“Mom, I’m bored!”
Those three words strung together can trigger waves of anxiety in any parent, especially now, when our children’s daily schedules are wide open while a parent’s is cresting to its fullest.
You may be tempted to surrender the smart device fight and let the kids get glassy-eyed for hours in front of their screen of choice. Instead, resist raising that white flag and look no further than to your own backyard for enjoyable and affordable ways for your kids to have some fun.
Here are 5 budget-friendly activities to keep your kids busy having a blast in your own yard.
1. Set up an obstacle course.
Backyard obstacle courses are loads of fun, can be easy or elaborate depending on your child’s age, and can consist entirely of objects you already own. For younger children, an obstacle course can include:
Hula hoops to hop in and out of
Buckets to weave around slalom-style
Yoga mats spread on the grass for forward rolls
Balls to toss into laundry baskets
An inflatable pool to jump into at the end of the course
For older kids, a more challenging course can consist of:
Folding tables to crawl under
Planters to jump over
Water balloons to transport intact by spoon
Balls to toss into boxes of decreasing size
A hose to knock down items lined up on a table
2. Channel a classic with a game of lawn Twister.
To make a grass-version of this classic game, purchase cans of marking paint in red, blue, yellow, and green from your local hardware store. To create the game grid:
Use a plate to trace a “Twister dot” on a piece of cardboard or poster board. Trace a small circle for the smaller hands and feet of young children or a large circle for older players. Cut the circle out to create a hole in the cardboard or poster board and, voila, you have a Twister dot template.
Place the template on the grass and spray paint through the hole in the template to create rows of dots. Be sure to place the dots close enough so that children can easily reach over from dot to dot, and be sure the game grid area is large enough to accommodate the number of children playing.
Once the dots are painted onto the grass, grab your indoor Twister spinner and start playing! If you don’t have a Twister spinner, write down each of the four directions (left hand, right hand, left foot, or right foot) for each dot color on separate index cards. For example, one card will read, “Right hand. Green.”
Call out each direction and watch players stretch and balance as they strive to be the last kid standing on your lawn Twister board!
3. Throw a fiesta with water balloon piñatas.
Your kids can wear their bathing suits for this wet and wild game of water balloon piñatas. For this activity, you’ll need water balloons, string, a strong piece of rope, and a plastic bat.
Tie the rope between two trees or two other sturdy structures
Fill the water balloons with water, tie each with a knot, and then tie a string around each knot
Tie several water balloons to the rope using the attached strings so that the balloons hang overhead like a row of piñatas
Have each child take a turn swinging the plastic bat to see how many balloons they can burst in 30 seconds.
4. Get creative with colorful water art.
Bring out your child’s inner artist with this game of water squirter art. Fill water squirters with water mixed with food dye, using a different color for each water squirter. Set down sheets of paper on the grass or tape sheets of paper onto trees and watch your kids paint colorful masterpieces, one spray at a time.
5. Create an outdoor reading haven.
If a more low-key activity suits the bill, create an outdoor reading oasis for your child to enjoy and beat the dreaded “summer slide”—the decrease in a child's reading and other academic proficiency during the summer months. To curb this summer learning loss, turn a shady spot of your yard into a reading retreat with items you already own, such as:
Beach or patio chairs to kick back in for a relaxing read
A milk crate or bench to use as a makeshift table to hold books, word game or math problem paperbacks, and educational magazines
A divided serving tray filled with healthy snacks such as turkey and lettuce pinwheels, carrot sticks, grapes, and cheese
Dolores Smyth is a parenting writer and mother of three kids ranging in age from preschool to junior high. Her work has appeared in numerous publications. You can follow more of her work on Twitter @LolaWordSmyth.