Beating the Summer Heat (And Not Breaking the Bank to Do It)

Summer is full on here, and that can mean lazy, hot days where I simultaneously want to be outside soaking up the sunshine and hiding inside in the air conditioning. My kiddo, on the other hand, would like nothing more than to be outside all day, but he quickly grows bored with the “same old same old” games and toys, and before long is also complaining of the heat and humidity. This conundrum has led me to search for interesting and novel ways to beat the heat of an Iowa summer without breaking the bank or relying too often on the old standbys.

First off, there are the obvious choices…the community pool, the splash pads, and the good old water table in the backyard. There are also the slightly less obvious choices…one of the area beaches or renting a paddle boat at Lake MacBride State Park. Most of these choices (except the water table) however involve a trip in the car and all that that entails: packing extra clothes, lunch, worrying about nap time, snack time, bathroom breaks, and money. Sometimes I don’t want to deal with all that hassle planning and simply want a fun activity that can occupy my toddler for an hour or so in his very own backyard.

Enter the internet! I am not usually a Pinterest kind of mom, but the site is a wealth of ideas for DIY type projects. Here are a few of my favorite ideas, along with a couple that we came up with all on our own.

5 Fun (and Cheap!) Water Play Ideas 

1. Build your own sprinkler

(Found at Housing a Forest)

If you don’t have a sprinkler this is an awesome idea, and you probably have everything necessary already sitting in your house or garage. Take a plastic bottle, poke holes all over, tape to a garden hose and Viola! Tammy at Housing a Forest uses Tyvek tape but we used duct tape with similar effect. Be sure to use a LOT of tape to get a really good seal between the bottle and the hose.  We also used an awl to poke the holes instead of dragging out dad’s drill. A flat bottle (as opposed to a round soda bottle) will also allow you to set the sprinkler on its side and prevent it from rolling. Word of warning…you will have to experiment with the strength of the water spray, you want it strong enough to push the water out but not so strong that the bottle goes flying!

Summer Heat 2

2. Water bag pinata

(Found at Frugal Coupon Living)

This has all kinds of fun potential. Simply fill up a large clear trash bag with water, tie a knot in the top, tie a rope around it, and drape the rope over a low tree branch or other support structure. I found that my 3 year old didn’t like the blindfold, and had just as much fun swinging at the hanging bag and getting drenched without it. You should have several bags on hand, because they’re only good for one use, so get the cheapest ones you can find (they’ll break easier that way too!) Just be sure to keep other kids well away from the reach of the swinging stick!

3. Water balloon t-ball

This is one of my own creations. It’s as easy as it sounds…just fill up some water balloons, put them on the ball “t” (or any other support structure), and let the bats fly! If the balloon doesn’t break kiddos can run the bases, if it does they get sprayed with a cool burst. Win win! (Note: be sure that your child is prepared for the balloon to break and also pick up all bits of broken balloon from the lawn as they can create a choking hazard for young children.)

4. Easy alternatives to a water table

(Found at

I haven’t tried this one, because we have a nice water table that I got as a hand-me-down from a friend. But Kate at has several awesome suggestions for using mixing bowls, under the bed storage containers, clear plastic bins, and cutlery trays as alternatives to buying (and storing!) a dedicated water table.

5. Water science, color experiments

A great part about this water idea is that it can be done outside or inside at the kitchen sink on a rainy icky day. All you need are some clear plastic (or glass, but plastic is nice in case of drop-age) glasses, water, and some food coloring. Add a few drops of two different colors to two different glasses and experiment with what happens when you combine the colors together. Even little kids can quickly learn that blue and yellow make green! (Note: although food coloring is generally washable, I would still recommend paint shirts or old clothes to prevent big messes. Also, if your sink or countertop is very porous, be aware that food coloring can stain some surfaces.)

Summer Heat 1

There you go! Hours of summer fun at minimal cost right in your own backyard.

What are other ways YOU have found to beat the summer heat?


Sarah Bengtson
Sarah is a proud Iowa native who currently lives in North Liberty with her husband and 2 sons. She grew up in rural Benton county and moved to the Iowa City area in 2005 to attend graduate school at the University of Iowa in Physical Therapy. Now she balances raising two growing boys with a work as a pediatric physical therapist. Outside of work and family, Sarah loves music, playing her cello, running, baking, crochet, church activities, and cheering for the Hawkeyes and the Minnesota Vikings.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.