky.
Backyard campout — Pitch a tent or improvise one with some old sheets. So much the better if you can build a fire for hot dogs and marshmallows. Tell a few ghost stories and then settle down to listen to the night sounds of your neighborhood.
Around the block
Bike parade — Invite the neighborhood kids to decorate their bikes with balloons, streamers, cutouts or whatever is handy and join in a ride around the block.
Penny hike — Start at the end of your driveway and flip a coin. Heads you go left and tails you go right. Flip at every corner and see where you end up.
Scavenger hunt — Make a list of things to find in a back yard, on a walk around the neighborhood or in a local park. First one to spot them all wins.
Game night — Invite the neighbors over for a game of backyard soccer, capture the flag, tag or whatever. Team up kids against parents, or dads and daughters against moms and sons. Or have everyone bring a favorite board or card game to share.
Local sports — Check out a youth soccer or baseball game. Admission is free and there’s usually a concession stand.
Farmers market — Sneak in a lesson on healthy eating by letting kids pick one new food to try.
Cultural freebies — Admission is often free at local historical societies, small museums and art centers.
Book it — Spend an afternoon in the cool and quiet of your local library. Get kids their own library cards to foster their love of the written word.
Shirley McMarlin is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Shirley at 724-836-5750, [email protected] or via Twitter .