Looking for stuff to do this vacation? Keep your kids happy, your house intact, and yourself sane, no matter which of these summer scenarios you’re faced with
Middle of Summer
…and our brains are mush
Cloud School Kids love to look at clouds and find the “hidden” shapes and animals. Show them another way to look at the sky. Teach your tots what it means when the clouds are fluffy, wispy, or low. Show them how they can observe the sky in the evening and predict what the weather will be like the next day. The University Corporation for Atmospheric Research has great cloud lessons and games for kids on its website (eo.ucar.edu/webweather).
International Day Pick a country and try its food, dress, and even language for the day. “England Day” could feature fish sticks and french fries for dinner… but call it fish-and-chips and wrap it in newspaper. Have your kids try talking in a Harry Potter accent. Draw the British flag and find the country on the map. Next time pick an even less familiar country, like Morocco or Nigeria.
Factory Tours Who doesn't want to know how things are made? Factories across the country open their doors to curious visitors, who can watch things like kazoos and crayons being produced. Visit factorytoursusa.com and see what's near you…or what's worth a trip.
We've got to get outta here!
Imaginary Vacations Take your tots to the closest airport where you don't have to go through security to watch jet planes take off, and make up fanciful stories about where they're going and who's on board. Discuss all the places you'll want to travel to someday.
Anywhere But Here Familiarity can breed boredom, so try casting your net just a little wider. If your county has a parks system that includes a network of public pools, try going to one you've never been to before. Or pick a nearby town you've never explored and check out the parks, stores, and restaurants there.
Retro Amusement Parks Forgo the ginormous roller coasters—and long lines—of high-tech amusement parks for old-fashioned parks with smaller Ferris wheels, steam-engine train rides, antique carousels, and wooden roller coasters. Even big kids will appreciate how many more rides they can go on in a single afternoon. For a directory of theme parks and amusement parks across the country, visit themeparkcity.com/USA_index.htm.
It's Hot Out
…but I don't want them in the house
Backyard Water Park Turn your yard into a cool, wet wonderland with a lawn sprinkler and kiddie pool, then head to the nearest dollar store to load up on water toys and games. Buy a few sprinkler attachments that turn an ordinary hose into an amusement-park attraction. You can add a slide to your homemade park by laying down a track of thin plastic and keeping it slippery by training a hose on it.
Outdoor Treasure Hunt Hide or bury a small toy somewhere in your yard. Then create a pirate treasure map, starting with a piece of brown paper to mimic old parchment. “X” marks the spot!
Summer Skating Many ice rinks stay open all summer, and it's always a thrill to actually feel cold—not just cool—when the weather outside is anything but. Discover one near you at findrinks.com.
Stuck in the city
…but we want some nature
Fantastic Farmers Markets Once weekend-only events, many farmers markets (more than 6,000 nationwide!) are open midweek, too, and are the perfect destination for tiny tots, who'll love all the luscious smelling, touching, and tasting that's encouraged. Sniff a bunch of mint or basil and then try a free sample of sourdough bread or lemonade while you listen to local musicians. Visit ams.usda.gov/farmersmarkets for a nationwide directory.
Parks and Rec Hit the trail and enjoy the shade of the forest. There are parks in all 50 states, and many sell yearly passes good for unlimited visits. Not ready to go home after a day of hiking? Give your kids a camping adventure by pitching a tent and staying the night. If you don't own your own equipment, many local sporting-goods stores will rent what you need.
Fish Watching When temps are on the rise, head for the cool pools and tanks at your local aquarium (find one near you at the Association of Zoos & Aquariums website, aza.org). Vibrant fish will inspire hours of drawing later; learning about endangered species, oceans, and freshwater habitats will help drive home lessons in conservation.
It's pouring out
…and they're going crazy!
Rock 'n' Roll Ice Cream Put salt and ice in a gallon-size plastic bag. Put half & half, sugar, and vanilla in a sandwich-size one. Place the sealed small bag in the larger one. Seal that, then start dancing to “churn” the mixture into ice cream! (More specifics at squidoo.com/ice-cream-in-a-bag.)
Sock-Puppet Shows Transform worn-out socks into puppets. Have your kids choose their fave characters, then decorate the socks with markers, felt, and glitter. Turn a cardboard box or card table covered with a sheet into a stage. Write silly dialogue, find an audience, and put on a show!
Classic-Film Festival Take a break from video games and go old-school with Charlie Chaplin or Three Stooges comedies, Errol Flynn swashbucklers, and Shirley Temple charmers. Many public libraries have great collections of old movies on DVD.