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The Big List of Fun, Non-Academic Summer Activities

We all know students should read more over the summer, but what can you do to enhance learning without breaking out the books? Here are a few ideas!

The weather’s nice, school’s out, and students are home for the summer. They’ve just finished a year of testing and expanding their knowledge. So how can parents, teachers, child care providers, and the like make sure kids are keeping their brains active without cracking open a textbook? 

Author S. Rushton writes that the “brain changes physiologically as a result of experience. New dendrites are formed daily, ‘hooking’ new information to prior experiences.” While electronic games and toys may keep students quiet and happy, they don’t build physical muscles, fill their lungs with air, or improve coordination—imperative components for higher-functioning and developing brains.

Non-academic activities should be seen as a vital component of enjoyable learning. This learning will not be tested; it’s there to relish, and learning which occurs under these circumstances is as important than what’s learned in a formal classroom setting. Activities are continually building background knowledge, adding sensory input, constructing memories, and fine-tuning both fine and gross motor coordination.

Here are some ideas for wonderful, enriching, and kid-friendly summer activities.


  • Ride a bike, walk, or swim
  • Climb trees or a rock wall
  • Play in a sandpit
  • Build a garden and grow some plants
  • Camp in the backyard
  • Meet friends at the local park
  • Make milk-carton boats
  • Write in shaving cream
  • Blow bubbles, large and small
  • Run through a sprinkler
  • Picnic and walk in a park
  • Pick leaves or flowers for an art project
  • Identify birds, flowers, and trees in your neighborhood
  • Set up a bird feeder
  • Birdwatch
  • Throw basketballs for fun
  • Try juggling orperfecting magic tricks

Messy areas

  • Build with paper mâché (clean up after the mess, and no matter how great it is, throw it away eventually—keeping it brings white ants! I unfortunately learned this from experience.)
  • Make homemade paper
  • Turn homemade paper into cards for special occasions
  • Press flowers and use the pressed flowers for the cards
  • Cook from scratch—make cookies, pancakes, or cakes
  • Add frosting to the cookies or cake
  • Do science experiments


  • Act out a story—a retelling of a favorite tale, a debut play, or a new spin on a movie
  • Check out a local museum or art gallery and enroll in the children’s programs
  • Create puppets and put on a puppet show
  • Make home movies and videos

Arts and crafts

  • Paint rocks
  • Draw and paint through many mediums: art, clay, playdough, or finger paints
  • Create a collage piece
  • Learn how to create “pop-up” cards (sometimes known as Paper Engineering)  
  • Make origami pieces and turn them into art displays
  • Paint with a variety of tools: brushes, rollers, sticks and twigs, fingers and feet 
  • Make flowers from tissue paper and paste them into cards
  • Learn to quill and create some amazing pieces
  • Create popsicle puppets
  • Create animals with scraps 

Places to visit

  • Art galleries
  • Museums
  • Science museums
  • Botanical gardens
  • Zoos
  • Playgrounds
  • Beaches
  • National and state parks

Learn more about becoming a teacher in our Education and Teaching section.

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About Lois Letchford

Lois Letchford is a leading educator and author of the book “Reversed: A Memoir.”


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