17 Fun DIY Activities to Keep Kids Busy All Summer
While much of the world carries on as usual once school lets out for summer, parents of young children know the season can be challenging. The kids have endless hours to fill, and despite the best-laid plans, boredom is bound to take hold. Instead of panicking, have plans in place for make-at-home activities that are free or very cheap and bound to keep them entertained -- at least for a few hours.
What youngster doesn't like playing with dough? Instead of buying the real thing, make it at home with ingredients found in many kitchen cupboards. A quick online search reveals dozens of recipes, all of which use some combination of flour, cream of tartar, vegetable oil, food coloring, salt, boiling water, and glycerin (optional).
Making a slippery slide is easy to do at home. Find a tarp or shower curtain liner, or swing by a home improvement store to buy a roll of plastic sheeting. Stake it into the ground in a spot where the yard is sloped. Once the "slide" is in place, all that's needed is a hose and water. If the kids tire of the activity, up the messy factor by covering the plastic with a few cans of shaving cream (cheap at the dollar store) and more hours of fun will ensue.
For toddlers too young to fully enjoy a slide, create a water table experience. Families who don't have a table specially designed for sensory play can simply use a large, shallow plastic bin. Fill it with water and add seashells, rocks, plastic animals and critters, pinecones, and anything else that would provide a variety of textures and opportunities for make-believe play.
There's no need to buy bubbles when they can be made cheaply at home. Add 1 cup of water to 1 tablespoon dish soap. For sticky bubbles that don't pop as easily, add 1 tablespoon of sugar. Bubble wands can also be made at home by bending wire hangers into shapes such as hearts and circles. Another option is to cut off the bottom of a plastic, disposable water bottle, dip the cut end into the bubble solution, and blow out through the mouth of the bottle.
Another fun make-at-home activity is creating Oobleck a gooey substance described in a Dr. Seuss book. A bit liquid, a bit solid, Oobleck is 1 part water, 1 to 2 parts cornstarch, and a few drops of food coloring. The consistency should be solid (almost chalk-like) until the Oobleck is picked up. Then, it starts oozing through your fingers. This is silly fun for young and old alike.
Invite the kids to help in the garden this summer. Let them dig the holes to plant seeds and take care of weeds using a hand-held shovel. Then, put them in charge of watering. A watering jug for kids can be made from an empty milk carton by heating the end of a large needle and poking holes in the lid. Give older kids a plot in the garden and let them take charge of planting whatever food they would like to grow.
An easy DIY backyard game is kicking a ball through pool-noodle goal posts (noodles cost less than $2 each). Set up as many goals as the kids want by forming an arc and pinning each end of the noodle into the ground using bamboo sticks (the kind used for kabobs works well). Invite each child to practice kicking a soccer ball through each goal. For older kids, turn the game into giant-size croquet and keep score.
This DIY kids' activity from the blog Twodaloo will make any day feel like a beach day. Combine one-third cup water, one-third cup dish soap, 1 tablespoon cornstarch, and a few drops of liquid watercolor if desired (food coloring also works but may stain hands). Mix with an electric mixer until foamy. Deposit into a big tub, plastic bin, or water table and whip up additional batches until the container is sufficiently full. Add sea accessories, such as shells, rocks, plastic fish, or whatever waterproof toys can be found in the play chest.
When coloring books cease to amuse, make a huge coloring canvas. Buy a cheap, white shower curtain liner (the dollar store is a good source) and spread it out in the yard. Give the kids dry-erase markers and let them have at it. Once they've finished with the day's creation, hose off the sheet and pull it out again another day -- or use it for a homemade slip 'n' slide.
Fill a large, plastic kiddie pool with sand or dirt to make a sandbox or digging site. Bury some hidden treasures and hand over some shovels. The kids will spend hours digging and playing.
A DIY summertime kids' activity can't get any easier than this. All that's needed are squirt guns and plastic cups. Arrange the cups in any grouping (a pyramid always works well), fill the water gun, and take aim. This can be turned into a game for older kids by letting them compete to see who knocks down the most cups before running out of water.
A few binder clips or clothespins, squirt guns, and liquid water color are all this task requires. Clip pieces of paper to a fence, an easel, or a homemade wash line, and let kids take aim at the paper with the watercolor-filled squirt guns. Just be sure to remind them not to squirt each other.
Roll out several yards of butcher paper in the backyard and secure it with a few rocks. Drizzle washable or tempera paint in several different colors down the length and let the kids paint with their feet. This gets messy, but it's fun for everyone.
A hose, pool noodle, small piece of plastic, and duct tape are all that's needed to fashion a homemade sprinkler. Poke holes in a pool noodle, secure a piece of plastic on one end and duct tape it securely, slide the end of the hose through the other end of the noodle, and turn on the water. Hang the sprinkler from a tree branch or swing set, or lay it on the ground.
Bug catching kits are going to be popping up on store shelves any day now. Snag one for cheap at a dollar store and send the kiddos out to see what they can find. A mason jar with holes poked in the lid works too. This is an especially exciting activity when fireflies come out at night in some parts of the country.
Freeze small toys, such as plastic dinosaurs, rubber ducks, and figurines into ice blocks. Use whatever sizes and types of containers are lying around -- empty whipped topping or margarine tubs, plastic storage bins, a plastic bucket of any size. Give children the frozen blocks and cheap plastic tools, such as hammers and screwdrivers, and let them chip away until they discover the toy "fossils."
Enlist the kids to help mix lemonade and make cookies or other baked goods to sell with the lemonade. Then set up a small table and set out cups along with the lemonade and treats. Have the kids create signs and hang them where passersby can see them. Little entrepreneurs will find this especially entertaining.
Related: 16 Tips for Teaching the Kids About Money
Cheapism.com participates in affiliate marketing programs, which means we may earn a commission if you choose to purchase a product through a link on our site. This helps support our work and does not influence editorial content.