Girl tossing a Frisbee into the air on a summer day

15 retro activities for a fun-filled summer

Summer has arrived and school is out! Time to put the finishing touches on our kids’ summer schedule. From play dates, day camps, extra lessons, summer visitors, and family adventures, it’s amazing how quickly two months of summer vacation can book up.

Truth be told, summer schedules make my head spin right ’round like a record. As a child of the nineties, my summers were filled with biking to the corner store, running through the sprinkler, chasing down the ice-cream truck, watching clouds float by, and going on a few family camp-outs. In other words, there was lots of free time for hanging out and playing outside. The great thing is that we can give our kids the best of both worlds: scheduled summer activities balanced with plenty of free time for good old-fashioned summer fun. 

Below is a list of 15 kid-friendly retro summer activities that are simple, low-cost, and tech-free. They’re sure to get your child outside and having fun this summer. 

1. Learn to jump rope

Rope-jumping is a classic retro activity that gets the heart pumping and legs moving. This activity was very popular from about the 1950s to 1990s and seems to making a serious comeback in the world of fitness today. The great thing about jumping rope is that it’s inexpensive, accessible, and fun. Once your child has mastered the basic rope-jump, there are dozens of tricks to learn: double hops, double unders, criss-crosses, and side swipes. And don’t forget about Double Dutch—jumping rope using two long ropes.

2. Play flashlight tag

This classic game is a mix of hide-and-seek and tag. To play you need at least three people, a flashlight, and low lighting. The person who’s “it” gets the flashlight and counts down to give the other players time to hide. Then the “it” person tries to find and chase down the other players. If the “it” person shines the flashlight onto a player, that person must wait at a designated area until everyone is found. This is a great game for older kids that will get them running. If you like it, here are some other fun games you can play in the dark.

3. Create chalk art and games

Sidewalk chalk sparks creativity and encourages movement because it’s so colourful and easy to use. Young toddlers can use chunky chalk to learn how to draw on pavement, while older kids can create elaborate art and larger-than-life board games. Sidewalk chalk games like hopscotch, four-square, and tic-tac-toe are just a few blast-from-the-past games that kids still enjoy today. From more ideas, check out these great chalk games.

4. Play on a Slip ‘N Slide

The Slip ‘N Slide was patented in 1961 by Robert D. Carrier, who came up with the idea while watching his son slide down his driveway on his belly. Ouch! His idea was a huge hit and continues to be today. You can still buy a Slip ‘N Slide, but making one is easy-peasy, less expensive, and more durable. All you need is a camping tarp, liquid soap, and running water. Lay the tarp onto a soft grassy area, add a bit of soap, drizzle some water, and let the fun begin! 

5. Learn how to roller skate

Roller skating was a popular pastime from the 1970s to the 1990s, and is making a serious comeback today. Roller skating is a great activity for kids because it helps them develop balance and coordination. It’s also so much fun! As long as there’s smooth pavement, you can roller skate. If you don’t own a pair, check your local thrift store or visit a local roller skating rink and rent some to try it out. 

6. Build a fort

Forts are havens of imagination for kids and can be made out of all sorts of materials: sticks, blankets, cardboard, cushions, etc. Most children have an innate interest in building forts and only need space and materials to set forth. However, young kids might need a bit of a helping hand to get started.

7. Bike to a corner store

Biking to the corner store was one of my favourite summer activities as a kid. I would save up my nickels and dimes and spend them on things like jawbreakers, bubble tape, and push pops. There’s something special about biking to the corner store for a small treat that most kids won’t pass up. Check out these other ways to make biking more fun for kids.

8. Run through the sprinkler

Running through a lawn sprinkler is one of those quintessential summer activities that never grows old. It’s a great way for kids to cool down on a hot summer day. Plus, there are plenty of fun sprinkler games that will get your child running, jumping, dancing and laughing. If you’re looking for some ideas, try these sprinkler games.  

9. Camp in the backyard

A backyard camp-out is a great activity for kids who are new to camping, for families that want to stay close to home, or simply for the fun of it! Check out these great tips for making your backyard camp-out a success.

10. Learn to hula hoop

The hula hoop was extremely popular when it was first released in 1958 by the American company Wham-O. While the hula hoop trend fizzled over time, it never completely disappeared. Today hula-hooping is popular in the world of performance, exercise, and active play! Learning how to hula hoop is great for helping kids develop mobility, coordination, and balance. Hula hoops are easy to find and inexpensive, but they’re also easy to make using polyethylene plastic tubing and duct tape. Here are some creative ways to use one.

11. Play Capture the Flag

Nobody really knows where Capture the Flag came from but Boy Scouts have been playing it since the 1960s. It’s a great summer activity for a group of kids. Once they learn the basic rules, kids can add their own variations. To play Capture the Flag, you need at least ten children, a big open space, two “flags” (old shirts, balls, broomsticks), two prison markers (hula hoops, cones, rope), and a line to divide the sides of the playing field (long rope, cones). To play the game, make two teams. Have each team hide a flag on their side of the playing field (near the back) and make a prison location. The team that captures the flag of the opposing team and brings it onto their side wins! However, players can be captured (tagged) by their opponents and sent to jail. This was my favourite game to play with my neighbourhood friends in the ’90s. 

12. Try out a Bongo Board

The Bongo Board made its debut in the 1950s and was quickly taken up by surfers, skaters, and skiers as a way to improve balance. The original Bongo Board was a wood plank on a log but since then, it’s gained a few extra features. Getting your hands on a kid-friendly balance board can be expensive, but you can easily make your own out of a pool noodle or a piece of PVC pipe and a scrap of wood. Simply lay a piece of wood perpendicular to a pool noodle or PVC pipe and you’ve made a simple balance board that can help your child develop their balance, coordination, and body awareness. 

13. Tie-dye shirts

In the ’60s and ’70s, tie-dying was all the rage, and guess what? It’s making a big comeback. Tie-dyeing is a fun summer activity that’s best done outdoors where you can wash the mess away. The simplest way to tie-dye is to buy a few basic white shirts and a tie-dye kit from your local craft store. 

14. Toss a Frisbee

Frisbees were invented by Walter Frederick Morrison in 1948 and mass produced by Wham-O in 1957. Since then, the world of Frisbee play has evolved into unique sports like ultimate Frisbee, disc golf, flying disc freestyle, and even dog disc. Summertime is perfect for heading out to a grassy park and teaching your child how to toss and catch a Frisbee, a great activity for improving coordination and movement skills.

15. Try out skateboarding

Skateboarding has come a long way since the 1950s. It made its official debut as an Olympic sport at Tokyo 2020 and is growing into a fun, safe, and inclusive sport for kids of all ages. Skateboarding is a full-body workout that helps with balance, coordination, and perseverance. To learn more about the sport and how your child can try it, check out these helpful tips.

Happy summer!

Check out these other active summer ideas:

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