Our Favorite End-of-Summer Activities
Sure, the days are getting shorter, but there's still time to pitch a tent in the backyard, catch fireflies, have a water balloon fight -- and do the 23 other fun family activities listed here! How many can you check off before summer kicks the bucket?
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Have a Lemonade Stand
Start by finding the perfect lemonade recipe, then make your shopping list together. (This is a great way to sneak in an impromptu math lesson: "If we make three batches, how many lemons will we need?") Design some cool signs you can put up around the neighborhood, and decide what you'll charge. Assemble a box of coins and small bills for making change -- and don't forget to slather on sunblock before setting up your stand.
Have a Water Balloon Fight
For about ten bucks, you can invest in a pump-style water balloon filler> that gets kids involved in the setup. (Otherwise, plan to spend at least an hour at the hose or kitchen sink.) Establish some ground rules (no aiming at the face, everyone agrees to do their part of the pick-up afterward), suit up, pick a super hot day and start throwing!
Go to a Drive-in Movie
Drive-in movies usually don't start until after dark, so you may have to bend the bedtime rule a bit. Still, the experience is worth it (and if the kids fall asleep, so be it!). Dress the kids in their PJs and bring blankets and pillows to snuggle with. Pack your own snacks and you'll have healthier fare -- and possibly save a small fortune at the concession stand. Check this site to see if there's a drive-in within reasonable distance.
Have Your Own Outdoor Movie Night
No drive-in nearby? Create your own outdoor movie experience: Rent (or buy) a projector and screen and make it a block party. Rental packages start around $200, which can be not-alarming if you invite a bunch of families and split the cost. Top it off with gigantic buckets of popcorn and a trough of icy beverages.
Sleep in a Tent
Few things are more magical -- or memorable -- to a kid than sleeping in the great outdoors. If you’re super-adventurous, you can head to a nearby campground for the full experience. If you’d rather stay within stumbling distance to home (and face it, your own bathroom), pitch a tent in the backyard. Just don’t forget to shut off any automatic sprinklers before you tuck into your sleeping bags.
Catch Fireflies in the Backyard
Fireflies come out at dusk and like to hang out near tall grasses and around your fruit or flower gardens. Turn off as many lights as your children will allow, and then flash a flashlight’s beam up and down to attract fireflies. Let the kids try to catch them in nets (fireflies are delicate like butterflies, so they’re super squishable), and have a clear jar with a vented lid waiting nearby. Don’t forget to release them before you go to bed.
Pick Fresh Fruit -- And Make Something
Local farms often offer you-pick-it options, which is a fun way to get your kids to think about where food really comes from. (Just remember to bring a wagon or a carrier for little kids, who may quickly tire of tromping through fields or orchards -- and don't go on a super-hot day.) When you get home with your haul, decide together what you'll make with it. Options range from a simple fresh fruit salad to more elaborate fare such as pies, cobblers or (for the truly committed), jelly and jam.
Make Homemade Popsicles
Popsicle molds are inexpensive and easy to find, and once you see how much the kids love them (and how easy it is to whip up healthy frozen treats), they’ll become a regular in your snack rotation. You can fill the molds with your favorite fruit juice, or peruse the thousands of fancy frozen recipes available online.
Fly a Kite
Go old-school on your kids and introduce them to the joys of kite-flying. Pick up a ready-to-sail model at a toy store (or Walmart, or Target), then pick a nice, windy day and hit a nearby park or beach. Just make sure there's plenty of room to run! Tip: Have the video camera or your iPhone ready when your kid's kite finally catches the wind.
Have a Picnic
If you’ve got a beach blanket or sheet, some snacks and a few square feet of al fresco real estate, you’ve got everything you need for a picnic. You can take your show on the road -- to a park, beach, lake or playground -- or set up right in your backyard. Kids will love the change of setting. Heck, you might even get them to try a new food!
Have Story Time or Naptime Outside
Find a cool, shady spot and lay out a blanket. Stock the space with pillows, books and favorite stuffed animals, and cozy up together for a read-in.
Roast S'mores in the Backyard
Wait until it starts to cool off at dusk, and then build a fire pit or use your BBQ (post-grilling, ideally, so you'll have cooling embers) and get roasting. Not an option in your apartment or condo? Melt marshmallows for a few seconds in the microwave and then squish them with some chocolate between two graham crackers for the city slicker's alternative. Add a drizzle of chocolate sauce for extra gooey goodness -- and have a stash of wet wipes at the ready.
Go to the Zoo
You probably have one nearby, and many zoos offer extra activities in summer like movies, family nights, campouts and more. And even if it’s a regular admission day, a zoo trip is a great way to sneak exercise and education into a fun family outing.
Wash Toy Cars Outside
Helping the kids stage a pint size mini car wash kills several birds: The cars get clean, the kids stay cool and nobody is annoying you with a nonstop chorus of “we’re boooooooooored.” Offer silly prizes (think temporary tattoos or the chance to wear the Carwash Crown for the rest of the day) for best efforts.
Pick Flowers While You're on a Nature Walk
On a regular old walk you're likely to hear cries of complaint. But give your walk a purpose ("Let's see if we can build a bouquet the size of Texas!") and the mutiny is almost guaranteed to be at a minimum. Bonus: You'll get to enjoy a homemade centerpiece for the rest of the week. Just make sure you (and your kids) know what poison ivy looks like!
Feed the Ducks at the Park
Before you get too excited, this is not going to be a guilt-free way to get rid of some crusty old heels of bread. Experts say feeding bread to ducks is like giving kids a box of donuts (unhealthy and indulgent). Instead, set a great example for your kids by doling out healthier fare such as cut-up grapes, bird seed or finely chopped lettuce.
Make Homemade Bubbles
The Internet is teeming with homemade bubble recipes, many of which you can probably whip up with ingredients you already have on hand. (Most feature dishwashing liquid, water and one or two extras like sugar, glycerin, food coloring or corn syrup.) Dig up some wands -- you probably have dozens at the bottom of the toy box -- and get ready to make magic.
Most kids are fascinated with outer space... why not explore a bit of it from your back yard? Spread out in lounge chairs or on a blanket in the grass and contemplate the constellations together. You can find and print a free sky map online, and see how many your child can find. Just load up on the bug spray!
Take in a Baseball Game
Depending on your budget and location, you can go major league, minor league or even your local peewee league. For your kids, the fun factor is just about equal (as long as there’s a hot dog featured in there somewhere). It’s all about root, root, rooting for the home team -- and old school family fun.
Play Flashlight Tag
Before you have to reinstate the earlier back-to-school bedtime, give your child a thrill with a special stay-up-late game of nighttime tag. Tons of variations exist, but the simplest is to give the "it" person a flashlight and have him or her "find" (i.e. shine the light on) the others. The first person to be spotted becomes "it" and so on. Flashlight tag can be played indoors or out, but small kids should be paired with an older child or adult in either case.
Watch the Olympics
You may limit TV on principle, but the Olympics, which start on July 27th, are different. Dress in stars and stripes and cuddle on the couch and be patriotic together. Google Olympic-themed recipes to make it an even more festive affair.
Sunflowers love (surprise!) sun, so summer is a great time to grow them. Plus they’re crazy kid-friendly because they’re easy to grow and they sprout quickly. Simply purchase a packet of seeds and follow the directions for spacing, depending on the variety. (Giant sunflowers -- which can grow to fifteen or even twenty feet tall -- need more room than the smaller varieties.) Water regularly and watch for sprouts within about two weeks. Optional: Take pictures of your child each week at the same time next to his plant to catalog how quickly it grows.
Join Your Library's Summer Reading Club
Many libraries offer kid-friendly incentives to keep kids reading while school is out -- check and see what your local branch has going on. Not only will you be helping keep your kids' brains from turning to mush, borrowing books is a great (free!) way to emphasize responsibility to your kids.
Go to an Outdoor Concert
Let’s face it: Kids aren’t great at sitting still and being quiet, which is why the laid-back atmosphere at outdoor concerts makes them a perfect venue for families. Little ones can chat, clap, dance and sing along with made-up words and nobody is likely to shush them. Bonus: They’re likely to come home bushed from all of that boogying, which will make getting them to sleep a breeze.
Do a Sidewalk Chalk Activity
Make a giant hopscotch board, trace your kids’ bodies and let them add the clothes and accessories, or draw a windy track down the sidewalk and then let them pretend to be cars. Most kids will even willingly engage in math or spelling games if they’re disguised as chalk play. A scorching day option: Give your child a paint brush and a cup of plain old water, and let her “draw” scenes on the sidewalk. The object is for you to guess what she’s drawing before the water dries and disappears.
Make Something Tie-Dyed
Not only is the activity itself engaging for little ones, tie dying is a great way to recycle something that’s been stained. You can pick up simple grocery store dye (grab some rubber gloves while you’re at it) or order a fancy kit online -- and don’t limit yourselves to t-shirts. Pillow cases, beach towels, lightweight tote bags, aprons... just about anything (that’s machine-washable and not polyester or plastic) is fit to be dyed. Tip: Take pics of your kiddos modeling their finished products.
Go to a Parade
Say goodbye to summer in style by taking in a Labor Day parade – or any parade, really. Let the kids wear costumes or sport crazy hair if they’d like -- anything to give it a real celebratory feel. Don’t forget to explain to them what you’re celebrating (the achievement of generations of American workers ... and the start of football season, of course).
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