Lazy, Low-Cost, At-Home Summer Activities For Littles
It’s only May, yet my leather seats have already begun to burn the backs of my legs when I get in the car. The girls are complaining of hot metal buckles and the A/C can barely keep up. My kitchen suddenly has flies and the house feels a lot cooler with the curtains shut and there’s no denying–summer is upon us.
While there are camps and sleepovers and service projects to keep the big kids busy–what about the little ones? How do you occupy small children for hours a day, seven days a week, while working and running the house? I know plenty of parents do this all the time (shout out to the homeschool families!), but I am not one of them, so I’ve had to get creative over the last few years!
For reference, I work full-time at home and I am also the primary caretaker of our three children, ages six and under, and my partner works at his office. In order to have time to get things done but also provide some actual playtime, I’ve come up with the following kid-tested and approved activities that require minimal effort and low cost.
*The activities listed can be used for nearly any age, but I only have experience with ages 0-6 so far, so I can’t speak to how enjoyable these would be for older kids*
Sprinkler Dance Party
Starting with everyone’s favorite and most-requested: sprinkler dance party in the backyard! I’ve been doing this one since my oldest was two-years old, and it’s quickly become the old “tried and true” on those hot summer days. This is usually a late afternoon activity in our house as it wears them out for bed time, but morning time is great too if you need those littles to nap! All it involves is a basic sprinkler + hose, swimsuits + sunscreen, snacks + drinks, and a bluetooth speaker. I set the sprinkler up in the backyard, get the kids ready, play a kid-safe playlist on Spotify on the speaker as loud as they want, and they go to town. While they’re running around, I go fix a few snacks in multiple bowls and grab some juice boxes and popsicles. Snacks usually include things like apples slices, pretzels, goldfish, peeled oranges, cut grapes, celery sticks, cookies, etc. — whatever your babies like. I set those snacks / juice boxes / popsicles out on their little kid-sized, outdoor table and they are free to snack and play for as long as they’d like. This will typically keep them busy for 1 to 2 hours! If I need to work, I go inside and sit at the kitchen table to supervise them through the window. Otherwise, I grab my book and enjoy the sunshine with them! Bonus: add a bubble machine for extra fun!
Daytime Shower Fun
This activity almost always follows activity number one. After a couple of hours in the hot sun, they’re exhausted and sweaty, and usually extra dirty from the mud and grass. I bring them in the shower where the dance party continues (because why not?) and let them play for a few minutes longer before scrubbing the sunscreen and dirt off of everyone. I usually have their favorite pajamas or lounge-around clothes laid out for them, and we do some “extra” self-care like lavender and peppermint lotion and combing leave-in conditioner through their hair. Then we lay out all the comfy blankets and pillows on the ground by the TV, and we pick out a movie. I’ll fix them water bottles and little bowls of popcorn and turn off all of the lights. If I need to get some things done, I usually get about 30 minutes before I’m needed again. Or I just snuggle and enjoy the movie with them!
Amazon Box Painting
If you’re an Amazon fanatic like me, then I know you probably have cardboard boxes piling up in the garage waiting for the trash — but those boxes are actually perfect for painting! If you take them apart and lay it flat into one giant piece, you’ve got a canvas perfect for tiny fingers. Actually, if your little one is in pull-ups, check out the inside of that box — it’s actually a giant coloring / painting book once you take it apart and lay it flat! Anyways, I set these boxes up in the shade of my backyard (I have a concrete patio) and pour washable, non-toxic paint into disposable bowls and disperse them all over the laid-out boxes. I have my kids either wear clothes we don’t mind ruining or if they so choose, just paint in their underwear (you know it’s hot enough). I’ll have paint brushes and sponges out for them but honestly, they love getting covered in paint head-to-toe during this activity, so you don’t really need those. Afterwards, leave the boxes out to dry in the sun, and have a fun “hose bath” if you want to keep the mess outside! This activity requires a little bit more supervision, but I’m still able to get a few things done here and there if I’m not in the mood to paint. Again, music and bubbles add extra magic!
For rainy days that don’t involve lightning, my kids go splash in the puddles and mud. They love putting on their little rain boots and raincoats, and if we have kid umbrellas that aren’t bent to hell then they play with those, too. After a while in the rain, they usually come inside dripping and muddy from head-to-toe, and so we initiate activity number 2.
Kids love to “help” in the kitchen, but it isn’t always ideal to have them underfoot while you cook. But cookies? Perfect for tiny hands! We keep a couple of step-stools around the house, so the girls can all reach the counters and help measure and pour ingredients. If you’re not a baker, a store-bought mix is just as fun! The kids like to pull out all of the bakeware and ingredients needed and organize them on the counter. For multiple kids, have an order in which they can each help; for example, my youngest goes first, then the middle, then the oldest, then it repeats for each step of the recipe. If something calls for multiple measurements, I’ll split that step up for multiple kids, just to keep the turns moving quickly. So for example, if the recipe calls for 2 teaspoons of vanilla, kid no. 1 gets to measure and pour one teaspoon, kid no. 2 gets to measure and pour the second. This activity is also good for math lessons, science lessons, and reading practice. For extra fun, they put on their play aprons and chef hats (and so do I). Obviously this activity is entirely hands-on for us parents, but it’s low-brain power and actually pretty fun!
Dinner and A Fort
This is super easy and for some reason, super fun. I don’t have much furniture in the living room that allows for fort / tent building, so I resort to pulling the chairs from the kitchen table and throw sheets and blankets over them in front of the T.V. The girls love this because that means they can’t eat dinner at the table–the chairs are all being used! We pack the inside of the tent with our favorite comfy pillows, and then we cook dinner together. Dinner has to be easy to eat when you’re dining in a tent, so it’s typically pizza or breakfast-for-dinner (these are “special” dinners in our house, so this is extra exciting for them). We pick out a movie/show to watch, snuggle up, and eat our dinner in the tent we built together. Sometimes we grab flashlights and turn off all the other lights for a ~spooky~ effect! Hint: lay down an easy-to-wash sheet or blanket on the floor of the tent to protect your carpet / rugs from dinner spills and crumbs.
Weeding the Garden
Yep, let your kids weed the garden! I happen to have a pretty big front yard garden area, so this takes up quite a bit of time and keeps them busy. Usually this is a weekend family activity, but there have been times I’ve taken the kids out to the garden on my own just to get their little bodies moving. We like to make some yummy lemonade or mint tea beforehand and prepare a few snacks to take outside with us. Then, we sunscreen up and get our hands dirty. My youngest is only two, but she knows the different between a weed and a plant and happily yanks them out the dirt all day long. The kids love being part of team and being useful, and of course, they love to ask me about the different plants and bugs they come across. Sometimes they take a break and wander around the yard collecting fallen leaves, acorns, twigs, clovers, etc. This is another good use for those Amazon boxes–we have three small cardboard boxes full of wildflowers and magnolia leaves sitting on our front porch right now! For easy clean-up, we give each kid a grocery bag to put the pulled weeds in and bring the garbage can around front. They use their little garden tools and gardening gloves you can easily find at Walmart this time of year, but of course, those aren’t necessary to have fun in the garden! Bonus: wildflower seeds are cheap and easy to find at your local gardening center or online and are perfect for tiny hands to plant!