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15 Activities for an Old-Fashioned (and Fun-Filled) Summer at Home

From crafty ways to spruce up bicycles to makeshift water parks at home, this summer is all about what you make it.

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This summer likely won’t include adventurous days at summer camp, swimming pools full of splashing kids, or families flooding festival grounds, but it can still be packed with fun. Remember your own childhood summer days, where your bicycle got you anywhere in the neighborhood and the evenings were filled with rowdy games of flashlight tag? Show your kids how to have fun by throwing it back to simpler times. If you’re wary of jumping into the usual public entertainment spaces, or just looking for inexpensive and creative ways to spend the long days, check out our guide to old-fashioned summer fun.

At-Home Attractions
Illustration: Heather Gott.

At-Home Attractions

Cool-Off Cove

Round up four pool noodles and poke holes in one side of each. Duct tape them together, then carve a snug spot to insert the nozzle of a hose. Tape around the hose to hold it in place. Hang the noodle contraption from a tree, set up a baby pool nearby, and voilà—you’ve got a sprinkler splash zone. Find more inspiration from ziggityzoom.com.

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Built-In Beach

Sandboxes have served kids’ desires to dig, pour, and build for over a century. Craft a sandbox by assembling a simple raised bed with cedar boards, or even easier, setting an old tire in the shade and filling it with sand from the garden center.

Batter’s Up Balloons

Play up summer festivities by stringing large water balloons from a tree branch for a wet and wild piñata party. Visit milkallergymom.com for more.

Swing City

The classic tree swing is not out of reach, if you have a mature tree in your yard. With just a few pieces of sturdy wood, sandpaper, screws, and glue, you can build the perfect high-flying seat. Lowe’s or sawdustsisters.com both have simple do-it-yourself instructions.

Backyard Bowling

Create a bowling setup with a long patch of lawn, deck, or sidewalk, and pins made out of 2-liter soda bottles, each filled with ½ to 1 cup of pebbles. Then, grab a playground or soccer ball and get rolling!


bike activitiesPedal Power

There’s more to bikes than just cycling from point A to point B. Try coordinating games and learning opportunities with your two-, three- or even one-wheeled wonders. These activities will surely deepen your family’s appreciation of their bikes.

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Parade

Search your craft and party boxes to find colorful wheel spoke, handlebar, and bike frame decorations. Plan a promenade down your street (with chaperones for safety) to show off the kids’ creations.

“Car” Wash

Kids will love sliding through sprinklers and playing with sponges filled with suds. Set up a hose with a sprinkler attachment and buckets with dish soap. Little riders pedal through while you scrub and the water washes them down. Level up the experience by building a PVC pipe structure as seen on designmom.com.

Rodeo

Imagine the bike is a bronc, then take it for a barrel race through an obstacle course and tracks drawn in chalk. Give each rider a cowboy hat (or any kind of hat) to toss into laundry baskets as they zip past.

Bike Shop

Break out the dungarees and work shirts, wrenches, tire pumps, and chain lubricant; it’s time to learn bike mechanics. Gain the lifelong skill of bike repair and maintenance alongside your young one for cooperative and intentional time together.


Operation Make-a-Mess

Let loose a little; see the fun you can have while creating mayhem. Try some of these silly, slippery, and soapy activities, then simply hose off the kids! Move the party outside and consider laying down tarps and wearing play clothes for worry-free fun.

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Ice Painting

Fill each spot in an ice tray ¾ full with water blended with food coloring. Put in the freezer. Once partially frozen, place corresponding colors of giant plastic building blocks on top and return to the freezer. Once they’re fully solidified, bring them outside to a large sheet of paper and hand the cool, melty crayons to your kids. Find more at twinmomrefreshed.com.

Bubble Snake Blower

Upcycle a plastic bottle and old sock to create a cute and easy-to-use bubble blowing machine. Cut the bottom off the bottle, pull a sock over it and secure with an elastic band, dip the bottom into a mixture of dish soap and water, then blow through the mouth opening. Keep an eye on younger kids to make sure they don’t accidentally inhale the bubble mixture. See messylittlemonster.com for more.

Bubble Juice

Level up the soap + water combination with this recipe for stronger, bigger bubbles. Pour 6 cups of water (tap is okay, distilled works best) into a large container, then add 1 cup of dish soap (avoid “Ultra” varieties), stirring slowly until mixed. Add 1 tablespoon of glycerin or ¼ cup of corn syrup and stir. Let sit overnight for the best result. homesciencetools.com

Cornstarch Finger Paint

Use common pantry items to create finger paints or mud for all kinds of kid entertainment. Combine 3 tablespoons of cornstarch with ¼ cup cold water and food coloring (or cocoa powder to make “mud”). Mix until smooth. Add 1 cup boiling water and stir until thickened. Recipe courtesy of mysmallpotatoes.com.

Sensory Jell-O Foam

Spread out the game’s plastic sheet and pour globs of red, blue, yellow, and green washable paint on the corresponding dots. Start playing Twister and watch the kids slip around, getting more colorful with each move of right hand on red or left foot on green.

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Paint Twister

Spread out the game’s plastic sheet and pour globs of red, blue, yellow, and green washable paint on the corresponding dots. Start playing Twister and watch the kids slip around, getting more colorful with each move of right hand on red or left foot on green.

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