8 Cheap Summer Projects for Kids

Last summer, my two oldest children embarked on a summer-long project that they ended up taking a ton of pride in. In fact, we expanded that summer project and are repeating it again this summer to their great enthusiasm. (What project was it? It’s the first one on this list.)

We learned a few lessons from the project, though.

Kids won’t latch onto any project you suggest. We tried launching a bunch of larger summer project with them. Only one really took off – and another one somewhat took off. The rest floundered.

Thus, inexpensive projects work best. You don’t want to dump a lot of money into a project only to find that it didn’t click with your kids.

Share your ideas of what worked with your children. The ideas here start off with what worked best with our children, then is followed with ideas that worked for the children of friends of ours.

8 Summer Project Ideas for Kids

Grow some vegetables.

At the start of summer break, get the largest pot you can find and fill it with dirt, then let the kids pick a type of plant they’d like to grow. Let them plant the seeds, then water it every day (and perhaps add some nutrients to the soil, too.)

When the plants started growing, our children – particularly our daughter – got really excited and became nearly obsessed with checking the plants and making sure they were okay and asking questions about them. We ended up harvesting some carrots later on in the year and ate them as part of a meal one evening, a meal that the children were very proud of.

Create a scrapbook/journal.

Start them with an empty scrapbook or journal. Each day, come up with a question for them to answer about their lives in the form of writing and/or pictures. It’s a good idea to come up with a bunch of questions in advance.

Some question ideas: who are your best friends? What is your favorite food? Where is your favorite place to hide? What is your favorite book? What is your favorite toy? What things are on your bucket list? It’s not hard to come up with – or find – more questions like this.

When the summer is done, save the journal for several years, then get it out and look at it together. It’s a great glimpse into the life of a child when they were younger.

Make a TV series.

If you have a video camera, use it for a creative work. Go through the entire process of making that series, too.

One way to do that is to start off by coming up with a basic story idea, then building scenes out of it and actually storyboarding it to some extent. Film those things to the best of your ability using whatever special effects you can create (if needed). Then make more episodes.

At the end of the summer, watch your series together. You can even make a blooper reel, too. With younger kids, you’ll have to offer a lot of help, but with older kids, much less guidance is needed.

Make an “animal list” or a “tree list.”

If you like to explore nature, making a list of all of the things you discovered can be a great way to fill up the summer.

Whenever someone spots a particular animal and can identify it (with the aid of a guide), they can add that animal to their list. The same goes for trees or other outdoor items. This is a flexible idea that can line up easily with their personal interests.

Read a book series with daily sustained silent reading.

There are many great children’s independent reading series out there. The Chronicles of Narnia. Harry Potter. Redwall. With your child’s reading ability in mind, help them to find a series and spend the summer reading it. You can use the library to get the books, of course.

Just choose half an hour each day to do sustained silent reading. You can set an example and do this yourself; choose a good book and sit down with the kids for some SSR. At the end of the summer, your children can talk about how they didn’t just read a book, but they read a whole series.

Build a “small activity” calendar and follow it.

If you have a hard time finding a single big project to fill up a summer with, create an “activity calendar” with something unusual on each of the days. Hunt around the many places on the internet where you can find smaller projects for children and add one to each day.

One good way of doing this is to spend an hour or two brainstorming with them and then spread out the projects that they’re really excited about. Don’t use all of the good ones at first, nor at the very end. Spread them out so that they have projects to look forward to in a reasonable timeframe throughout the summer.

Design a city.

This is a great idea for open-ended creative kids. Simply have them design a city and build it. If they have building blocks, those are great for this, but they can make buildings out of paper and tape, too.

Talk to them about the things that a city needs, such as police stations and fire stations and a city hall and a water treatment plant. Talk about how houses like to be near other houses and away from smelly places. Mention that people need places to work and places to shop. You also need roads in the city for cars to get around.

Let them take over a table with this city for a while. In the mornings, once the city is built, come up with a “problem” that will require changes to the city. Maybe a megacorporation wants to build a big office building in the town. Maybe a bunch of people move in, requiring some higher-density housing (like apartment buildings). Maybe there’s a tornado that destroys a bunch of buildings.

Take pictures of the city as it changes throughout the summer, because it will change based on the events that happen.

Start a microbusiness.

If your kids are somewhat older, this is a great summer project for them. Help them to launch a microbusiness that can make them money.

There are many ideas, from making Youtube videos (which can feature ads to earn a bit of cash) to mowing lawns. You just need to find something that they can channel their energies into.

Start by working on a business plan. Help them to think through potential problems and how they can deal with them. Who are their customers? How will they reach their customers? What can they provide that isn’t provided by someone else? What might go wrong? What can we do about that problem now?

If they need seed money, you can loan them some money or “invest” in their business. This can teach them about how investors and banks are involved in businesses.

If the business doesn’t click, it was an interesting summer project. If it does click, it can be a lasting source of income for your kid.

Summer projects can be tremendously enjoyable for children – and for parents as well. Consider launching one this week in your family.

Trent Hamm
Trent Hamm
Founder of The Simple Dollar

Trent Hamm founded The Simple Dollar in 2006 after developing innovative financial strategies to get out of debt. Since then, he’s written three books (published by Simon & Schuster and Financial Times Press), contributed to Business Insider, US News & World Report, Yahoo Finance, and Lifehacker, and been featured in The New York Times, TIME, Forbes, The Guardian, and elsewhere.

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