This post was written in partnership with D.C. Mosquito Squad and contains affiliate links
We want to breathe a sigh of relief when we abandon school year routines but in between vacation, camp, and pool time, summer can bring its own challenges especially when we’re trying to get our kids to unplug and go outside. The lure of the screen is strong but one trick is to tap into their interests and engage them in age appropriate ways. But what works for a toddler is completely different for a tween or teen! To get your kids to put down devices, I’ve put together this age appropriate guide to unplugged summer fun with tips and tricks to help get them outside or at least away from the screen.
A Guide to Unplugged Summer Fun for All Ages
Unplugged Summer Fun for Toddlers and Preschoolers
Kids this age have a strong desire to explore, work to figure out the world through play, and love to let their imaginations run wild. This age can be magical and easy but it can be rip-your-hair-out hard when tantrums, potty training, naps, and trying to stick to a routine are part of your everyday. The key to this age is to keep it simple. You don’t need to go far for fun especially if you have a kid-friendly backyard that encourages exploration.
Find things activities that fit easily into your routine but also let them exercise their growing independence. Attention spans aren’t long so let them feel empowered by giving them a choice between two things you’ve pre-selected so they feel like they’re in control.
Here are some examples of pairs of age appropriate choices you can give to toddlers and preschoolers to do right outside your home:
- Sidewalk chalk or spray bottles– Finding a shady spot on the sidewalk or driveway to sit and color with sidewalk chalk is always fun but sometimes it’s highly satisfying to squirt with a spray bottle too. Offer kids a choice between one or the other to start with. If you have a preschooler, sneak in some learning by asking if they can write their name in chalk or using the spray from the bottle. Make it a game by calling out random letters once they’re done with their first name!
- Water table or sand table– Both provide amazing sensory experiences for this age group. Stock your water table with measuring spoons, cups of different sizes for filling and pouring, a cut up sponge, and a variety of little toys that sink or float. Conservation, buoyancy, and measurement are all skills that can be learned from a water table. It’s a bonus that many of the same toys can also be used for the sand table which is great especially when you have a combo one like this Spill & Splash Seaway Water Table ($69.99) from Step 2!
- Nature walk or book– Discoveries in your own backyard can be endless! Motivate your little one with a magnifying glass, bug box, or by reading a great book either before or after. I’ve always loved picture books by Lois Ehlert whose vibrant illustrations featuring nature just scream summer!
One big deterrent to outside time can be the elements so be sure to protect sensitive skin with sunscreen and maintain a mosquito free yard. Bug spray helps but if you don’t want topical spray on your child’s skin, regular yard treatments from D.C. Mosquito Squad protect your family from both mosquitos and ticks so you can truly enjoy your outside time without the worry of getting bitten!
Also be sure to hydrate during hot and sunny summer days! I’m love these collapsible silicone bottles from Hydaway because they feature a wide mouth for inserting ice, are dishwasher safe, BPA-free, and then are relatively flat to stash in your bag when empty.
Unplugged Summer Fun for Early Elementary Ages
This age loves showing you what they know and are open to learning new things to expand their knowledge base. It’s important to engage them in activities that allow them to practice what they know and if your child loves doing the following things, here are some suggestions about next steps that gently encourage them to step slightly outside their comfort zone.
If your child loves to….
- Climb trees— Head outside with them for some creative problem solving! Have them look at their favorite tree and ask them if they use its branches to create a fort. Supply them with an old sheet and twine but let them get creative! They may run in and out of the house a bunch of times for supplies but when it’s done, they will have created their very own hideout! Since shady branches can be havens for mosquitos, treat your backyard with bi-monthly sprays from D.C. Mosquito Squad.
- Cook— Challenge your young chef to plan a picnic lunch or a dish to serve at your next family meal. Start the conversation to brainstorm what they might want to make, look up a recipe in a favorite cookbook, evaluate items you have on hand in the pantry or refrigerator, make an ingredient list, and head to the grocery store.
- Build— If your child loved marble runs in their younger years, GraviTrax ($59.99) takes it to a whole new level! Even though there are design guides available through GraviTrax mobile app for iOS and Android, they don’t need them for open ended with gravity, magnetism, and kinetics.
- Observe nature— Plant a garden! Start from seed or get seedlings from a local garden store and work together to plant vegetables or flowers. This is a great way to practice scientific observations, learn about life cycles of plants, and also teach responsibility especially when they’re put in charge of helping with the watering!
- Explore— Instead of exploring on foot, mix it up by heading out on a bike, skateboard, or scooter, explore a different part of town, or find a shady nature trail. If your child has their own smartphone, Life360 is a great way you can keep an eye on them at all times thanks to GPS enabled tracking that can pinpoint their whereabouts on a map in real time for your peace of mind.
Unplugged Summer Fun for Tweens
Game playing tweens who have swapped Minecraft for Fortnite might need enticing excuses to walk away from the screen or at least rules for summer device use and no, going to the movies doesn’t count! Camps, pool time, or a trip to an amusement park with a water park are sure ways to get kids this age to unplug but here are some other ideas for the 9-12 year old set.
- Use screentime to inspire screen-free learning— YouTube videos are great resources for teaching kids new skills. Perhaps there’s a video they’ve watched recently that can inspire an unplugged adventure or hands-on project.
- Camp in the backyard— Sleepovers with friends are fun but they’re even better when done outside and under the stars as a campout! Pitch a tent, have your kid invite some friends to come over after dinner, and when it gets dark, a spontaneous game of Manhunt or Flashlight Tag could happen! Since dusk is the time when mosquitos are out and you don’t want mosquitos to ruin your tween’s outdoor fun, read these tips on how to keep mosquitos away while camping. If your child camps in your yard or elsewhere, be sure to label gear with Mabel’s Labels so they’ll know which things are theirs when they’re ready to head home in the morning.
- Learn a new skill— With more time than during the school year, summer is a great time to learn something new! Musically inclined kids might want to pick up a new instrument, artists could expand their skills by learning a new medium, and bike riders and scooter enthusiasts can take it up a notch by learning how to skateboard. If skateboarding has been on your tween’s to-learn list, check out the new Nitro Circus helmets and skateboards! Now available at Walmart, this is an affordable way to get started. Just be sure to buy all the necessary protective gear to minimize injuries!
If you’re struggling with getting your child to unplug, set limits and guidelines for summer screen time. It might help to have a required list of activities such as reading, a chore, exercising, etc. that they must complete before they hop on the computer, tablet, phone, or gaming console.
For kids who need tangible rewards, Time Tokens ($25.95 on Time Tokens) are actual coupons that can be earned for screen time. Developed by a mom in England, kids can earn paper coupons good for 5-30 minutes of screen time that they can redeem. The idea is that by teaching kids to manage everything from tablets, TV, games consoles, computers, and smartphones, they learn a healthy balance between screens and fun real-life activities so they come to value other activities as much as they do screen time.
If you feel like you’re losing a battle you don’t want to fight, don’t stress! It’s summer! Balance is important but so is overall happiness within your family so just get out there and enjoy the outdoors and have fun!
DC Mosquito Squad treats homes, businesses, and even pools regularly and for special events throughout Washington, D.C., Maryland, and Virginia. To see where they treat, visit their website, call 571-830-8002, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
To read my other posts about DC Mosquito Squad, visit:
- 8 Tips for Maintaining a Mosquito-Free Yard This Summer
- 29 Ways to Protect your Family from Mosquito Bites and Zika Virus
- 4 Ways to Get Rid of Backyard Mosquitos and Ticks
- How to Keep Biting Bugs Away from Special Summer Events
This post was written in partnership with D.C. Mosquito Squad who is providing all-natural barrier treatment for our yard this summer. I also appreciate that are supporting St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital with a $500 donation to my St. Jude Memphis Marathon Weekend race for a second year in a row! Thank you D.C. Mosquito Squad!