Keeping Your Kids Busy Over Summer Vacation

The time is coming, parents. Your kids will soon be done with school for the entire summer and you’ll need to find some way to keep them entertained. That isn’t really as hard as it sounds as long as you’re willing to pay attention to what your kids like to do and find some way to encourage them to do it.

'Enthusiastic Teenagers' by Quinn Dombrowski.

Finding a few good activities for your kids over summer vacation will keep them busy and can help keep them out of trouble. Most importantly, most of these activities will give you the chance to bond with your kids and build a stronger relationship with them while school is out. Some of these activities will require a little but of money but there are plenty of options for a family on a fixed income.

Books! (photo by J Brew)

Start a Family Book Club

Family book clubs are a great idea – even for kids that don’t necessarily like to read. Family book clubs work a bit differently than a normal book club because, obviously, it’s going to be hard for every member of your family to read the same book. Instead, each member of your family will choose a book, read it and then pass it on to the next member of the family. Keep passing books on until everyone has read all of the books. Then take a night to sit down with some snacks and discuss the books you’ve read. It encourages lively discussion and will be a fun night for everyone. Just be careful. If things start to get heated, take control and switch gears. You want to discuss not argue.

You can also put a spin on this one by choosing new books instead of favorite books. Challenge everyone to find a new book they haven’t read and read that for their book club book then, good or bad, pass the book along like you would with the favorite book idea above. You can visit garage sales, flea markets, used book stores, thrift stores or the local library for everyone to choose a book. It might cost a little extra, but it gives your kids a chance to see how much fun picking out a new book can be.

It might be hard to get your kids interested at first, especially if they aren’t strong readers. While the book club is a great way to help your kids strengthen their reading skills, some kids just might not be interested in it at all. Remember, you don’t want them to feel like they have to do something they don’t want to do. A great alternative is…

A movie club. (photo by Wonderlane)

Start a Family Movie Club

A family movie club is a whole lot of fun for older kids who aren’t interested in reading books. Every Friday night, gather as a family and ask each family member to bring their favorite movie. While I would recommend renting or buying the movies (because it’s the honest way of doing things) you can also download the movies if you don’t have the money to purchase or rent. Netflix is another great option. Settle in with some snacks and start watching movies. Have a family discussion about each movie after it plays. If that means keeping the kids up passed their bedtime then so be it. It’s summer time! Kids will love being allowed to stay up later than usual.

For a little extra fun, have movie theme nights. Have a musical night. Have a scary movie night with the older kids. Have an animated movie night. Themes keep things interesting and allow your kids to explore movies beyond the genre they’re usually interested in.

Family Night. (photo by Brian)

Have Family Nights Every Week

Establish one night every week that will be designated ‘Family Night’ and make sure everyone knows they should be there – this includes both parents if there are two parents involved. Keep the kids in mind when you choose a day. If they’re on sports teams or have other activities they go to, make sure you work around their schedules as well. It might take a little work, but remember, it’s summer break. You don’t have to stick to weekends although once school starts, consider continuing the tradition on Friday or Saturday nights.

Family night should start with dinner and last right up until bedtime. Make dinner together as a family. With younger kids, you can stick to simple things like having them help you put toppings on a pizza or nachos. With older kids, give them a more hands on role. Challenge them to make the salad or make homemade sauce for spaghetti. Continue this with the snacks for your family night.

Have every member of your family make one snack for family night. Younger kids can help you back cookies while older kids can be given the ingredients to make a snack all on their own. Don’t set limits on what they make. It’s their job. Give them the freedom to do it. You never know, you might help them discover a love of cooking that could encourage them to pursue a career as a chef.

Play games as a family with the winner choosing a movie to watch or a game they’d like to play next. Card games are inexpensive, fun and competitive, so they’re always a great option as are board games. If you don’t have many board games, go to a thrift store or a discount store and see what they have to offer. Department stores often have discounted games in their clearance section as well.

'Photo Gear' by DeusXFlorida.

Photo Scavenger Hunts

Consider taking day trips as a family to places you’ve never really gone together or places you liked to go as a child. A great activity to make these outings a little more fun for the kids is having photo scavenger hunts. Instead of challenging your kids to go out and find items, you can challenge them to take pictures of the items on the list. Some items you could put on the list include:

  • A specific kind of bird native to the area
  • A type of leaf, tree or flower native to the area
  • A squirrel or other common wildlife
  • A brown dog
  • A white cat
  • A person wearing sunglasses
  • A blue car (assuming, of course, your family car is not blue… would kind of take the challenge out of that one)
  • A funny hat

Offer fun prizes your child would want to win. For example, if they win they get to choose where the family will eat dinner, the CD played in the car on the way home or even where the family will go for the next outing. Make sure though that kids are in teams with either you or another adult. Safety first. If you want to offer a tangible prize your kids would want but won’t be too expensive, consider:

  • A $1o gift certificate for iTunes
  • A gift certificate for
  • Blank CDs or DVDs
  • A cover for an iPod or iPhone
  • A ‘prize’ bag from a local discount store
  • Laptop stickers or decals

You can expand on this basic idea and have a summer long photo scavenger hunt with a bigger prize to be won. Gift certificates to local clothing stores, music stores or department stores make great prizes. A new iPod is also a great idea. You could also have a cash prize. One of my favorite prizes for photo scavenger hunts is a brand new digital camera paired with a photo album because it encourages a passion for photography while also teaching them the value of a little friendly competition.

'Tex Playing Video Games' by Rebecca Pollard.

Video Game Tournaments

If your kids love video games, make video games a family activity. Start with two competitors – you versus your child or you versus your spouse or partner. The winner takes on the next person. Keep going until you have a winner. You can use the same type of prizes you would use for a photo scavenger hunt. This one is great for rainy days when any outdoor activities you’ve planned won’t work out. For more involved games, have one battle a week with the winner being crowned at the end of the summer.

Vegetable garden. (photo by Lee)

Plant a Vegetable Garden

If you have the room in your yard, plant and maintain a vegetable garden with your kids. Vegetable gardens are a great idea, but you’ll have to start getting things set up for your kids before they’re actually on summer vacation. Find out what vegetables your kids will want to grow, get seeds and take a weekend while they’re still in school and start planting together as a family. Over the summer, encourage your kids to keep checking in on the garden. They’ll appreciate how much better vegetables taste straight from the garden and will love knowing they helped grow the vegetables themselves.

'Bedroom Makeover Part II' by Meg.

Bedroom Makeovers

This one is a bit more ambitious. It will require money, patience and a whole lot of trust in your kids. It will be worth it. You will have absolutely no trouble getting your kids interested in this one and they’ll definitely remember how much fun it was. You will, however, have to let your kids take control. Remember, it’s their bedroom, not yours. Let them choose the colors they want, the materials they want and most of all, let them have fun with it.

If you have a sewing machine or any skill with a needle and thread, you can significantly cut costs by helping your kids make their own curtains and pillows. It really isn’t all that hard to do and you can often buy all of the materials you’ll need at craft stores for fairly inexpensive. Set a budget and make sure your kids know that that budget is. Let them know if they run out of money, the project will not be finished. This is a great way to teach your kids about budgeting and the value of money. In addition, it really allows them to be creative.

If you’re handy with a hammer and nails, put shelves into your kids rooms where they want them according to how they want them. Let your kids design everything. It might be a little difficult to put their designs into action, but if you run into problems, let them know and help them help you find a solution. This time spent together working will be something they’ll always remember.


When all is said and done, how you decide to spend your summer with your kids will be up to you. Many of the projects on this list are fun, involve spending lots of quality time together and are relatively inexpensive. Most importantly, they let your kids have some measure of control which they’ll definitely appreciate. There are tons of other activities you can partake in with your kids. Use your imagination. Most importantly though, this is their summer vacation. If they aren’t interested in the activities you’ve planned, don’t force them to get involved. Make sure you give them time to relax as well. Don’t keep them going all the time. They need time with their friends too.