Weekend getaways to the cottage. It’s definitely a summertime tradition, at least where I grew up. There’s something special about sleeping in a tent but I’ll be honest. Sometimes it just feels like so much work – making sure that the tent is secure and dry, washing dishes without running water, cooking everything on a camp stove or over a campfire.
Don’t get me wrong. All of that has its own appeal but when I go away with my extended family, I just want to have all the time I can to enjoy their company. I want to minimize the work and maximize the family fun. So that’s when we head out for some summer family fun activities at the cottage!
50+ Summer Family Fun Activities at the Cottage
1. Firefly tag – Everyone needs a flashlight for this game. Of course, you should all have flashlights and fresh batteries for them anyway but pack a few extra for this fun game. Fireflies communicate with each other through the lights they emit. Pair up with another family member and become fireflies! Come up with some sort of flashlight signal with your partner. Three short flashes. One long, one short, one long. Whatever you decide on, just remember to make it unique so no one else will come up with the same thing! After dark, everyone has a minute or so to spread out – partners should be at opposite sides of the yard or park or whatever space you’re playing. Using your predetermined firefly signals, try to be the first to reunite with your partner!
2. Cricket weather reports – A cricket can help you figure out the approximate temperature of your surroundings. They chirp at a steady rate that gets even faster when the weather gets warmer. Go outside in the evening and listen for the crickets. Count the number of chirps they make in 15 seconds and then add 40. That number will be a fairly good estimate of the current temperature in Fahrenheit.
3. Stargazing – Show the kids how to find the Big and Little Dipper. For those living in the Northern hemisphere, look in the northwest sky for the Big Dipper. Starting around mid-summer, it moves a little closer to the horizon so start there and move up. Once you’ve found the Big Dipper, you can use it to find the Little Dipper. Connect an imaginary line between the two outer stars of the ladle part of the Big Dipper. The North Star (Polaris) will be in a direct line with those two stars. It forms the tip of the handle of the Little Dipper and is often one of the brighter stars in the night sky.
4. Underwater scope – Cut out the bottom of a beach bucket or both ends off a milk carton. Cover the opening with a piece of plastic wrap stretched over it and secure with a rubber band or some duct tape (the rubber band is more durable). Place the plastic wrapped end under the water and use it to view what’s below the surface of the water. This can be a fun activity for a day at the beach but you can also place some little objects in a kiddie pool and use the scope there instead.
5. Water play – Bring along some water shooters, water balloons or even just some sponges you can soak in a bucket of water. Cool off by taking aim at a target, play Hot Potato with the water balloons, or you could even play dodgeball! Another fun game is to pair up and stand across from each other in a line. Toss the water balloon to your partner. If they catch it, each takes a step back and tries again. The pair that can get the farthest apart without dropping their water balloon wins. It’s a great way to cool off. (Remember to clean up the broken balloons. They’re a choking hazard for little kids and animals).
6. Spin and Run Races – If you have a couple of bats with you for some family baseball, use them for a spin and run race. Each participant places the bat upright so the tip touches the ground. They lean over, forehead on the end of the bat, and spin around 10 times. Drop the bats to the ground and start running towards a finish line. It sounds easy enough but it’s not! It’s best to do this with only 2 at a time – any more and they may accidentally stagger into each other.
7. Summer scrapbook – Put together a summer family scrapbook. We’re going to start one this summer and then add to it each year. Sketch in it, write in it, glue memorabilia in it. It will be a fantastic keepsake for years to come.
8. Seed spitting – Have an old-fashioned watermelon seed spitting contest. Everyone lines up and spits their seeds, seeing who can spit it the farthest.
9. Apple bobbing – I know this is usually done in the fall but it’s another fun way to cool off on a hot summer day!
10. Raft races – Everyone can dig into the craft bin and find supplies for making their own mini rafts to float on a stream or in a pool. Be sure to have a variety of materials available – craft sticks, egg cartons, foam meat trays (cleaned WELL and sanitized), and so on. Include craft foam, felt. and fabric scraps so they can make their own flags to fly from the rafts too. When finished, everyone can put their rafts into the water at the same spot and race them to a finish line. Will you just let nature take its course and see which one floats the best and the fastest. Or will you allow blowing, fanning, or arm flapping to help them along their way?
11. Sink or float – Using a bucket or kiddie pool, gather up a selection of items and have everyone take turns guessing whether an item is going to sink or float in the water. If you have enough items, put everyone in teams and let them pick 5 items they think will float. They score 5 points for each one that does.
12. Sand casting – Obviously, if you’re at the beach, you can make the traditional sand castle. But, if you want something a little more permanent that you can bring home with you, try sand casting. The plaster hardens and enables you to preserve your creation.
13. Beachcombing – Search for shells, driftwood, and sea glass along the shoreline. Be sure to clean them well so they don’t smell before taking them back to the cottage. Paint them, glue them into critters and angels, or make mosaic pictures with them. More beach craft ideas for kids.
14. Family Movie Night – Once the day’s activities are over and the kids have been bathed and are all snuggly buggly in their pajamas, a family movie night is a great way to unwind. Serve up a bedtime snack and cuddle up on the couch for a family friendly movie. Many cottage resorts even have a library of DVDs you can sign out for the evening or you can bring your own from home. Or, if you have wifi available, stream some Netflix. You can even download some of their titles for offline viewing!
15. Soccer Bowling – Set up some empty pop cans or plastic bottles in a triangle formation. Use a soccer ball for the adults and older kids and a beach ball for the younger kids. Each person gets 3 tries to knock down as many pins as possible by kicking the ball from 20 feet away.
16. Paper Airplane Races – On a rainy afternoon stuck indoors, have each person create and decorate their own paper airplane. On the next nice day, see who can fly theirs the farthest.
17. Beach Ball Volley – Pair up and have each person stand across from their partners in a line. Volley the beach balls back and forth, seeing who can keep it going the longest without dropping them.
18. Water Jump Rope –Two people will be turning a jump rope. Fill a cup of water for each participant, right up to the brim. One by one they will take 3 jumps in the rope. The winner is the person who has the most water left in their cup afterwards.
19. Popsicle Stick Poppers – Start by decorating 5 popsicle sticks, painting one side with one colour and the other side with a second colour. Form the poppers with these simple instructions. When you drop the popper to the ground, it will “explode” and the sticks will fly in all directions. You can turn this into a game by making predictions of which side will land face up.
20. Make tin can lanterns – Use empty cleaned out soup cans. It’s easiest if you fill them with water and freeze them. That way you have a hard surface so the can doesn’t dent when you hammer nails in to form a design. Make a handle from a piece of wire so you can go on a moonlight hike and carry your lanterns to light the way.
21. Flashlight masks – Design masks made of paper plates. Cut openings for the features. Staple another paper plate to the back of the mask, leaving an opening big enough to fit a flashlight in. After dark, insert the end of the flashlight that lights up into the opening.
22. Sun printing – You can buy sun printing paper online or at some hobby stores but construction paper works too (just not as drastic an effect and it takes longer!). I find that the cheaper the construction paper, the better for this project. Lay some items on the paper and leave outside in the sunlight. Sun printing paper often works as quickly as 5 minutes but with construction paper, it’s best to put it out early in the day and leave it until dark.
23. Decorate t-shirts – Use all the same colors so that everyone’s shirts coordinate if you’d like. You can tie-dye them, use fabric puff paints, or liquid fabric paint. You can even use spray bottles for a splatter effect, paint seashells and then press them onto the shirts for a printed effect, or paint designs on with brushes or sponges.
24. Scavenger hunt – Go on a hunt through the cottage community looking for pre-determined items. You can make a list of things to look for or make it bingo card style. Or how about going on a sound scavenger hunt? Instead of looking for items you see, listen carefully for things like the chirp of crickets, a bird singing, frog croaking, and so on. Another option – a color hunt. Try to find an item for every color of the rainbow. Or how about a flashlight scavenger hunt after dark?
25. Play sticker tag – Give each person a sheet of stickers (like office dots for example) – a different color for each person. Tag each other by placing a sticker on them. You can’t tag the same person twice in a row. No pulling stickers off yourself and putting them on someone else. You might want to establish a home base where people are safe and can’t be tagged to give everyone a break. Once everyone has used up all of their stickers, the game is over. Person with the least stickers on them wins.
26. Woven wall hanging – A progressive project! Set up the base of a woven wall hanging and leave out a variety of materials to weave into it – yarn, feathers, strips of fabric, beads, and more. Anytime someone is looking for a crafty project to work on with their hands, they can add to it. Once completed, this will be a lovely souvenir to display in your home.
27. Story time – Take along a great read-aloud novel to appeal to the whole family. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, The Wind in the Willows, Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, James and the Giant Peach, Charlotte’s Web, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, and Pippi Longstocking are some good ones to start with. You can buy these on CD as well – great for the trip to and from.
28. Geocaching/Letterboxing – Check out the area online ahead of time and find out if there are any geocaches or letterboxes in the area. These updated treasure hunts can be a really fun way for the whole family to work together for a fun goal.
29. Backyard games – Take along some typical backyard games for some good old-fashioned family fun. Croquet, ladder golf, horseshoes, lawn darts (the safe kind) are all good choices.
30. Orienteering (sort of) – This is a simpler version to set up and a simpler version for little kids to follow than the typical map and compass orienteering. Use some colorful string or yarn to set up a course for the family to follow. Mark out a route from checkpoint to checkpoint. Perhaps have something special at the final destination – a fun snack, picnic lunch, or new pool toy for example. For some more authentic tips, check out this orienteering site.
31. Go Volkssporting – Volkssporting can actually refer to a variety of physical activities but the most popular and most well-known is walking. In fact, they have established some self-guided walking trails that you can follow with your family. Head to the American Volkssporting site here or the Canadian Volkssporting site here to find trails in the area.
32. Fly a family flag – Bring along some fabric and paints so you can create your own flag as a family. Each person can add their own elements to represent themselves and then you can proudly fly it from your cottage. Another option is to bring along a variety of sizes of tin cans (or something similar). Have each person paint a can to symbolize themselves and then stack and glue them into a family totem pole.
33. Random Acts of Kindness – Do something nice for your cottage neighbors. Bake them some cookies. Take a walk through the cottage community with a trash bag and clean up. Brainstorm with your family!
34. Flashlight Tag – Give each person a flashlight and play a game of tag after dark. If you are touched with the light of another person’s flashlight, you’re out!
35. Mini Golf – Make your own makeshift miniature golf course. Use natural items you find in the environment or use scraps you find in the recycling bin. Cardboard boxes and tin cans make great tunnels and hazards. If you don’t have a child’s golf set, a stick and a small ball (like a tennis ball) will work. More ideas for your own backyard golf course here. Did you know you can also play Frisbee golf?
36. Penny Toss Walk – Or if you live in Canada, use a nickel. Go for a walk. When you get to a landmark of some sort – a cross-street, a tree, and so on – flip a coin to see which direction to go next. Heads is right, tails is left. Be sure you keep track of where you’re going so you can find your way back home. Don’t rely on your phone GPS to get you back as you might lose signal!
37. Cottage Newspaper – Make up a simple old-fashioned newspaper reporting on the fun and interesting things that have happened at camp. You could even make copies of when you get home to send out to your friends and family instead of post cards.
38. Family Game Time – We always pack some of our favorite board games to take along with us. There’s something extra special about sitting around a picnic table outside playing a game to relax in between eating lunch and an afternoon swim. Or while waiting for dinner to be prepared. Of course, these are also great to have on hand for rainy days stuck inside the cottage. Some cottage communities even have a sign out system for board games.
39. Go fishing – Bring along your fishing gear and head out to the lake! Twice a year in Canada, residents can go out fishing without a license, giving you the chance to try it out before committing. The US also has free fishing days. You can find specific dates here.
40. Play Wari on the beach – You can create a game board in the sand by scooping out 12 shallow holes – set up much like an egg carton. In fact, if you don’t have a beach available, you can still play this game with an egg carton or two 6 section muffin tins placed end to end. Now you need 48 items to use as counters. Dried beans, small sea shells, or pebbles will all work.
41. Decorate a gingerbread cottage – Yes, I know. This sounds crazy. But you see, my family bought one of those gingerbread house kits in with the plan of making it for Christmas. It’s a fully-formed house with all the supplies needed to decorate it. That never happened. It hasn’t expired yet (those things practically keep forever!) and feels like a waste to toss it out. So, my plan is to make it into a summer cottage instead. We’ll decorate it with a flag, a couple of canoes and paddles, and maybe add some breadsticks for logs. What would you add to your gingerbread cottage?
42. Dominoes, cards, and paper and pencil games – These items are small and take up very little room if you are limited on packing space. However, you can play a ton of games with just these few simple materials. Domino games. Card games. Pencil and paper games.
43. Tell campfire stories – These don’t have to be ghost stories. Tell some of your favorite stories (the ones you know by heart), only add a twist to it – something new each time you tell it! Or do a progressive story. One person starts and then passes it along to the next person to continue.
44. Take along a mini photo printer – If you have room, bring along a mini photo printer. Get the kids out there taking pictures of your vacation and of each other! You can print them off right away and add them to your family scrapbook. Use them to make homemade postcards to send to friends and family. Make a concentration game out of them. Start a family collage that you can add to each year.
45. Blow bubbles – Bubbles are always such fun! Take some along and see if you can come up with some unique bubble wands from your surroundings. Try a fly swatter for a cloud-like bunch of bubbles, a paper clip for tiny bubbles, or grab a bunch of straws, rubber band them together, and blow!
46. Musical spray band – Attach some noise making items to a fence, tree, hedge, or other suitable surface (tie them on!). Metal pie pans, colanders, inflated beach balls, empty pop cans, and so on will all work. Now, turn on the hose and create music by spraying the different objects. This is a good way to cool off and water the lawn while having fun making music!
47. Sidewalk Creations – Cut up strips of paper with various body parts on them. Begin by drawing an oval (or rectangle or whatever – be creative!) for the face. Then, one by one, each person draws a slip of paper and adds to the drawing. Remember, you don’t have to be held back by reality. If you pull out a slip of paper that says “eyes” on it, you’re not limited to two eyes. What other pictures can you make besides creatures? Buildings? Plants? Maybe your own planet?
48. Water/Pop Bottle Whirligigs – Make some colorful whirligigs to decorate your cottage site. Get the instructions here.
49. Make ice cream in a bag – Each person can make their own portion and flavor it with their own choices of syrups and toppings. Here’s how to make ice cream in a bag (you can also make it in tin cans – a smaller one inside of a large coffee can).
50. Make an Inukshuk – Gather some stones (or pick up a bag of them at a craft or garden store) and glue them together to make a miniature Inukshuk.