Summer Play Activities for Kids
By Angie Lynch Fannon, OTD, OTR/L
Summer vacation is here for many of you; for others, it’s right around the corner. Summer is an exciting time that can also be challenging. If families don’t have a plan to keep kids busy, stress can creep its way into the day. I’m an occupational therapist and mom of three, and I’m right there with you. So, here are five summer play activities you can do in your home to keep your child engaged and having fun.
1) “Car Wash”
- Shaving cream, spray whipped cream, or foam soap (find at Walmart or Amazon)
- Favorite small to medium plastic toys (ex: knights, dinosaurs, cars, animals)
- Spray bottle
- Washcloth or dry sponge
This activity is best done in the shower, tub, or outside.
Have your child set up the toys. Allow them to spray the shaving cream/whipped cream/funny foam on the toys to make them dirty. (Pressing down on the sprayer and being accurate with the target is a great fine motor activity.) Once the toys are covered, your child can engage in play with them, or continue on with the “wash.” Using a spray bottle filled with water, your child can spray each toy until it’s clean and free of the foam. (Pressing the trigger of the spray bottle is another great fine motor activity that helps to build the muscles and arches of the hand). Again, the child can engage in pretend play with them or move on to drying them with a washcloth or dry sponge. Not only is this a great use of imagination and fine motor strength and skills, but it’s also a great way to explore using the sense of touch.
2) “Birthday Cake Decorating”
- Play dough or therapy dough
- Golf tees
- Marbles (coins can be used if marbles are unavailable)
Choking hazard warning: Supervise this activity if the child is still putting non-food items in the mouth.
Inside or outside. Use a baking sheet so the dough doesn’t stick to the table surface.
Have your child open the dough and make a ball out of the dough. Have them press the dough flat onto the surface, almost like a pancake. Take as many golf tees as you have (start with 3), and place them into the dough, one by one, so they are sticking up like candles on a cake.
Here comes the tricky part — your child then places one marble on the top of each tee, balancing them so they don’t fall. Usually, they are thrilled with their balancing abilities and want to keep working on this to see how many they can do. Each time they have success, increase the number of tees in the dough. Without knowing it, the child is working on fine motor strength and dexterity, visual motor skills, sensory skills, and executive functioning skills. I like this one because they have to show the ability to slow down for this activity. They have to work through disappointment when a marble falls.
Take it further:
When they become bored with this activity, have them take the tees out of the dough. Ask them to hide all the marbles in the dough so they can’t be seen. Take turns pulling one marble out at a time. You can take a turn hiding them and having your child find all of them. It’s a bit of a marble excavation, and they usually don’t realize they are working their finger muscles! Feel free to find other small items in your junk drawer to hide in the putty (ex: coins, beads, pen caps, etc.).
3) “Driving on the Road”
- Painters tape
- Small or medium-sized toy cars or stuffed animals
Make it harder:
Remote control toys (cars, animals) with wheels
Find a space in your house where you don’t mind putting painter’s tape on the ground surface. The more surface area, the better.
You and your child “build a road,” placing painter’s tape on the ground in whatever direction you’d like. The more angles and zig zags, the better. Once happy with the outcome, the child can drive a toy car (or stuffed animal) by pushing it, usually by crawling on hands and knees to push the car. Consider adding obstacles such as pillows, blocks, or other toys that the toy has to go around or over. Your child is working on visual skills, planning and organizing skills, and is getting great sensory input from this game!
Make it harder:
- Your child can drive his/her remote control car or toy puppy on the painter’s tape road.
- Use your road in a different way. Have your child walk tiptoe on the road. Start over and have them walk heel to toe on the road, then backward (if the environment is safe). Have your child direct you on how to walk or crawl the road. Make up your own combinations.
This activity is filled with gross motor and motor planning work!
4) “Twister on the Driveway”
- Driveway/sidewalk/other concrete area
- Sidewalk chalk in various colors
Make your own driveway Twister board! Get out your Twister game or look at the Twister board online to copy it. Use sidewalk chalk to make your own large rectangle, and fill it in with circles of various colors to make a driveway Twister board. Have 1-3 children on the Twister board, ready to move their bodies. One child or adult is on the side, calling out a body part and a color (ex: right arm, red). The caller can be looking at the driveway Twister board, or turning around so he/she can’t see the board while they call out.
- Have your child draw out a large hopscotch board nearby and then use it.
- Create a full obstacle course using sidewalk chalk. Ideas include lines to jump over (ex: river), circles to hop to (stones), a spiral circle (infinity maze), letters of the alphabet (hop on the letters that spell your name), etc.
Your child is working on sensory processing skills, planning and organizing skills, turn-taking, problem-solving, and gross and fine motor skills with these activities!
5) “Stained Glass Door”
- Window markers
- Painters tape
- Glass window
Cut 4-9 inch strips of painter’s tape. Place them in any direction on the window, creating little glass panels to color in. Have your child color in each panel with a different color. After each panel is colored in, peel away the painter’s tape. You should have a bright and beautiful stained glass window! After a day or two (whenever you are ready), it can be cleaned off with window cleaner and paper towels. (The longer you leave it, the more glass cleaner it takes to come off.)
- Draw on other windows.
- Play tic-tac-toe on the window.
- Write your names or a favorite quote.
Doing this activity is great work for your hand, wrist, and arm muscles, and supports improved fine motor skills and writing skills.
Share Your Summer Play Activities
We hope these summer play activities help you keep your kids busy this summer. If you try any, please post them to social media and tag us, or email photos to Debby DeRosa, our Social Media and Marketing Manager, at firstname.lastname@example.org. And if you have some other fun ideas, we’d love to see those, too. We want to share what you do with others!