Family Summer Activity Alternatives During Covid-19

Kiddie pool

 Wander Woman Collective / DigitalVision / Getty Images

Key Takeaways

  • Even as things begin to open up, until younger children can be vaccinated, some families maintain a cautious approach.
  • You may have to get creative, but there is no shortage of alternative options for family fun.
  • It's more important than ever to find time for you and your family to unwind.

Picture the perfect summer, and you might envision barbecues with friends, pool parties, and sightseeing vacations. Of course, there’s always plenty to look forward to about the season of sun. But as the COVID-19 vaccine is unavailable to kids under 12, summer activities may continue to be restricted for some families.

Despite the disappointment of limited activities and events, it is still possible to have a fun summer as a family with a little creativity. We’ve rounded up a list of alternatives for families who might be taking a hiatus from more crowded adventures this summer. Here are dozens of options to make this season one to remember.

When You Can’t Visit the Pool 

Swimming is synonymous with summer—but having unvaccinated kids may mean avoiding public or community pools this year. If you're keeping your distance from crowded swimming locales, consider these options.

  • Use a lawn sprinkler. Provided you have yard space, go old-school, and haul out a lawn sprinkler for kids to run around in. You might even get the urge and run through it yourself.
  • Get a kiddie pool. It may not be the height of luxury, but an inexpensive kiddie pool is better than nothing in a pinch! Cool off in one of these refillable plastic shells. 
  • Have a squirt gun fight. Sometimes you don’t feel like taking the whole plunge into a pool. So spritz each other with squirt guns instead.
  • Go to a lake. You may have a lake nearby that's not too crowded and where it is easier to maintain distance from other people. If there are lakes in your area, be sure to check their current swimming restrictions before heading out.

When You Can’t Go on Vacation 

A summer without vacation may sound like a major bummer, especially if travel is a family tradition. This year, try reframing your thinking about a vacation with these alternatives.

  • Camp in the backyard. Roast marshmallows, tell spooky stories and spend the night under the stars—right in your own backyard. 
  • Take a culinary "vacation." Can’t travel the world? Bring the flavors of far-flung cuisines to your home kitchen. Once a week, try a new recipe from a place you’d like to visit someday, like tuna poke bowls from Hawaii, spiced swordfish from the Mediterranean, or a Chinese chicken wonton soup.
  • Enjoy the great outdoors. After more than a year of restricted activities, we could all probably use more fresh air. So have a picnic, take a hike, or go for a scenic drive. 
  • Make it a staycation. Your very own hometown (or one close by) can be a surprising source of interest and fun. Make a list of the popular attractions in your area you’ve never visited—or the ones you’ve visited and loved. See how many of them you can hit this summer. If budget allows, book a stay at a local hotel where you can leave daily stressors behind and relax.
  • Take advantage of virtual tours. Famous sites and world-class museums all over the world have jumped on the virtual bandwagon during Covid-19. Destinations like the battlefields at Gettysburg, the Louvre, and the Smithsonian now have tours available online. Take an educational “trip” as a family to any of these bucket-list attractions.

When You Can’t Have a Party

You may be looking for ways to tweak pool parties, cocktail parties, and birthday parties this year. So here are some ways to be festive and safe.

  • Take your party online. A successful online party needs an activity. (Otherwise, it’s just awkward.) So recruit your friends for a gathering with a definite agenda, like trivia night or talent show, via a video chat platform.
  • Take your party outside. The great outdoors can certainly simplify social distancing. Meet with friends in a park for a potluck with plenty of space, or sit six feet apart around a fire pit in the driveway. 
  • Make it a family affair. Do you long for your annual summer luau or Fourth of July bash? Have a themed “party” with immediate family instead. Scrounge up some costumes and pair a themed menu to the occasion.
  • Have a parade. A birthday child deserves to feel special! So when a party isn’t possible, enlist friends and family to drive by in a celebratory parade.

When Kids Can't Go to Day Camp 

If you had hoped to enroll your kids in a summer day camp but still feel uneasy about that option, consider the opportunity to help kids learn real-world skills at home.  

  • Have a daily workout. Summer camp or no, kids need physical activity! So schedule a time each day for exercise, whether a bike ride, a walk, a dance party, or a kid-friendly Youtube workout video.
  • Build mini empires. Legos, K’nex, and plain old wooden blocks can all serve as a fun foundation for hours of play.
  • Bring on the board games. Large-group games may be on hold the moment, but board games are still on the table (figuratively and literally). This classic family pastime has a hidden benefit: Board games can be good for kids’ linguistic, cognitive, and social development.
  • Get kitchen-savvy. If there’s one skill your child will always use, it’s cooking. So get your family together in the kitchen for some age-appropriate cooking fun.
  • Try a science experiment. Everyday household items like baking soda, vinegar, and food coloring are fair game for science experiments for kids of any age. Find your next project on websites like Science Fun and Science Bob
  • Schedule a virtual show and tell. Young kids love to show off their favorite stuff. To let your child take pride in their special possessions, set up a time they can video chat with a friend or relative for a virtual show and tell. 
  • Dive into arts and crafts. You don’t have to be a creative master to help your kids enjoy arts and crafts. Search projects appropriate to your child’s age on Youtube or Pinterest. 
  • Plan a scavenger hunt. Who doesn’t enjoy a scavenger hunt? Create your own list of items for kids to find around the house, then set them loose to search for a pink sock, a measuring spoon, a jingle bell, or other simple objects. 
  • Play dress-up. An outfit of a parent's high heels, necktie, and a silly hat? Why not? Playing dress-up is an age-old, cost-free go-to for little ones.
  • Crack open a good book. To motivate kids to read, find out if your local library offers a distanced summer reading program for kids. Or, if audiobooks are your child’s preference, tune in to Librivox, which features thousands of classics in the public domain for free.

When You Can’t Go to the Movies

Grab your popcorn and turn down the lights! While in-person theaters have opened back up, maybe you're not comfortable with taking your kids to a crowded indoor venue just yet. In the meantime, you can make the best of movie night with these alternative options.

  • Go to a drive-in. In the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, many drive-in movie theaters around the country have been doing a booming business. So catch the mid-century vibe by checking one out. 
  • Read, then watch. Which was better, the book or the movie? Find out by reading a book as a family, then watching the movie at home. 
  • Get a genre. A special theme makes everything more fun. As a family, make a plan to watch all of a certain type of movie over the summer—perhaps all the Disney princess movies, Harry Potter movies, or favorite ‘60s musicals.
  • Have a virtual movie night. Apps like Teleparty and Metastream offer a new way to watch movies with friends. By synching your video play and adding a group chat, you can watch “together” from a distance.

What This Means for You

Even though COVID-19 may put a wrench in your plans this summer, there are still plenty of things for you to do. The key is to get creative and make the most of the situation. Then, with a little ingenuity and initiative, you can still have a fun-filled summer.

The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means newer information may be available when you read this. For the most recent updates on COVID-19, visit our coronavirus news page.

By Sarah Garone
 Sarah Garone, NDTR, is a freelance health and wellness writer who runs a food blog.