“Mom watch this, you’ve got to see it,” my son shouts at me from outside. Today’s adventure involves a homemade skate ramp and the totally awesome (as reported by him) jump he just mastered. But what is not unique about today is that statement; the one I hear every day from him, the one I hope he never stops saying.
Our kids love of play and learning seems immeasurable when they are young; it almost oozes out of them. But as they get older, the curiosity slows down and statements like “you’ve gotta see this” dwindle. They find themselves quickly in a world of packed schedules, planned activities, and pressure-filled school days.
I don’t know about you, but when I was a kid eons ago, some of the best opportunities to learn took place in my backyard. Growing up, my brothers and I spent entire days blissfully playing and using our imagination to create our own summer camps. The backyard was our playground and the tress our monkey bars. We sold lemonade, studied ant hills, played kickball, rode our bikes, and read books under our weeping willow tree until the sun went down.
Childhood play is crucial for social, emotional, and cognitive development. Many parents today believe they are acting in their kids’ best interests when they swap free play for what they see as valuable learning activities. Unscheduled playtime is one of the most valuable educational opportunities we can give our children. It’s the place where children strengthen social bonds, build emotional maturity, develop cognitive skills, and shoer up their physical health.
So here they are — 30 simple ideas fill your kids’ summer with a bit of old-fashioned adventure. Most of them free, all of them fun.
- Break out the sidewalk chalk for some Tic Tac Toe, hopscotch, hangman, or Scrabble.
- Start a kids-only book club with siblings and friends.
- Kick off a neighborhood block party (or better yet — dance party).
- Put an easel/paint supplies/arts and crafts outside and let them get creative in the sunshine.
- Pick flowers and deliver them to neighbors.
- Make homemade popsicles in an ice tray, the old-fashioned way.
- Try a new yard game you’ve never tried before, like croquet, golf, T-ball, volleyball, badminton, bean bag toss, horseshoes, bunny sack races, or bowling.
- Ride bikes, scooters, skateboards, or roller-skates, and don’t look once at your phone.
- Create a makeshift bike jump with scrap wood, rocks, bricks, or piles of dirt.
- Or, if you’re feeling crafty, try building a skateboard ramp.
- Hand your kid a magnifying glass and watch as they examine all the ant hills in the yard. (Never gets old.)
- Host a neighborhood scavenger hunt.
- Draw a treasure map and search for buried treasure in the yard. (Trust me, parents find this just as fun.)
- Engage in a wild SSWB fight (silly string/water balloon fight — one in each hand).
- Start a neighborhood kickball/baseball/volleyball game.
- Suggest Super Soaker wars while sliding down the Slip N’ Slide. (Game-changer.)
- Sell lemonade in your driveway.
- Chase the ice cream truck and buy a treat with your hard money from the lemonade stand.
- A good-old fashioned game of Hide and Seek, outside.
- Skip rocks at the beach.
- Throw an impromptu picnic or afternoon tea party.
- Build a tree house or fort. (No trees nearby? Make a cardboard box fort!)
- Pick five parks you’ve never been to and visit them all in a month.
- Use your sandbox to build dirt tracks and let your kids race their Hot Wheels around.
- Visit all of your local libraries.
- Visit your local independent bookstores.
- Volunteer your time reading to seniors at retirement homes.
- Set up a bike and car wash and raise money for a local charity you care about.
- Visit children’s museums (many have free admission).
- Pitch a tent and have a sleepover in your front yard. (If you have a fire pit, roast some hot dogs and s’mores for a real camping adventure!)