Not Bored: Fun Activities for Every Age
When school’s out for the summer, parents are met with a mix of relief and dread.
We remember our own childhood summers and the fun we had swimming, bicycling, going to camp and staying up late with friends. What’s a little fuzzier is the work our parents put in planning these pursuits, driving us here and there and lining up babysitters. For some of us growing up in the freewheeling 1980s, our parents gave us a pretty long leash, not always knowing where we were or how long we would be gone. But the pendulum has swung so that many parents are planning kids’ summer activities down to the hour.
There’s a happy medium between throwing caution to the wind and overpacking kids’ days to the point of stress. Keeping kids busy in the summer is necessary, to a point. Having some indolent days is perfectly fine, but when days turn into weeks, kids can turn bored, and parents can turn weary.
With some planning, parents can turn simply keeping their kids busy into a summer full of memory making, accomplishments and fun.
Some summer fun knows no age. But middle schoolers aren’t always going to want to do what their preschool siblings are doing. So let’s start there.
Summer Activities for Little Kids
Some of these ideas are no brainers, but on days when you don’t know how you’re going to keep the kids entertained, check back in on this list.
Morning is the best time for water play for little ones. Lather them with sunscreen, and don’t forget cold drinks. No pool, no problem. When it comes to splashing in the water, they don’t need an entire pool to have fun. Little blow-up pools or plastic kiddie pools are tons of fun for toddlers and preschoolers. Remember always to stay right with them since even shallow water can be dangerous for children.
Fill your kid-size pool with collected objects – like shells, rocks, plastic rings or big Legos. Then let the kids go on a treasure hunt. You can make this extra fun with snorkeling gear. Or make it a learning game by having the kids sort the objects by color or shape. Counting out the objects once they’re collected is also fun.
If there’s not space for a kid-size pool, a water table also works great. It doesn’t take much water to fill it up, and it’s just the right height for kids to splash their hands in.
Going on a Bear Hunt
Read the wonderful book We’re Going on a Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen, then go on your own bear hunt! The destination really doesn’t matter. It can be your own neighborhood, a park, the Philbrook gardens – the fun will be in the preparation and anticipation of what you may find. Remind the kids of lines from the book, asking them what the grass feels like, whether they’re hot or cold and, of course, whether or not they think you’ll find a bear. You can remind kids who might be fearful that it’s pretend and that you’re not going to find a real bear.
To make the adventure more fun, bring along binoculars, hiking sticks or vests, water bottles and a map. Letting the kids help draw a map, anticipating where they might find the bear, adds to the fun.
Summer Activities for Big Kids
Naptime is a thing of the past, and that leaves many hours in the day to play and learn for elementary school-aged kids. Talk to your kids about what they might want to learn or accomplish over the summer. Maybe they want to build, create or design something. Let them think big and help them accomplish the goal by the end of the summer. For kids who don’t have anything in particular in mind, here are some ideas.
Let the kids become scientists with this ecological escapade. Find a wooded area near your house or in a park to observe the plant life over the course of the summer.
Let the kids do as much of the work as possible, giving them four stakes or popsicle sticks, measuring tape, string or yarn, a notebook and a plant identification book or app. The kids can become amateur ecologists, creating a square with the four stakes and tying string between each, creating about a 3-foot observational area. Then let the kids identify what plants or trees they see in their sample. Coming back to this area is an interesting way to observe nature in action. Encourage them to take notes or photos about their observations.
Making slime can be such a mess. Surprise your kids with a “yes to slime” day, pulling out everything they need to make different varieties of slime. Depending on the age of your kids, some slime can be made without any help. Other recipes will need an adult present.
One of our favorites is foaming slime. You can find recipes online or try this one.
- 1 (8-ounce) plastic water bottle
- Sheet of paper to make a funnel
- 1 teaspoon detergent containing Borax
- 5 teaspoons baking soda
- Paper cups
- 2 generous tablespoons glue
- 2 tablespoons vinegar
- Food coloring
- Remove the label from the water bottle, then remove about 2 ounces of the water.
- Using a paper funnel, add detergent and baking soda to the water bottle. Put the lid on and shake well.
- In a paper cup, mix together vinegar and glue (and food coloring, if desired). Mix well with a stick or spoon. Pinch the side of the cup to make a spout.
- Shake bottle, and place on a tray or plate. Immediately pour all the vinegar solution into the water bottle. Do this quickly.
- Watch the chemical reaction create foaming slime. When your bottle has stopped erupting, squeeze the foamy slime out of the bottle.
Summer Activities for Pre-teens and Teens
This is a good age for a talk about the rule of eight. Remind kids that, generally speaking, we all have eight hours in a day to work or go to school and eight hours in a day to sleep. The other eight are for reading, dreaming, planning and creating. Especially in these pre-teen and teen years, help kids understand that wasting those hours on social media and video games is just that – a waste. These are hours best used for fostering their interests, defining goals and preparing for their futures. And that doesn’t mean it can’t be fun!
Create a summer side hustle. Even if your kids aren’t yet ready or don’t have time for full-fledged jobs, a side hustle is a great way to earn a little income and responsibility. One fun way to get started is with a dog-walking business. You may be surprised by how many neighbors will say yes to having someone walk their dogs. Help your kids get organized by making cards or setting up an email or group dog-walking text to advertise their business. Then help guide them in being on time, using manners and treating the dogs well.
If you know of someone who can’t afford to pay, use this as a volunteer opportunity. Brainstorm with your kids to think of someone in the neighborhood (or within your family) who could use some help with dog walking, yard work or inside chores. Your kids might complain, but they will remember the days they spent helping and how it made them feel.
This is a perfect project for pre-teens or teens, but really, it’s great for kids of any age. Carve out a little space for a kids’ garden. Teens might complain, but many will end up enjoying the time they’ve spent in their own little garden space. Experienced teen gardeners won’t need help, but most kids will need some guidance on tilling the dirt and picking out plants. Take a walk through a nursery, and let them choose what interests them, reminding them of whether they will need shade or sun plants.
Having a garden of their own teaches kids responsibility and offers something to do on days when they’re bored. Plus, it’s something you can work on side by side, allowing time to talk while staying busy – a great way to communicate with pre-teens and teens.