Outdoor Film Festival in Your Backyard
No need for an expensive digital projector (though these are fun if you have a spare $500). Just spread the sleeping bags on the grass, pop some popcorn (Add butter? Why...yes!) and pour it into brown paper bags labeled with each child's name to avoid bickering over portion size. Set up the laptop on the grass after dark and watch under the stars. Sure, you could watch the movie inside, but shifting the screening outdoors instills the kind of nonsensical magic that makes kids squeal over the 100 millionth viewing of Madagascar. When it's time for everybody to go to sleep, reminisce extensively about the few, scruffy old drive-ins of your youth (they'll love that).
Altitude, yes. Combustion, no. If your child is under 5 or has yet to develop fine motor skills, the deluxe edition is a necessity (the launch pad is better able to withstand a toddler's attempts to jam the rocket on the pole). Also, if your yard or park has hazards (trees, eaves, garage roofs, husbands/uncles who once had NASA dreams, cranky neighbors, psychotic neighbors, neighbors who play by "finders keepers" rules), extra foam rockets are also a necessity. ($23, amazon.com
Whipped Cream Fight
(1) Everybody wears a raincoat.
(2) Everybody goes outside.
(3) Everybody gets a full can of Reddi-wip.
(4) Nobody can eat from his or her own can...but you can eat whipped cream from your sister's can if she, say, sprays it all over your nose.
The 5 Miles from Home Game
Take an old-fashioned (i.e., paper) map of your town. Measure the distance of five miles on its key. Mark that distance on a piece of string (or dental floss, whatever you've got). Tack one end of the string onto the location of your house on the map. Attach a pen to the other end. Circle the pen gently around your house, leaving a clear circle on the map. Have the youngest person in the family place her finger anywhere on the circle. Drive to the actual location, get out and take a picture of you and whatever's there.
Read the Exquisitely Beautiful Book All in a Day
Take time to fall in love with the paper cutout art and then make a paper boat, like the one pictured on page 21
, out of old newsprint. Fill the sink or kiddie pool with water and blue food coloring. Float it merrily down the stream.
Pajamas Until Dinner
Followed by pajamas during dinner.
Learn to Tie Knots
It's a skill so useful for sailing, camping or just looking cool and capable. Hit the hardware store and invest in four feet of inexpensive, easy-to-manage 1/4-inch to 1/2-inch nylon rope per child and adult. Instruction is particularly effective if one sibling ties up another sibling or father...(Keep at least one other parent, guardian, sentient adult within shouting distance to avoid a grown-up learning a lesson the hard way.)
Finding Cats in the Clouds
This is not a euphemism. Lie in the grass and see who can find the most cats. Grandmothers are very good at this.
Crack a Code with a TV Stone
Enlist a godparent, aunt or uncle. Have them send a message in a very simple code
to your children, with the words "be careful...people want to know what's in this message...it's your job to figure it out" written on the outside of the envelope. Hand the children a TV stone to examine each letter of the code
, which will not help solve the code at all but will make each letter appear in 3-D—adding an extra, cheap layer of wow that works on the same principle as covering a math problem in sprinkles.
Build Your Own Slip 'N Slide
Hose + big, huge, mongo piece of plastic tarp + layer of dish soap = heaven. (More specific instructions are here
Sneak in a lesson about "reuse and recycle" by not
buying loot from the 99-cent store. Instead hide seashells; money; old, forgotten trinkets from your jewelry box; saltwater taffy or homemade coupons for treats like pizza or a sleepover. Map skills are key
Start a Round of "Would You Rather?"
It's simple but shockingly effective at beating boredom, especially in car backseats. Ask your kids "Would your rather...?" questions, such as, Would you rather have Green Lantern's superpowers or Superman's? Would you rather have breakfast for dinner or dinner for breakfast? Would you rather be a dog or a cat or a hedgehog? The whys of their choices, of course, are the most riveting. Don't forget to make the last one something you can actually do for them—for example, Would rather pull over at the next rest stop to go to the bathroom or eat ice cream?—even if you know the answer.
On the one hand, you never see Roger Federer use a badminton birdie to whack a tennis ball can off the top of someone's head from 40 paces
. On the other, nobody goes blind trying to imitate feats from sport heroes that might not be humanly possible.
Sing Like a Ruby-Throated Hummingbird
Learn some bird songs. Then wake up at dawn to test them out. (If you have kids, you're probably already up).
Demonstrate the Value of Patience
Do not blacken for once. Get close to the orange coals; stay far from the flames. Rotate. Rotate. Rotate till you think your wrist will fall off. Then, and only then, admit to your kids that fluffy, evenly browned marshmallows—like making a bed with hospital corners—are a rabbit hole of perfection you don' t want to go down. Advise them to read a book or graduate from college instead.
Water Balloons, Water Balloons, Water Balloons
But not in the eye.
Grow Your Own Rock Candy
Who says saltwater taffy is the official bonbon of summer? Concocting the base for these crystalline creations takes only about an hour
. Making the confection takes up to a full week—at the end of which you could fashion a science lesson out of the project, teaching about sugar crystal structure. Or...you could just eat the candy.
Teach Your Kids to Whistle for a Taxi with Two Fingers
Then teach yourself
. And use the whistle on anybody under the age of 18 who continues to text/stare at a computer screen/kill aliens when you call him to the dinner table.
Boys' Night In
Watermelon seed shot put contest. (Place the slippery seeds between your fingers and squeeze, attempting to land seeds in a plastic cup.)
Non-Gender-Specific Night In
Make a watermelon piñata
. Use a balloon and newspaper to make a papier-mâché piñata. Once dry, fill it with watermelon-flavored Jolly Ranchers and suspend it from the ceiling. Let the bashing commence.
Pull a Quarter Out of an Unsuspecting Grandfather's Ear
It's an easy, useful magic trick to learn
, and grandfathers are really surprised when their grandchildren do it to them, instead of the other way around.
Host a Cowboy Dinner Party
Ransack your costume trunk for hats, sheriff stars, pistols, boots and kerchiefs. Cook up some rare steak on a cast-iron pan. Let the kids warm up the canned baked beans. Heat up some frozen biscuits. Eat off tin plates. Drink from tin mugs. Just remember: No vegetables. Desperados don't eat no stinkin' vegetables!
Create Your Own Planetarium from a Pringles Can
Yes, it is possible. Poke one small eyehole in the metal end of an empty Pringles can. Then cut black construction paper into a circle the shape of the plastic lid. Poke "stars" across the circle and fit it inside the lid. Put the lid back on the can. Hold your "telescope" up to the light and gaze through the eyehole at the constellations of your own imagination.
Take One Tree, One Child and Two Books
Sit down under a leafy branch and read silently without speaking for one hour. (Trust us. This works even if the child doesn't know how to read.)
Make a Surprise Attack on Dad with Homemade "Squishy Guns"
Fill up doctor's gloves (or hair dye gloves) with water. Poke a hole in one finger. Pounce.
Rewrite Your Favorite Song
Sing your version as a group very loudly into hairbrushes while the real one plays on the stereo on low.
Again with the Quarters: Collect the 50 States
Skip the fancy leathery coin holders. The thrifty, speedy version? Print out diagrams from the U.S. Mint
. Empty your pockets each night for two weeks (or assign chores to earn the change), then help the kids tape quarters to the page. Once all 50 are secured, untape and cash in for $12.50.
Fashion Fabric Stickers into Cool First-Prize Ribbons
We stumbled across this inventive four-step DIY process
. Once you've finished, attach the stickers onto paper certificates. Award various neighbors certificates (Best Lawn Mower, Best Dog Owner, Best Parallel Parker on the Block) by stuffing them in mailboxes up and down the street.
Discover the power of stamping buttery disks
of shortbread goodness. Consider giving some of your finished product to the postman.
Team Relay Races in Backyard
Mother-son versus father-daughter running backwards relay. Brother and sister versus Mom and Dad in a three-legged dash. Everybody in the family on all fours versus the dog.
Lemons, superfine sugar, cold water and crushed ice. (We follow Ina Garten's recipe
.) Stir. Serve after temper tantrum due to lost game of Monopoly.
Hammock Pirate Ship
Do nothing. Call the hammock a pirate ship and shout "Argh..." The children will immediately swashbuckle and take prisoners.
Crank Call Extended Family Members
Be sure to use outdated jokes ("Prince Albert in a can!") and your real voices so that Aunt Jane will know who it is.
And by that, we mean...
Seriously, Sleep In
No matter who jumps on you, prying open your eyelids, kissing your nose, sticking fingers in your mouth, saying over and over and over, "Time to wake up, guys!"
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