Summer is coming, which means summer break is coming and all of your offspring will be home most of the day.

Competing with the always fresh, ever changing fun of multiple videos, shows and games on an electronic device is hard. Sometimes I feel like I could run to the store once a day to buy new toys and still not keep my children entertained.

Instead of heading out to buy new toys I decided to track down some cheap and easy summer fun. I wanted activities that don’t require running to the store to buy anything, and are quick to put together. Turns out the house is bursting with things to do, if you know where to look.

1. Basketball with a laundry basket

  • Ages: Toddler-Teen. 
  • Messy level: Small. Some toys to put away.

Everyone has a laundry basket hanging around. If you also have balls, you now have basketball. No toy balls? Use rolled up socks. This game can be as structured or as fancy free as you like. Bonus points if you cut up an old cardboard box to make a ramp and make it skee ball. North Shore Pediatric Therapy has a neat article on the developmental benefits of throwing a ball on their website.

2. Washing toys

  • Ages: Toddler-School Age.
  • Messy level: Medium. Some splashing will happen.

Haul out a container of hard plastic toys and let them go wild, in the sink or a tub outside. Toddlers will need to be supervised for this one. If you have dolls you can bring them out and let the kids give them a “bath” to add an element of pretend play. Prepare to be amazed at how hard your kids can wash when it’s not one of their chores. The Humbled Homemaker has a non-toxic DIY dish soap recipe here if you’re worried about the chemicals in soap.

3. Dress Up

  • Ages: Toddler-School Age.
  • Messy Level: Small.

No fear if you don’t have any old costumes hanging out in a box for dress up time. Let them get their hands on some of your grown-up clothes, especially that pretty dress or nightgown your preschooler has had her eye on. With the imagination running even your winter hats and gloves can be part of a dress-up game. Kidsactivities Blog has a giant list of crafty ideas for you here if you have the artistic skills (I do not).

4. Cutting pictures out of magazines

  • Ages: Preschool-PreTeen.
  • Messy Level: Small. Scraps to pick up.

If you have old magazines or newspapers sitting around now is the time to get them out and let the kids attack them with scissors. Sneak some literacy in by letting them glue or tape the pictures to make a “book” and asking them what they like about the pictures they chose. Go a step further and have them write down a story to go with their collage. Jean Hul via The Artful Parent has 50 + Ideas for collage art if you’d like some inspiration.

5. Hide and Seek in the dark

  • Ages: Preschool-Teen                            
  • Messy Level: Small.

Hide and Seek is twice the fun in the dark. The hider heads for a dark closet or storage room while the finder heads after them safari style with a flashlight or two. It’s even more fun at night when the whole house can become a spy adventure from a movie. This game can also be as structured or as free play as you like. The Hobby Lark blog has a whole list of games to play in the dark.

6. Painting with water

  • Ages: Toddler-PreTeen.               
  • Messy Level: Large. Do this outside.

This activity is not kind to paintbrushes. Big brushes from old paint projects are a lot of fun, but the bristles won’t be good for anything else afterwards. If you would rather save the brushes, washcloths or sponges work. Set the kids up with buckets or paint trays of plain water and some brushes outside near a handy flat surface. Wet brushes leave big trails on concrete that evaporate like magic. Jackie has a nice post with pictures on this activity at Happy Hooligans.

7. Goop/Ooblek

  • Ages: Toddler-School Age.
  • Messy Level: Large. Goop can get everywhere.

For this activity you need cornstarch and water. It may bend the going to the store requirement, but it’s still cheap because there’s cornstarch at most dollar stores. Dump the cornstarch in a wide, shallow container and add just enough water to make it into a runny paste (roughly 2 times as much cornstarch as water). Sensory science with a unique feel, goop is the best but it does tend to get splattered so be ready for a bit of mess. Even better, you can add food coloring and freeze it in ice-cube trays to create cool, slippery ice chalk, as seen on Growing a Jeweled Rose.

8. Dance party

  • Ages: Baby-Teen                         
  • Messy Level: Small to none.

Everyone loves a dance party. Clear out a big space for the kids to show off their moves and go crazy. Even better: Disney dance party (or maybe I just like the excuse to belt out my favorite Disney songs.) Modern Kiddo has a master list of family-friendly ideas to rock out to from the 50s all the way up to modern that you can pick and choose from.

9. Scavenger Hunt

  • Ages: Preschool-School Age                
  • Messy Level: Small to none.

Jot down a list for your older kids to go find inside or outside. Send your little ones off to look for a specific color or shape. My Kids has a fun list of ten different ideas with printables for you if you’d really like to get into it. Teams, rules, prizes and time limits are all negotiable and up to you. Go wild!

10. Build a Fort

  • Ages: Toddler-Teen                           
  • Messy Level: Small to Medium. Stuff to put away.

The classics are popular for a reason. The beauty of fort building is how variable it can be. Small to large, a sheet to the entire couch. Indoor or outdoor, forts are the best. Joelle Blaikie over at compiled a fun list of different types of forts with pictures to get the imagination going.

Here’s to your family and a lot of fun this summer!

Sarah W

Sarah is an author, blogger and guest poster for various websites. At work she's a pre-school teacher, but in this season of life she's home to cherish her family and write. When she's not chasing after her three kids, her husband, or their absurdly friendly black cat she is writing and drinking way too much black tea. You can find her encouragement on the winding path to becoming a published author at