Photo Credit: Jewish Press

It’s summer, the most anticipated season of the year. School is out, children may or may not be in camp, and long afternoons beckon without any of the drudgery of homework. We can make good use of those times by heading over to our local toy store, or scrolling through online sites and putting stuff in our shopping cart.

However, here’s an even better idea that can teach our children to reuse and save: we can upcycle some basic items at home and repurpose them as great summer games and toys.

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My personal favorite is to make our own bubbles. Who doesn’t love bubbles? They are so fun and childlike. I have such great memories of running around outside trying to catch bubbles and I am happy to give my children the same experiences. However, the annoying thing about bubbles is that although they are relatively cheap, they tend to spill giving you only one or two uses out of the bottle.

An easy recipe for do-it-yourself bubble mixture is mixing equal amounts of dishwashing soap and water, and adding corn syrup a little bit at a time until you are able to make some nice bubbles. This mixture works so well; it sometimes makes me think that this is what corn syrup was made for! I like to make the mixture in a big bowl that I usually use for challah, but an even better idea is to use one of those baby swimming pools if you have one around. This lets all the kids gather around in one place with access to the bubbles. They can hold a contest to see who can make the biggest or longest lasting bubble. For wands, either use ones from the store bought bubbles or take wire clothes hangers from the dry cleaners and shape them into circles, hearts and stars. This is especially fun if you are using a big bucket or swimming pool to hold the bubble mixture, as you will need a lot of space to lay the hangers down. Once the fun is over, simply wash the children down with a hose and consider them bathed for the night. After all, they were playing with soap and water.

One of my children’s favorite games is Twister. There’s just something so funny about trying to twist and turn your body while avoiding the other players. One issue that comes up when playing on the hard wooden or tile floor is that their knees and elbows hurt from pressing onto the floor. To solve that problem, and add a fresh “twist” to the game, you can take the game outside and play on the grass. If you don’t have the game, but still want to play, you can make your own with an old sheet and markers. Check online to see how the game is set up, and get to work coloring, making the circles with pencil or tape first. To create the spinner board, simply take any piece of cardboard from an old box, and mark it with the different options in a circle. Fashion a spinner out of a straw or a flexible wire hanger, and viola! You have your very own Twister. When everyone is tired out from twisting their bodies, relax against the grass and count the fireflies.

Once you’ve finished your break, you can strike up a game of bowling! The benefit of bowling is that it can take a long time to play, but each turn is quick. For a do-it-yourself bowling set, you will need to plan ahead. Have the kids collect soda bottles of the same style for a few Shabbosim or family barbeques. If you don’t drink soda, any bottle will do, but it needs to be the same style, i.e. limiting the collection to only seltzer bottles or water bottles. This is a great time to talk to your kids about reusing and recycling, so you get an environmental lesson while creating a fun activity. Decorate the bottles by painting them in contrasting colors, or if you want to go the easy route, just rip off the labels so that the bottles look uniform. Set the bottles up on the sidewalk, grab a medium size ball, and enjoy a fabulous game!

If you are getting bored of knocking down bottles, try a ring toss! You can do it easily by inverting plastic cups, or you can use the bottles from your bowling game (yet another example of reusing and recycling!). If you have young children you can use a teething toy or you can make a circle out of a jump rope or a Chinese jump rope and watch your kids concentrate as they throw the rope and try to grab the plastic cups or bottles.

You can also make a beanbag toss by lining up a bunch of containers of different sizes. Using a washable marker, mark numbers in ascending order of how many points each container is worth. Using a small ball or even a stuffed animal to add some extra silliness to the game, have the children line up and practice their aim!

I would be amiss if I did not mention the old classic, chalk. There are so many ways to combine chalk with a city sidewalk. You can draw a game of chess or checkers using bottle caps from the bowling bottles or play an extremely large game of tic-tac-toe or connect four. After all, you won’t run out of room. The one annoying thing about chalk though is how dirty children get. I would recommend setting up the bubbles right after the chalk activity, so not only are you repurposing your household items, the children are also getting cleaned up.

Enjoy the beautiful weather!

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