These outside-the-box ideas are perfect for this strange summer of coronavirus, but great for any other year, too.


With sleep-away camps – as well as band, sports, and other camps – mostly closed this summer due to the coronavirus, it might feel like your kids are missing out on a lot of summer fun and memories. But there are plenty of great outdoor activities for kids that will help them have fun – and make you feel better about how they’re spending their summer.

“Isolation, lack of socialization, reduced physical activity … all can contribute to a decrease in mental, emotional, and physical wellbeing,” says Lance Breger, a family and wellness coach and CEO of Infinity Wellness Partners. But the “perspective the parent chooses to take during this time is the greatest influence on the child’s mindset … the child will feel what the parent chooses to focus on – obstacles or opportunities.”

Your kids may have been on every bike ride in your area, gone on a thousand neighborhood walks, and even hiked every local park time and again, but an “opportunity attitude” will still make this a summer they don’t regret. And that doesn’t mean you have to go over the top.

“Parents should be kind to themselves, and not put pressure on themselves to create a backyard Disney World this summer,” says Nicole Grossmayer-Mercado, executive director of Little Smiles, a nonprofit that provides activities for children with serious illnesses. “Children will be happy if they see their parents are happy.”

You can stay happy – and help your kids stay outside – with these ideas for simple, fun summer activities. Each works with distancing for safe socialization, as needed, and will help kids from kindergarten through high school get moving, get outside, and see the opportunities this summer can create.

Play games in parallel to play together at a social distance.

Help kids get together while helping them stay apart: Set up two versions of the same game at a safe distance so they can play in parallel, says Melissa Halas, a registered dietitian who works with kids at Super Kids Nutrition.

“Use inexpensive plastic sprinklers, and set them far enough apart – then game on,” she says. The same can be done with horseshoes, with kids throwing their own set of shoes at their own pin, or identical obstacle courses – with the same zig-zags around pool noodles, jumps over boxes, and other obstacles. Older kids might get excited about identical slip-and-slides, or a competition to hit golf balls into buckets.

Get moving and get a reward—homemade ice cream!

Now this is science in action: Kids kick, roll, and shake a can around for 15 minutes to an hour, and ice, cream, salt, and sugar turn into their own, homemade ice cream.

You’ll actually need two cans to do this, says Charlene Hess, who offers tips for homeschoolers at Hess Un-Academy—a smaller coffee can, and a bigger one. In the smaller can, mix 1 pint of heavy whipping cream, 1 cup granulated sugar, a pinch of salt, and 1 teaspoon of vanilla—or another flavoring of your choice. Tape that can shut with duct tape, and place it in the larger can filled with ice and 5 to 6 tablespoons of rock salt – you can get “ice cream salt” online, and have enough to last the whole summer.

After taping the outside can shut, get kicking and shaking, and tell your kids the science part: “The salt will lower the freezing temperature of the ice, which will cause it to melt,” explains Jaymi Torrez, a teacher who blogs about parenting at The Salty Mamas (thesaltymamas.com). “The ice will absorb the heat from the [inner can] of ice cream ingredients, causing it to freeze instead.”

Plant seeds now for late summer-garden goodness.

With summer in full swing, it might seem like it’s too late to start a garden. While the ground may be too hot in many parts of the U.S. for seedlings, gardening in pots can still yield great results – and great returns, says Shannon Brescher Shea, author of Growing Sustainable Together: Practical Resources for Raising Kind, Engaged, Resilient Children. Get the kids more excited about playing in the dirt by letting them help you plan what you’ll grow: Do a little research on gardening and seed-growing sites for what will work with your home’s sun-and-shade mixture, and then let younger children choose from a list so they pick what you grow.

Teens might be even more excited about this project: A recent survey found that two-thirds of teens are interested in learning more about producing food in earth-friendly ways. Ask them to do that sun-and-shade research, and help them pick the right plants for late summer harvests you can eat together.

Get in touch with nature with a scavenger hunt

A backyard or forest scavenger hunt can get kids in touch with nature, Shea says. If your kids are in a safe space, you can give them a list to bring back – a Y-shaped stick, a rock that’s smooth, or other items. But if you want to go on a tandem hike with other children at a social distance, they can just spy things instead: Give them a camera to snap pics of the items on a scavenging list, or just have them call things out as they spot them. And you don’t need to rack your brain to come up with the items: Nature hunt lists abound on Pinterest, and there’s even an app, Let’s Roam, with local hunts.

For a  higher-tech hunt that could appeal to older kids, have them try a  smartphone-assisted activity: Geocaching. The early 2000s “sport of the future” may not have usurped the NFL just yet, but GPS treasure hunters still search for “caches” in thousands of locations across the country. Using your phone’s GPS and some instructions from sites like www.geocaching.com, kids can find these “treasures”—usually a box with a list of names of others who have found it—and your whole family may discover a new hike.

With some out-of-the-box thinking and a little sweat, there are plenty of ways to get kids of all ages outdoors and having fun this summer.