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17 Old-Fashioned Activities Kids Today Will Love

Ditch all those screens and teach your kids these classics from your childhood.

When you were a kid, weekends provided endless opportunities—and time—to get lost in a book, hide out in a treehouse, or aim a telescope at the stars. They were your time to explore, forge friendships, and find fun in any way your creative little brain could imagine. Don't you want to introduce some of that old-fashioned fun into your kiddos' lives before they grow up? If so, here are the old-school activities that you loved from your childhood, and that your kids are sure to love in theirs.

Playing Cat's Cradle

Cat's craddle

Easy to learn and open to all ages, Cat's Cradle challenges players to change from one complex string formation to another. It's simple, stimulating, and comes at an unbeatable price—all you need is some string.

"Cat's Cradle is an optimal game between a parent and child or children," says Donna German, a parenting expert and psychotherapist in New York City. "It encourages hand-eye coordination, effective communication, and teamwork."

Jumping rope

Jump rope

Grab a jump rope and teach your kids games like double dutch or bunny hop, says Sarah Alan, a Chicago-based psychotherapist and parenting coach. "Jumping rope is incredible exercise, not to mention a wonderful practice in coordination," Alan says.

Learning classic schoolyard games

Kids playing red rover

Remember Simon Says, Red Rover, and Mother May I? Introduce children to the old-school games you played in the schoolyard, each of which challenges memory and coordination—and all of which are guaranteed fun.

Playing pick-up sticks

Pickup sticks

Play this age-old game of physical and mental skill in which a bundle of sticks are dropped into a random pile onto a table top, challenging each player to remove a stick from the pile without disturbing any of the others. "Pick-up sticks really demands a mastery of both strategy and hand-eye coordination," says Alan.

Opening a lemonade stand

Kid having a lemonade stand

A hallmark of warm summer weekends, a lemonade stand isn't merely a good time—it also teaches kids skills ranging from money management to marketing. Money raised by the stand can be applied to a special toy, trip, or college fund—or they can consider donating their profits to charity.

Catching fireflies

Boy catching fireflies in a mason jar

Catching fireflies has always been one of the most magical aspects of warm-weather evenings. A flash of yellow light as the sun is setting sparks a playful chase around the yard, and before you know it, you are holding a little bit of magic in your hand. The whimsical catch-and-release classic requires nothing more than a glass jar—modified with air holes, of course—and a sense of adventure.

Building a fort

Kids in a fort with their mother

Whether it's constructed out of sofa cushions or a sheet thrown over a trampoline, your kids will love having their own special place just for them. Grab a few books and some flashlights and let them read and tell stories into the night while hunkered down in their cozy confines.

Walking on tin-can stilts

Girl walking outside with tin can stilts

Gather up some old coffee cans and a few pieces of string, and let your kids experience the fun of being tall without having to grow up. And if you feel like adding the element of friendly competition into the mix, organize a tin-can stilt race for them and their friends.

Getting an ant farm

Ant farm

Most of us are so busy trying to get rid of household ants, we don't pause to notice how fascinating the industrious little insects really are. Try making a homemade habitat for your kids to observe the tiny workers in action. Or, if you're feeling less crafty, skip that part and buy an ant farm that's already ready for residents.

Making jam

Homemade jams in jars

"At the end of harvest, many local farmers allow the public to come into the fields and pick the leftover fruit," German says. "Take a group of kids berry-picking and help pick and seed the fruit. Once it's all washed and deseeded, make homemade jellies and jams together. Kids love to help in the kitchen, especially when there's a sweet reward at the end."

Raising Sea Monkeys

young blonde boy looking at fish tank on table

They're not monkeys and they don't live in the sea, but these brine shrimp are tons of fun. While they may look like little more than a packet of dust at first glance, do not be discouraged. Just pour that "dust"—which is actually brine shrimp eggs—in a tank of purified water, and the Sea Monkeys will spring to life right before your eyes, growing steadily over the next few weeks and no doubt putting a smile on your child's face.

Zooming down a Slip 'N Slide

Slip n' slide

Yes, your kids may get some grass burns, but trust us, it's totally worth it. Slip 'N Slides provide hours of old-school, sunny-afternoon fun—no pool necessary. Purchase the classic, or make your own with plastic sheeting and a garden hose.

Camping in the backyard

Kids camping in their backyard in a tent

Camping can be the optimal way to unplug from technology, reconnect with nature, and bond with your family. But what if roughing it in the wilderness isn't quite your family's cup of tea?

"Backyard camping is easy for young families to pull off and a safe, low-stakes way to bond in the outdoors," Alan says.

Having a tea party

Little girl having a tea party outside

Think tea parties are just for little girls? Hardly. Using kids' tea sets or a thrift-store mashup of cups and saucers, you can host a tea party that's fun—and filling—for every guest. "Tea parties allow kids to create and sample delicious finger foods and teas, as well as encourage their best table manners," says German. "They're a great way to make a simple meal feel like a fun and fancy occasion."

Waging a thumb war

Dad thumb wrestling with daughter

"One, two, three, four, I declare a thumb war!" With its easy rules—pin your opponent's thumb under yours for a count of three seconds—and playful nature, thumb wrestling is a great way to instill a sense of healthy competition. Whether you need to settle a friendly dispute or are just looking for a fun way to pass the time, there's always a good reason for a match.

Skipping stones

Little girl skipping stones on a beautiful lake

Skipping stones is the art of throwing a smooth, flat stone across a calm body of water, making it bounce off the surface as many times as possible before sinking. "It has all the elements of a great outdoor activity," says Alan. "You're in nature, and you're applying an amazing STEM—science, technology, engineering, and mathematics—lesson to a fun, physical activity: using angles, velocity, and spin to get multiple bounces." Use math to average the number of bounces over 10 throws, or just spend the afternoon waterside perfecting your form.

Going to the drive-in

Drive in movie theatre show

From old-school swings in front of the screen and retro concessions to the the cozy atmosphere of your automobile, a drive-in movie theater is the epitome of old-fashioned weekend fun. Check out to find a theatre near you!

Tracy Collins Ortlieb
Tracy Collins Ortlieb is a lifestyle writer. Read more
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