Plus 30 Outdoor Activities That Require Little To No Parental Preparation
It’s only been two weeks into summer break and I am seriously wishing I could send my kids back to school. Like right now. Apparently, I’m supposed to entertain my children during the summer months. My daughter was actually incensed at the idea that my husband and I wanted to do something for ourselves on her first day of summer vacation. Forgive us for being so selfish…
When you live in Minne-snow-ta, you’re basically trapped indoors all winter long unless you’re into skiing, snowmobiling or the insufferable sport of ice fishing. No offense, but we just don’t do frigid outdoor activities beyond an occasional snow-tubing excursion because for us, it is just too damn cold.
For the last six months or so, I had been dreaming of those warm summer days because I literally could not wait to shove my kiddos out of my house and into the fresh, open air. Guess what happened on an absolutely perfect day when I told them to go play outside? My unimaginative, lackadaisical little trio didn’t even budge. Seriously, what the hell?
No Cabin Fever Here
It’s like someone is playing a sick, twisted joke on me. These kids had basically been trapped indoors all winter long so I cannot fathom why they wouldn’t be more eager to frolic in the great outdoors. School had been canceled at least three times this year and not for snow (we can handle being dumped on by snow) but because a person could get frostbite if they’re outside for more than five minutes at a time. Bummer, if you ride the bus.
When the wind chill wasn’t a factor, my little eskimos would venture across the street to go sledding but those occasions were few and far between. To be honest, dealing with sopping, wet snow pants and mittens didn’t seem worth the trouble since they would only be outside for an hour or less anyway–but who could really blame them? Poor baby snow angels.
With that in mind, you’d think most kids who had to endure an arctic climate during the winter months would resemble caged animals at the first sign of spring–clawing at the bars, craving to be released into the wild as soon as the icicles began to melt. Not my children. They would rather beg me to unlock the office door so they could hop on the computer to play Roblox for the remainder of their lives.
Two years ago we lived in a townhome with a small corner front yard and a cul-de-sac our kids would ride their bikes around in. They always wanted to be outside at that time but it was really difficult to keep track of them unless we were outside ourselves. We finally moved into a much bigger house with a fantastic fenced-in backyard.
I told myself, this was it! I really thought I’d have the whole house to myself for once and I could work on organizing and cleaning the place in peace.
I had these visions of happy children kicking a soccer ball around on that lovely stretch of freshly mowed grass. Wee ones climbing and sliding on the playhouse, swinging so high they’d be touching the sky with their toes. I pictured my young explorers catching bugs, running through the sprinklers, blowing bubbles, and naming clouds. I could look out of my window to watch them play, knowing that they were safe while having their backyard adventures. They would be occupied by their imaginations alone, only coming in for a quick drink and a snack, or maybe a band-aid and a hug, then right back out again. It was going to be pure bliss…
Needless to say, I was disappointed when I had to twist my kids’ arms to get them to play in the backyard. When they finally did, they were constantly in and out. They never just STAYED OUT. Thankfully they do like to ride their bikes now and then but that only entertains them for so long.
Last summer, my kiddos would go over to a neighbor’s house two doors down because they, lucky ducks, had a trampoline. Lately, their friends never seem to be home. Their parents are more Brady Bunch than we are and they are always taking their kids on family bike rides or camping trips. I wouldn’t be surprised if they were all hiking in the Appalachians right now but I would be even less surprised if they just weren’t answering the door every time the “Dennis the Menace” crew came knocking.
Without their friends around or a spectacular trampoline, outside is boring. Unfortunately for me, my kids think inside is boring too and since we’re all inside together, that means I have to hear about how boring everything is. On top of that, my kids demand to know exactly what I plan on doing about it. Again, it is my job as a mother to amuse my children because they’ve appointed me as their court jester and if I don’t give them Disneyworld every single day, they won’t leave me the hell alone. They’re like leeches on my back and summer was supposed to be my one shot to peel them off of me for a while.
I don’t mean to sound so cruel when I talk about my children. You have no idea how much I love them and the joy I get out of being a mother, even when they’re being obnoxious and making my life so damn hard sometimes. But you also don’t know my children. They whine, pester, pull, and climb on me. Literally. Constantly.
I’m Not Quite As Apathetic Towards My Kids As I Sound. Really. I Promise.
Of course I want my children to have a fun, memorable summer. I want all of us to. We have a couple of lake vacations coming up but I’ll also be taking them to parks, pools, zoos, the library and a few outdoor community events that might peak our interest (I actually spent three hours this past weekend standing in line, guarding their shoes and watching them jump on one giant inflatable after another).
Beyond that, we’ll play games, have ice cream outings or get a little crafty now and then. We already have a couple of sports sprinkled in here and there but we will not be busy EVERY SINGLE DAY. We’ll have plenty of wonderfully sweet, lazy summer days.
I planned it this way. I didn’t want to completely book our whole break with back-to-back activities and camps because that’s exactly what the whole school year was about. I just wanted my kids to be kids, filling up those long, dog days of summer with their imaginations rather than being guided every step of the way. Chill. Play. Relax. Repeat.
The Blame Game
Since things haven’t been working out as planned, I’ve repeatedly gone over this question of why my kids are so blasé about going outside and I’ve got a few bones to pick here…
I blame helicopter parents. I used to run around free as a lark when I was a kid. Our days were spent biking to parks that were blocks and blocks away, traversing different streets for hours–sometimes getting lost but always finding our way home, going back and forth between other kids’ houses or building forts next to the neighborhood pond.
Today, I see the helicopter parents on their front porches or parked in their driveways in a lawn chair, hovering over their kids while they play, and I feel slightly ashamed if I’m not out there all hawk-eyed over my kids, too. I can’t deny my own fears about possible kidnappers, neighborhood bullies, or inattentive drivers speeding down our road but I also want my children to be able find their independence before they hit college.
I’m caught between wanting my kids to be a bit more free-range than they are while at the same time, worrying if a neighbor is going to call social work on me because I let my kids walk to Caribou Coffee alone. The backyard was supposed to be the happy medium here.
I blame all electronics. We often have to confiscate our daughter’s laptop to avoid hours of playing and fighting over Roblox, put passwords on our home computers so the eight-year old doesn’t search up twerking boobs and butts again, lock our bedroom door so the boys won’t have access to the mind-numbing YouTube channels on the SmartTV, and we used to have to hide the Nintendo Switch.
My kids would sneak playing the Switch even when they were told not to (yes, that is how naughty they are) so we would take it away and hide it somewhere. I hid it once and forgot where I put it so it was gone for a while. Unfortunately, I had put it between two rugs in a laundry basket and it magically reappeared one day in our washing machine, after the load of laundry was complete.
Even with the Nintendo Switch gone, unfettered access to the remaining electronics only feeds my kids’ addiction so I try my hardest to limit their use, something that is becoming more difficult in a world that relies so heavily on them nowadays.
I blame the weather. People in this state usually have a jam-packed summer because they are trying to cram in all of the warm weather-related activities into a three month span since the rest of the year pretty much sucks. Their kids’ sports, activities and camps end up being squeezed in between those trips to the cabin or days on the lake.
So, if you are a kid that has parents who would prefer the go-with-the-flow approach to summer, like us, finding a friend in the neighborhood might be difficult. Can that six-year old down the street come out and play? I don’t know, he might have an opening in mid-August but he’ll need to check his schedule first and get back to you.
A Simple Fix?
I can lay blame all I want but that’s not going to fix my children’s boredom. I’m not taking this crap laying down, though. These kids are playing outside one way or the other.
I’ve compiled a list of my own ideas along with some other great ideas I’ve found by scouring the internet. I tried to keep them simple because I don’t want to have to go shopping for things or spend hours preparing an outdoor activity that will only provide me with twenty minutes of mama-relaxation time.
I’m going to print off this bad-boy of a list and post it on the freakin’ fridge for my lovely little heathens who regrettably lack imagination. Then I’m going to highlight whatever activities they choose to do because I don’t want to hear that loathsome phrase “there’s nothing to dooo…” until they’ve hit all 30 of them and then some. This list was made for you too friends, so feel free to copy, print, and post it on your own fridge!
30 Fun Things To Do Outside This Summer
- Make pirate treasure maps for each other to follow and take turns finding a cool toy or other “treasure” that one of you has hidden.
- Use sidewalk chalk to make a city with roadways or a racetrack for your Hotwheels.
- Make a fairy or toad garden with old containers, dirt, and small plastic toys. Or skip the dirt and make a village out of rocks and sticks for your action figures.
- Line up your action figures or army men all around the outside of the playhouse and try to shoot them down with your nerf gun.
- Pretend your playhouse is a pirate’s ship, an island, a castle, a rocket ship, or a little cabin in the woods.
- Go on a bug safari and then make a bug hotel for the bugs you find.
- Set up a ninja obstacle course using the playset and other outdoor toys. Time each other to see who can finish it the fastest.
- Play tag for cryin’ out loud.
- Play old school games like Simon Says, Mother May I, Capture the Flag, Kick the Can, Ghost in the Graveyard, Blindman’s Bluff, and Piggy in the Middle. Ask me or ask Alexa/Siri/Google if you don’t know what these are.
- Draw, color, or play a board game on a blanket or the patio table.
- Read books or have a picnic on a blanket.
- Make up a nature scavenger hunt and then go scavenging.
- Make a nature collage or scrapbook. Press flowers between parchment or wax paper and heavy books.
- Create a time-capsule and then ask daddy where he’d prefer you to bury it. Do not dig holes in his lawn. I repeat, do not dig holes in his lawn.
- Make a sensory box. Cut a hole into an old shoe box and make sure it is big enough for your hand to fit through. Find interesting things from outside to put in the box. Have each other try to guess what’s in the box by touch.
- Play with water. Have water gun or water balloon fights. Run through the sprinkler.
- Do laundry the old-fashioned way. Grab some old wash cloths or doll clothes to wash in one soapy bucket, rinse in another, and hang on a rope to dry.
- Have a car wash in the drive-way. Wash your bikes, trikes, and scooters. Or wash and shine mommy’s car. If you do, you might earn some money.
- Play with classics like bubbles, hula-hoops, jump rope, and hopscotch.
- Play a sport like soccer, T-ball, dodgeball, volleyball, badminton, and other games like backyard bowling, frisbee, lawn darts, or ring toss.
- Make a mini book of crayon rubbings using an unwrapped crayon and different objects outside. Write on the back of each page what object you took a rubbing of and go through each other’s books trying to guess where they all came from.
- Play hide-and-seek. Or hide small toys or last spring’s Easter eggs in the yard.
- Use your imagination with a cardboard moving box. Cut and color it to make a fast-food drive-thru, lemonade stand, clubhouse, bank teller, or jail house. What other cool things can you do with this box?
- Explore the backyard with a magnifying glass and write about your discoveries in a field journal. Little kids that can’t write yet can be the explorers’ assistants.
- Create a mini golf course in the backyard. Try using pool noodles as golf clubs for some added silliness.
- Find rocks for painting. Make them look like bugs or animals. Paint smaller rocks gold and hide them in dirt or rock piles and then go gold mining.
- Use a rope and a hangar with clips to zoom your toys or stuffies down a zip-line.
- Freeze tiny toys in plastic containers and then “excavate” them with old tooth brushes dipped in warm water or with hard plastic utensils.
- Make a pully system with a bucket and a rope for your treehouse/playhouse.
- Have a watermelon seed spitting contest. Try to get them into a bucket to score points or see who can spit them the farthest.
Cultivating a Garden of Ideas
I don’t ever remember needing a list like this when I was a child. Play just came naturally for me and my sisters. We were always thinking up new things to do and we’d go from one game to the next until it started getting dark outside.
It makes me both sad and nauseated that I even have to give my children ideas in the first place. When left to their own imaginations though, anything they come up with only lasts for a little while and they are right back right where they started–bored and inside the house.
I’m afraid I’m going to have to nurture my children’s creativity a bit more than I previously thought was necessary. I think this list will be a good start. My goal is for them to pick out an activity to begin with, have fun playing together and then hopefully, new ideas of their own will blossom from it organically.
Some of the best childhood memories are made by the adventures and fantasies a child creates by themselves. Let’s give our children a magical summer this year by watering the seeds of their imagination. But then, we must allow our little flowers to flourish all on their own, under the warm rays of the summer sun.