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Many people count the days until summer vacation, but for families affected by various isms, summer can bring hours of unstructured downtime leading to an increase in behavioral challenges. School routines disappear, therapy hours are reduced, respite care hours dwindle and families face days without routine and consistency that many children with isms thrive on. Lack of structure and predictability can create a vicious cycle of frustration and exhaustion for all. However, summer can be a great time to explore new activities that not only keep the entire family busy and happy, but also positively impact social interaction, gross motor skills, creativity, sensory and other learning opportunities. Utilize this unstructured time by creating some FUN-structured possibilities.

Looking Inside, Outside and On the Go, here are 30 ways for families to enjoy summer “FUN-Structured” possibilities for free or next to nothing:


  • Band & Dance Party – Create instruments from stuff around the house, throw on a DVD and let the party begin.
  • Cooking Fun – Make your own pizza or decorate cookies.
  • Dress Up Day – Fill a big bin with large clothes, hats, scarves and accessories and play dress up.
  • Game Days – Raid your game closet and pick a game or two.
  • Homey Fort – Simply use a card table and a large sheet to create a cozy fortress for reading and resting.
  • Summer Library Program– Hit up the library – always a treasure for reading, games and prizes.
  • Summer Bowling League or “Kids Bowl Free” – Sharpen your bowling skills with one of these programs.
  • Tubby Time – Add shaving cream, soap finger paint or colored ice cubes for creative fun in the tub.
  • Treasure Hunt – Make a treasure map to discover cool stuff in your own home.
  • Weekly Movie Series – Check for free or dollar sensory-friendly summer programs in your area.


  • Backyard Water Park – Sprinklers, kiddy pools, buckets with sponges and home-made waterslides make this venture fun.
  • Camp Out in Your Backyard & Make S’mores & Gaze at Stars – Try this fun way to try out camping.
  • Sidewalk Chalk Art – Check out art books from your library and let your inner Picasso go wild.
  • Cloud & Leaf Watching – Lie on your back under a tree and watch the leaves and clouds move.
  • Lemonade Stand – Pick local lemons, make lemonade and then try a business venture. Use the money to buy something fun for another activity.
  • Miniature Golf – Find a coupon in your local ads and leave the score cards for the pros.
  • Outdoorsy Fort – Contact your local appliance store for free refrigerator boxes – perfect for starting a sturdy fort.
  • Sensory Table – Search Special-Ism “sensory table” for oodles of ideas for hands-on fun.
  • Teddy Bear PicnicInvite the bears and set out for a picnic in your backyard.
  • Plant a Garden – Get your hands dirty by planting seeds or seedlings and nurture them daily.

On the Go

  • Beach Day – Enjoy a day of fun in the sun. Swim, collect sea shells and watch for sea life.
  • Hike, Bike or Trike to the Park or Playground – Meet classmates for a play date.
  • Concert in the Park – Many communities offer weekly summer concerts for free.
  • Fire Station Tour – Connect with your local fire station and ask for a special tour.
  • Free Museum or Zoo Days – Check community listings for special free entry days.
  •  “How To” Clinics at Home Depot, Lowes or Michaels Craft Stores – Free fun that you don’t have to plan.
  • Nature Trail Scavenger Hunt – Having a scavenger hunt always makes a hike more adventurous.
  • Visit a Train Station or Take a Train Ride – Watching trains come and go is an adventure in itself.
  • Visit Local Lake and Take a Boat Ride – Sometimes just taking a ferry ride is a fun journey.
  • Volunteer at a Local Community Service Project – Check local papers for opportunities to serve.

Every community is different. Check out what your community has to offer. Find opportunities that work for your family; so that you can relax and enjoy this family time together while YOU count the days for school to start!