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Attention, Little People

kids summer activities

Summers when I was 9 in Aurora, IL, we were out in the street on our own. Our parents said go outside and find something to frickin’ do. We had a lot of freedom. We played in each other’s yards, on the street, we rode our bikes, roller skated, ran through sprinklers, slid on the Slip’n Slide. For a little more structure we would take cheap kids classes at the parks and rec. Many times these were at the neighborhood grade school.  Then there was the bookmobile that would come out. We would take our wagon, stick my smallest sister in it and wheel off for a mega haul of books.

Now I face the summer as Number 1 Auntie to two little girls. They don’t do the things I did the way I did when I did them so many years ago. Life and play are so much more planned, protected. Allow me to brainstorm my way through a list (that’s how I sort out life) of things I might do with these two little jewels over the long Bay Area summer. I’m guessing I’m not the only one who needs this list, and I realize I’m a bit late to the party. Professionals, like parents, were on this tip months ago.

Bay Area nonprofit and local agencies make this easy, giving folks that have a limited income things to do with kids. I like to think of organizing a summer for these kids that’s about attention to their surroundings, to living things, to their imaginations.

My two-year-old niece isn’t that into stories, she an outdoor gal. She roams, likes going to parks, digging in the dirt. So we begin outside!

Outside = Cheap-n-Good:  Camping. Not everyone has a camper like me and my husband do (vintage RV named Scotty). You don’t need a camper to camp. Just a place to go and sleep. A great last minute camping resource is Hipcamp.  Also, try the Facebook group SF Parents Outside. It’s a place for parents to self-organize outings to great hikes in the Bay Area, and almost all are free.

Also, for older kids, try volunteering at Alemany Farm in San Francisco. This would fit the older of my two nieces. And, we bring home free, organic vegetables. Farmer’s markets are free and worthy of a few activities building up to the big day — planning menus, shopping, budget, and mapping.

East Bay Regional Parks District has a kids stuff tab with billions of things to do everywhere.  San Francisco parks also offer a bunch of fun, including Drop-In Tot Classes

And, dip into your neighborhood public pool. Turn all the prep stuff into kid activities: making snacks, gathering and packing pool gear, including books and cool shades.

There’s camping and there are CAMPS: Some of these are filled up by now, but worth a perusal. Costs vary on this list put out by 510 Families. And, Maker Camp is free.

Indoors = Foul Weather Friendly + Cheap. Starting with Libraries!

Contra Costa County Library’s calendar and storytime podcasts and kids ebooks, also books in foreign languages.

Oakland: Children’s Services Blog  and events and games, too.  Stories out loud, including Tumblebooks.

SF Library: For audiobooks, event listings, homework help, and educational games all off this page.


The Museum of Children’s Art in Oakland (MOCHA) rocks.

Oakland Museum of California has cool family programs. And, Friday Nights at the Museum is kid-friendly, for sure.

Further east, the Lindsay Museum features animals, animals!

Volunteering: Some libraries accept volunteers at 13. Adults can also sit with kids for kitty or puppy socialization at the Humane Society and other pet-saving nonprofits around the Bay.

Media and Summer Homework, Optional.

My nieces use media. Not all kids, especially the youngest, are on devices and playing, learning this way. But, if your little people are, why not try a little digital stuff.  I like to put on an audio book or a kids podcast for the girls while they do crafts in their room. Also, some adults give summer homework, other say NO WAY.

These are activities from the California Academy of Science. And, the SFMOMA has some awesome online activities: “The Country Dog Gentlemen Travel to Extraordinary Worlds” lets users “paint” and save artwork to galleries or send a picture of it to someone’s email. Great way for younger kids to explore art without the cost and clean up of actual paint! Listed on the left side of the page. Kids just love to play with all the parts of the picture to see what sounds they get.

We also plan to produce a few videos together using my tablet. The eldest girl has a small digital camera, and we like taking pictures together and making books out of them. DJ Auntie and the Girlz will be “spinning” music from around the world this summer, listening for languages and the sounds of other cultures. This is the Bay Area, after all.

I confess, I’m a bit nervous being in charge of my nieces this summer. Is there an app for that (parents are laughing their heads off at my anxiety, is that nervous laughter, my friends?)? If I come up with a chalkboard schedule, I think I can manage my anxiety better (oh, and their fun time, too). Really, if there’s an app for this, please share.

And, now it’s not a secret, but I plan on borrowing adults to help me with this. I’ll pick a destination where another adult is waiting, and that’ll be a journey/adventure in itself. Who are the people I know with flexible Friday schedules, who wants a family reunion, who are the adults around me who are also watching kids and interested in joining us? It’s not easy, I know. Don’t avoid me.

Popular Projects: tie-dye, making ice cream/popsicles, planting an herb garden, making homemade instruments, creating your own board games, making a terrarium.  I like going to the salvage stores around the Bay for really cheap construction material.  Also, there’s Kindercycle for free stuff, too.

These aren’t project-based, but some kids love a factory tour: Mrs. Grossman’s Sticker Factory (Petaluma) or the Jelly Belly Factory (Fairfield).

Faith communities also offer kids activities, so check out your faith peeps of choice.

Okay, here are some other resources to come back to during the long summer: Family Friendly Events in the Bay Area and Red Tricycle for San Francisco activities.

There’s also a great book, Fun with the Family in Northern California that lists lots and lots of fun stuff to do.

For those without a mighty Scotty camper or car, transportation is a hurdle to any activity. How do you go from my house with the stroller, take the bus, to the BART? (SPUR recently hosted an event addressing family friendly transportation for San Francisco).

By the way, I roped another adult into helping me write this. Thanks, Haleh, for the photo and for helping me list build. I’ll get the girls to make you a terrarium. I know you liked the friendship bracelet they made.


  1. Glad to see you liked our epic list of Summer Camps on 510families, you should also check out our 99 Days of Summer with something different for Bay Area kids every day from Memorial Day through August. Our list is aimed more at elementary age kids but I bet you find at least 55 good ideas. 🙂 https://www.510families.com/99-days-of-summer-2015/

    I’m from Ohio, and yeah, Summer was completely different back then.

    • BayMozaic says

      Thanks, RookieMom Heather. We just shared another of your resources with a reader today (about a great swimming pool in the East Bay).

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