Camp Mom: 10 ways to keep the kids entertained during long summer days

School’s out and summer days are long. Instead of dreading summer break, embrace the time with your kids and make your own fun for little-to-no cost.

With a little preparation and creativity, pick a theme for each day or week and make it a fun family-affair.

You’ll be their fave “camp counselor” before long. Here are some ideas to get you started:

1. Cook it up

The kids are in charge of meals for the day, from searching for recipes to menu planning and making the grocery list. Let them lead the way at the grocery store and you can be their sous chef in the kitchen. Try new foods as a family and let the kids use all those kitchen gadgets. Throw in some math skills by having them double or triple the recipes.

2. Brick-by-Brick

Bust out that bin of Lego bricks in your house. Challenge the kids to a build-off and start creating your own Lego village. Print out blank figurine pictures online and let everyone create their own personalized mini-figs. If you’re up for a splurge and a field trip, head to Legoland Discovery Center in Schaumburg or to the Museum of Science and Industry to see the Brick by Brick exhibit. Top the day off with a special screening of “A Lego Brickumentary,” available for free on Amazon Prime.

3. Draw the day away

Spark your inner artist and get that sidewalk chalk and paint ready. (See this month’s craft to make your own sidewalk paint with supplies you have at home!) Go beyond just drawing hopscotch squares and create masterpieces. Lie down on the ground and draw superhero capes flying from your back or a handful of balloons in your outstretched arm. Surprise your neighbors with a drawing to greet them when they come home. Trace your bodies and create self-portraits. Let your imagination carry you away and make those sidewalks shine.

4. Fly with the birds

Delve into the beautiful world of birds. Head to the library to check out books about birds, especially local ones you see in your own backyard. Have the kids each pick a species to feature on a poster board and share interesting facts they can gather. Try your hand at creating bird feeders for your yard, whether it’s covering a pinecone in peanut butter and birdseed or making sugar water to attract hummingbirds. For a hands-on experience, head to the Brookfield Zoo’s Wild Encounters parakeet exhibit to be surrounded by birds and get the chance to feed them.

5. Splish and splash

Nothing says “summer” quite like your good old hose and water, so make a day dedicated to all things wet and wonderful. Make your own homemade sprinkler by poking holes in an empty two-liter plastic bottle and use duct tape to secure to your hose. Create water bombs by cutting sponges into strips and tying them together with string. Fill the blow-up pool with plastic balls and dish soap for bubbles. Create a homemade bike wash for your neighborhood. The water ideas are endless and can be repeated all summer long.

6. The windy city

Take advantage of those windy Chicago days and make them a learning experience. Use tin or coffee cans to create and decorate your own wind chimes. Tie different color ribbons around a wooden hoop and watch as the wind blows the colors around. Make your own kites from paper and string and have a competition to see which one flies the longest and highest. And if it’s not quite windy enough for you, bring some fans outside to explore creating your own wind!

7. Mix it up

Children and adults cannot deny their love for science and explosions. Let the kids research science projects online that they want to attempt. Or try some classics like mixing baking soda with vinegar or dropping Mentos into Coca-Cola. Dye your flowers by letting carnations, roses or even celery sit in colored water and watch as the colors seep through them to the top. You’ll be surprised at how many household items can be used to create amazing scientific results.

8. Get dirty

Let the kids see the fruits of their labor by allowing them to create and grow their own gardens. Head to the garden store to let them select their items to grow, whether it’s tomatoes or green beans or herbs. Designate an area for them to plant, let them research how to care for the plants and take all responsibility for watering and weeding. If they pick fruits or vegetables, help them find recipes to cook once they are ready to be picked. Maybe they’ll even pitch in and help weed the rest of the yard with you!

9. Map it out

Get out and explore your local neighborhood together on an adventure walk. Have the kids create their own maps with keys and legends for what they find important in the area. Make your own treasure hunt with a checklist of items that need to be found like bird feathers, different types of leaves or rocks. Head to your local forest preserves to hike and really soak up nature and all the beauty summer has to offer.

10. From dusk to dark

Part of the joy of summer is staying up long past bedtime in the warm summer air. Create your own drive-in movie theater in your yard with personalized cars made from cardboard boxes. Project your favorite movie on the side of your house or garage with bags of popcorn treats for all. Have a challenge to see who can catch the most lightning bugs. Set off on an evening scavenger hunt with flashlights and glow sticks. Then lie under the moon and count the stars together.

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