“Summer Fun in Your Own Backyard”

Find simplicity and balance in your summertime activites

Find simplicity and balance in your summertime activities

By Jennifer (Smith) Schuler

We have been reading and sharing many bloggers’ stories of graduating children, growing pains, and emptying nests. I feel a little left out because my son is only 3 years old. However, though I don’t have a child heading off to college, my family is preparing to feel a similar financial strain when he begins attending private school in the fall.

For us this will mean we need to shift our priorities in some areas of our household budget. Although little tweaks can make big differences in a bottom line, we fear there may be no grand family vacations for awhile!

Therefore I have been thinking about what we can do for some family fun – not only closer to home, yet perhaps even right here in our own backyard. With a little clever thinking, I’ll bet my young son won’t even know the difference. All he’ll know is that he is having a great time!

It’s wonderful to be able to get out of town and escape with your family on a fun-filled vacation during the summer. Yet sometimes that just isn’t possible – either with work or other commitment schedules, or because finances are tight. Here are some ideas for how to have a little summer fun with your children – right in your own backyard! Remember, summertime is for slowing down and letting go of some of those school year stresses. So as the famous song goes … “don’t worry, be happy!” Enjoy just being together even if you are simply hanging out and spending uninterrupted quality time with each other!

And don’t miss a photo gallery at the bottom of this post, illustrating all of these activities!

Turn Your Location into a Destination!

+ Add a twist to what your children learned during the school year. Just because school is out doesn’t mean the learning needs to stop. Kids learn best through play and engaging in the world around them anyway, so this also doesn’t need to come in the form of an indoor rainy day lecture. My son studied metamorphosis in preschool so we spent time around our butterfly bushes looking for different species and checking them out as they gathered nectar. Since the bushes border our deck, we sat leisurely at our picnic table – sharing snack while we observed nature around us hard at work!

+ As you spend time outside, tell your child a story. When you create a story from your surroundings, it is almost like you are in a book and gives a new twist to story time. You can create one based on a story you already know – such as the heart-pounding adventure tale we spun about the great giant Abiyoyo – or make up a new one. Either way, it’s fun to narrate your playtime!

+ Invite a close family friend to visit. Sometimes just a fresh face in your house – and someone new to play with (and spoil) your children brings excitement!

+ Turn unexpected expenditures into unique adventures! When we lost an enormous tree due to a summer storm, our planned trip out west was cancelled by the $4,000 removal bill. Instead of taking a family vacation, or purchasing the playground set we wanted, we let the chopped logs and sawed off stumps entertain our son. In fact, he continues to play in that area and doesn’t beg for a jungle gym! You’d be surprised what a child will enjoy doing using common outdoor and household items.

+ Let your children help with outside (or inside) chores, and teach them new responsibilities. Chores do not have to be mundane; my son and I have sung, danced, and paraded our way through many a household task. They also don’t have to be complicated. Whatever the experience, though, make it age-appropriate, simple (for a young child), and most   important – fun! My son loves to garden with his daddy, and is learning lots about nature and caring for the land at the same time.

+ Introduce a new outdoor toy. New doesn’t always mean large, complex, or expensive. We bought a nice sand & water table for a reasonable price. It came with a sun umbrella, sand tools, and water toys! Being able to relax in a comfy deck chair and watch my son enjoy the simplest of toys already had me less worried about entertaining him through the summer. Your child can even have water play in a tub filled with bubbles and bath toys if you can’t get outdoors or make it to a pool.

+ Eat ice cream! Need I say more?

Take a Trek Around Your Neighborhood for More Fun!

+ “Dine out” at an unexpected (and less expensive) place. My son and I have taken to eating an occasional lunch or dinner at our grocery store. You know the familiar saying, “Never go shopping when you’re hungry.” We have taken that to heart, and to him it is pretty cool!

+ Or just eat in! For a true money saving meal, we have started cooking more at home. Teaching your children to cook is one of the most important life skills you can help them master. There are also many “academic” skills you can subtly weave into food preparation – from reading (recipes), to math (measurement), to critical thinking (what to do if an ingredient is missing). Move your meal outdoors to put a unique spin on the usual dinner routine. Picnic table or picnic blanket – either way will give your kids a thrill!

+ Check out your local library’s summer class schedule. Ours runs classes for all ages year-round yet during the summer, program themes increase and so does the fun! It is good for your children to hear new people read, as well as to experience activities and crafts led by someone other than their parents. These classes have saved our rainy days and our let’s-get-out-of-the-house days, yet they are good for any day!

+ Let your children see you having fun! Once in awhile, take your child with you to a class (as long as it’s okay with your instructor, and safe and appropriate for kids to be present); or let them see you engaged in a hobby or exploring an interest.

+ Make a friend! Even a short, low-key play date with a new pal can make for a more interesting and lively day!

+ Dress-up, arts and crafts, and indoor/outdoor games are engaging and fun. Although I don’t consider myself a “crafty” or “athletic” person, I do try to offer my son materials to create various forms of art media and engage in a variety of physical activities.

+ Simply relax. In our society, often motion = productivity or fun. Yet just slowing down a bit during what is supposed to be those “lazy, hazy” days of summer can be refreshing. Wind down, take time to smell flowers, and nap. At the very least you’ll have energy for all the fun you’ll be having with your family in your backyard!

Hopefully some of these activities will bring you and your family a simple, inexpensive, and fun-filled summer. You may find that it takes less effort to entertain, keep happy, and even tire out your children than you think. Enjoy!

Click on any of the thumbnail images below, to open a photo gallery:

What are your ideas for simple, inexpensive summer fun? Please share with our community so we can all get ready to hit the … well – backyard!

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8 thoughts on ““Summer Fun in Your Own Backyard”

      • LOVE bike paths and ice cream – great combo! Many bike trails DO include ice cream shops along the way. Great idea, Kat – thanks!

        And Jennifer, this is an outstanding list of ideas, for fun literally at our fingertips. Many thanks for all your suggestions. I like the fact that your list does not contain electronics of any kind.

  1. Disney would have you think that some grand, expensive vacation is necessary every summer to make a lifetime of memories. Not so! Nothing can take the place of memories and laughs of camping in my backyard with my sister or friends, riding bikes with neighborhood friends until after dark, dragging a small tv and a picnic dinner out under the weeping willow tree because it was just too hot inside, or a day at Great Adventure with my dad and grandparents. It’s good to teach our children that money doesn’t make vacation/summer memories, people do. 🙂

    • Ah yes, the good ol’ days…I had similar experiences growing up — while all my friends were in Disney. In the long run, though, I believe I had the better time and more precious memories. Along those lines, I sometimes also feel as though people try to outdo each other with “look what I’m doing this summer.” Well, not everyone has the money to take those fancy vacays every year — we certainly don’t. Many times once you have children your vacations need to change to match your new – tighter – budget. Thank you for your thoughtful comments!

  2. Another fun, inexpensive summertime idea: There are several movie theaters near our home that offer free matinees once a week during the summer months. This is a fun way to escape the heat and be entertained at the same time! The only downside is that they are often crowded…

    If you really enjoy movies, then why not swap DVDs with other families? I don’t advocate lots of “screen time,” but we all need “down time” on busy summer days too. Swapping movies with other families is a great, inexpensive way to see a few new movies.

    And I couldn’t agree more with Jennifer’s comment above–that money doesn’t make vacation/summer memories… people do! Spending valuable family time together is what summer is all about to me.

  3. Pingback: Dreaming of Summer: Vacation Tips | Off the Merry-Go-Round

  4. I like the idea of a free matinee! Sometimes it is simply way too hot and humid to be outdoors for a long period of time, or beyond the early morning hours. An offer to swap DVDs with another family may also get you talking about other things your children/families could do together over the summer! Yes, it really is all about who you are with and your special time together doing “whatever” versus location, location, location. I do have to add, though, that it looks as though Karen has a few ideal vacation spots to try out! No matter what you choose to do this summer, OTMG readers, and how you choose to spend you time, have a safe and fun-filled summer!

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