There are approximately 14 weeks of summer, give or take a few depending on the calendar, between Memorial Day and Labor Day, and this summer is going to be like no other. Schools were dismissed in March, so kids have already been home for several months even before their summer vacation began. Moms and dads have been serving double duty not only as parents, but also as teachers, and many of them are pressed trying to keep the kiddos occupied. While a lot of traditional summer fun activities have either been curtailed, postponed, or modified, kids still need something to do. Even during a “normal” year, you often hear this familiar summer lament from kids, “I’m bored.” To keep the kids engaged this summer, here are some free or inexpensive activities for you to do with the kids this summer, one for each week.

Make Homemade Ice Cream

What’s better than an experiment that you can eat? If you teach your kids how to make ice cream, they will not only learn about temperature transference but also will be able to eat the result. All you need is a 1-lb. coffee can and a 3-lb coffee can, rock salt, and ice. The recipe for the ice cream is 2 cups of heavy whipping cream, 1 tsp. vanilla, ½ cup sugar, pinch of salt. Mix the ingredients together and place in the 1-lb can and seal tightly. Place that can inside the 3-lb can and put in a layer of ice around the smaller can and then alternate with rock salt, keep layering until the can is filled. Put the lid on the larger can and then begin rolling the can. Depending upon the heat and humidity, it takes about 15 minutes for the rock salt to melt the ice and the ice cream to freeze. If it’s hot outside, you may need to refill the can with rock salt and ice again until the ice cream mixture freezes.

Fire Snakes

The kids will be impressed with this science experiment. You will need a fireproof container, preferably ceramic, and about 2 cups of dry sand. Mound the sand in the container and make a small well in the middle. Be sure to make it only a small well and not a deep hole. Squirt some lighter fluid on the sand. Use enough to soak the top, and then let it absorb in, don’t use too much. In another bowl, mix 2 tsp. of sugar with 2 tsp. of baking soda. Place the sugar and baking soda mixture in the well in the sand. Light the sand near the sugar mixture (an adult should do this). As the mixture burns, it will bubble and turn black and a “snake” will start to slowly grow.

Become a Botanist

Do your kids know the names of the flowers blooming in your yard? Can your children identify the trees in our area? You can go old school and look them up in a book, or you can download the free Picture This App. When you find a plant, tree, or flower you’d like to know more about, you simply take a photo of it, and the app will identify it for you. You aren’t restricted to your own neighborhood. Take a nature walk and get to know the things growing in our area.

Grow a Sunflower Contest

Buy some sunflower seeds, and you can either start the seeds inside in Styrofoam cups filled with soil or outside by planting directly in the ground. Mark popsicle sticks to identify which plant belongs to which child. It can take up to two months for them to bloom, but you can measure to see whose sunflower has grown the tallest and award a sundae as a prize.

Budding Bird Watchers

Can your children identify any birds beyond a Robin Red Breast? The Merlin Bird ID app helps you to get to know your feathered friends. Download the app and take a photo of a bird, and the app will provide you with a match for a possible species.

Put on a Show

Your kids don’t have to watch or read their favorite stories; have them act them out. If they are young, you may want to help them write the script, but older kids can write their own, assign parts, and use their imaginations to create costumes.

Become a Song Sleuth

Birds have their own language-bird song. Can you or your children identify the different songs the birds sing? The Song Sleuth: Auto Bird Song ID app once downloaded can help. Record a bird’s song on your phone, and this app will try to identify it. Once they can identify the bird song, encourage your kids to see if they can imitate the song.

Encourage Entomology

Kids love creepy crawlies and the Picture Insect: Bug Identifier app will help them to get to know the insects in their environment. You take a photo or upload one of the bug in question, and the app will identify it for you and give you more information than you ever thought possible on the insect.

Stage a Home Olympics

This was supposed to be an Olympic year, but just because the games in Tokyo have been postponed until 2021, that doesn’t mean you can’t have your own games. Set up softball throws, long jump stations, relay races, sprints, etc. and award medals to the winners of the events.


Nurture the budding astronomers in your midst. Like some of the other free apps, the SkyView Lite app, allows you to identify stars and constellations. Simply download the app, and then point your phone at the night sky and this handy app will identify what you are seeing.

Salt Crystal Garden

I confess, I’m not very scientific, and I used this recipe that my grandmother gave me in our school science fair. The most difficult part of this home experiment is locating the laundry bluing, which most people don’t have on hand these days but can be found in the laundry supply section of your store. In addition to the laundry bluing to grow your own crystal garden, you will need salt, ammonia, wet sponges, food coloring (not necessary) and a glass or plastic container. Cut up the wet sponges and put in the container. Next, mix 2 tbsp. salt, 2 tbsp. ammonia and 2 tbsp. laundry bluing. The salt will not completely dissolve. Then pour over the damp sponges and add drops of food coloring if desired. Within an hour, crystals will begin to form and will continue to grow. If you would like to expand the garden, just add more of the mixture. Be careful because the crystals are very fragile.

Paint Rocks

My granddaughters love finding painted rocks when they go to local parks. Make someone else’s day brighter by painting rocks and hiding them in your neighborhood or at your local park. Gather some smooth stones, break out the acrylic paints and let the kids get creative.

Camp Out

If you have a tent, break it out and camp out under the stars in your neighborhood. If you don’t have a tent, you can camp out in your house by building a tent out of blankets. Sing camp songs and make S’mores.

Make Sock Puppets

Have any mismatched socks? Turn them into puppets. Either glue on buttons or bits of felt for eyes. It is also a good time to teach your older children how to sew buttons onto the sock. You’ll be teaching them a life skill as well.

Written by Janice Lane Palko