Why We Love Our Activity Jar (and how you can make one!)

Last summer my son and I agreed that we needed to make more of an effort to do fun afternoon activities together throughout the summer. I work most summer mornings and my son is usually at some morning summer camp or another (nature, soccer, etc.), so we needed afternoon activities to keep us busy while we also enjoyed the greater Madison area summer offerings.

We started by brain storming all kinds of different things we WANTED to do:

Pheasant Branch Conservancy hike/bike ride

Long Bike Ride by Monona Terrace area

Middleton Pool (in jar many times)

Troll Beach in Stoughton

Painting on the Back Porch

Bowling (that was in there many times)

Babcock Hall Ice Cream & Allen Centennial Gardens

Parfrey’s Glen

Henry Vilas Zoo

Library Afternoon

Kayaking on a Madison Lake

Olbrich Gardens

Mini-Golf at Vitense

Lemonade Stand

Movie Afternoon at Home

Farmer’s Market Lunch (Wednesday only)

Aldo Leopold Nature Center

Blue Mound State Park Picnic and Hike

Cave of the Mounds

Play Games at I’m Board

Craft Project

Rockin’ Jump

Legacy Academy

Children’s Museum

Physics Museum

Read on a blanket under tree in backyard

and more……….

We came up with a list of 30 – 40 activities and destinations. There were more activities than we even had time for. And that was okay!

We wrote each activity on a slip of paper, folded the slip of paper, and put it in our Activity Jar. At the start of each week (usually Sunday night or Monday morning) we’d decide how many days we could do activities and we’d also look at the weather forecast for the week. Then my son would draw the requisite number of activities from the jar and we’d plot our activities for the week! We sometimes had to switch around activities or plan a bit more in advance if an activity required supplies or certain weather. The Lemonade Stand had to be moved a couple of time due to supplies needed and weather!

The main goal of the Activity Jar was to make us actually plan so that we didn’t get done with lunch and waste an hour (or an entire afternoon!) figuring out what to do next. We would start the week with an actual game plan. We also then knew what supplies we would need for the week so we didn’t have to spend time gathering them on short notice.

The only rule for the parent in charge of the Activity Jar is that any activities that go into the jar have to be activities you (the parent) are willing to do. So, if a drive to Parfrey’s Glen is not something you will do, DON’T allow it to go in the jar! If taking your kids bowling results in too much chaos for you to handle, DON’T put bowling in the jar! There are so many fun activities that can go in and many cost nothing or require few (if any) supplies.

This summer a mom-friend suggested that her kids are going to do something similar except that she is going to give them a weekly budget to go along with the activities they choose. Her main justification is that her kids would choose Rockin’ Jump (and/or lunch at a restaurant) for everyday of the week and that choice would blow the budget pretty quickly! Pairing the Activity Jar with budgeting does make it an awesome learning tool if the kids have to figure out what can/cannot be done in a week with the budgeted funds.

So, how do you decide what you are going to do on summer afternoons? Do you decide on a whim? Are you a planner? How do you plan? It’s mid-May and my son has just started to ask about this summer’s activity jar. The jar and slips of paper are ready for our next brainstorming session. Here’s to a summer of fun activities for all!


  1. That jar is a cute idea!

    I stay home with 5 so we don’t do camp stuff. My homeschooling mom friends have taught me so much about summers with many. We have an agenda that includes daily chores, fun academics, some free time and yes, outings too. We go to the beach 3 days a week because I’m their swim teacher:). One day is purely at home. The other one day they get to choose an outing, such as the ones on your list, which I let my older two pick. Tuesdays we do picnic lunch somewhere, Fridays we do it in the back yard and the kid plan and make lunch. Its summer camp style but if there’s no structure, it’s chaos!

  2. Love this Laura,Did you ever think of going to the V.A. & volunteering to read to a veteran or just visiting . ?Many are miles from home & alone. And for a quick treat don’t forget Bagels Forever! When uncle Larry was .there we saw so many with out families with them. They also love getting home made cards from kids,good craft project,also teaches a child to volunteer ! Enough! I. Could go on & on. Love to you all !aunt Sandy

  3. We are going to do this! I am just starting to think through the summer ahead. Love the idea of paring it with budgeting. Thanks Laura.


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