Here’s where I confess that, despite my passion for cooking, Lana’s interest in getting into the kitchen is…still developing, let’s say. Don’t get me wrong — she seriously loves to eat, and she has her moments of extreme helpfulness when we’re prepping a meal or baking up a treat together (with supervision and a little direction she can make this meal on her own, for the most part). But at this moment in time, she’d rather be constructing elaborate Lego neighborhoods or spending literally hours on the swings. She just learned how to pump this week, and the joy on her face as she gets herself going — gleefully declaring “it’s haaaappennnningggg!” — so closely parallels an idyllic vision of parenthood that I (perhaps naively) held in the my 20’s that it had me grinning in bed as I fell asleep last night. You only get so many of those moments, so I’m trying to drink it up. Anyway.
While she takes some convincing to get into the kitchen, the reality is that a whole month of school-less days is rapidly approaching (her preschool goes through the end of July), and we’ll soon be in need of a few new ways to pass the time from sunup to sundown. I spent a fair amount of time researching ideas that truly fit the bill for what I consider to be ideal kiddo activities — read: not overly complicated nor toxic, ha — finally narrowing it down to the 10 you see here. Every activity is something that we’ve either done together (successfully!!) or that I’m genuinely stoked to take on this summer. Only two require items that you might not already have on hand (but are easily obtained — thanks, Amazon!). Six of them are edible — my fave attribute of all. And one of them even requires little to no supervision — perfect for when you’ve got to occupy busy hands while you get dinner on the table.
Oh, and not a single activity here bears a resemblance to slime.*
1 // DIY Sidewalk Chalk “Pops” — I’m a big fan of activities that lend themselves to more activities, so this one tops our list, with the bonus being that sidewalk chalk is the kind of thing that I’ll happily crawl around on the ground to get into, too. I’m more than a little obsessed with the vibrancy of these chalk pops. Despite the number of pop molds that we own, I don’t have the exact silicone version they recommend. Might have to snag them, but wondering if paper Dixie cups wouldn’t be equally effective.
2 // Four-Ingredient Rolled Sugar Cookies (Egg-Free) — We make these crisp sugar cookies for nearly every occasion because they’re SO simple to make, they roll out like a dream and the egg-free recipe means that licking the beater is 100% permitted. They’re hands down the best, simplest rolled sugar cookie I’ve made, with or without the frosting. (More often than not, we make them sans frosting and with just a scattering of these naturally colored sprinkles on top.) Don’t skip the lemon extract — it’s not necessarily lemony, but it adds something that gives them a distinct bakeshop vibe.
3 // Salad Spinner Art — We’ve done this activity more times than I can count, and it’s always a hit. It’s entertaining for kids of all ages (Lana was literally doing it at 18 months, and we have friends with a 10-year-old who’s still into it) and the mess is completely contained to the salad spinner. I repeat: the mess is completely contained. We have this salad spinner, and yes, we still use it for salad, too.
4 // Fresh Fruit Salad Ice Pops — These are so stinkin’ cool and SO VERY EASY. We’re headed to Costco tomorrow for a huge haul of organic fruit, so you can bet these will be in the freezer within the next 24 hours. Kids can help cut the fruit (we have these kiddo knives) and stuff the pop molds — plus popsicles are (obviously) a huge summer win.
5 // No-Fail Coconut Oil Bath Bombs — Full disclosure, this is one the of activities that requires a couple of special purchases — namely citric acid, we’d probably skip the mica — but you also end up with a buncha bath bombs in the end, so…worth it? (I consider this to be a distinct advantage over slime, which personally benefits me…not at all.) I’m also pretty sold on the “no-fail” promise, and if all goes well, these would be fun for gifting all year long, too. If you’ve got an inflatable kiddie pool, I could see a bath bomb being a fun summer addition.
6 // Grape + Toothpick Sculptures — When Lana was little, I used to give her a blob of playdough, some dried spaghetti noodles and a bowl of cheerios and let her go to town stabbing the pasta into the dough and threading each “skewer” with cereal. She dug it. This is like the more intentional, bigger kid version, with the advantages being that you can actually build a pretty legit structure — and half the ingredients are edible. (Not to say some playdough-smeared cheerios didn’t make it down the hatch…) Since it requires pretty minimal supervision, this is the perfect activity to set out when you need a few extra minutes to finish up dinner or wash dishes, and as you can see up there, my little Legomaniac loves the “building” aspect. (Cotton Candy Grapes are back in season, so our project this week was extra sweet. Yum!)
7 // One-Ingredient Banana Ice Cream — Can’t count the number of times we’ve made this recipe, sometimes doctoring it up with the addition of frozen raspberries or, best yet, cacao powder and peanut butter (in which case I occasionally let Lana enjoy it as breakfast). The reviews on the specific recipe are mixed, but I find the descriptions of the stages to be super helpful. We have this food processor and have easily made a double batch at a time.
8 // Rice Cooker Tamagoyaki — Most recipes that can be made in a rice cooker are inherently kid-friendly, but these are one of our faves, and great for quick breakfasts or snacks, too. If you’re not familiar with tamagoyaki, it’s traditionally a sweet and savory scrambled egg that’s made into a very thin omelet using a special pan and then rolled and sliced. This method combines the same flavor and texture with a much more hands-off method that’s fun and easy to make. Kiddos can beat the eggs with the soy sauce and the seasonings, pour the mixture into the rice cooker — and when it’s cooked and cooled, it can be cut into fun shapes (we bought a Totoro cookie cutter, just for this purpose ?) or eaten, as is. And you don’t need a fancy rice cooker to get the job done. Our rice cooker is 15 years old and still does everything we ask of it (this one is remarkably similar and under $20).
9 // Kid-Friendly Frozen Yogurt Drops — I can’t believe we haven’t made these before. Frozen treats of any kind are a huge hit, and since our little isn’t the best milk-drinker, I’m always looking for any excuse to up her calcium intake. Fill a zip-top or piping bag with your fave yogurt, pipe little drops on a parchment-lined baking sheet, have your kiddo decorate them with sprinkles, chocolate chips, chopped nuts or whatevs and chill ’em down. Summertime snackin’ at its best.
10 // Marbled Milk Paper — I went down the ol’ rabbithole big time watching videos of marbled milk. It’s so mesmerizing and super simple. I love that this project takes it to the next level by preserving the cool psychedelic designs on watercolor paper. Half science experiment, half art project, totally fun.
*FWIW, for a somewhat slime-like experience, we LOVE Crazy Aaron’s Thinking Putty. It’s like silly putty but in tons of the most mesmerizing colors — we have Super Scarab and Super Oil Slick, and both are really freaking cool — and it’s hardly messy at all. (It does get smeared all over the inside of the tin in transport, but it can be molded back into one big blob pretty easily.) We’ve taken it to restaurants and on airplanes and we’ve never had an issue at all. These smaller tins are perfect for stashing in a daypack or for travel, too.
Here’s to keeping busy these next couple of months! What kinds of easy kiddo activities are you loving for long summer days?
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This one’s for the Pinners!