10 Ways to Give Your Kid a 1970’s Kind of Summer

Summer’s basically here. The Pinterest pages, Facebook feeds, and family magazine features are loaded up with all the fun-filled activities you should do with your kids this summer.

AS.IF. As if we need more activities. MORE I say!

As if I am sitting here, ok, really laying here in my end of school year coma, thinking, “OMG! I CANNOT wait to tackle that homemade moon sand recipe. We will dye ourselves with the skin of organic vegetables, then shape our homemade sand into a perfect replica of the Millenium Falcon! ” Or, “Why yes, I am going to schlep four kids to that new science museum two hours away, where we will eagerly wander through the exhibits,  each completing the 10 page scavenger hunt I created last night. Then we will come home and ‘discuss’ at great length the scientific theories we learned, because — brace yourself — what if we don’t keep our minds active ALL summer?”

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GASP!  Wait, hold it! We must, just MUST go to the dollar store and buy 125 pool noodles to construct a backyard water park! We will invite the neighborhood kids over, serve vegan popsicles, watermelon chunks cut out like dolphins, and a vegetable crudité platter shaped like a palm tree. And what summer pool party would be complete without nitrate, skin, meat, additive, and taste-free hot dogs on gluten-free buns covered in artisanal ketchup?

I’m done. Sort of like I how I was done with the school year, but I am already done with summer. And by done, I mean I am done with all the forced smile-inducing, uber planned and supervised, over-the-top summer life experiences I am supposed to provide for my kids. You know what I want my kids to experience this summer? The same type of summer I would have experienced in the late 1970’s. The exact same one. I survived it, and they will too. As a matter of fact, it must have been pretty memorable, because 30 years later I can tell you exactly what it entailed. It entailed FUN. Fun we made all on our own. What. A. Concept.

So, I present you with my top 10 ways to give your 2014 kids a 1970’s kind of summer…

1. Make them play outside. Like all day. All.Damn.Day. Hot? Drink from the hose. Run through the sprinklers. Swim in the pool until your hair feels like straw, turns green, and the bottom of your feet are calloused from the bottom of the pool. Search for ladybugs, play hide ‘n seek between the houses, run down the street gutters after a rain storm. Read under a tree. I hear this lady named Judy Blume writes good stuff.

Love Boat

2. Let them watch TV. Plenty of it. But only the TV Land channel. I want my kids to watch The Love Boat, The Carol Burnett Show, The Jefferson’s, Charlie’s Angels, My Three Sons, The Bionic Man, $100,000 Pyramid, and my favorite, Hart to Hart. Seriously, what little girl in the late 70’s didn’t want to be an amateur detective married to the CEO of Hart Industries, driving around in a yellow Mercedes-Benz SL Roadster, while sporting a matching lilac pant suit and perfectly quaffed butterfly-winged wavy brown hair?

ice-cream Image via Shutterstock

3. Eat whatever you  want, and/or whatever can find. There will be no more pantries full of organic vegetable chips, and non-GMO graham crackers. No more refrigerators full of anti-pesticide fruit, free range eggs, and cold pressed juice. This will be the summer of Frito-Lay and Red Dye #5. I want to see my kids’ reaction when I tear open a tiny envelope of cherry Kool-Aid, sprinkle it into a BPA-laden plastic pitcher, dump four cups of regular, granulated, white, and maybe even generic sugar (not raw, stevia, or agave), then add water from the tap, and voila! You are hydrated! I will be over here drinking a Tab. Lunch will be fried bologna and a blue can of Planter’s Cheese Balls, and for dinner we will pile in the car and go pick up a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken, a styrofoam quart of mashed potatoes,  and OMG, dessert will be pineapple upside cake! Made from canned pineapples in…wait for it…syrup!

movie-day Image via Shutterstock

4. Send them to the movies for the entire day. I will drop you off around 11 and pick you up for dinner. It’s real simple. You sneak from one theater to the next. Nobody cares.


5. Spend three nights in a row at your best friend’s house. No, you don’t have to call to check in every hour. And yes, it’s totally ok their parents will be at work and nobody will be home all day. It will give you plenty of time for #1, 2, and 3.


6. Make stuff, like from stuff you find. No trips to Hobby Lobby for pre-cut, pre-stuck, pre-fabricated crafts. Find crap in the garage and assemble it into something you can play with. No, you can’t Google how to do it. Ropes are fun.


7. Have them put on a talent show. A  real, genuine, sing and dance and entertain the hell out of me talent show.  I promise I won’t upload it to Youtube or share it on Facebook. I pinky swear. No, there is no theme, no requirements, no directions, no anything. No, there is no right way to do it. You have an imagination. Please use it.


8. Play this until you want to throw it against the wall, or smash into 1000 pieces. It’s the original train your brain app.


9. Build a fort in the backyard. No, I am not gonna help. Yes, you can use the $125 Pottery Barn Kids duvet cover from your bed. I don’t care anymore. Making a memory trumps 400 thread count cotton.

fireflyImage via Shutterstock

10. Finally, learn to find the amazing in the ordinary. Trust me. You will need this skill in your 40’s. I pinky swear.

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Happy summer!

Related post: 6 Fantasy Summer Camps Every Mom Needs

About the writer


Melissa L. Fenton is a mom to 4 sons, cookbook hoarder, yarn bomber, wannabe pastry chef and carb lover, mother runner, adjunct librarian, sometimes a humor writer. Find her at 4boysmother, on Twitter as @melissarunsaway and on Facebook.


M. 11 months ago

I get that you’re promoting an unstructured summer, and that IS the epitome of my 1970’s summer memories. But…the “nobody cares” in #4, and “I don’t care anymore” in #9 – pretty much sum up this whole article.
My Mom in the 70’s NEVER would’ve let us run from movie to movie, w/o supervision. Are you OK with your kids watching rated R movies?
It reads more like You want a summer vacation from parenting & watching out for your kids. In which case, please don’t try to sell this to younger, more impressionable Moms, who weren’t around in the 70’s.
Thanks, and enjoy your summer!
a Mom for 25 Years

Sharon Martinez 11 months ago

I cannot believe how you described every single one of my 70’s activities. Drinking from the water hose to doing talent shows. Thank you for reminding me about my memorable 70’s summer!

Samantha 11 months ago

I love this! My ’80’s and ’90’s summers were like this. I want my kid to experience the same joys!

sally 11 months ago

Oh my god, I was waiting for the, “I’m a single mom…comment.”

Marie Shelly 11 months ago

I had to share this with you because our take is so very similar right down to the pinky swear. This is something I shared on my blog yesterday from my collection Life Beyond Words, published last May. Just thought you might enjoy. We have a very similar viewpoint, and I even dabble in sarcasm from time to time myself. Keep up the great writing. I enjoy reading your work! http://wp.me/p5ub4E-a0

Bernadette Flaim 11 months ago

Thank you SO much – this also describes perfectly a kid from the 1960’s kind of summer – except perhaps playing Simon Says. Instead – by day, we would have played endless games of Solitaire ( yes, with a real deck of cards) — by night? As many games of ” Red Light Green Light” ( yes, in the dark) until our mothers flicked the porch light on and off, calling us in for the night. Beautiful, simple childhood memories – priceless . . .

Courtney 11 months ago

I loved summers like this and I do the same with my kids with the exception of having them go out side all day. In AZ it’s just too hot at 110+ degrees. Otherwise this is the best kind of summer fun!

Jill 11 months ago

This described my school-age summers to a T! Our neighborhood was packed with kids, and the only time we saw our mothers during the day was when it was time for lunch (bologna sandwiches, PB&J or Spaghetti-Os), if we had to use the bathroom, and dinner. We walked to our school’s pool and swam until we looked like raisins, played in the nearby park, went “fishing” in the creek at the end of the street, put on talent shows, jumped our bikes off of homemade ramps (using that junk from the garage), and caught lightning bugs in the evening. As long as there were other kids with us, our parents let us play and explore on our own, and occasionally dropped us off at the roller rink, the bowling alley, or $2 movie theater where we could spend the afternoon watching Disney movies. Although there were the occasional scrapes, stings, and stomachaches (from eating our entire haul of candy from our 7-Eleven runs) we kids survived each summer, and are better for it. Thanks for bring back all those precious memories, and then some!

Harmony lee 11 months ago

What a great read!!! i think I need this kind of summer too…

DocD 11 months ago

Have those shows aren’t even on TV land anymore. Also at the end of the summer your kids will be fat, full of poison and chemicals and missing half their teeth. Im sure the teachers will be thrilled when they show up in the fall with adhd. Maybe we can also enjoy the cool stuff about 70’s summers like riding around without seatbelts and car seats and having kids picked up by pedos. Woohoo!

Amanda 11 months ago

You just nailed my summers growing up….especially the blue can planters….yep. I think I spent my whole summer riding my bike up and down the street and eating french fries. GREAT MEMORIES!

Alithea 11 months ago

I love this article so much. Thank you.

Lisa Ann Scott 11 months ago

Lol while drinking a Tab ! Snort !

Sara 11 months ago

This was the 90s too! This was my childhood.

Heather 11 months ago

Loved this. LOVED. I grew up in the 70s, too, and it was all Matchbox cars on roads we built in the dirt under the bushes beside our house; “carnivals” we created by turning our banana-seat bikes upside down and turning the pedals so the wheels were like a ferris wheel; drive in movies where we sweated our asses off and got eaten alive by mosquitos; riding out Big Wheels up and down the street while our parents sat on the porch, played cards and drank beers with the neighbors while listening to a static”y” FM radio; catching lightening bugs and (wait for it) ripping the light off and making glow in the dark rings and bracelets (I’d probably go to jail now for doing that LOL); roasting marshmallows on a stick over a charcoal grill after we ate hotdogs and hamburgers on white rolls while slurping grape or orange soda; watching Tom & Jerry and Bugs Bunny in the afternoon if it was too hot and my mom was sick of listening to us complain; sneaking cigarettes from our mom or grandmother’s purses and coughing our way through learning how to smoke. Summers in the seventies were the shit. Thank you for giving me something awesome to remember.

Kim 11 months ago

Pre-planning everything and trying to stop your kids from being bored is taking away their chance to learn problem solving skills and telling them they aren’t capable of figuring things out. You’re bored- use your imagination and find something new to do- and that’s not binge watch Netflix. I spent my summers running around the woods and swimming in a river. We didn’t have a tv for 2 months. When it was time to go to the store we always had a hard time finding matching shoes for each of us, washing off the Kool-Aid stains and brushing our knotted hair- and those were the best summers ever.

Donna 11 months ago

I REALLY miss Planter’s Cheese Balls! I don’t know what kind of cheese-crack they used, but we need to start a petition to get it back!

Kristen L. 11 months ago

Thank you for this! It amazes me how kids today can’t find things to do on their own! When my 8 & 9 year olds have friends over I open the door to the yard or point to the playroom. Don’t look to me for direction! But at some friend’s homes every minute is planned. They come home with brownies and art projects. BTW I was obsessed with Hart to Hart as a kid!

Cami 11 months ago

Did you really say the Bionic MAN?!?
It was the Bionic WOMAN & the Six Millon Dollar Man.

Otherwise, I enjoyed the article.

Miyo 11 months ago

Honestly – if your kids are over 10 years old and don’t know how to make a blanket fort or play outside, you’ve probably done something wrong.
And really, I would think that the ‘fun’ of ones summer was judged by how much fun the kids were having – not what activities they were doing based on a scale of what YOU thought was fun when you were their age. The world is changing, and our children with it, and if you’ve been dragging them to a museum and they’re not having fun with it and you hate it – why are you doing it in the first place? I mean, I grew up with video games aplenty, and so has my kid – and we still love going camping, playing with the sprinkler, taking big walks in the woods, making a fort, and all kinds of outside activities.

Debbie 11 months ago

I am also a product of the 70’s summers and the 60’s summers. My children were raised in the 80’s and 90’s on these summers. My grandchildren on the other hand are constantly told; don’t get dirty, stay in the back yard only (these have 6 foot privacy fences so no one can see our precious darlings outside), No! you cannot get on the swing set by yourself, Please stay out of the water hose (the idea of even asking my child to stay out of something hahaha). I remind my children, who are now in their 30’s, you grew up all over the neighborhood at other friends houses, you played in the cul-de-sac, which wasn’t our backyard, if you weren’t exposed to dirt when you were young, you would be like your cousins, constantly at the doctor or sick. If you fell off the swing or slide, wrecked your bike, or slid into the pavement (my response: No bones no blood, go play. If blood was involved: give them a wet paper towel and tell them hold it there ’til it stops bleeding or they get bored, whichever, comes first). My children went to the doctor for shots nothing else. Their immune systems worked very well. Why? they were exposed to dirt and germs. Their cousins: GOD FORBID!!!!!!. I, too, was a single mother. My children only went with me when I wanted them to go. Our neighborhood moms got together and traded turns with childcare. Hmm, I wonder if that is because we were a product of the 70’s summer.

Allison 11 months ago

Sounds like my kids’summer anyway. Throw in girl scout/cub scout camp (which I did in the 80s), and your list is what we’re doing!

Karen 11 months ago

That IS the kind of summers we have! It’s amazing how not having money to spend on your kids will make you want to spend time with your kids

Lea Tucker 11 months ago

Loved this. My niece, who want even alive in the seventies, shared this. So glad as it brought back great memories and I am now prepared for the grandkids.

Beverly 11 months ago

Also, they will get bored. Boredom doesn’t kill, it inspires creativity.

Mary Kolk 11 months ago

Thank you from the bottom of my heart. Being the mother of 5 beautiful children who grew up in the worlds best neighborhood with wonderful kids as neighbors (who were more like family than neighbors), I relish what you wrote here. It’s as if you were there with us during those wonderful Birchwood years! :) The smile on my face could light up the room!


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