Say bye-bye to your batteries and hello to sunshine, the blacktop, and some serious summer fun with these essential backyard games and activities for every age. We’ve pulled together our favorite old-school set—along with new ideas for creative outdoor crafting—that guarantee long afternoons of giggles (and maybe a little grime). Scroll down for our favorite ways to fill your summer days with sunshine.
Photo: LongitudeLatitude via flickr
Get Out the Jump Ropes
When it comes to old school fun that will leave you breathless—from giggles and activity, both—there’s nothing that outdoes a round of jump roping. Check out these six jump rope games by Today’s Parent that work for every age and skill level to jog your memory of just how it’s done.
Play Twilight Games
It’s summer. You can’t send them to bed before the sun goes down! So for the extra hour or two of fun each summer day brings, try these twilight games on for size. From Ghosts in the Graveyard to Flashlight Tag, they’ll be running, laughing, and jumping their way to a good night’s sleep.
Draw Chalk Art Photo Props
Is there a kid out there who doesn’t like seeing themselves in a silly photo? With chalk, you can create any backdrop you wish, and even draw your little Picassos right into the pictures. Fourth of July? Add a top hat and walking cane and Sam becomes Uncle Sam!
Have a Sponge Ball War
Better than a water balloon fight (sayonara, plastic balloons all over the yard!), these DIY sponge balls by It’s Overflowing are reusable, versatile (turn an afternoon of tossing them at each other into an evening of washing your car, perhaps?), and a total blast.
Whip Up Some Garden Soup
Could it get any easier? All it takes is a bucket, some water, and as many little hands to gather ingredients from around the yard as you can get. They’ll enjoy hours of fun making batch after batch of this pretend soup, and you can up the educational ante by giving them a blank notebook for writing down each recipe—and a “souper” cool cookbook!
Photo: Green and Gorgeous
Maybe the thrill of that new bike has worn off, or possibly it’s still her favorite toy and she’d love nothing more than to jazz it up a little. Either way, these awesome ideas for tricking out your wheels are a sure-fire way to to add a little sizzle to the summer afternoon.
Make and Decorate Mud Pies
It’s okay. A little dirt under the fingernails never hurt anyone, as long as you give them a good scrub down at the end of the day. Your tiny chefs will love adding “ingredients” from the “grocery store” (the backyard), then decorating the cakes, displaying them, and selling them to one lucky buyer.
Create an Obstacle Course
On your mark, get set, GO! Whether you’re staging a relay race or a full-tilt foot race, all you need for a memorable obstacle course is whatever you’ve got in your garage (think big wheels, basketballs, and jump ropes) and a little creativity. Want to up the ante? Add a stopwatch, and you’ll have them competing against their own PRs all afternoon long. Nothing gets the giggles going more than an obstacle that involves some improv dancing!
Make a Fairy Garden
Tomatoes and okra are for us old folks. If you want to get your little farmers psyched to grow something, spend an afternoon creating a fairy garden, instead. Learn how, right here.
Photo: Anthony Arrigo via flickr
Play with Hoola-Hoops
Who says you have to have moves like Jagger to have some fun with a hoola hoop? Check out these awesome hula hoop games by Learn Play Imagine for inspiration, and you’ll be amazed at the different and new ways you can play with one of the oldest toys imaginable.
Make a Birdhouse from an Empty Juice Jug
Whether you decorate your tiny abode with found materials, recycled materials, or opt to dip it in glitter (our favorite), your little birdies will love that they’re creating a home for a feathered friend, and you’ll have a great conversation starter about recycling!
Recreate Giant Board Games
Who says you have to re-invent the wheel? Take one board game, such as Candyland, and draw a series of life-sized squares on the blacktop to represent the squares on the board. Borrow the spinning wheel from the real game, but let your littles be the participants! Just be sure to define what it means to “jump a player” before you get started!
Photo: Bruno Sanchez-Andrade Nuño via flickr
Stargaze on a Clear Night
Perfect for summer (bedtime? what?), an evening of stargazing is a guaranteed crowd pleaser. Check out these tips for planning your own celestial adventure with the kiddos (with our without the expensive gear).
String Cereal and Popcorn for Bird Feeders
Now that you have a well-appointed home for your neighborhood bird association, why not put in a little live-work-play to increase it’s value? String cereal or popcorn on a string to make a food garland, and drape it in the trees near your new bird house.
Make Ice Volcanos
Looking to get a little messy with your thrill seekers? With a little bit of prep the night before, these homemade ice volcanos erupt into colorful, fizzy “lava” with the help of a little “magic.” Check out Reading Confetti for the play-by-play.
Build a Worm Farm
Perfect for a post-rainshower airing out, you’ll be needing a few ingredients for this activity—that buys you hours of entertainment, by the way—including a trowel, a clear Dixie cup, and mixed natural materials. Thanks, Frugal Fun for Boys! (But we think girls would “dig” this activity, too!)
Toss and Create Eggshell Art
Skeptics, we know you’re out there. What could be fun about filling eggshells with paint and throwing them at a canvas? But converts you’ll be when you realize that there’s not only a satisfying smack when the eggshell meets the canvas but you’ll also have a crew of delighted kiddos at getting to do something you’d never, ever, EVER do inside. Look to Growing a Jeweled Rose for inspiration (and great tips on preserving those egg shells!).
Wash a Car
This one is a win-win for everyone. You might just need to make sure to give your car a final rinse before calling it a day, because the Dawn you give them will be Dawn that goes on the car—we’re thinking about the foaming soap issues, people! And be sure to lock your doors prior to starting. There’s nothing less fun than an interior detail job done by a 5 year old.
Walk on Eggs
This is one cool party trick to have up your sleeves! Wondering how you kiddo could possibly pull this off? We’re betting you’ll be amazed at the explanation. Check out Playdough to Plato to learn the science behind this activity.
Build a DIY Water Wall
It’s tinkering at it’s finest. Raid your recycling bin and nab a few nails, because this DIY water wall couldn’t be easier to put together. And, it promises hours of fun as the small set pours, and pours, and pours to their hearts’ contents. Add food coloring to the water and spin the bottles to create new flow patterns for even more fun! Thanks for the idea, Tinker Lab!
Make Ice Paint
We all love food on a stick, so why wouldn’t we adore paint on a stick, too? Just mix a little water with your non-toxic paint du jour and stick it in the freezer, either in solo cups or ice cube containers. Add a popsicle stick halfway through freezing, then pop the cubes out and you’re ready to go!
Play Hide and Seek
No. Brainer. This classic is classic for a reason, and it’s never better employed than at dusk, when you need to let them run out that last burst of energy before bedtime.
Make and Play Giant Pick Up Sticks
Instead of playing pick up sticks with the chopstick-sized sticks of our youth, why not spray paint the sticks in your yard and play with those, instead? The added bonus? Guess who helps you gather the sticks out of your yard! And they say they’re too young for yard work… Thanks, I Heart Naptime, for the great idea!
Have a Water Balloon Fight
When the temperatures soar, so will the spirits if you’ve got a bag of water balloons handy. No balloons? No problem. Just turn the hose on and play water tag with the hose as your wild ones race around you, trying to dodge your aim.
Look for Pictures in the Clouds
After all of these fun activities, the last, and best one on your bucket list is to lay back in the grass and hunt for pictures floating by in the clouds.
Make Wind Chimes
We know they have a collection. It might be a collection of sticks. Maybe it’s their favorite leaves. Whatever it is that you end up with pocketfuls of at then end of an afternoon outside, we can guarantee they’ll love turning their treasures into a wind chime. Add glitter, paint, or string alone to pull together an afternoon of fun. Get inspired here.
How do you turn your backyard into a primo playtime pad? Let us know in the comment section below!
– Copy and photos by Shelley Massey unless otherwise noted.