50 activities to keep children engaged this summer
50 activities to keep children engaged this summer
Health reports reveal physical activity inspires confidence, lessens worry, and drives away depression—all key elements as families come out of social isolation and states begin phased reopenings. Mental stimulation is just as important. So, to help find a balance, Stacker searched kids’ creative, educational, craft, game, and workshop sources to compile a list of 50 activities to help keep children engaged this summer, with everything from challenging neighbors to sidewalk chalk games to corresponding with pen pals from the other side of the globe.
For kids who love the outdoors, planting a garden in the day or stargazing at night provides agriculture and astronomy lessons while engaging them in the morning and at night. Additional outdoor activities such as building a backyard obstacle course and having a neighborhood treasure hunt are also perfect for summertime fun.
Although many of the activities on the list are geared toward kids, the entire family can find fun in many of them. Preserve family memories by making a scrapbook, complete with old photos and a family tree. Create brand new memories with a backyard campout—complete with s’mores and ghost stories—all with the comfort of a toilet just a few short steps away.
For adolescents who don’t like to get too much sun, indoor activities like creating a website or designing a board game inspire creativity without leaving the house. Parents of gamers can even inject learning into video game time, with a course on architectural history taught through Minecraft.
Kids of all ages can beat the heat with a water balloon fight or pass the time on a rainy day by learning more about the weather. Get down and dirty by making slime or play dough, get the blood flowing by training for a family 5k, or create a backyard obstacle course.
There’s more out there than you know. Keep reading to find 50 fun-filled activities to keep children engaged this summer.
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Make a fort
With dozens of different indoor fort designs, kids can spend hours building the perfect hideaway. Household items such as sheets, blankets, pillows, clothespins, and books can quickly turn the underneath of a table into a magical place, or a cardboard box and beach balls can magically convert into an Aladdin hideaway. Add a string of low-cost, battery-operated lights to the fort supplies to give it a glow, and making a fort will be as much fun as the time spent in it.
Design a board game
Playing games is fun, but making a personalized board game is more impressive. After brainstorming a game theme and set of rules, make a cardboard playing board and add player pieces, dice, and content cards. The kids will be competing in a game born from their creativity. For only $5, Teachers Pay Teachers offers a digital download to help kids create a board game, promising to make a stress-free project.
Serve up some slime
All the rage, slime can be made in minutes with low-cost, simple ingredients—borax detergent, white glue, and water—to create an immediate slimy blob that engages kids for hours. Food coloring, Styrofoam balls, tiny beads, glitter, and scents add more sensory engagement to the slime easily stored in zip-close plastic bags or airtight plastic containers. Add some shaving cream to the ingredients, and what was once slimy is even more fun fluffier.
Zoom in on scavenger hunts
Virtual scavenger hunts have kids running around the house in minutes, trying to return to the Zoom screen with coveted household items in hand. Additional ideas for the cost-free activity, available with a complimentary 40-minute Zoom call, are also available for $1 at Teachers Pay Teachers; however, creating a personalized scavenger hunt is even more exciting. Besides fun, age-appropriate scavenger hunts educate kids using various learning themes, including finding objects associated with numbers and colors.
Create a website
Lifewire breaks down how kids can create their own websites in eight steps. Together, parents and children can create a web design and decorate the site, which can feature blog content and calendars. With several cost-free website hosts available, the only thing required to begin building their online home is Wi-Fi and an electronic device.
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Get grounded with sidewalk chalk games
Active For Life promises one piece of chalk can create eight engaging side games to keep kids moving for hours. Aside from playing traditional sidewalk hopscotch, alphabet hop, and four square, kids of all ages can also create giant, winding mazes to walk on and explore. To add even more fun to sidewalk chalk games, make homemade chalk with some of the simplest household ingredients, assuring you are never short on supplies for the next round of matches.
Create cardboard toys
A sheet of cardboard, a pair of scissors, duct tape, and crayons or paint are all kids need to make homemade toys. While some household items help turn a big cardboard box into a toy stove or dollhouse, smaller toys, including stuffed animal furniture and rocket ships, are easy to make. Kids can even create a mini foosball table from a cardboard shoebox, ping pong balls, clothespins, and tiny wooden pegs.
Start a virtual book club
Aside from joining a reading group with Virtual Book Club for Kids, middle-schoolers can spearhead their own online gathering with School Library Journal. Scholastic’s 2020 Summer Read-a-Palooza, which began in May and ends in September, gives kids dozens of book genres and themes to choose from when it comes time to picking their first book club choice.
Become a pen pal
Kids, with parental supervision, can have BFFs on the other side of the globe through PenPal World. Up to 2,300,000 members, including adolescents and young adults, can connect to different continents with a free, limited account. While the service Students of the World also offers online pen pal programs, blogs and chats, Global Penfriends goes old school with snail mail options.
Plant a garden
Planting a garden is an inexpensive, simple, and educational activity for kids of all ages. KidsGardening offers free horticulture activities via newsletters and great planting ideas, but all kids need to begin a garden are some seeds. Eco-friendly company Eartheasy suggests tips on kid-friendly gardening, informing what seeds and methods to use. And for families without a yard, kids can grow carrots, lettuce, and tomatoes on decks to add to some hearty summer salads.
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Make a bird feeder
With dozens of different DIY bird feeder ideas, kids can create containers using the most straightforward items, including fruit. Simply cutting an orange in half, scooping out the middle, cradling it in a homemade macrame net, and adding birdseed makes a sweet-smelling feeder ready to hang from a tree. Other low-cost DIY kid-friendly feeders can be crafted from used cardboard, plastic milk cartons, or toilet paper rolls.
All that kids need to stargaze is a bright night sky and a pair of binoculars. The American Museum of Natural History points to the stars for kids, educating them on the heavenly bodies with fun and wonder. Green Child Magazine purports that stargazing “encourages a love for science,” and recommends night-sky books available on Amazon, apps to download, and more provisions that will complement nightly stargazing.
Make a time capsule
During this life-altering pandemic, making a time capsule to reflect on in the future is an excellent way of encouraging hope while engaging children to document history. Using a shoebox or plastic container for indoor hiding, or a stainless steel container for burying outside, fill it with newspaper reports, photos, and a printable time capsule cover sheet. Kids can open it as early as the fall or early in the new year, which will offer them the opportunity to see how much as changed in such a short time.
Paint and hide hopeful rocks
The Kindness Rocks Project, founded in 2015, has inspired thousands to paint a rock and hide it for someone to find, specifically during the global pandemic, when hope is highly needed. With a little paint and some stones, kids can contribute to the inspiring rock community or inscribe personal messages and painted designs to hide away in a loved one's sock drawer or behind the milk. The low-cost activity is proven to engage children of all ages, even the kid inside adults.
Plan an outdoor treasure hunt
Fun treasure hunt clues will have kids running around the yard looking for jewels among the bushes. Low-cost fake gemstones and colored beads sold at fabric stores are perfect little treasures to hide, or for a more-green experience, The Spruce made a list of Mother Nature-related items that can be tricky to find, offering some fun hints. Age-specific signature treasure hunts, including Marvel and Spongebob, have kids searching for clues inspired by their favorite hero and cartoon characters.
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Train for a family 5K
This child-engaging activity calls for some parent and sibling participation, which promises to benefit everyone by the time the finish line is crossed. The six-week plan is a perfect summertime goal that can be performed even during social distancing. If there are no available scheduled races, families in the neighborhood can create their own namesake 5K by choosing a theme and location and date.
Play dress up
There are many free and creative ways to engage children in dress up during the summer. Hats, gloves, sunglasses, scarves, briefcases, and pocketbooks will inspire imaginative role play while entertaining kids for hours. Open-ended free items readily available around the house suffice, but sites like Little Dress Up Shop offer kids dozens of outfits, from a UPS driver to Cinderella, and all sorts of accessories to enhance play at a moderate cost.
Build an obstacle course
Low-prep and low-cost, obstacle courses are fun for children of all ages. While some hula hoops, a sandbox, crepe paper, and a bag of balloons are basics for young kids, sidewalk chalk is the only item called for to create an obstacle course for toddlers. Martha Stewart suggests throwing an obstacle course-themed party, featuring activities such as crabwalk and newspaper races followed by an end-of-course awards ceremony, complete with tasty rewards.
Cozy up with an outdoor movie night
Make some spicy popcorn, gather fluffy pillows and soft blankets, and pick a flick to watch outside this summer. Creating a DIY outdoor movie screen is relatively easy, calling for a white sheet, PVC pipes, and glue gun. If time and money do not permit putting together an outdoor screen, simply improvise using a laptop outside for a small, intimate gathering.
All you need is a flashlight and the dark to play these fun games. From Catch the Light to old school hide-and-seek, these games let children end the day exercising the last of their energy out, for a good night's sleep. Assure all batteries are full before beginning, so no one gets lost in the dark.
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Create a play
Family drama can be delightful when it is born from a kid-created play. While making lasting memories and building a child’s confidence, putting together a performance with parents and siblings also teaches children teamwork. From rehearsal to opening night, kids will keep busy learning their lines while gathering props and writing up playbills.
Make a kite and fly it
This two-part activity is sure to engage children, especially on a windy day. With string, straws or sticks, ribbon, tape, glue, a ruler, marker, and two plastic bags, kids can make a personalized kite. Similar items are needed to make a newspaper kite. And if it’s raining, have kids make an indoor kite to help make the day a bit brighter.
Master the jump rope
The Whirlwind Challenge, Jump Rope Math and Follow Me are just a few games of many to help kids master the old-school activity. Kids will spend hours hopping out energy and jumping while also learning the importance of teamwork. Jump rope rhymes are also a great way to engage in the exercise, for kids who want to stomp to the beat while skipping.
Create a card and send it
There is no better way to put a smile on a loved one’s face than with a homemade card waiting in the mailbox. The only supplies needed are envelopes, construction paper, crayons, stamps, and some love to send a simple message. However, kids can be a bit more creative, even making pop up, fingerprint, and peek-a-boo cards with some additional supplies. Computer-savvy kids may want to send a digital note to loved ones with the American Greetings Ecard free seven-day trial.
Going hiking with kids can be much more than simply walking trails. With so many hiking games, including geocaching, the alphabet game, and the hide-and-seek trail edition, kids will not even realize they are exercising while having fun. Another great hiking experience is journaling along the way, with Amazon offering some great low-cost kid journals to document their outside adventure.
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Create an animal fact sheet
Pick an animal and write up a fact sheet. Internet access, lined paper, a pencil, and some written questions will do; however, thrifty sheets from Teachers Pay Teachers will really have kids doing some deep research into their favorite species. And if kids can’t pick just one favorite animal, make an animal fact book by printing out pictures and facts off the internet.
Learn to knit
Kids can learn to knit as young as 5, with instruction. While there are many age-appropriate books to instruct children how to interlock loops, The Craft Train teaches kids how to finger knit almost for free, only calling for scissors, yarn, and fingers. Once mastered, children can create kid-friendly knitting projects, including a dishcloth, envelope purse, or a bean bag.
Take a virtual exercise class
Dozens of free kid-friendly virtual exercise classes will keep children moving, especially on a rainy day. While the Dance Theatre of Harlem teaches tots ballet through archived videos, Tennis Innovators has live courses throughout the week and archived drills for kids 3 and older. The YMCA also has a host of cost-free classes from preschool dance to yoga that will keep kids moving.
Learn to type
Free programs like Keyboarding Zoo offer kids the opportunity to learn to type. The TypingClub offers free kid-friendly classes, including left- and right-hand lessons and an animated story typing series. The BBC also has an entirely free Dance Mat Typing program made up of four three-stage levels that challenge kids to type as fast as they can.
Do a jigsaw puzzle
Putting a jigsaw puzzle together is fun and rewarding, but creating one is even better. Kids can create a puzzle from a photo they love rather inexpensively. To engage children further, challenge them to draw their puzzle on a sheet of cardboard and cut it out; and remember, more pieces mean more hours of engagement.
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Painting is proven to improve children’s decision-making, hand-eye coordination, and the ability to communicate emotions; it’s also fun. The cost of supplies varies depending on the child’s age; toddlers need washable tempera paint and can use their fingers to paint shapes and colors. Older children require more supplies, including brushes, canvas, and a greater variety of watercolor or acrylic paints. Once complete, the picture can be placed in an inexpensive frame and given as a gift or proudly displayed in your home.
Choreograph a dance
Kids love to dance, and creating a dance to a child’s favorite song is a great way to engage them. Choreographer Phil Wright, the producer of The Disney Channel’s Fam Jam, has families grooving together, with moms and dads getting down with kids, which is a great way to create memories while exercising. Parents can also turn kids on to fad dances to move and groove, if no one is in the mood to make up original moves.
Make sock puppets and perform a show
A creative imagination, alongside a couple of pairs of socks, scissors, colored felt, yarn, googly eyes, and glue, can create a whole set of characters kids will spend hours enjoying. After making animal or character sock puppets, kids can create a play and perform it for friends and family. If kids are at a loss for words, some printable puppet script ideas come in handy.
Feed the ducks
Kids love to feed ducks, which is why taking a weekly walk or trip to the local pond is a great way to engage children with nature. Do not feed bread to the ducks. It is not healthy for them. Feed the ducks with birdseed, grapes, cooked or uncooked rice, and frozen peas or corn. These foods are much more nutritious for the ducks and easier to digest. Help My Kid Learn suggests singing “Five Little Ducks” while feeding the birds, to further engage younger children.
Tackle a science experiment
The California Science Center has a slew of free experiments that will educate and engage kids all summer long. Stuck Home Science teaches children of all ages daily lessons using simple household items. Virtual Hands-On Science Camp 2020 comes at a cost of $125 for nonmembers, and includes week-long classes, curbside supply drop-off, and interactive demonstrations and tours.
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Tune into a podcast
Entertaining and educational, children's podcasts will keep kids hanging on the words of the host. While The New York Times reports on a “Big List” of podcasts for children, Parents magazine mentions a dozen podcasts parents are encouraged to share with children. Dozens of family-friendly podcasts entertain adults and adolescents alike, making a trip in the car or a walk in the neighborhood much more exciting.
A trip to the local crafting store for safe, washable, skin-friendly face paints can recreate the feel of the local fair for children. Paint random designs, or use stencils to transform kids into smiling princesses, unicorns, pirates and more. For adventurous parents, flip things around and become the paintee, to see what fun creations you’ll be wearing.
Chill out with water balloon fun and games
Putting a watery twist on hide-and-seek is a fun way to beat the heat this summer. The game is played with the same rules as the classic, only the “it” person is soaked with a broken water balloon rather than being tagged. Fun for the whole family, this game, as well as a variety of other water balloon games, will probably develop pretty quickly into an all-out water balloon fight.
All it takes is a piece of paper to get started learning origami, which has been proven to build mindfulness and self awareness in children. From simple cubes and butterflies to the complexity of a shark cootie catcher, the ancient Japanese art of folding paper is an engaging activity that can keep kids occupied—and calm—for hours.
Soar with Smithsonian’s global Glider Guide
Fly above the ground with the Smithsonian Science Center’s virtual Glider Guide of the United States, which is available for download to electronic devices. Eleven separate tours across terrains such as mountains and lakes promise to keep kids engaged for hours on end. Each tour ends with questions, to help kids retain everything their eyes just experienced.
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Help kids improve their fine motor skills and focus by making their very own jewelry, with projects ranging from beginner to expert. From the simplicity of young children putting beads on string to teenagers using a soldering iron to craft exquisite metal pieces, making jewelry is fun for all ages. Kits for all ages are readily available online and at craft stores, and the result is something kids will be thrilled to wear or give to a loved one as a gift.
Create a vision board
Creating a vision board is a fun way to teach kids about setting and working toward goals, disguised as an engaging art project. A piece of poster board, scissors, a glue stick, and some old magazines are the essentials needed to get started. Asking questions about their favorite travel spots or future career plans can help spur kids’ creativity.
Take an art class
The possibilities are endless when taking a summer art class, with painting, drawing, and sculpting among the many options. Beginners can find a variety of free courses online, while future Van Goghs and Warhols can find in-person classes through their local school or YMCA. Parents of gamers can inject art into Minecraft with an architectural history class, one of many offered for a fee through Outschool.
Study the weather
A great way for kids to spend a rainy summer day is finding out about their weather. The National Weather Service has numerous resources for kids of all ages to learn everything from the basics of clouds to the science of meteorology. Likewise, NASA has been tracking Earth’s weather via satellite since the 1960s, and has dozens of games and activities geared toward spurring interest in the wonders of weather.
Start kids yoga classes
Kids may chuckle the first time they hear Downward-facing Dog, but the benefits of yoga for kids stretch far beyond just the comical. Cosmic Kids yoga classes are geared for ages 3 and up, with themes like Three Little Pigs, Sleeping Beauty, and Harry Potter to get your child’s blood flowing. Yoga has shown to help improve mental health and focus and increase self awareness in children.
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Create some cool summer treats
Sharpen your child’s creativity and culinary skills by making some fun, easy treats, from melon kabobs to banana salad. A number of side benefits—like improving math and reading ability, developing fine motor skills, and teaching the importance of healthy eating—come from cooking with kids.
Make play dough
Five simple ingredients and a little bit of food coloring can provide hours of fun for your little one this summer. Water, salt, vegetable oil, cream of tartar, and flour cooked together creates a doughy experience that can last for months if stored properly. No-cook options are also available, and for added fun, baking the newly-made play dough in the oven creates a canvas for kids to paint.
Start a daily journal
Keeping a daily journal can provide many benefits to kids, from spurring creativity to helping them deal with strong emotional situations. For younger children, it has the added bonus of helping improve handwriting and communication skills, while for teenagers, jotting down thoughts, secrets, and concerns can help them express themselves while navigating through the difficulties of young adulthood. Let your child choose a journal, or add another activity to the list by making one out of recycled materials.
Camp in the backyard
A simple way for kids to experience the great outdoors is by pitching a tent and building a campfire right in the comfort of your own backyard. Roasting hot dogs, making s’mores, and telling ghost stories are just a few of the many fun activities that can help transform a night sleeping under the stars into an unforgettable family adventure. Kids of all ages can enjoy this activity, and if not, their own bed is just a few steps away.
Make a family scrapbook
Capture family memories all in one place by creating a scrapbook filled with the kids’ favorite photos, notes, and artistic designs. Making a heritage scrapbook doubles as a fun art project and a great way for kids to learn about their family history. Leave blank pages at the end to make it an ongoing project.
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