You've done the sprinkler/kiddie-pool/water-gun rotation, over and over and over. Time for some new ideas! Help your kids take up their water play a notch with these eight super-easy, fantastic DIY activities that will keep kids of all ages occupied and cool all summer long.
1. Sponge balls
Make fun “sponge balls” from dollar-store sponges. Cut two rectangular sponges lengthwise into four pieces each, then stack the strips into two layers of four pieces each. Wrap a rubber band tightly around the midpoint of the stacked sponges. “Fluff” and pull the sponge strips until you have a ball shape. To play, give kids a bowl or bucket of water to dip the sponge balls into. Wet sponge balls are great for tag, target practice, or just tossing back and forth between kids! (Note: For video instructions, see this page on MarthaStewart.com.)
2. Soda-bottle sprinkler
Turn a two-liter soda bottle into a sprinkler! Take a clean, two-liter plastic bottle and drill holes all over the sides of the bottle using a handheld drill. You can use a smaller bit and drill lots of tiny holes, or use a larger bit and drill fewer holes. Next, attach a hose connector to the end of a garden hose. Attach the bottle to the hose by screwing it into the connector. Turn on the hose and let the kids play! You can lay the "sprinkler" on the grass, or toss the hose with the attached sprinkler over the swingset or a tree branch to make a “shower.”
3. Liquid-chalk paint
For outdoor art that is a step above sidewalk chalk, try making your own liquid chalk paint. First, purchase jumbo-sized washable chalk from your local dollar store. Now you will need to break up the chalk into a powder by either putting the chalk into a sealed plastic bag and pulverizing it with a hammer (kids will love doing this!), or “grate” the chalk using the smallest holes of a cheese grater.
Add the powdered chalk to a food-storage container, and mix in water. About one-half cup of water per jumbo size piece of chalk makes a nice consistency. You will have a few chunks, but the mixture should be mostly liquified. Repeat the process with various-colored chalk until you have several different colors of chalk paint, each in its own container. Give the kids paintbrushes and let them paint the fence, concrete porch, or sidewalk, then turn the hose on their creation to wash it away and begin again.
4. Squirt-gun target practice
When the kids get tired of squirting each other, set up targets for them to aim at! Draw targets with washable sidewalk chalk onto a fence. Draw several circles, starting with a small “bullseye” in the center, then add three or four more circles around the bullseye, each one bigger than the last. Assign each circle a point value and let the kids compete to see who can hit the most points (math practice alert).
Another target idea: Line up plastic disposable drinking cups side by side onto a deck railing or stack upside down into a pyramid shape and shoot away.
5. Plastic-bag water piñata
Let the kids release some pent-up energy and cool off with a piñata filled with water! Take a plastic grocery sack and fill about halfway with water. Using the handles of the bag, tie the water- filled bag over a tree branch. The bag doesn’t need to be sealed. Let the kids hit the water bag with tennis rackets, plastic bats or a cardboard wrapping paper tube. What a great way to recycle those plastic grocery bags! These water piñatas won’t last long, but getting wet is the point of this activity, and you can always make another, so who cares?
6. Ice excavation
Freeze plastic toys into a blocks of ice for kids to excavate! To prepare this activity, fill plastic cups or small food storage containers about two-thirds full with water, and then drop one or two small toys into each container. Freeze each filled container until the water is a solid block of ice, then remove the ice block and place outside in a large plastic bowl or metal baking dish. Now, let the kids figure out how to get the toys out of the ice. Offer options such as squirt guns filled with warm water, salt, or cups of warm water. Older kids can chip away at the ice with metal forks or butter knives. For a fun twist, try tinting the water blue with food color and using ocean-themed toys, or pair green water with tiny dinosaur toys.
7. Colored ice cubes
This is a great one for toddlers. Take an ice-cube tray and add several drops of food coloring to the bottom of each section of the tray, and then fill the entire ice cube tray with water. Once the cubes are frozen, dump the colored ice out into a baby pool or plastic bowl filled with water. Toddlers will enjoy playing with the colored ice, and watching it melt and turn the water pretty colors. Since the water is tinted with food coloring, ice cubes will be safe to nibble on. Of course, parents should always closely supervise children when near any water!
8. Water race track or lazy river
Here are two ways to let kids play with the magic of a self-created stream. For a race track, purchase a short length of a gutter (the kind on roofs) from your local home improvement store. Set the gutter up against the seat of a lawn chair in the backyard so that the gutter slopes down to the ground. Place a garden hose at the top of the gutter and turn on the water. Kids can float leaves, dandelions, bathtub toys down the waterway. You can even set up two “tracks” side by side and hold a race! Or, make a lazier river by shaping aluminum foil into a gutter shape and put directly on the grass in a place where the ground slopes gently. You can use the hose to create the waterway, or let the kids pour water down the river with a cup or bucket.