How to Give Your Kids a 1980s-Inspired Summer

Put Down the Electronics and Embrace the Outdoors, '80s Style

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Summers in the 1980s—a carefree and often parental supervision-free time when kids ruled the world (or so they thought). A summer day in the '80s began with Eggo waffles, a glass of freshly stirred chocolate milk, and a plan. 

The plan was simple and completely void of anything definitive. It was a wide-open sort of plan, the kind that created itself while you were living it.

The plan was to play, all day, outside. 

Kids flew out their front doors, onto BMXs, roller skates or sparkly bikes with banana seats. These kids were off in search of adventure which was certain to be found out there in the suburban jungle, the farmers' fields or, simply, the local park.

Summer days in the '80s were spent playing on the streets, engaged in endless games of hide-and-seek and capture the flag with neighborhood pals of all ages. It was always "game on" until the sun went down, the street lights came on, or you heard the echo of your mom’s voice calling your name.

1980s summers also meant making your way to water—whether that was a beach, the local pool, a kiddie pool, or your friend's pool. It was all good! But, if none of those options were available, no problem. That's when '80s kids turned on the hose or the sprinkler.

Wouldn’t it be cool to give your kids the kind of summer where they don't even think about their tablets and phones? Below you'll find some suggestions, and maybe some nostalgia, for ways to create a 1980s-inspired summer.

Serve 1980s Food

One way to set the '80s tone this summer is to provide food from that era. Feed the kids 1980s' style, with the following items:

  • Burgers
  • Canned pasta
  • Canned soups
  • Grilled cheese sandwiches
  • Hot dogs
  • Mac n' cheese
  • Sloppy Joes
  • Mini pizzas on English muffins
  • Sandwiches on basic, white bread

Optional sides: Ants on a Log (celery filled with peanut butter or cheese spread topped with raisins), cheezies, or some plain potato chips.

For dessert: cakes in packages (like Ding Dongs and Twinkies), fruit cups, granola bars, jello, popsicles, freezies, pudding, and pudding pops.

For special occasions: homemade money cake (with actual coins in it; though, please do not serve to young children who could choke on the loose change), pineapple upsidedown cake, or ice cream cake.

If you're looking to supplement the above "staples" with some additional nutrients, '80s moms were known for their homemade popsicles. They hid all sorts of secret stuff inside like cauliflower and raw eggs. So, get creative with your popsicle-making, though it might be best to skip the eggs (salmonella would surely dampen the summer fun).

In general, '80s moms were quite overt with their veggie offerings. Trays of fresh vegetables were a common feature at backyard gatherings. Serve up a platter of freshly prepared vegetables (homegrown crudité is even more authentic). If you happen to have a mustard yellow-colored Tupperware platter, even better!

Not only were '80s moms all about the veg but some of them were actual fruit artists. They were basically the original Pinterest moms who turned watermelons into baskets for fun! Then, using special melon scoops, they filled their creations with perfect, little balls of watermelon, cantaloupe, and honeydew.

Your kids just might appreciate some melon art. But, if not, you can always embrace this 1980s move: add vodka to it, and serve it to the adults instead.

Play 1980s Music

1980s tunes are bound to get a dance party started, especially if you kickstart things with some robot moves or the worm. If not, at least it'll add some background music to the kids' Twister games.

Since records, boom boxes, and cassettes are no longer a thing, you can just ask your virtual assistant to play music from the '80s or get the kids to create a playlist.

Try some of these classic 1980s artists and groups:

The Bangles, Billy Joel, Billy Ocean, Bruce Springsteen, Culture Club, Cyndi Lauper, David Bowie, Diana Ross, David Lee-Roth, Duran Duran, Eurythmics, Kenny Rogers, Kool & the Gang, Lionel Richie, Michael Jackson, Madonna, Olivia Newton-John, Phil Collins, The Police, Prince, Queen, REO Speedwagon, The Rolling Stones, Sheena Easton, Tina Turner, Tom Petty, Tori Amos, U2, Wham and Whitney Houston (and many more).

Do 1980s Activities

In the 1980s, kids enjoyed simplicity and a sense of freedom that children today aren't as familiar with. But they might be able to feel a bit of a 1980s vibe with some of the following suggestions. Obviously, feel free to modify them to suit your safety expectations and the ages of your kids.

Group Neighborhood Activities

Get the whole neighborhood involved with some of these group-minded activities:

  • Play tag
  • Play hide n' seek
  • Play Capture the Flag
  • Play Red Rover
  • Play street hockey
  • Have a watergun fight
  • Play Nicky Nicky Nine Door
  • Do three-legged races
  • Have an egg and spoon race
  • Buy ice cream and popsicles from the ice cream truck
  • Play tug-o-war at the park

Smaller Group Activies

If your kids are hanging around in a smaller group, they might enjoy some of these ideas:

  • Go for bike rides with your friends
  • Swim at the beach
  • Go to the public pool
  • Befriend kids with pools in their backyard
  • Play frisbee
  • See if your friends "like butter" (hold a buttercup under their chin, note if their chin skin shows the color yellow or not)
  • Play catch
  • Run a lemonade stand
  • Jump rope
  • Play hopscotch
  • Jump through the sprinkler
  • Play kick-the-can
  • Make daisy chains
  • Climb trees
  • Get some pocket change and walk to the corner store for candy or freezies
  • Go hunting for tadpoles in nearby creeks
  • Create skits and perform them
  • Use a camcorder to make short films and videos
  • Take out books from the library
  • Read books in a tree
  • Play Twister
  • Have a picnic at the park
  • Do a water balloon toss
  • Go rollerskating
  • Go tubing (the slow-moving kind) in a river
  • Play BINGO

Quieter Activities for Inside (and Out)

Some summer days call for a more chilled-out vibe. Here are some '80s style activities for quieter days:

  • Make friendship bracelets, using gimp
  • Drink chocolate milk through licorice straws
  • Decorate safety pins with beads, trade them and attach them to your shoelaces
  • Make forts—then read and sleep in them
  • Braid each other's hair
  • Crimp your hair
  • Lighten your hair with lemon juice (with mom's permission!)
  • Play with a Rubik's cube
  • Read Archie comics
  • Create perfume by mixing fresh flowers (and other collectibles) with water
  • Make ice cream floats
  • Start a sticker collection in a peel-back paged photo album (and trade stickers with friends)
  • Do rug-hooking
  • Play card games, like UNO and Crazy Eights

Outdoor Nighttime Activities:

When the sun goes down, enjoy the darkness 1980s style:

  • Catch fireflies in a jar (then release them)
  • Make s'mores over the fire
  • Spell your name using a sparkler
  • Go to a Drive-In
  • Watch 80s movies at home
  • Camp in the backyard
  • Camp at a campsite
  • Have a sleepover (in a fort)

A Word from Verywell

1980s summers were filled with simple adventures and neighborhood fun! We hope you and your kids can try some of these '80s ideas and make some rad memories together (and apart). Stay safe and rock on.

By Shannon Day
Shannon Day is a freelance writer specializing in parenting, lifestyle, and women's humor. She has been published in several online parenting and lifestyle sites as well as in print. Shannon is also the co-author of Martinis & Motherhood: Tales of Wonder, Woe & WTF?!