Ultimate Summer Play List: 100 Fun Activities for Kids

Make a small business by opening a lemonade stand.
Make a small business by opening a lemonade stand.

To help you get summer started, we've come up with the ultimate summer play list: 100 (mostly) FREE ways you can pack more play into your day. These ideas aren't just for the kids—they're fun and engaging activities for the whole family. After all, grown-ups need time to play, too.

Check out our roundup of creative games, crafts, experiments and other activities below, and if you make your way through all of these, try our list of '70s Outdoor Games, our 25 Water Games, our favorite bounce houses and kiddie pools and 15 backyard science experiments for messy outdoor fun. Not to boast, but summer really is our forte.

Now, set aside school, work and stress; it's time to focus on 100 ways to play with kids this summer.

1. Build a toy car racetrack out of old boxes, paper towel rolls and other repurposed materials.

2. Make a target with chalk on a blackboard or the sidewalk, and then throw wet sponges at it until it disappears.

3. Set up a glow-in-the-dark ring toss—use dollar-store glow necklaces or bracelets as rings.

4. Organize a massive water gun battle.

5. Or maybe your kids prefer a water balloon war. Fill them up before starting and keep them in buckets. Make sure the kids wear their swimsuits.

6. Go geocaching, a fun high-tech scavenger hunt that you can do with a smartphone. You can play anywhere caches are hidden, but we have tips on how to start in Los AngelesNYC, and New Jersey.

See how long you can keep a hula-hoop going. 

7. Have a hula-hooping contest—see who can keep the hoops spinning longest and who can twirl the most hoops.

Braiding is a fun new skill to learn this summer! 

8. Learn a fun new skill as a family: Try juggling, skateboarding, French braiding or whatever strikes your fancy.

9. Grab your camera and take photos of plants and animals using different filters and frames, and then compare the results.

10. Paint the sidewalk with water. See how fast the sun makes your art disappear.

11. Get some pots and pans for drums, dress up and have a parade.

12. Make your own ice cream, no special maker required. Here's our recipe for bananamon ice cream.

13. Head to your local creek or pond and try to catch (and release) crayfish and minnows with a fine net.

14. Catch fireflies in a glass jar and watch them shine before letting them fly away.

15. Go on an alphabet treasure hunt. See if you can find things that begin with every letter in nature.

16. Host a beverage challenge. Set up chilled cups of seasonal drinks (lemonade, iced tea) and get your friends to try to identify each while blindfolded.

17. Create your own pop-up playground from old cardboard boxes, fabric pieces and other recycled materials.

18. Draw a game board on the sidewalk and make up the rules. Kids can become life-size pieces in a game of your own invention.

19. Turn an old cardboard box into an arcade game, a robot, rocket ship, doll house or hideout and let your imagination do the rest.

20. Host silly relay races. Have the kids hop on one foot, walk backward, gallop like a horse, skip—the more ridiculous the challenge, the better.

21. Have a sumo-style wrestling match.

22. Create a short stop-motion film using dolls, stuffed animals or action figures. There are lots of apps that make this easy.

23. Go through your recycling bin to see what you can turn into a boat. Add sails and decorations, and then float it in pool, river or tub.

24. Have a car wash for your toys, bikes and scooters. Make sure to get really wet!

25. Play flashlight tag. While the other players hide, whomever is "it" must find and "tag" them with the beam while saying their names.

26. Host a fancy tea party for your stuffed animals.

Look for lovely blooms in your neighborhood.

27. Go on a neighborhood wildflower walk—do some research in advance so you can identify some of the blooms.

28. Play old-school backyard games like Leap Frog, Red Rover, Mother May I?, and Red Light, Green Light 1-2-3.

29. Hit your local garden, park, forest or yard to collect items for a terrarium.

Make a masterpiece on your sidewalk. Photo by Jaime Sumersille

30. Create a sidewalk masterpiece with chalk. I just bought my son sidewalk paint airbrush for a fresh take on this old favorite.

31. Rain spoil your picnic plans? Break out the basket and paper plates for an indoor picnic lunch or dinner.

32. Build a tall Lego brick tower, set up a Lego ice excavation activity, or choose any of the other awesome Lego ideas on our 100+ Fun Things to Do with Legos list..

Pull out the costumes and have a pretend play day. 

33. Rifle through the dress-up bin and have a photo shoot with your little princess, pirate or superhero.

34. Indoor campout: Set up a tent in the living room, make oven s'mores, turn off all the lights and download a campfire app for your tablet.

Rescue trapped animals from the ice. Photo by Kelley Heyworth 

35. Put a small toy in a balloon, fill it with water and freeze. You'll end up with a toy frozen in a big chunk of ice.

36. Set up a scavenger hunt in the backyard or local park. Give the kids maps or clue sheets for extra fun.

37. Have a bird-call imitation contest. See who can do the best owl screech, blue jay squawk or chickadee tweet.

38. Stage a massive bubble battle and invite the whole block.

39. Learn how to do yo-yo tricks.

40. Put on a show! Make up your own or adapt one of your favorite books, movies or TV series. Craft sets and costumes for extra fun.

41. Head to the beach and build an enormous sand castle.

42. Play a rousing game of themed charades—see what kinds of wacky themes you can come up with.

43. Organize a family game night and pull out old standards like Monopoly, Scrabble and Pictionary. Winners can earn points to cash in for small prizes or extra scoops of ice cream.

44. Have a water cup race. If your kids are on the older side, make it harder by telling them to balance the cups on their heads.

45. Navigate an obstacle course fashioned out of recycled items (bottles, boxes, cups, etc.).

46. Get sculpting with Play-Doh and have extra fun by making your own.

47. Squirt shaving cream onto a paper plate and "draw" with your fingers.

48. Collect items from nature and make a collage. Add paint or leave it au naturale.

49. Play indoor baseball. Set up a paper home plate and three bases in the living room, throw a paper ball that you hit with your hand and run. Great for a rainy day.

50. Play bossy ball. Write 10 silly ways to throw a ball on masking tape (through your legs, eyes closed, etc). Tape them to a ball and play catch. When you get the ball, you have to return it the way it says.

51. Open a lemonade stand or come up with your own small business idea.

52. Create a baking soda volcano. Pour a bit of white vinegar into a plastic cup, add a tablespoon of baking soda and watch it "explode."

53. Make a kite out of paper and string, and then see how high it can soar. Not a DIYer? Flying a store-bought kite is also fun.

Gather all the materials you need to build a fairy house. 

54. Craft a fairy garden from moss, acorns, leaves and other natural materials.

55. Take apart an obsolete and unwanted household object, like an old printer or clock radio, to see how it works.

56. Got a projector? Turn your yard into a drive-in movie theater by showing a family favorite on an old sheet or the side of the house.

57. Make up ghost stories and tell them outside at night. Be sure to bring a flashlight.

58. Cover your dining table with craft paper and paint a giant collaborative mural.

59. Raid the pantry for craft materials: Make a macaroni necklace, create a collage from dried beans, peas and lentils, or try painting with salt.

60. Paint with ice. Put some food coloring in an ice tray, add water and freeze to make super cool "crayons."

61. Pull out a deck of cards for old-fashioned games like War, Old Maid and Go Fish.

62. Take out the bicycles and hit a local bike trail. Pack a picnic and make a day of it.

63. Make ice sculptures by freezing different shaped containers full of water. Once frozen, take them out (use a little warm water if necessary) and use them as building blocks.

64. Make your own puzzle. Take a page from a magazine, glue it to a piece of cardboard and cut it up into funky shapes.

65. Create a comic book based on your summer adventures, or write a collaborative story and add a new paragraph every night.

66. Enjoy Opposite Day and eat breakfast for dinner, wear your clothes inside out and other silliness.

67. See if you can actually get a Slinky to go down the stairs.

68. Draw family portraits—everyone takes turns sitting/drawing, no talent required.

69. Make a domino chain reaction. See how long you can make it, and try adding curves and going up and down stairs.

Head to an orchard or berry patch to pick delicious, local fruit. 

70. Head to the berry patch, peach orchard or local farm to pick some in-season produce.

71. Play restaurant: Have the kids create a menu, take orders, cook the meal and serve you for a change.

72. Institute a no-screens rule in the car and play games like license plate bingo and I Spy.

73. Belt out your favorite tunes with the karaoke machine. Don't have one? You'll find instrumental versions of many songs on YouTube.

74. Play freeze dance. Switch it up with themes like zombie freeze dance.

75. Throw a balloon into the air and see how long you can keep it afloat without letting it touch the ground.

76. Create a wallet out of duct tape.

77. Perfect some simple magic tricks and put on a show.

78. Learn how to play something your kids are obsessed with, like Minecraft or Pokemon, and instantly become the coolest parent in town.

Round up a bunch of pillows and build a pillow fort. 

79. Build a fort in the living room using couch cushions, blankets and old sheets.

80. Collaborate on a summer vacation scrapbook using one page for each day.

Start off with a blow-up canoe for little ones. 

81. Hit the water in a canoe or kayak.

82. Have fun with bouncy balls: Try dodge ball, gaga or kickball.

83. Paint a terracotta pot and put a plant in it—succulents and grass seed grow quickly.

84. Wrap the kids up in toilet paper, mummy-style, and see how far they can walk.

85. Lay down sheets of bubble wrap and have the kids get popping.

86. Grab your binoculars and go bird-watching at the beach or local park.

87. Make tie-dye T-shirts together. For less mess, skip the dye and try this Sharpie method.

88. Glue small magnets to foam letters and another magnet to a toy fishing pole. See if you can fish your name out of a tub or kiddie pool.

Have a massive pillow fight. Victoria Borodinova/Pixabay

89. Start or end your day with a giant pillow fight.

90. Make up your family history. Tell the story of your ancestors. Each person adds a line as you go around. See how silly you can be.

91. Make paper bag puppets, decorate them with glitter, yarn and other creative items, and then put on a show.

92. Go stargazing. Look for the Big Dipper, the Great Bear and other constellations in the night sky.

93. See who can create the best shadow figures. All you need is a flashlight, a sheet and your hands.

94. Disguise your voices and prank call Grandma or anyone else who would appreciate it.

95. Challenge the kids to a bout of arm or thumb wrestling.

96. Get dirty making mud pies or dirt sundaes..

97. Dig up rocks to see the critters that live underneath.

98. Make noisemakers by filling Tupperware with dried beans.

99. Build a house of cards—see how high you can go before they all come crashing down.

Clouds have some very cool shapes!

100. Lie outside and watch the clouds and try to pick out interesting shapes.

Unless noted, photos by Sara Marentette

Originally published 2014

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