Cool Off, Even Without a Deep End

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The end of the school year is approaching, and the usual summer diversions like a trip to the local pool are most likely out of the question. (How can you reliably stay six feet apart in the water?)

Luckily, there are other ways to stay wet and cool, even without big group gatherings. Here are a few ideas for watery backyard fun, for children, or adults, short of putting in a pool.

Turn your hose into a sprinkler.

To create your own sprinkler, Malva Gasowski, a parenting coach from Toronto, suggests modifying a hollow pool noodle. Plug up one end and poke some holes through the sides. Then, put your hose inside then open end and turn it on. “If you hang that from the tree, you’ll have like a pool noodle sprinkler,” she said. It’s also an impromptu outdoor shower, if you want to bring some biodegradable soap outside too.

Fill up some water balloons.

For some good old-fashioned fun, organize a water balloon fight. To add some strategy to it, give each child a bucket with the same number of water balloons. Then let them hunt one another. It’s sort of capture the flag, sort of paintball, definitely dodge ball. At the end, each direct hit counts for a point.

You could also do a water-balloon piñata. This is about as simple as it sounds: Fill a balloon almost to bursting, and then let everyone take a whack. Or, fill a few. Divide your family into two teams, stationed at either end of a string of water balloons, each person spaced about a foot apart. (A clothesline will work just fine.) Each team member gets one whack to burst one balloon. The winner is whoever reaches the middle first.

Or, try a balloon toss. Each successful catch means a step back. Each drop means the participants have to take two steps forward. Give them each a spot 15 feet away from the starting point that they are trying to reach. They’ll have to work to cross their finish lines together.

Balloons, though, aren’t the most sustainable option. If you’re looking to reuse the game, let them throw sponges. They’ll still get wet, so who cares? If you want to add a little pizazz, make sponge water bombsby cutting chore sponges into strips and binding them in the middle with fishing line, so they look like flowers.

Credit…Elizabeth Weinberg for The New York Times

Set up a Slip ’N Slide.

You could shell out for a real one. They run about $70.

Or, you could make your own. For a basic sliding surface, all you need is scissors, a few garbage bags, a hose and some tear-free baby shampoo or biodegradable liquid soap like Dr. Bronner’s. If there’s any sort of hill on your property, lay the bags out there. But before you do, make sure there aren’t any rocks or sticks that could bump your child in the wrong way.

The shampoo or liquid soap helps grease the plastic. Mix a few capfuls with a bucket of water and splash it over the plastic. Turn the hose on low, and have a ball.

Amity Messett, a 50-year-old who lives in Sauquoit, N.Y., has 10 children, ages 6 to 29. She and her husband first made their own Slip ’N Slide when they renewed their wedding vows a few years back. It was an off-the-beaten-path party activity, but she said the adults had more fun at the vow renewal ceremony than the kids did.

Afterward, she kept the high grade plastic and reuses it, year after year. Their slide is six millimeters thick, and 50 feet long.

Older children can surf on their bellies. Younger kids might have more fun on a pool float. “You just sit them on it, give them a push, and they have so much fun,” she said. “It’s kind of like a carnival ride. ”

Go for the hard stuff.

If your child is science-minded, try for some ice archaeology.

Kate Terry, 43, an entrepreneur who lives in the Boston suburbs, froze dinosaur toys in quart-size yogurt containers for her 7-year-old daughter, then let her excavate the plastic animals.

“The traditional schooling has just been really hard during the pandemic,” said Ms. Terry, 43. “So we’ve been trying to follow her interests.”

Samara Kamenecka, 42, has two toddlers in Madrid. Now that they are allowed outside, she makes ice chalk by mixing washable paint and water in small paper cups with Popsicle sticks, and putting them in the freezer. Her children can then “paint” the driveway or sidewalk.

Run a water bucket race.

This a good one to try with another family — you can play together and still stay socially distant.

Have each family line up, facing each other from six feet apart. Put a full bucket at one end of each line and an empty one on the other. Each family member gets a cup. Transfer the water by pouring, down the line. Compete on time and accuracy. You get points for finishing first, but whoever has more water in the once-empty bucket by the end wins. Measure with a yardstick, so there’s no cheating.

If you have older kids, you can make it more challenging. Melissa Scatena, 27, the chief executive of Scattered Solutions, an online learning platform for children, suggests cutting a hole in the bottom of each cup. That way, speed matters even more.

“Everyone gets wet and it ends up being a race,” said Ms. Scatena, who lives in Philadelphia. “It’s something you can do with your neighbors.”

Make one big splash.

Play Duck, Duck, Goose but wet. Sit in a circle, and give one person a bucket. That person drips water onto each person’s head as he or she goes around the outside of the circle, then pours it over someone’s head. The soaked person chases that one around the circle. Whoever gets to the open seat first wins.

Tips: Pick a big enough container to make a splash, but not so big the dropped upon person is totally soaked, and make sure it’s plastic so it doesn’t break during the game. And, even if it’s just a few of you, space out the circle. Sit so your fingertips can’t touch to make for a longer run.