After three months of virtual schooling, the last thing you want is for your kids to spend the summer glazed over in Zoom. Kids need to play outside, run around and grow! The odds of camps happening in person are getting slimmer by the day, so we’ve got ideas for transforming your backyard that won’t break the bank.

Have fun and good luck everyone!

Personal water park

When the weather gets hot, there is nothing kids of all ages like better than getting wet. You can easily set up a miniature water park in your yard to keep them busy while you work on a laptop (in a dry spot nearby).

Set out some sprinklers, a wading pool or a water table if you have them. If not, go low-key with some buckets and sponges. We like foam water squirters, because they aren’t guns and they are easy for little kids to fill up themselves. Just splashing around in the old baby tub with a few rubber duckies can keep some kids busy for a long time.

Kids with siblings can be set up for team games:

• Water battleship: Fold origami boats and try to sink the other’s boat with a squirt gun at a distance.

• Water limbo: Limbo under a running hose.

• Water tag: Tag each other with a wet sponge.

• Water race: Use a small cup and run back and forth across the yard to be the first to fill your bucket.

• Water obstacle course: Dodge the sprinkler, buckets and water balloons.

Ninja Olympics

Being a ninja warrior is all the rage with older kids. There are many commercial kits available, but with some creativity, you can make your own challenge course with stuff you already have.


• Scavenge for old pillowcases to use in a bag hop.

• Draw some circles in your driveway or sidewalk to make agility rings.

• Tie lots of strings around trees for a “laser maze” climb.

• Set up cardboard boxes as hurdles.

• Use pool noodles to create a crawling tunnel.

• Pull several jugs of water in feats of strength.

• Include Frisbees or small balls for an accuracy toss activity.

• Add some sit-up and push-up stations for easy, no-frill exercises.

• Give your kids a timer so they’re motivated to keep trying the activities over and over again. With some luck, they’ll be so pooped afterward they’ll need a long nap.

Ice-cream social

Let the kids try making their own ice cream or design their own Popsicle. Homemade pops are so easy. Just pour some yogurt, fresh fruit and a splash of juice in the blender, then freeze the mixture into Popsicle molds. Don’t have molds? Peel some bananas, poke a craft stick in each, dip in chocolate and freeze them on a cookie sheet. Yum!

The big dig

For the younger set, digging in dirt or sand is a fun activity all by itself. Just give them a small shovel and some empty plastic cups and they can be content for an hour. You can make an archaeological adventure by mixing in some hidden treasures, such as small toys or coins.

For even more fun, freeze the toys in a large container of water overnight, and offer your child a toy hammer or a rubber mallet and a wooden clothespin to excavate the “Ice Age” artifacts. Is your child too young for tools? Offer a pipette filled with water or a small squirt toy.


Backyard camping

Everything is automatically more exciting if it’s done inside a tent. If you don’t have one, create your own with pillows, blankets and any available furniture.

Young children can do imaginative play, puzzles, snack or even nap. Older children can play games, journal or make crafts. Set them up for a friendly (and quiet) competition with a read-a-thon. While you’re at it, go ahead and set up a tent for yourself. At least it can be a place to hide and respond to some business emails for a while before you are found.

Bring the playground home

Remember going to the playground? Miss swinging, climbing and sliding? Since there’s no summer camp to pay for this year, this may be the time to spend a little dough to elevate your backyard experience.

• If you have $1: Stock up on craft supplies at a dollar store. It’s the cheapest place to buy sidewalk chalk. Stringing pony beads keeps kids engaged for hours, too. Use pipe cleaners to make the threading easier for preschoolers.

• If you have $10: Get a plastic wading pool to splash in for your two-legged and four-legged children. It may be flimsy, but it’ll be fun for as long as it lasts.

• If you have $20 and a tree: The simplest tree swing is a rope with a disc to sit on. The models get cushier as the price tag goes up, but all you really need is a rope and something to support your bottom.


• If you have $60 and two trees: Put up a basic slackline to work on balance and agility. You can purchase additional accessories, like a trapeze bar, rings and rope ladder.

• If you have $110: Get a stand-alone slide, or one that attaches to a wooden platform.

Be bored

If there’s one thing we’ve learned in this pandemic, it’s that life isn’t necessarily better when we’re rushing from one scheduled activity to another. There’s something to be said for being bored. Boredom is not a bad thing. Let the kids watch a ladybug crawl on the grass, leaf through a book, nap under the trees. That’s what these long, lazy days — and being a kid — are for.