Summertime Activities You Can Do With Just a Trip to the Grocery Store

For summertime, I’m taking some of my favorite activities and combining them in new ways. This collection is filled only with activities that require materials you can get at a grocery or big box store. Or you might already have all the materials you need.

I’ve organized them into four categories: science, music, art and games, and architecture and engineering.

For activities that don’t require any outside materials, check out my buy-nothing activity guide.


For more science activity ideas that don’t require specialty materials, see my buy-nothing activity guide.

Explore Newton’s Third Law and Simple Machines by Making a Balloon Car Racer

WatchThe Science Behind Jiwi’s Machines (simple machines, wheel and axle section)

ActivityBalloon Car Racers
These racers work amazingly well. If you have them, you can certainly use stainless steel drinking straws instead of disposable plastic ones (they both work). Make sure you have a variety of lid sizes, since it’s great to change out the tires and see which ones go fastest. (You might use an assortment of milk or juice lids and lids from Pringles cans, for instance. All of them pierce easily with a bamboo skewer.) Build your vehicles and then race them! Full directions and explanation here.

(For more like this, see Teach Kids About Physics.)

Or Explore Newton’s Third Law With Rockets

WatchHow Do We Launch Things into Space?

WatchApollo missions taking off in real time
You can start the missions at one minute to launch (quite exciting), and then you can zoom forward in time to watch moon landing footage, too. This site is so impressive, with historical video, beautiful photos, and original audio, all linked together seamlessly.

Activity: Balloon rockets
Launch a balloon rocket and estimate how far it will travel. Full instructions here.

(For more like this, see Teach Kids About Space.)

Explore Projectile Motion with Rubber Band Cannons

ActivityRubber band cannons
With Pringles cans and single-serve soda or water bottles, kids can make their own cannons, a great way to explore force and energy. The Royal Institution suggests using balled up foil as projectiles, which I recommend also: it can travel a long way but it likely won’t damage anything or anyone. Full directions and explanation here.

(For more like this, see Teach Kids About Physics.)

Stick Your Hands Into a Non-Newtonian Fluid With Oobleck

Listen“Oobleck! Make Up Your Mind!” from the fantastic children’s podcast Wow in the World

Activity: Make and play with oobleck, a non-Newtonian fluid
(Preferably while listening to the podcast!) Oobleck is a substance that hardens or solidifies when you apply force to it. Hold in your hand and it drips through like a fluid, but squeeze it in your fist and it feels like a solid. And it’s incredibly easy to make. Here are some excellent instructions for making it and suggestions for use. But kids will figure out so much of this on their own.

(For more like this, see Teach Kids About Touch.)

Learn About the Moon and Analyze Asteroid Impacts

Look: NASA’s Moon Overview
Watch: Apollo 13 Videos of the Moon in 4K
LookMoon in 3D
Read (for older elementary+): How NASA Studies and Tracks Asteroids Near and Far

Activity: Make and analyze moon craters
First, read NASA’s in-depth moon guide for information about the moon’s terrain and how it was formed.
Then simulate the lunar surface by combining layers of flour, sprinkles, and cocoa powder in cake pans. Drop a variety of objects into the surface (from a variety of angles and heights) and examine the ejecta patterns. From examining the crater, what can you tell about the object that made it? Full instructions and video here.

(For more like this, see Teach Kids About Space.)

Learn About Constellations and Project Them Onto Your Walls

Look/ActivityStellarium web planetarium
Double-click to zoom, and remove “atmosphere” at the bottom if you can’t see anything at first.

Activity: Hole punch constellations
To replicate existing constellations, use these templates, perfectly sized to go on the bottom of 5 oz. Dixie cups. You could also use these templates with just a flashlight. Or, to make fantasy constellations of your own, you can try this method, with a hole punch.

With Dixie cup projectors, if you’re getting a double/blurry projection of your constellations, you might want to take the top off your flashlight (so it’s just an exposed bulb).

For hole punch constellations with younger children, consider having a child-friendly, reduced effort hole punch that they can operate themselves, like this one.

(For more like this, see Teach Kids About Space.)

Measure Wind Speed With an Anemometer

WatchJim Cantore vs. Category 5 Winds

Activity: Build an anemometer
There are a few different ways to build an anemometer. I prefer this method, but with an alteration. Whereas the video suggests using plasticine, I found the only way to get the skewer to stay in was to use hot glue. Stick the skewer right through, then add a generous amount of hot glue to the top side (around the protruding skewer at the top). This way worked like a charm for me. For instructions and suggestions about how to use your anemometer, go here.

(For more like this, see Teach Kids About Weather and Natural Disasters.)

Explore Combustion and Chemical Reactions with Tea Lights

(As always with science experiments, ask kids to make a hypothesis about what will happen in the experiment, have them describe what actually happens, and then discuss the results.)

Activity: Candle and water experiment
Place a tea light in a saucer of water (with a bit of food coloring in it), then cover it with a jar. If you have various sizes of jars, you can have a lot of fun guessing what will happen with bigger or smaller jars, then experimenting to find out if you were right. Video here and a good explanation of how this works here.

(For more like this, see Teach Kids About Mythical Creatures.)

Activity: Extinguish candle flames with jars
In a variation on the above, this time simply cover a lit candle with jars of various sizes. Which ones do you think will extinguish the candle flame fastest, and why? Consider timing how long it takes the flame to go out with each jar.

Learn About Chemical Reactions and Indicator Solutions With Cabbage

ActivityColor-changing cabbage
This extremely impressive science experiment lets kids explore chemical reactions and indicator solutions. It’s very easy and makes a big impact. Complete info sheet here.

(For more like this, see Teach Kids About Color and Vision.)

Explore What Tiny Microbes Can Do and Have a Snack, Too

Activity: Inflate balloons using yeast
A simple and easy way to watch yeast producing gas. Find the full instructions here.

(For more like this, see Teach Kids About Tiny Things, Part One.)

Activity: Make a quick and healthy bread with yeast
This bread recipe is extremely simple and delicious, and kids will find it easy to help make this.

(For more like this, see Teach Kids About Tiny Things, Part One.)

WatchThe Beneficial Bacteria That Make Delicious Food

Activity: Have a microbial foods tasting party
Consider trying kombucha, kefir, water kefir, pickles, soy sauce, and kimchi. Stacy Michelson’s wonderful Eat This Book [Amazon | Bookshop] has playful illustrated pages on these foods, too, if you’d like a book to go along with the activity.

(For more like this, see Teach Kids About Tiny Things, Part One.)

Extract DNA From a Strawberry

For a terrific book about DNA, try Grow: Secrets of Our DNA, Nicola Davies and Emily Sutton [Amazon | Bookshop]

Activity: Extract DNA from a strawberry
It’s wild that you can do this at home and that it’s so easy. In the picture to the right, the white clumps in the clear layer of liquid are DNA. Pull it out with a bamboo skewer and pop it on a slide to look at under a microscope. (Or if you don’t have a microscope, simply knowing that you’re extracting DNA is cool enough as it is!) Full instructions here.

(For more like this, see Teach Kids About Tiny Things, Part One.)

Explore Chemistry by Making Ice Cream in a Jar

Activity: Make ice cream in a bag
It takes some work, but it’s truly delicious and will feel magical to children. This recipe is especially good. I recommend bagging the ice cream but then putting the bag, along with the ice, in a large jar, if you have one. Cover it with a tea towel so that your skin doesn’t get too cold, and then roll it back and forth vigorously for a long while. Eat it straight out the bag if you like! You can go here for a detailed overview of the science involved in this activity.

(For more like this, see Teach Kids About Touch.)

Model Natural Selection With the Bean-Counter Evolution Game

WatchEvolution 101 (quick, but simple and short)
Or The 12 Days of Evolution — Complete Series (longer, but on a variety of evolution topics)

ActivityBean Counter Evolution
A really fun and active game to demonstrate evolutionary fitness. All you need are beans, cups, and a variety of kitchen utensils. In this game, each player tries to capture as many beans as possible with their chosen utensil. Keep the game going through multiple rounds to see how natural selection changes the population. (The instructions recommend at least 15 players for this, but I’ve played it successfully with only four.)
(For more like this, see Teach Kids About Evolution and Biomimicry.)

ActivityNOVA Evolution Lab puzzles
This free online game is a fascinating way to explore evolution. Some kindergarteners will be able to play this on their own, but it’s perfect for older kids (and you can play it with younger children if you explain as you go, too).

(For more like this, see Teach Kids About Evolution and Biomimicry.)


For more music activity ideas that don’t require specialty materials, see my buy-nothing activity guide.

Visualize Sound as Waves by Making a Wave Machine

WatchJourney of Sound to the Brain

Activity: Make a wave machine
Although it looks complicated and difficult, this project is easy to put together and satisfying to play with. This activity might help children visualize waves and grasp the idea that sounds are waves. Full instructions here.

(For more like this, see Teach Kids About Sound and Hearing.)

Learn About How Vibrations Produce Difference Sounds by Making and Tinkering With Instruments

Activity: Make a bee hummer
When you swing this instrument around rapidly, it makes a fascinating buzzing sound. If you’re not hearing a loud buzz — it will be very clear — make sure that no part of the paper is touching the rubber band. Small adjustments will get this working in no time. Full instructions here.

Activity: Make a sound sandwich
Even toddlers can make a thrilling, silly sound with this easy instrument. To make a variety of sounds with this, slide one of the interior straws back and forth. Full instructions here.

Activity: Water-bottle membranophone
With a latex glove, straw, water bottle, paper, and rubber bands, you can create this simple-to-play instrument. (My 5-year-old had no problems playing it.) If you’re not getting sound out of it, try pushing the paper tube up a bit more, so it’s pressed more against the membrane. My children thought this instrument was hilarious and couldn’t stop laughing. Full instructions here

(For more like this, see Teach Kids About Music and Instruments.)

Art and Games

For more art activity ideas that don’t require specialty materials, see my buy-nothing activity guide.

Make Dot Art Like Emily Kngwarreye

ReadEmily Kame Kngwarreye
LookSome of Kngwarreye’s dot paintings

Activity: Dot paintings
With (plenty of) cotton buds or pencil erasers and acrylic paint, make a dot painting in the style of Kngwarreye.

(For more like this, see Teach Kids About Art.)

Make Tiny Art From Matchboxes

Activity: Matchbox art show
Kids can create their own portable art exhibition on tiny sheets of paper. Wrap the matchbox in paper, too, and give the show a title. Inspired by this.

Activity: Make a tiny bed out of a big matchbox
This is a lovely way to teach some simple sewing. Kids can sew a pillow easily with a whip stitch, and they can fill it with lavender. Blankets can either be hemmed or cut with pinking shears (or simply cut out of felt). These are perfect beds for little animals or halfpenny dolls if you have any. You shouldn’t really need instructions for this, but in case you do, here’s a short video. (I used a wooden matchbox for this activity, but a large matchbox from the grocery store works just as well.)

(For more like this, see Teach Kids About Tiny Things, Part Two.)

Make a Mancala Board and Learn to Play the Game

Activity: Play mancala
There are many ways to play mancala, and you’ll often find people fighting about which rules are either original or the best. Feel free to do your own YouTube search. Here’s one variation. And here’s another. To make your own mancala board, simply cut the top off an egg carton, then glue one end of the top to each side (this creates the points pits). Hot glue works best! You can use anything you like for the beads: glass gems, buttons, polished rocks, pebbles, or any other small item.

(For more like this, see Teach Kids About Ancient Games and History.)

Architecture and Engineering

Explore Stability and the Properties of Materials by Making Spaghetti and Marshmallow Towers

Activity: Marshmallow and spaghetti structures
A truly great engineering task, despite how simple it seems. You might be tempted to use something other than spaghetti, but don’t! Spaghetti is the perfect material for this (slightly fragile, slightly strong, and very easy to customize by breaking if you want shorter lengths). Wonderful demonstration video here and printed instructions here.

(For more like this, see Teach Kids About Architecture.)

Test Your Building Skills by Making Cookie Structures

Activity: Cookie architecture (adapted from Okido magazine)
Using a selection of cookies of various sizes and weights, try building a house. Who lives there? How does the house meet their needs? I found that these cookie combinations provided a lot of construction options: sugar wafers, graham crackers, Pirouettes (or another tube-like cookie), Verona biscuits (cookies with jam in the middle), and Kedem tea biscuits (lightweight rectangular biscuits). Candy melts are probably preferable to chocolate for the glue.

(For more like this, see Teach Kids About Architecture.)

This site uses affiliate links, and I might earn a small commission, at no cost to you, if you click through to buy these books. I only recommend books that I have used and love. Thank you for supporting this site.

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