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10 Cheap and Traditional Ways to Entertain Kids This Summer

School is out—here are 10 cheap and traditional activities for your kids this summer. Native youth can do arts and crafts, go bike riding or camping.

School is out! Now how long before your children are bored? Julie Garreau, of the Cheyenne River Youth Project, in Eagle Butte, South Dakota, said, “I hear it all the time, ‘I have nothing to do!’ Go take a walk! Go to the park! But kids will get into trouble. That’s why parents and communities really need to be engaged.”

For parents who lack the availability or funds to send their kids to camp, or for those who just prefer keeping them close to home, there are plenty of ways to create an ideal, low budget, summer experience for children and teens.

“It’s not about the building, or how fancy your equipment is. Give kids a basketball, give them a hoop attached to a board, and they will find something to do,” Garreau said.

At the Oyate Teca Project, on the Pine Ridge Reservation, director Rose Fraser said because of the limited funding for youth activities, the center partners with local business and tribal programs to plan and implement holiday events and youth activities. By adapting some of Fraser’s and Garreau’s ideas and activities, anyone can create a small camp in their own community with activities that are virtually free.

Connect your relatives, friends, and neighbors with local community businesses, colleges, and organizations to plan activities that will keep kids busy all summer, and may even give you some free time. People of all ages can connect if everyone is involved in planning, including the youth.

“Communities that pull together can make a huge difference,” Garreau said.

Planning a Community Camp

Devise a schedule in which parents rotate, each taking five kids at a time, or if you have a bigger group, ask another parent to join you. Each week, a parent and their children are responsible for planning activities on their appointed day. If there is a local hall that will allow you to meet in the same place everyday, only the adults need to change locations daily. However, the camp can be held outdoors or at a different home each day.

Whether it’s all day or a few hours daily, or even just a few times each week, this will give kids something to look forward to. A parenting website shows how one community pulled a camp together, and lays out some starting points. Change it to suit your own community and interests.


Below is a sampling of ideas that are virtually free if you combine community resources. Do a quick Internet search for “Nature Activities” for some more ideas.

Offer small prizes and incentives like popsicles or pizza often.

Nature Walks

Garreau recommends taking kids on a nature walk where they can learn to identify bird songs and insects, or even search for food. “It’s healthy and it’s fun,” Garreau said. “When we were growing up we found things to do by going out and playing in the creeks. It doesn’t really happen anymore with the age of technology and video games.”

She said children thrive when grownups show an interest in them. “It’s about interacting with the kids, showing them that you care. You don’t have to have a degree, go dig turnips! Bundle sage! Those kinds of things are physical and cultural. Kids need to know all that to carry on into the future.”

Arts and Crafts

Crafts can be made from locally available items. Whatever is plentiful in your area, whether it’s shells, stones, sticks, leaves, grass, trees, devise an activity around it. Make dragonflies and insects from leaves and acorns. Stars can be made from fallen pine needles. Sticks can be decorated as people or made into flags. The Internet is loaded with natural craft inspirations. “Arts and crafts supplies make kids happy, and they don’t have to be fancy. It can be crayons and coloring books!” Garreau said.


If all of the youth have bikes, let them ride together in a nearby lot, schoolyard, or even in the grass. Bike riding is much more fun when everyone is doing it together. Set up obstacle courses and relays. If only a few kids have bikes, break the group in half and vary the activities, letting those with bikes share their bikes with those who don’t.

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Plant a Garden

If there is an area within the community or at one of the homes, plant a garden and let the kids help. Tell traditional food stories about the plants you grow. Visit the garden to plant, water, weed, and teach children about healthy eating. Beans grow unstoppably, and are fun to eat right off the vine. When everything is ready to be harvested, let the children plan a meal serve to their parents and grandparents at a Harvest Social.

Cheyenne River Youth Project

Gardening gives the youth an opportunity to produce food for their community as well as learn about living a healthier lifestyle.

Story Time

Bring in elders and other adults to tell stories, or teach a new word in your tribal language. Plan an activity incorporating a word, so the youth use the word all day.

Water Play

Set up a small plastic swimming pool or even a laundry tub, and let the kids splash around. Make boats using gathered suppplies. Have water balloon tosses. Go fishing, but teach the youth about being careful with hooks first.


A water balloon fight is a fun activity for kids.

Being Mindful

With all of today’s technology, kids are missing out on connecting with the earth. One simple activity is to separate the youth in individual areas for 20 minutes to sit or walk, observe, listen, connect, and feel themselves as part of the earth. Resting their minds in nature is an important part of refreshing their spirits.

Dance and Karate

If any of the parents have dance or karate experience, have them give lessons. Fraser said they collaborated with a local church for use of their space. “We put up the sidebars and some mirrors, and at the end of the year we had a little ballet recital,” she said. Many local towns and cities have dance groups that would be happy to donate costumes.

For Teens

Some of the above activities can easily be adjusted for teens. Add fitness and cooking classes, dances, karaoke, plan a mural or graffiti wall, or have them learn how to make their own skateboards. Some teens from Oyate Teca will be patching sheetrock at the senior citizens center this summer.

Hot Dog Social

Plan a social event with all of the family members. See if your local grocery store will contribute a box of hot dogs and rolls to feed your group. Run a sprinkler so the kids can run around and stay cool in the water. Play games like water balloon toss.

To contact Native camps for support, ideas, inspiration, and local information, click here.