In the long summer months, keeping kids entertained can be exhausting and expensive. When I was a kid, my mom used to watch me and my six cousins while my aunts and uncles were at work. We were lucky enough to have a pool in the backyard which usually took up most of our attention (along with some truly ’90s recipes), but my mom was always on the lookout for other inexpensive things for us to do. Here are a few timeless summer activities we drummed up:
Entertaining this summer? Take a look at our ultimate summer party guide.
1. Make homemade ice cream
For the days that are just too hot outside, have some fun in the kitchen by making ice cream. With help from an ice cream maker ($50), this cool treat comes together in just an hour or two. But if you don’t have an ice cream machine, you’re not out of luck! It will take a bit longer, but making ice cream without a machine is pretty simple.
- Combine 2 cups of heavy cream, 2 cups of half-and-half, 1 cup of sugar and 2 teaspoons of vanilla extract in a bowl until all of the sugar has dissolved.
- Transfer the ice cream mix to a glass 13×9 pan and pop it in the freezer for 20 to 30 minutes.
- Once the edges have started to freeze, pull it out of the freezer and churn it. You and your kids can do this with a hand mixer or whisks, breaking up any solid pieces.
- Put the ice cream back into the freezer and repeat the churning process until the ice cream has set (about 5 or 6 times).
- When the ice cream reaches your desired texture, scoop it up and serve!
Get more tips for how to make ice cream without an ice cream maker.
For more fun: Let the kids add their own toppings. Fill a few small bowls with chopped nuts, sliced fruit, sprinkles, whipped cream or some of these homemade sauces to personalize their scoop.
2. Visit the library
Keep your little one’s brains moving over the summer with a few trips to your local library. Help them sign up for their first library card, wander around the stacks and pick out the book that’s best for them. Meanwhile, you can grab a copy your favorite Taste of Home cookbook—or purchase a copy to keep.
Pro tip: Find your local library location at usa.gov/libraries.
While you’re at your library, see if they have any events going on. Many will run reading clubs throughout the summer that will give your kids chances to win prizes, host storytimes and attend book clubs.
If you can’t find time to make it to the library, check to see if they participate in Overdrive, a program that lets you check out library ebooks and audiobooks to download to your smartphone or tablet from anywhere in the world. Start your kids off with one of these children’s books about food.
3. Pack a picnic
Get your kids excited about lunch by taking them on a picnic. Encourage kids to help assemble the pack by completing this checklist:
- Assemble sandwiches
- Pack snack bags with fruit, veggies and crackers
- Fill water bottles
- Corral napkins, plates or any other serving tools
Take your family’s picnic to a local park and enjoy some sunshine. After their meal, the kids can run around in the grass, play on the jungle gym or play one of these outdoor games.
In need of some food inspiration? Take a look at these summer recipes that can go in your picnic basket.
4. Go produce picking
Whether you’re on the hunt for berries, peaches, corn or other farm-fresh ingredients, produce picking is a fun way to get outside with your kids and teach them about where their food comes from. Most pick-your-own farms are open daily throughout the summer and only request you pay for the produce you pick. If you’re not sure if your local farm is a pick-your-own, or even where your nearest farm is, visit pickyourown.org for information on your closest farm, no matter where you live.
While produce picking is fairly easy, you’ll want to make sure you pack a few supplies.
- A bucket for each person who is picking. The size of bucket depends on what you’re picking and how much of it you want (after all, you’ll have to pay for everything you’ve picked), but having handles is a must for little kids.
- Hats and sunblock. Walking around produce fields in the summer sun can be hard on children’s skin and eyes. Protect them by applying sunblock every 90 minutes and keeping a hat on.
- Wet wipes. Kids (and adults) will want to sneak a berry or two while picking. Clean any sticky hands and faces with a swipe of a wet wipe. Stock up for the summer with a bulk supply here. ($12)
- Cash. Most farms won’t have a cash register that accepts credit or debit cards, so pack a few dollars before you leave home. You can estimate spending about $2-3 per pint, depending on the type of produce.
Once you get home, give your fruits and veggies a good rinse and store. Psst! Here’s how long your fresh produce really lasts.
5. Backyard camping
Roasting marshmallows and sleeping in tents shouldn’t be an experience that’s exclusive to a campground. Let your kids set up their own campsite in the backyard by pitching a tent and laying out some sleeping bags—just make sure you have plenty of bug spray!
When the sun goes down, strike up a game of flashlight tag, tell spooky ghost stories and make s’mores. You can even have them help cook dinner over an open fire with these easy camping recipes.
Take a look at our ultimate guide to backyard camping for even more ideas.
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