This was originally going to be a post about what to do on rainy days this summer. But seriously, I find myself lollygagging around on sunny days, too. I am the laziest thing ever in the summer. For the last few years, I’ve hid behind lots of summer camps to keep my kids busy but now finances are TI-YEET (tight) and camps are MINIMAL. Prior to now, I’d say the majority of money spent on my kids was camps–well above homeschooling them the rest of the year. Summer also became our busiest season ever. I mean, not chaotic, just the season when we had the most on the schedule because of camps. This year? Blank slate. What you’re about to read is the action plan I created for myself…
So, I’m going to make two lists: Indoors (for rainy or dreadfully hot days) and Outdoors (for days with sunshine and tolerable temperatures–which is totally subjective. You get to choose 😉 )
Some things I will be doing to prepare:
- Mark our calendar with all of the various museum, arboretum and zoo free days.
- Mark our calendar with all of the $1 movie dates and what they’re showing for each of them.
- Mark our calendar with other local events (movies/music in the park, ice cream socials, wine walk–hey, parents count and I’ll need to know when I need a sitter!)
If you are using a color coding system for your calendar, this might be a new category–things you’re not committed to, but are available to be done. Make sure you add any necessary URLs for more information.
Next, I’m plotting a few road trips. Hey–why not. It’s the age of the internet and Facebook and I’ve managed to reconnect (and grow closer) to friends who don’t live right here anymore. Some of those are happy to host me and two kids. Admittedly, I’m not sure about doing too long of a road trip with just me and the kids–but I’m happy to test the waters with shorter, closer trips. We are DVD and screen-free on road trips so far and I think the longest we’ve gone is a tie between Aurora, IL and either Sterling, VA (straight through) or Orlando, FL (with an overnight stop). We live in the Chicago ‘burbs which makes a trip to Indianapolis, IN just over 3 hours; a jaunt to see the arch in St. Louis, MO a hair more than 4 hours; and a trip to our friends just south of Detroit, MI about 5 hours (which I have actually done before with just the kids and I). We could also visit friends in St. Paul, MN (which is 6 hours and we’ve done that trip several times, but not just me and the kids). This also becomes a matter of finances, but I have a friend who’s happy to do some Tuesday through Thursday trips with us (and her 3 kids). That means splitting the hotel bill and the cost of driving (either of our vehicles fits all of us). So I may not make it back to the Jersey Shore, but hey–I might. It’s a 14-hour trip, but dude–if someone’s willing to host us, my bottom is THERE!
Okay… once all of that is plotted out, I’m going to figure out what to do with my Indoor and Outdoor lists. I could write each activity on a popsicle stick or a piece of paper… or I could bust out my control-freak self and laminate the pieces of paper like playing cards… hmmmm…. My idea is that I will look at the calendar each day, see if there’s some cool event on there (or something else we’ve planned… camp, playdate, whatever) and if not, I will look at the weather and pick an activity from either the Indoor or Outdoor list. It may not occupy the whole day, but we’ll have something cool to do that gives us something to talk about at dinner. But what to put on them…
- Go to the library
- Hit up the local air-filled jumpy place
Hmmmm… if I want to stay indoors, it’s possible everyone else will. The library is unlikely to be the first place everyone runs, but the jumpy place? Okay… let’s try this again…
- Let the kids paint pictures. Yup… it’s gonna get messy up in here… I’m starting to collect stuff that they can paint with for different textures and shapes and what-not. Sponges, empty toilet paper rolls, old adult painting brushes, leaves, an old washcloth… whatever.
- Paper mache… wow–how long has it been since we’ve done that? Need to get a Sunday paper to have on-hand for this one. And maybe a second for all the painting in the above bullet point.
- Do a make-it-yourself wood kit in the garage. Like these cool race car kits (for Smalls and Bigs 😉
- Make ice cream in a ziploc bag
- Make stop-motion videos with free software and Legos or whatever else we have in the house–including younger siblings
- Teach the kids to crochet, sew, cross-stitch or whatever… remember latch-hooking? Design your own!
- Make those silly loom bracelets and use YouTube to learn how to kick it up a notch in complexity or design
- Tents and forts with sheets! WOOT!
- Or if you have a tent–camping INDOORS! Totally awesome! (and for some, way safer!)
- Create a yarn maze… my kids would have this spy take on it!
- Salt dough creations! We would bake them and paint afterward!
- Write letters or send pictures to penpals. You can find e-mail penpals for kids (my 10yo has an e-mail account using KidsMail.org which has been well worth the minimal cost). You can find Snail Mail Penpals for Kids, too! Or just write a letter to a relative or friend. Littles can draw pictures to send. Everyone loves to get “Happy Mail”! Parents–join in on it: send an encouraging note to someone that could use a smile!
- Cardboard box fun… my kids have turned cardboard boxes into anything from time machines to full-blown laboratories depending on how much cardboard they have available. Freecycle and Facebook will get you some cardboard pretty quick. That and washable marker is enough if you’re not cool with your kids using things to cut with! Give them some string or other stuff if you have it… to embellish!
- Dance party… always a winner
- Or, karaoke. We don’t need no stinking machine. Pandora or an iPod playlist and being loud are the only requirements. Don’t know the words? Make some up! You’ll have a blast!
- Why don’t you ALL try some yoga? We LOVE this children’s set of yoga cards called Yoga Pretzels but parents are welcome to do the poses, too. My kids now take the cards and work on them on their own. A few of the cards are for partner poses. My five-year-old is watching over my shoulder as I type this and insert the picture, and she informs me that this was “Double Dog”:
- If it’s raining and you can open a window without creating a problem, listen to the sounds of the rain as it hits various things within earshot!
- Also, check your rain gauge every 30-ish minutes and see how much it’s filled up. If you need to make it educational, this is a good time to introduce or practice graphing! 😉
- Indoor picnic lunch! WOOT!
- Indoor hide and seek.
- Story time at home. Snuggle up together and get a good book. We love “The Colors of Us” and ALL of the stories in “Make Way for McCloskey“. You could also check the list of children’s books that have won the Caldecott Medal. I know families that have read aloud entire books of the Harry Potter series of other longer books and pick up where they left off on the last rainy day (or at bedtime). Even big kids like to be read to. I used to read aloud to my high school students as they sat on the floor on a rug I brought in. They loved it.
- Board games! Check out some of the cooperative board games–where everyone wins together or loses together. We happen to really like Wildcraft! because 1) it can be played with one player that is only 5 (which is huge in a family with such a large gap in ages); and 2) we’re crunchy like that. We have also played and loved Forbidden Island (which is for older kids). There are TONS of cooperative board games available. On the “somebody’s gonna win/someone’s gonna lose” side of the board game spectrum, we love Candy Land, Ticket To Ride
(we’ve only played the United States version–which is great for map-reading), Scrabblea nd Scrabble Junior.
- We also play “Un/fortunately”. Someone starts off with a piece of a story that is fortunate or unfortunate. The next person adds the opposite and so on. So I might start with “Fortunately, it was a sunny day” and my son is likely to go next and say “Unfortunately, we got sunburnt”. My daughter will then add “Fortunately, mom had aloe vera gel to help make it feel better…” and so on and so on.
- Or you could get a complete set of Rory’s Story Cubes–where you roll the dice and have to create a story using all of the images that are face-up on the dice in the story. Since the images can mean various things, the stories are never the same. We started with the original set and what’s great is that even my smallest can participate. Total awesome.
- And if we’re on the story thing, let your kids write (and publish) their own book using the IlluStory Book Kit. It’s so much cooler when it comes back bound “like a real book”. 😉
- Create salad spinner art: Place circles of paper inside a cheap salad spinner, dab tempera paints on top, cover and spin away.
Seriously, at this point, I’m challenging myself to get to 30 just to be able to have enough for a whole rainy month because I’m close…
- Painter’s tape and newspaper for a sticky spider web game. Holy brilliant. See here
- Cook something. You could make your own Jello (we do this because we have too many allergies–and we use good ole Knox gelatin) or teach the kids some cooking skills. If you head on over to DIY.org’s Chef badge, there are plenty of kitchen-related skills to learn! Don’t underestimate what your kids are capable of. Let them push the envelope a bit with some supervision!
- DUCT TAPE! OMGOSH… have you seen the insane number of things they can do with duct tape? Check out this Ducktivities site! And if you have one that’s too little, let them play with any kind of tape… just to explore.
- Origami anyone? So inexpensive and so cool! Make stuff to hang from the ceiling! I find cool kits with a LOT of papers in the clearance or sale sections of Barnes & Noble and the like. But seriously–some notebook or printer paper and the internet and you’re good to go!
- Interview an older person about what their life was like when they were young; or if they grew up in another country–how was it different than our country? You could find a college student from another country for the latter, too!
- Okayokayokay… I gave you THIRTY TWO before I got to using a screen. *I* am impressed. But seriously–have your kids seen some of the golden oldies like “Sound of Music” or the original “Wizard of Oz”? What about “Dumbo” (which brought up some good conversation about bullying and name-calling) or “Aristocats”? If you are opposed to the screen, this is the compromise: they have to watch the movie of your choice.
- Charades! Oh yeah, charades!!!
- Got a digital camera (iPods have them, too sometimes!). Send the kids on an alphabet scavenger hunt. You can have them search out an item for each letter or (especially good for older kids) have them search out shapes or things in the house (or visible through the windows) that resemble a letter. It’s good to have a list going so that they can at least cross off a letter they’ve already tackled.
- Swap roles for the day. Let someone else be mommy, Oldest Child, Smallest Child, etc. THAT ought to get good! Pay attention to how your kids re-enact various situations. This could be as much fun as it is learning and healing. <3
- Volunteer somewhere. Even very small children can sit on the lap of an elderly person and be read to. It means a lot to someone who can’t get out much and may not have family visiting often. My oldest does the reading FOR an elderly person who may no longer have good eyesight. But volunteer with what you feel drawn to. Older kids are often welcome to help in animal shelters (and can be assigned to work that is not in direct contact with the animals). Younger children can help with landscape cleanup projects for a local park. Dig!
- Speaking of digging… make some pet rocks!
- Last… I’m seriously all about down time. In fact, a friend posted on my wall that an Indoor day was often a “do nothing” day in a season where her family is often on the go. Amen, sistah! My family is the opposite: We seriously don’t do much all summer, so most of our days are like this. But for those on the go… take a day to just hang and do nothing!
On one hand, I feel kinda dumb for making an “Outdoors” list. I mean, seriously–we can find a million things to do when it’s warm out, right? Except that I personally just don’t.
- Geocaching!! It’s a real-world treasure hunt for all ages! If you have a Smartphone, you likely have a compass and you can definitely get a free geocaching app. Nothing else needed but some time and attention.
- Bird watching. No, seriously! And there’s a ton of great info at eBird.org that helps you find birds in your area and log your findings! We saw a Pergrine Falcon right in our cul-de-sac and have Chimney Swifts living in our chimney! Here are some tips for beginners at AllAboutBirds for identifying bird calls; and WhatBird has a great “identify by color” guide. This has tons of education potential for the parents that can’t help themselves! Chart the number of various birds in your ‘hood. Map sightings. Spelling. Goodness… so many options! Last, the Merlin Bird ID app is AWESOME!!!!
- Pick your own food. Find a local farm at PickYourOwn.org
- GROW some of your own food! Nobody can go wrong with herbs and lots of veggies are easy-to-grow and both can be grown in containers if you don’t have any land to speak of. Or volunteer at a community garden!
- Make (and use) sponge bombs!
- Set up a tent in the yard and let the kids hang out in the shade (and total rock-star-ness) of the tent! You could even do day-time camping complete with outside dinner and s’mores!
- Do a treasure hunt. Pick an object and see how many of that thing each child can find. Or take the Indoor activity (near the bottom of the list) and let them use the digital camera to do the outdoor alphabet hunt!
- Sunshine love. My kids and I do this year-round (inside the house when it’s snowy). We just sit in the sunshine together, touching/snuggling and looking at the sky and talking about happy things. It’s a good reconnecting moment. But we really love to do this outside. Either in the grass or in the treehouse part of our swingset…
- …and that reminds me that we like to read stories outside, too. Sometimes up in the treehouse of the swing set.
- We can never do enough sidewalk chalk drawing. In fact, my oldest used the street in front of our driveway to send a special message to visitors and (probably horrified) new neighbors:
- Paint your sidewalks, fences and/or decks with water and sponge paintbrushes!
- Look for cool rocks.
- Or look for all kinds of cool things on the banks of (or in a) creek. My family has a great spillway and creek to explore nearby that’s so much fun we’re making a weekly “thing” out of it with some friends. My kids enjoy getting as dirty as possible. You’d think at this point I’d remember to keep a spare set of clothing or at least some towels in the car. My kids and their friends caught fish in a ziploc bag :/, found fresh water snails and empty snail shells, and a really big freshwater clam plus lots of smaller clam shells. Totally not what I expected to find in a pond overflow creek in the Midwest! A ziploc bag is great for observing stuff that you find that needs to be in the water! But remember to bring another bag for “other treasures”, too. Oh–and make sure you’re prepared for it to be bath night. Just sayin…
- Hit up a local farmer’s market and plan a meal around your buys!
- Texture rubbings are cool in every season! Just some newsprint (cheap) paper and chalk or charcoal. You could keep these in your summer car kit, too because… well, you just never know.
- Hit up a State or National Park! The National Parks usually have a Junior Ranger program where kids of various ages can complete some tasks to learn about that National Park (or monument) and earn a Junior Ranger badge. Cool stuff. We actually plan our road trips to incorporate National Parks to the greatest extent possible.
- Paddle boats anyone? Or take it up a notch and go canoeing! Or kayaking if you have big kids!
- Water balloon fight! (be sure to save our wildlife by picking up all the remnants! <3)
- Hopscotch! Make a board with chalk on the sidewalk, patio or driveway or with tape on a deck (or basement floor?) Here is a site with the history and rules of how to play hopscotch
- If not hopscotch–find a basketball net and play HORSE! Here are some instructions!
- Although it’s a night time activity, how about watching some stars…? Lay out a picnic blanket, lay down and look up! You don’t need to identify constellations to just ENJOY stargazing. And in mid-August every year is the Perseids meteor shower. Why not add a small fire in the fire pit and maybe some roasted marshmallows… or s’mores!
- Find somewhere to go horseback riding. So much fun and so few people do it!
- See if there is a cave near you and check it out. We have lots of little caves where I am–including one at the local nature center. Call the nature center, forest preserve or other outdoor authority near you to see if they know any safe caves that are open to the public. Otherwise, you can google for caves in your state, or check this Wikipedia entry for your state!
- Go to your local minor leagues baseball game. You can go to this link at the Minor League Baseball site and in the left hand navigation bar, select “Find teams–> By location” to find one near you. Check your local library to see if they have a discount coupon for tickets! Some nights are “fireworks” night or special theme nights!
- Make mud pies. Let them paint themselves up and then let them rinse off in a sprinkler. Not a fan of mud? How about some washable tempera paint (or add dish soap to regular tempera paint)?
- Three words: backyard. obstacle. course. WOOT! Endless possibilities here. Endless.
- Hit up a botanical garden or some other public garden and literally “stop to smell the roses”
- 27- Be a local tourist: go visit all those sites that people come to your area to see. Think of it this way: if someone from another country came to your house for two weeks, what would you show them? Go see those things. If you really, REALLY take that task to heart (no getting out of it by saying “Nobody would ever do that”!) then you will FIND cool stuff to do no matter where you live. But even people that live in or near really big cities have often never seen “the sites”. I grew up in the NYC ‘burbs and had never been to the Statue of Liberty until the summer before we were moving out of state. I’ve since lived in the Chicago ‘burbs for 4 years and have yet to see The Bean or be up in Willis Tower. And make a travel guide by taking pictures while you’re at it!
- County fair, people. Coun. ty. fair. Or better yet, state fair if you live close enough. Back in NJ, we were close enough to hit up four different county fairs and they WERE all different. One had more livestock than the others (complete with pig races) and another had more kiddie rides. We actually travel out of state every year to hit up the Minnesota State Fair (because we have friends we love who live close enough to hear the grandstand band). State fair food is legendarily deliciously unhealthy. We’ve seen t-shirts made by people who go to multiple state fairs and check off the popular fair foods they’ve eaten at each.
- How about jumping rope? One person or many people. Single rope or double dutch. Standing in place or walking. Have fun with it!
- Climb trees. Don’t be so afraid of how high they get. It’s fun. And just so you feel better, I believe the rule of thumb is that they can fall 2-1/2 times their height without significant concern of internal injury. Keep an eye on them for sure–but don’t panic if you don’t see a problem.
And with that, I feel like I’ve gathered a rather sufficient list of outdoor things with a solid 30+ on the “Outdoor” list. Of course there’s the sprinkler, the beach, the pool, the parks and playgrounds… but seriously–you (and I) already know all of that. Hopefully this list gives you some new things to do!
Now… I’m off to make my fat popsicle sticks or whatever I choose to do. How about you??