Modern Life

7 ideas for summer fun without leaving home

From staycations to backyard games, you can still find ways to make it a special summer.

By Liz Krieger — July 1, 2020

With the school year — and all those weeks of remote learning — finally over, many families (and kids!) may be breathing a sigh of relief. Following that exhale, however, may be the sharp realization that with camps canceled and summer trips shelved, there are months of blank space to fill. 

“Families are looking for different ways to have enriching experiences this summer, with home life as the new center,” says Dan Salzman, global head of media, analytics, and insights at HP. For example, 82% of people have altered their travel plans this summer, says Salzman, and air travel is down by as much as 95%

“Safety is an underlying theme as people plan for their summer this year, and health is obviously the top concern,” says Salzman. “But there are still opportunities to make it fun.” Yes, you may need to get creative — and even pull out some tricks from your own childhood. But from virtual experiences to activities that take you far, far from the glow of a screen, there are ways to add some fun and adventure to the next couple of months, even if you can’t leave home. Here are some ideas to make this summer one to remember.

Trisha Krauss

While travel has taken a hit, inspiration to avoid boredom this summer hasn't.

Stay at home, away from home

Even though one-third of all travelers say they are willing to drive 300 miles or more to reach vacation destinations over the next six months, they might not feel comfortable checking into a hotel. Enter the RV — which gives you the feeling of being “home” while also exploring the world. It’s the one mode of travel that is actually seeing an uptick this summer, with RV rentals up by 650%. “Our kids are out of camp and I am out of ideas, so we are taking them on a cross-country road trip to give them several doses of geography, history, and survival skills along the way,” says Bryce Gruber, a mother of five from New York City. Salzman says RVs give families the ability to travel, avoid crowds, and reduce the amount of screen time after months of distance learning and social isolation. “It’s aligned with many families’ desire to detox from the digital deluge that has accompanied social distancing,” he says. 

Find crafty and creative inspiration outdoors

Stock up on craft supplies — patterned tapes and glue sticks, sidewalk chalk, toilet paper tubes and empty tissue boxes, paper, markers, and paints — and set up a creative discovery station outside. Try adding leaves, flower petals, and twigs to the mix to create interesting textures or organic sculptures. For new ideas throughout the summer, explore the printable activities on HP Print, Play, and Learn, including wildlife-inspired coloring sheets and games, instructions for making a bee hotel to bring pollinators to your yard, and science experiments you can do outside.

Take your backyard to the next level

Can’t go to the pool, the state fair, the local park? Bring the best of it into your backyard. With some pools and beaches still closed or limited, Jenn Falik, a beauty and style expert with a weekly newsletter in Westport, Connecticut, will be blowing up an enormous inflatable water slide for her two young girls to cool down in this summer. And she’s not the only one with the “just add water” idea — in some areas it’s been nearly impossible to find an inflatable pool for sale, and things like trampolines, bounce houses, and climbing domes are also in short supply. Ida Mims, a mother of two in Dallas, Texas, says the above ground pool they bought in April is the “best quarantine purchase ever. It keeps us outside and off electronics — and we can use it at least until September!” With the real summer Olympics canceled, consider creating your own backyard version, but with a retro twist. “I am thinking of going old-school this summer,” says Lauren Goldberg, a middle school principal and a mother of two boys living in Vermont. She’s planning events like a water balloon toss, cornhole, ring toss, and lawn games like badminton, croquet, or bocce ball. “These are things that all of us can do together, regardless of age and skill,” she says.

“Families are looking for different ways to have enriching experiences this summer, with home life as the new center.”

—Dan Salzman, HP's global head of media, analytics, and insights

Bring far-flung destinations to you

Your travel plans may be scuttled, but you can still find opportunities to explore the world. “In the wake of travel bans and stay-at-home orders, attractions, destinations, and other travel brands have devised new ways to experience their offerings,” says Katie Briscoe, president of MMGY Global, a tourism and travel marketing firm based in Kansas City. For instance, Briscoe points to the SoFA Music Festival in San Jose, California — typically a day-long food, arts, and cultural event held in April and September — which has pivoted to become a virtual experience every Saturday. Travel companies like Austin Adventures are offering free virtual travel experiences specifically designed for kids, including guided trips to Utah’s red rocks or the mountains of Peru. And while the kids are off exploring, parents can take a virtual vineyard tour, complete with in-home wine tasting. Summer “travel” this year could also be as simple as planning a weekend of activities around a particular destination — including online museum tours, regional cuisine, local music, and films that give a taste of the culture. “We were actually supposed to go to Amsterdam in April,” says Falik, “so I found a video walking tour on YouTube that we can use instead.”

Let your mailbox become a portal to adventure

Monthly subscription kits can also offer a way to taste another culture — from Little Passports (kids explore a different culture or country each month), to Atlas Coffee Club (far-flung java, to keep the grown-ups peppy) to Universal Yums (adventurous snacks sourced from around the world). The makers of the popular Kiwi Crate have created a Camp KiwiCo around their interactive boxes, including 5 days worth of hands-on activities in each box, with complementary programming and content online. CrateJoy has a subscription box for every person in your family — including Vacation Crate, with accessories and global beauty products, and We Craft Box, with a prepared monthly craft. 

Get closer to nature

Many zoos or museums are still closed, but you can still get hands-on with nature in your own neighborhood. In North Wales, Pennsylvania, Karen Beck bought her two kids mesh nets and a bucket for catching tadpoles and frogs in a nearby stream, plus hatched some chicks. “A farm near us supplies hatching kits to science classes, so we got an incubator, a dozen eggs and a brooder box,” Beck says. She and her family cared for the eggs for a week, spent another week with the chicks after they hatched, and then took them back. “We had so much fun, we did it again with ducks,” she says. Not into hosting critters of any kind? Getting in touch with nature can be as simple as pitching a tent in the backyard, as Anna Ota, a mother of two in Paramus, New Jersey, who plans to stake her tent into their yard this summer. “My 6-year-old son is also interested in learning more about bird watching and nature photography, so we’ll try to do some of that as well,” she says. Once the sun goes down, you can explore the cosmos above with apps like Star Rover and SkySafari

Trisha Krauss

Enjoy summer days outside with family by bringing the attractions to you.

Day camp at home

Re-creating the day camp experience at home can be a fun way to bring the family together and keep the learning going for kids while they’re out of school. Author and educator Matthew Boulay offers tips and activities for parents in his new book How to Keep Your Kids Learning When Schools Are Closed. “Summer learning doesn’t have to mean teaching children trigonometry or chemistry,” he says. “The essence of summer is about engaging children’s natural curiosity.” Many day camps, unable to provide in-person camp, have pivoted to offering their specialties online — sending supplies ahead or providing detailed lists of what parents should gather together. Free camp options like Camp Kinda (“It’s like camp… kinda”) offer daily activities around a topic or theme, from Egyptian Pyramids to the art of moviemaking. Raddish Kids has teamed up with Outschool to offer week-long virtual summer classes with themes like Global Eats, and Bake Shop, and Outschool is also offering a range of virtual online summer camps for kids, including space and art camps. Curious Jane has online versions of their craft-centric camps called CA/MP: Create Art/Make Projects. And burgeoning engineers or computer scientists may enjoy building robots with Robot Foundry or learning to code with TechKnowHowKids

Of course, virtual experiences aren’t the same as actually visiting another part of the world, and “camp” at home isn’t quite like bunking in a cabin with friends for the summer. But whether you spend your time on the road or in your own backyard, with some screen use or with screens stowed away, this summer can be the break your family needs.

And if you run out of ideas, remember: A little bit of boredom isn’t such a bad thing for most kids. Just take it from Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda, who put it this way: "Time alone is the gift of self-entertainment — and that is the font of creativity."


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