Relax, here are 10 great summer fun and games - compiled from parents, grandparents and activity book authors - for a low-key, creative or even boisterous celebration of summer.
1. Set up a lemonade stand. This tried-and-true entrepreneurial endeavor will keep kids occupied for hours. Make the lemonade from scratch:
• Bring 1/4 cup of water to a boil.
• Add 1/4 cup of sugar and stir until dissolved, then remove from heat.
• Using a juicer and six fresh lemons, have children squeeze out lemon juice and add this to the sugar-water mixture.
• To make a pitcherfull, add five cups of cold water and plenty of ice cubes.
For the lemonade stand, set up a small table and a homemade sign on the sidewalk or front lawn. You could add a jar of jelly beans or gumdrops or a plate of homemade cookies. Help children determine what to charge for a cup of lemonade and accompanying snacks. Be sure to stick around. This kind of sales training keeps kids enthused, but should include adult supervision.
2. Make ice cream the old-fashioned way. The hand-cranked way, that is. You'll need a hand-cranked, wooden-barreled ice cream maker, several bags of ice, a bag of rock salt and a good ice cream recipe. If you don't have the machine and don't want to buy one, borrow it from a friend or rent one. The fun is in making the ice cream mixture and then taking turns cranking the machine until a soft, sweet, ice cream forms. Do this with just your family or invite a few neighbors over to join in the fun. With all the electric ice-cream makers out there, the hand-cranked variety may seem foreign. But the manual labor is sweetly rewarded.
3. Be a cloud gazer. There is nothing like the delighted face of a toddler who's just laid back on the grass and taken in a full, uninterrupted view of the sky for the first time. Anyone can enjoy this simple bit of leisure. Pick out animals or other objects in the cloud shapes. Make up a story, share your memories and dreams or just lie there. Pick a time in the afternoon when the sun isn't quite so bright, but there's a good variety of puffy, white clouds to enjoy.
4. Play a game of croquet. A good croquet set sells for more than $30 these days, but look for summer sales. This game is for everyone and worth the expense. It consists of wooden mallets and balls, colorful end stakes and several wickets. The object is to hit a ball through a series of wickets placed strategically between the two wooden stakes. Part of the fun is hitting another player's ball and deciding whether to take another turn or whack the competitor's ball off course. Children as young as 4 or 5 can play, but may need smaller mallets or help handling the standard mallets.
5. Cool off with water balloons. Fill up small balloons with cool water and throw them at a designated target, toss them high into the air and see whose pops first or have an all-out water battle. Just be sure your younger children want to get wet. Otherwise, you'll be in for an unpleasant ending to what was intended as fun. The best balloons are miniature sized, meaning no one will be overwhelmed by an explosion of water when a balloon hits them.
6. Host a backyard carnival. Remember those carnival kits you could get from McDonald's restaurants back in the '70s? The kits are gone, but the idea isn't. Brainstorm several carnival booths:
• a water balloon or baseball toss
• squirt guns and targets
• guessing what's under a box or cup
• a table for playing the card game of "concentration" or "memory" Think of the booths you've seen at county fairs and create your own, simplified versions. Have older neighborhood kids help with the booths and post signs to invite other neighbors. Charge a nominal fee to help pay for expenses such as refreshments. Award ribbons, candy or small prizes at the booths.
7. Sponsor a "Silly Olympics" day. This could be a family event or a neighborhood competition. Think up ridiculous races, such as walking on a straight line blindfolded, hopping in burlap bags, or backwards race walking or running. Have competitors wear silly outfits and play up the contests for several days in advance. This is a great event to accompany a cookout with several families.
8. Throw a block party. Ask if you can get permission from your local police department to block off both ends of your street to keep traffic out for a few hours. The street then becomes party headquarters. Children will be able to run, bicycle or skate freely. You can even set up a badminton or volleyball net in the road. Designate a spot for barbecuing and serving food. Hold simple races for children, or kids and parents together.
9. Have an "Odd Fellows Parade." In one coastal town, a small neighborhood hosts this parade just for kids every year during the Fourth of July holiday weekend. But you could put on an "odd fellows parade" any time. Have neighborhood children devise special costumes - either favorite characters or creations of their own - and decorate their bicycles, skateboards, wagons, baby carriages or roller skates for the parade. Gather a group of parents to judge the "best in show," but award each participant a ribbon and perhaps some candy or token prize. If you decide to hold the parade in the street, you will need permission from local police. But a sidewalk can work just as well.
10. Camp out or picnic in your back yard. You don't have to pack up and drive away to live the camper's life. If you have a tent, set it up in the back yard, or fashion one from some blankets and poles. Or just throw a blanket on the lawn, haul out the paper plates and eat outside. Toast marshmallows on your barbecue grill and make s'mores - toasted marshmallow and a piece of chocolate bar squished between two graham crackers. As it gets dark, tell ghost stories, look for fireflies or try to find the constellations. If you choose to sleep outside overnight, you'll have your tent. If you prefer the indoors, you'll have your bed.
Deirdre Wilson is a senior editor for Dominion Parenting Media, Boston Parents Paper and Parenthood.com.
© Parenthood.com, used with permission.
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