Parenting

10 summer activities to cut back on screen time

Get them outside—and off their devices

Credit: Getty Images / Dapper&Doll

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Summer is coming, and like a lot of parents I’m looking for fun and affordable summer activities to keep my seven and nine-year-old sons occupied. I’m especially interested in activities that get them outside, make them think, or simply get them away from their screens.

While I’m sure there will be plenty of hours spent playing video games and watching YouTube Kids, I’m hoping to keep my kids engaged with a variety of fun and affordable summertime activities. Here are 10 of our favorite summertime activities that will get your kids outside and off their devices.

1. Start a garden

Garden
Credit: Getty Images / Sproutbrite

Summer is the perfect time to plant a garden

Gardening is a healthy and pleasurable hobby whether you live in the country or in a suburban neighborhood. In fact, you don’t even need a patch of yard to enjoy gardening—a small patio garden is perfect for budding young gardeners. Herbs, vegetables, and fruits can flourish in containers and allow kids to plant, care for and harvest (mostly) on their own. Kids Gardening offers a variety of resources for parents and educators to help instill a love for gardening. Reviewers rave that the Sproutbrite Total Garden Kit is perfect for kids and will get your garden off to a great start.

Get the Sproutbrite Total Garden Starter Kit from Amazon for $19.99

2. Read a book

Summer Reading Program
Credit: Getty Images / Potter Style

Kids can win prizes for reading books with a summer reading program

When the reading lists come home at the end of the school year, have kids track the books they read in a cute reading log, or sign up for summer reading programs at the public library. Barnes & Noble’s Summer Reading Program offers an extra incentive for bookworms: kids can earn a free book when they read eight books and complete and submit their Summer Reading Journal. Kids will love tracking their reading, as well as giving each book their very own star review, with the Bookworm Journal.

Get the Bookworm Journal on Amazon for $12.99

3. Cool off in the water

Intex pool
Credit: Intex

No pool? No problem with an easy set-up inflatable version

Whether it’s a day trip to the beach, splashing around in the neighborhood pool, or running through the backyard sprinkler, summertime at my house is all about finding a reason to get wet. A YMCA or gym membership is a terrific investment any time of the year, but even more so during the summer when the temperatures soar and all you want to do is cool off. If you want to win Best Parent of the Year, invest in an inflatable pool with a filter for a sweet summer surprise. Parenting Editor, Anna Lane, swears by this easy set-up Intex pool. She says, "my kids love our giant inflatable pool! They spend every afternoon swimming, and even I've been known to do a few 'laps' from time to time."

Get the Ocean Reef Easy Set Pool with Filter Pump from Amazon for $99.99

4. Become a mad scientist

Mad scientist
Credit: Getty Images / Steve Debenport

Get science toys delivered to your home with Kiwi Crate

I have one kid who was born to create and another kid whose favorite question is, “What if?” So we spend a fair amount of time building, creating and experimenting all year long. Thankfully, there are lots of STEM toys tailored to every age or interest, from dinosaurs to magic. This summer, I plan to get them a Kiwi Co. kit subscription box, which delivers science kits right to your doorstep. Editor in Chief, David Kender, raves, "my four-year old’s grandmother signed him up for Kiwi Crate and it’s been delighting him every single month, without fail. With surprisingly little adult coaching, he’s built a probability machine, a vacuum scooper, and an arcade claw machine—learning valuable engineering concepts along the way."

Get a Kiwi Crate for $19.95

5. Get crafty

Crafts for kids
Credit: Getty Images / ArtMarie

Sign-up for classes through your local craft or hardware store

I may be all thumbs when it comes to most craft projects, but thankfully the expert builders and crafters at Home Depot, Michael’s, and JOANN Fabrics have me covered with a variety of kids’ make and take classes at every skill level. Be sure to check your independent home improvement and craft stores for additional opportunities and stock up on some craft kits, to inspire their creativity on rainy days. Need some ideas? Our Parenting Editor, Anna Lane's kids love the Grow 'n Glow Terrarium, Crystal Growing kit, and the paint-your-own butterfly magnets.

Get the Creativity for Kids Glow 'n Grow Terrarium from Amazon for $12.88
Get the 4M Crystal Growing Experiment from Amazon for $14.04
Get the Melissa and Doug Butterfly Magnets from Amazon for $4.99

6. Go bowling

Bowling

Sign-up for the Kids Bowl Free program at your local bowling alley

My kids love to bowl, but I don’t love how expensive it can be for my family of four to have fun. That’s where Kids Bowl Free comes in. This terrific summer program is offered at over 1,300 bowling centers throughout the U.S. and Canada. Eligible registered kids can receive two free games each day of the program, which makes bowling a good go-to activity all summer long. For the money you save on bowling, you can even get them their own bowling ball like this highly-rated glowing lizard eyeball from Brunswick.

Get the Brunswick Lizard Eye Glow Viz-a-Ball from Amazon for $99.95

7. Spend some time in the kitchen

Cooking Class and Aprons
Credit: Dapper&Doll / Storey Publishing

Summer's more relaxed schedule is a great time to cook with kids

Periodically throughout the school year, I try to get one or both of my kids in the kitchen for a cooking lesson. It doesn’t always work out—school nights are a little hectic in my house and there isn’t a lot of time to explain how to prepare a meal and get it on the table in a timely manner. But things are more relaxed in the summer, which gives me a chance to show them how to make their favorites, from spaghetti and meatballs to chocolate chip cookies. Cooking Class is a terrific kid-friendly cookbook with some new-to-me recipes I’m looking forward to sharing with my kids. Order each of your kids a five-star rated apron and chef's hat in their favorite color, so they can keep their clothes clean—and look really cute—while they cook.

Get Cooking Class from Amazon for $4.13
Get a Kids Apron and Chef Hat from Amazon for $9.95

8. Visit a park or museum

Kids in Parks
Credit: Getty Images / MargaretW

Be sure to sign your fourth grader up for the Kids in Parks program

If you’re like me, there are likely all sorts of tourist destinations within a short driving distance of your house that you’ve never even been to. This summer, I’m going to make an effort to day trip to some of these places that friends and family always ask me about. Entry fees and tickets can get pricey, so keep an eye out for free days as well as membership deals and discounts. If you have a fourth grader, be sure to take advantage of the federal public lands youth initiative, Every Kid in a Park. The pass is good for fourth graders and their families through August 31—so start planning your next adventure and don’t forget a pair of top-rated binoculars that are designed just for kids, as well as a simple magnetic compass that will help teach your kids which way is North.

Get a pair of AY Kids Binoculars from Amazon for $20.99
Get a Boy Scout Magnetic Compass from Amazon for $8.29

9. Take in a movie

Movie
Credit: Getty Images / Concession Essentials

Take advantage of movie deals–and air conditioning

Sure, it’s still a screen, but nothing beats a cool, dark movie theater on a hot summer day. Regal Theaters’ Summer Movie Express makes treating the kids to a movie a no-brainer. Throughout the summer, select kids’ movies are only $1 on Tuesdays and Wednesday mornings at participating theaters. Which means we can catch the movies we might have missed during the school year or enjoy a favorite, like Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch. If you want to save some money on concession snacks, skip buying the individual kids’ popcorn packs and divvy up a large bucket of popcorn into your own paper popcorn bags.

Get a 500-pack of popcorn bags on Amazon for $17.95

10. Do nothing

Hammock
Credit: Vivere

Sometimes, doing nothing is the best summertime activity

There’s something to be said for doing nothing. These childhood summers fly by at a rapid clip and I know that, before long, we’ll be packing up the swimsuits and working on the back to school shopping. As much as I love autumn, I want to enjoy summer while I can. So there will be days when we don’t make any plans, go anywhere or do anything terribly constructive. I’ll be happy to spend a few hours with my kids, lounging on the deck or lying in my favorite hammock, watching the clouds or catching fireflies, sipping lemonade and reminiscing about their childhood or planning the future. These are the best hours—the ones I will remember not only when they head back to school, but long after they’re grown — the times when we were together, happy doing nothing at all.

Get the Vivere Double Hammock on Amazon for $89.99

Prices are accurate at the time of publication but may change over time