Half terms and school holidays might seem like an age for parents, especially when children keep complaining that they are bored. But often, despite our best intentions, the summer passes too quickly and we don’t get that much done.
This year, make the most of any good weather and keep kids entertained by spending time outside! There are loads of ways to soak up the sunshine and get closer to nature – right in your own back garden. Plus, many activities cost next to nothing.
Here are my top 20 – I’d love to hear about your ideas on Twitter too!
1 Hit your local park
No garden? No problem! There are tons of green spaces across the country just waiting to be explored! Parks are a great free resource and there’s always plenty to do.
You can also check out the activities for Love Parks Week, which raises awareness of the importance of public parks. Events include walks, cycle rides, pond dipping, art activities and music concerts.
2 On your bike!
Explore the great outdoors on wheels by following a local bike trail. They are usually well-maintained and make a great training ground for kids who aren’t confident cycling on the roads. Plus they’re scenic! Check out Cycle Route to find out what’s around you.
3 Camp out in the garden
Sleeping under the stars is always great fun, but you don’t need to sacrifice home comforts. Set up tents and sleeping bags in the garden and get kids to eat midnight feasts and tell ghost stories by torchlight.
You can also explore the night sky with the free Sky Walk app – just hold your phone to the sky and it identifies the names of all the constellations, planets and even satellites!
4 Create a tasting menu
This is a great way to get kids to try more fruit. Aim for a range of different flavours and textures, like fig, plum, cherry, kiwi, apricot, watermelon, pineapple and strawberry.
Encourage kids to give each one a score out of five and try and grow some of the more popular ones. Strawberries and blueberries always go down well. Plus now you know which ones can go in the lunchboxes come September!
5 Have a waterfight
I’m sure you remember the fun-filled summer water fights of your childhood! I loved playing Squirt Tag – each player is armed with a water pistol and they must ‘tag’ their opponents by squirting them. Tagged players must freeze, but can still squirt at remaining players. The winner is the last one left unfrozen!
6 Have a picnic
Eating outside is one the great pleasures of summertime, so fill a basket with tasty goodies and pick a scenic spot! For something a bit different, go posh with canapés and mini-desserts.
Barafundle Beach in Pembrokshire has been voted Britain’s number one picnic spot by nationalpicnicweek.co.uk – check out their website for other great spots.
7 Pick your own
There’s nothing quite like fresh summer fruit, and kids love picking it almost as much as eating it! Maximise your bounty by making it a competition – the child who picks the most wins a prize. (This also stops them eating it as they go along).
8 Count the butterflies
Join the Big Butterfly Count (19 July – 10 August), a nationwide survey to monitor our butterfly population. All you have to do is spend 15 minutes counting all butterflies you see in your garden, park, field or forest and submit your sightings online.
9 Press flowers
It’s a classic garden activity. Pick the prettiest varieties and place them between a few sheets of paper. Press them flat between the pages of a large book and close it. Pile heavy objects or other books on top and leave for a few days.
10 Start a compost heap
Many councils are offering compost bins as part of a scheme, so check to see if you’re eligible before you buy one! Use a mix of green material (grass clippings, veg peelings) and brown material (broken-up twigs, coffee grounds). Turn it over with a fork to mix. Here’s a free guide on how to create a great compost heap.
11 Make an insect hotel
Kids + creepy crawlies = fun. Make a little home for bees, flies and lacewings out of recycled household and garden materials. Push short lengths of bamboo cane into a container, making sure the back is blocked off so it doesn’t turn into a wind tunnel!
Or drill holes into logs and set into containers. Then place your home out in the garden. Here’s a guide to making the insect hotels above.
12 Create veg stamps
Don’t let veg go to waste! Reuse anything that is past its best as a stamp. Cut apples, pears and peppers in half to make great shapes, or carve designs (simple as you like!) into courgettes and potatoes. Wash, pat dry and then coat in paint and stamp away. Get kids to make patterns on brown paper, which makes great wrapping paper for presents.
13 Paint pebbles
Acrylic paint is best, because it gives a glossy finish and stays put. Add in some googly eyes and a bit of glitter, and you’ve got cool free doorstops, paperweights and ornaments.
14 Make more plants
It’s not too late to sow seeds, and kids love to watch them grow into little plants. Cress and lettuce are very fast-growing.
Get older children help you to take cuttings and pot them up. You can take cuttings from shrubs and perennials, such as fuchsia, choisya, lavender, hydrangea, petunia and pelargoniums.
Take a 10cm cutting from a new shoot that isn’t flowering. Cut just below a leaf joint and replant in gritty compost. For shrubs, dip the tip in rooting hormone before replanting. The cuttings will need to go in a propagator, or cover the pots with a plastic bag and place out of direct sunlight.
15 Plan a plant scavenger hunt
Write a list of plants that can easily be found in the garden, or your local park or woods. The first child to find all the things wins! The older the child, the more complex the list can be. It’s a great summer activity that gets the kids out of the house for a while, as well as teaching them about nature.
16 Play hula hula
Keep kids occupied while you’re unpacking the picnic – stand them in a circle, slip a hula hoop on one child’s arm and get them to hold hands. They have the move the hoop around the circle, without letting go of each other’s hands…
17 Feed the birds
For a summer feeder, make fat balls! Mix one part lard with two parts bird seed and squash into a ball. Push a loop of string into the middle and hang it up in the garden. Easy!
18 Join the Green Gym
Get into shape while you spruce up Britain’s green spaces with a Green Gym. It’s suitable for anyone aged 8 or over. You’ll work up a sweat digging, planting and painting in local parks and forests, making your local community look nicer while you boost your stamina and core muscles.
19 Rock pooling
Kids never sunbathe for long, so keep them occupied at the beach by going rock pooling. The best spots are on sheltered, rocky seashores at low tide. Try the underside of rocks and boulders and under piers or other structures. Some creatures are great at concealing themselves, so watch for tiny air bubbles in the water and have a little dig around with the net to unearth them.
20 Write a bucket list
Fed up of hearing kids complain that they’re bored? Get them to write a bucket list of things they want to do, including big and little activities. Then every time they moan, pick something to do. There’s no arguing that way – they chose the list!