Two kids playing with a water hose in backyard

Fun outdoor activities for kids.

"Just go outside and play!"

Parents have been repeating that phrase to children each summer for generations. The question is, what are kids supposed to do once they get out there?

If you’re looking for outdoor activities that are fun, free (or nearly so) and spark kids’ imaginations, try these on for size:


  1. Explore a farmer’s market – Turn produce shopping into a scavenger hunt by handing your kids a list of fruits and vegetables and instructing them to find them. Depending on their ages, you can categorize them by name or color. Later, you can all have an outdoor cookout, working together to create a meal from the produce you shopped for together.

  2. Get artsy! – Summer is a great time for outdoor craft projects. A sidewalk chalk mural is a great place to start. It’s even better if it contains a message like, “Welcome Home, Dad/Mom!” to greet a parent when they get home from work. Your youngsters may also enjoy creating nature sculptures by pressing flowers, leaves, shells and other natural materials they find into model magic or craft clay. Another option: transform a fallen tree branch into a walking stick be decorated with patterned duct tape or paint.

  3. Combine art with exercise – Turn a family hike into an archeological expedition by collecting rocks along the way. Once you’re back home, your kids can use paint to decorate them with pictures or words. The finished products can be used to decorate a garden or redistributed along a trail for others to discover and enjoy.

  4. Pick up trash around your neighborhood or a local park. – Give each child a trash bag and the opportunity to make their slice of the world a better place. You might even turn a park clean-up into a friendly competition. The person or team that fills its bag first wins a prize! Older kids might want to go a step further and separate garbage from recyclables.

  5. Create an A-Z scavenger hunt. – “A” is for ant. “B” is for butterfly. “C” is for…let your kids figure it out! Send them on a backyard scavenger hunt with the instruction to find something that begins with every letter of alphabet. Creativity counts!

  6. Plant a family or community garden. – Here’s an activity that can last all summer – and connects kids with the natural world and the source of their food in the process. Planting, tending and harvesting food from a garden provides countless lessons along the way. Children can learn to recognize different vegetables while they’re still in the ground. They can watch plants grow and see how they develop. Many are more willing to try a new food if they have been involved in growing it. Even young children who enjoy water play can make watering the garden the highlight of their day.

  7. Camp in your backyard – A backyard sleepover and a night of flashlight stories and stargazing can create fond memories that will last a lifetime – even if the kids come inside when it’s time for bed. For added fun, create a small “s'mores bar” by filling a large, flat planter with stones and heat fuel cans where kids can roast marshmallows. (Once the fire is lit, adult supervision is required!)

  8. Get creative with games. – A few large cardboard boxes, hula hoops, plastic cones -- even old tires can make a fun obstacle course. Pour sand in the bottom of plastic soft drink bottles and use a kickball for a game of outdoor bowling. If temperatures are soaring, teach your kids to play Drip, Drip, Drop. It’s similar to Duck, Duck, Goose. With this game, however, instead of tapping the other kids on their heads, the leader pours water from a jar or watering can on the others while walking around the outside of the circle. A drip equals a small amount of water; a drop – well, you get the idea.

  9. Host a neighborhood talent show or awards show. – Jacob from across the street can juggle. His neighbor Annabelle is learning to play the guitar. Have your kids invite them and others in the neighborhood to share their talents in a background talent show. If they enjoy playing dress up, invite them – parents and all – to a neighborhood award show. The kids can design homemade trophies for things like “Best-smelling barbecue,” “Most likely to have their trash cans at the curb first,” “Best sport in wiffleball” – or whatever makes your neighbors’ special. The kids can then take turns making the presentations.

  10. Make time for silliness – If you can’t be silly and giggle in the summer, when can you? Invite your kids to put on their swimsuits and swim goggles. Then, as they lay on a beach towel outside, give them a small ice cream cone. Rather than hand it to them as you ordinarily would, place it in their open mouth. A sibling or friend can then decorate the cone with sprinkles, chocolate syrup or whip cream from above before the child sits up to enjoy their cone. Giggles and fun are sure to ensue! Keep a hose or bucket of water nearby for cleanup.

The only limits to outdoor summer fun are your kids’ creativity! Present them with options like these, and they will likely come up with more ideas of their own. So relax, and have fun!



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