Category Archives: Play and Fun Activities

Summer Movies 2023

Whether you’re looking for outdoor movies to enjoy those warm summer evenings, or indoor movie clubs for those hot summer mornings when you really just need some A/C, or a drive-in movie, here are some options in the Seattle / King County area for summer 2023.

Kids’ Summer Movie Clubs

As you may remember from your own childhood, these are probably the cheapest, easiest way to entertain your kids for two hours on a summer morning…

  • Cinemark Totem Lake in Kirkland, Wednesday mornings 9:30 am. June 26 – Aug 21. $1.50. Schedule here: 
  • Regal Summer Movie Express, Tuesdays and Wednesdays, first show of the day. $2. June 25 – Aug. 21. Bella Bottega, Redmond; Crossroads, Bellevue; Thornton Place, Seattle; Meridian, Seattle; Issaquah Highlands; The Landing in Renton; Alderwood, Tukwila.

Outdoor Movies

Below, I list all the outdoor movie series in King County. All information is current as of 5/31/23- but check individual websites for updates or changes!

Note: all outdoor movies start around “dusk”. In  the Pacific Northwest, that means starting around 9 – 9:30 pm in July and 8:30 – 9 in August, so outdoor movies aren’t compatible with early bedtimes.

Get some handy tips / etiquette advice for outdoor movies here and here. Top tips are: go early for good seating location, bring a sweatshirt and blankets, as the weather cools quickly after dark, and if you bring a chair, make sure it’s a low profile chair so you don’t block anyone’s view. It doesn’t hurt to have a flashlight to find your way to the bathroom or port-a-potty – just be sure to shine it only at the ground in front of you.

Wednesdays and Thursdays

  • Movies at Marymoor Park in Redmond. 7/6 – 8/23. Wednesdays and Thursdays. $10 per person (5 and under free), $5 to park. Seating opens 6:30. Live entertainment, trivia, food trucks, vendors. 7/6 Grease; 7/12 EEAAO; 7/19 Monsters Inc, 7/26 Top Gun: Maverick, 8/2 Goonies, 8/9 Wakanda Forever, 8/17 Up; 8/23 Princess Bride

Thursdays and Fridays

Nordics in Hollywood – the National Nordic Museum. Free. Fri 6/6 Bye Bye Birdie; Th 7/20 Mamma Mia. To Confirm: Fri 8/25 Knives Out.


  •  Auburn Friday Flicks. Free? 7/28 Rise of Gru at Lea Hill Park; 8/4 Turning Red at Sunset Park; 8/11 Top Gun Maverick at Les Gove (note, there’s also a concert that night 7 – 8:30)
  • Sail-In CinemaEverett. Watch from your boat or the shore! Fridays. 7/21 Lyle Lyle Crocodile; 7/28 Top Gun Maverick; 8/4 the Goonies; 8/11 Lightyear; 8/18 Clueless; 8/25 Fantastic Beasts. Entertainment, movie begins between 8:30 and 9:15. FREE.
  • Movies at the Mural at Seattle Center. FREE. 7/28 Princess Bride, 8/4 Clueless,  8/11 Jaws, 8/18 Dreamgirls; 8/25 Wakanda Forever
  • Movies in the Park, Pierce County. FREE, 7/21 Strange World, 7/28 Turning Red, 8/4 League of Super Pets. Meridian Habitat Park in Puyallup.
  • Movies Under the MoonMonroe, Lake Tye Park.  FREE. 8/4 Minions Rise of Gru; 8/11 Croods; 8/18 Top Gun Maverick, 8/25 Wakanda Forever


  • Cinema Under the StarsColumbia City / Seattle. 7/15 – Black Panther, 8/19 – Soul. Food bank donations accepted. Rainier Arts Center
  • Movies in the ParkMarysville. FREE. Jennings Park. 7/15 Top Gun Maverick; 7/22 Thor Love & Thunder; 7/29 Strange World; 8/5 Wakanda Forever, 8/12 Luca
  •  Outdoor Summer Movies. Kirkland. Note: they have a super bright screen, so they can start before dusk, which makes this a good option for younger kids – double features show at 6 pm and 8 pm. Juanita Beach: 7/15 Light Year & TG: Maverick; 7/22 Sing 2 & Grease; 7/29 Super Pets & Fantastic Beasts; Heritage Park: 8/5 Turning Red & Soul; 8/12 Luca & Ticket to Paradise. Free.


More options

The Seattle Times lists additional movies in Gig Harbor and Bellingham. In recent years, the City of Bellevue Parks has hosted movies at Downtown Park and Crossroads, but so far they haven’t announced any for 2023. This article includes a list of lots of other places that have offered them in recent years but haven’t announced for 2023. Note: If I missed any outdoor movie series in King County, let me know!!

Drive-In Movies

There aren’t many classic drive-ins left…  Here’s what’s still open within a two hour drive from Seattle:

The only other one in the state is Auto-vue Drive-in – Colville, WA. 6 hours from Seattle.

Movies start at dusk… see note above. If you go to a drive-in, PLEASE spend lots of money at concessions!!! That’s what will keep these classic theaters open in future summers!!

Learn more about these drive-ins. (And in this article)

Parent Guides to Media

If you’re looking for advice on whether a particular movie is kid appropriate, check out Common Sense Media which provides reviews of movies, books, TV shows, games, apps and websites. In their movie reviews, they look at educational value, positive role models, positive messages, violence and scariness level, sexy stuff, language, consumerism and substances, providing information so parents can make their own informed decisions about what’s right for their child.

Kids in Mind also offers film reviews which rate, on a scale of 1 – 10, the level of sex/nudity, violence/gore, profanity and substance use in a movie. They also give detailed descriptions of each incident they counted, for parents to consider.

I also wrote a post on “When to Introduce Your Child To ______” which talks about things to consider when deciding whether your child is ready yet for favorite series like the MCU, Star Wars, and more.

Other Kid Activities:

You may also be interested in my review of the 4DX movie experience at Seattle’s Meridian Theater

If you’re looking for other fun ideas for the summer, check out my series on “Cheap Dates with Toddlers and Young Kids”,  or reviews of Eastside Parks or find hands-on STEM enrichment activities for kids age 3 – 7 on my other blog at

For school year activities, if you have kids age birth to 7, check out info about fabulous parent education classes at local community colleges that are great for kids AND include parent education for you – register now for fall, before they fill up!!

Depth or Breadth in Kids’ Activities?

happy child holding soccer ball, hockey stick and guitar

When it comes to choosing extracurricular activities for a child, or picking the best summer camp, some parents choose a focus for their child early on: “we’re a Little League family” or “all of us play stringed instruments” can even be a big part of their family identity.

For my family, I chose to take an approach informed by an understanding of brain development: the brain (and body) to develop well need both novelty and repetition, and the ability to learn in places we feel safe. And we need some down time for relaxation and fun.


When we try new things, we stretch ourselves, applying past learning in new ways to accomplish new goals. This gives us more new skills to apply to future challenges. We also have lots of opportunities to find new things that we love doing.

When choosing activities, I also keep in mind the multiple intelligences approach. I want my children to develop in all areas: music classes to build musical intelligence, story time and theatre classes to build linguistic intelligence, wilderness classes to build naturalist intelligence, sports for kinesthetic intelligence… a little of everything to build their brains and bodies.


When we have the chance to do the same thing again and again, we have the chance to build mastery. To get really good at a physical skill. To build a deep knowledge of a topic that we have a passion for. To explore all the facets of that interest. Where novelty gives breadth to their learning, repetition gives depth.

If you’re a more authoritarian style parent, you might choose the thing you want them to excel at and focus there. If your parenting style is more permissive or authoritative, you may follow their lead. (A permissive parent may be more willing to let them quit if they get bored, an authoritative or authoritarian parent is more likely to push them to stick to it and build their persistence as they build their skills.)

Personally, I try for mostly breadth before age 10, and then specialization after age 10 or so. I feel like that’s enough years to expose them to all sorts of experiences and skills. But around 10 is when it starts getting harder to be new to a skill – for example, if you join your first soccer team at age 10, you may be playing with kids who have been on soccer teams for five years already.

Safety and Belonging

We all learn best (and have more fun) in settings where we feel safe and feel like we belong. (When we feel safe, our brains produce the hormone oxytocin, which creates a high degree of neuroplasticity / openness to learning.) So, when choosing activities, it’s worth keeping this in mind. Some people choose a local club / YMCA or parks program that offers LOTS of different activities in the same venue and where they’ll often encounter the same kids again and again. We go to the same family camp every year, where our son has tried out: lagoon swimming, row boating, ping pong, hiking and more. Some families have their kids always attend programs that their kids’ friends are doing.

Down Time

In addition to novelty and repetition, our brains and bodies also need down time! We need time to process and integrate all that new learning. Time where no one else is telling us what to do but we get to decide can also lead to creativity and independent decision making. So, resist the temptation to over-schedule your child’s every minute in pursuit of maximum brain development and college application resume building. Make sure you give them the downtime too.

What does this look like?

This is my experience… I won’t claim it’s the only or best way to do anything, but it is a sample of how this approach can play out.

During the school year, my kids typically do a couple of extracurricular activities. Usually, that was one physical activity – soccer team, swim lessons, dance class – and one that was more cerebral – theater class, music lessons, art classes, science class or coding. And the other afternoons and weekend days are down time. (For my youngest, it’s also been church every Sunday morning which includes both spiritual learning and fun playground time or game time.)

During the summer, they usually do 3 or 4 weeks of camp, a few weeks of family vacation or camping, and the other weeks are totally laid-back, do anything you want to do at home weeks.

For all three, we did lots of novelty up to age 11 or 12. For my oldest, at that point, he wanted to focus fully on theatre. So, from then on, it was all theatre! (Well, there was that one year where he surprised us by joining the middle school tennis team when he’d never before played tennis…) But what I found interesting was how his diverse background played in: in one show, they had to mime shelling peas… it was clear from watching the kids that he was the only one who had actually done that before! When they needed someone to roller skate – he was one of the kids who knew how. All the things he had done before informed this new focus.

My middle child continued to pursue diverse interests: one summer was herbal medicine, fashion design, and electric guitar. She has a computer science brain that loves to gather data and find patterns, so the more data, the better! There were a few times during their adolescence that both my older kids lamented the fact that they had friends who were “experts” in something – baseball, equestrian skills… because that had been their primary in-depth focus since childhood. My kids went through brief periods of wishing they’d done that, but then came out the other side happy to have had the diversity.

With my youngest, we tried to do as much of this approach as we could, but he is autistic and when he was younger would easily get overloaded / overstimulated by too much input, so we chose fewer extracurriculars and shorter programs (half day camps vs. full day camps, etc.) Just as he gained the ability to do more, we went into pandemic lockdown and we had fewer options for a few years – I feel like we’re still sort of finding our way back from there, but last summer, he did the theatre camp, family camp and swimming lessons he had done in previous years and he tried the completely-new-to-him ultimate frisbee camp. And I continue to feel that this balancing of novelty and repetition is the right approach for us.

Now, I have to acknowledge my privileges… I know not everyone may have the same options I do. I have the blessings of living in an area with a huge array of children’s activities, and also of having income and work schedule flexibility which allows me to make these choices. I know that what I just described is not within everyone’s reach. But even within the realm of free story-times, online classes that are accessible in areas where in-person program options are limited, “cheap date” ideas and activities we do with our kids at home, I think it is always helpful to have this some novelty / some repetition approach.

If you liked this article, you might also find “Acceleration or Enrichment for Gifted Kids” an interesting read.

Image source:

Let Your Child Explore Fine Motor Skills

Introducing Playdough

Today in a Facebook group, a parent of a 12 month old asked for the best playdough for a child who still puts everything in their mouth. Lots of parents and teachers in the group had great advice:

They recommended edible options like

Note: just because they’re edible doesn’t mean you should let your child eat them! The point of using these, in my mind, is to help children learn NOT to eat their art supplies, but if they do mouth these, you don’t have to worry about it.

Many preschool teachers said to just use any good homemade playdough recipe with no toxic ingredients. (Here’s my favorite playdough recipes.) Some of these have A LOT of salt in them, so it wouldn’t be good for kids to eat much of them, but they won’t, because they taste nasty. A couple tastes and they’re done, no harm done.

But a few respondents to this Facebook post said things like “I wouldn’t recommend playdough till they are around 3 or 4 when they know not to eat anything you put in front of them.”

There are so many benefits for young children in playing with playdough. (Read about the benefits of playdough and more on the power of playdough.) I think it’s ridiculous to deprive them of years worth of that experience because of the worry that they’ll mouth or maybe swallow a few tablespoons of non-toxic ingredients.

And besides, learning not to eat non food items is a good thing to learn! And playing with non-toxic playdough is a great place to learn that.

Now, I wouldn’t introduce playdough for the first time by setting some on their high chair tray and walking away. Of course they would eat it! (Maybe especially if it’s made of marshmallows…) However, you can absolutely introduce playdough to a young toddler – one year old is perfectly appropriate. The first few times, you sit right there with them, showing them this exciting new thing and showing them how to interact with it. Role model – tell them what to do. (Don’t even say “don’t eat it” because they may not even think of putting it in their mouth till you say the word eat. Children are new to language, and may hear “eat” and not hear the “don’t” part of the sentence.) Play with it, explore it, then put it out of reach when you need to walk away. If they do begin to move it toward their mouth, that’s when you would say “oh, yuck, don’t eat that. It tastes icky.” And make your icky taste face. That usually does the trick. If they end up with it in their mouth, just say, “oh yuck – let’s spit that out.” And then gently say – “let’s put this away for now, we’ll try again another time.” (It’s a good time to put it out on a tray or plate the first time so if you need to remove it you can.) With clear guidance, toddlers can learn to use playdough appropriately, and then have access to all the great learning that can come from playdough activities.

This whole topic just brings me to a larger topic.

Building Fine Motor Skills

In order for children to learn skills, they have to be able to have hands-on experiences with things. Almost everything they interact with could potentially have some risk. But often the chances are small. And with supervision and playing alongside, we can reduce the risk of severe injury to extremely unlikely.

In order for children to learn fine motor skills, they have to be allowed to use them! That means they need to be allowed to explore small items that they have to use the pincer grasp to pick up. Some of that happens with eating finger foods – peas and cheerios and slippery diced peaches all provide lots of pincer grasp practice. But children also need to be able to practice things like threading beads onto a pipe cleaner and once they’ve mastered that, threading beads onto string. They can practice things like dropping pompoms into a water bottle or putting buttons into slots cut in a plastic lid.

I do developmental screenings with parents – the 9 month old questionnaire asks if the child can pick up a string, the 18 month old asks if they can draw a line with a crayon or pencil, and the 22 month old asks if they can string beads or pasta on a string. I can’t tell you how many times the child hasn’t met that milestone and parents have said they just have never done anything like that with their child where their child handles small objects. Often they have avoided this because of fear of choking.

What about choking?

Yes, it is well worth being aware of the risks of leaving your child unattended with small items that they could choke on. And, it’s absolutely a good idea for all parents and all caregivers to be familiar with choking rescue. (Here’s a video.) And it’s good to know infant and child CPR too, just in case. (Videos of infant CPR and child CPR.) But this doesn’t mean that you should never let your child touch anything smaller than their fist.

Introducing Fine Motor Activities

Toddlers can do all sorts of fine motor activities with small objects. Like with the playdough, do a really good and intentional job of introducing the item under close supervision. Use role modeling and demonstration to be sure they know what to do with the items, and if they start to do inappropriate things with the items (like put a bead in their nose or in their ear), then we correct that. (Note: I do sometimes count how many of an item I put out, so that when I clean up I make sure I can account for all of them – if not, I search the floor to see if one just rolled away.) After they’ve interacted with an item safely multiple times, you can let them play with it more independently. I also do this approach with food – I don’t slice up grapes for my child. Instead, the first time I introduce grapes, I sit down with them and show them a grape and show them how I take one little itty bite out of the grape and chew it up, then take another itty bitty bite… Once we’ve practiced this multiple times, they can eat grapes independently.

Why Fine Motor Skills Matter

If we don’t let our children have this fine motor practice, then they’re going to be missing important development. Children need fine motor skills and finger strength to be ready for kindergarten tasks like writing, using scissors and turning pages in a book. They need them for self-care tasks like: buttoning a shirt, tying shoes, eating with a spoon, and opening food packaging. They need them to play with toys at preschool and not be frustrated by their inability to do things other children can do.

Fine Motor Development

These sample activities offer ideas for what sorts of things your child should be capable of at each age;

  • 3 to 6 month olds – give them small toys that they can practice passing from one hand to another or hold them and shake them. Hold your baby on your lap and place a toy on the table in front of you that they need to reach for.
  • 6 to 9 months – show them how to clap their hands or give high fives, they start “raking” things toward them, so try something like ping pong or whiffle balls or baby toys or finger foods like cheerios, take toys out of a container
  • 9 to 12 months – continue to offer finger foods, encourage them to try picking up a block and putting it into a cup, encourage them to try picking up a string or a noodle, show them how to bang two toys together, wave bye-bye
  • 12 months – build simple towers by stacking two or three items, let them scribble, practice eating with a spoon, turning pages in a board book, take off socks and shoes
  • 2 years – practice using a fork and drinking from a cup, put on lids and take them off, string beads on yarn, show them how to draw a line, build a tower 8 blocks tall
  • 3 years – button and unbutton clothes, use scissors, draw shapes, make a cheerio necklace, place coins in a piggy bank

Fine Motor Activities for Toddlers to Preschoolers

The pictures above are a random collection of activities we have done at our parent-toddler class for children ranging from 12 – 24 months old. Here are more ideas:

  • Play with playdough: for the youngest child, this is smushing it with their hand or poking it with a finger. Then pulling it apart into smaller pieces. Then you can introduce tools to squish it flat (rolling pin), or cut it (plastic knife, cookie cutters) and so on. Hide small toys inside the playdough that they have to unearth.
  • Shape sorters and puzzles: start with big and simple shapes, get more complex as they are ready for that.
  • Build with megablox, then Duplos, then Legos.
  • Twist pipe cleaners into shapes. Insert pipe cleaners into the holes on a colander.
  • Dress-up clothes: put on gloves, zip zippers, fasten snaps, button buttons
  • Stringing Beads (or pasta or cheerios): first, putting BIG beads on a stick or dowel, then medium beads on a pipe cleaner, then small beads on a string.
  • Drawing: first scribbles, dots, lines. Later: Draw pictures, trace letters, color inside the lines.
  • Collage: For a one year old, I use contact paper – take off the backing and leave the paper sticky side up – they can stick on pompoms, feathers, small pieces of paper… As the child gets older, have them practice putting glue on paper, then carefully sticking on small items like gems and googly eyes.
  • Painting – first, just glop paint (or shaving cream or an edible substance like pudding) onto paper or foil or a plate and let them smear it around with their whole hand. Later show them how to paint with one finger. Then with a brush with a large handle, then a small handle.
  • Filling containers: pick a small item (baby socks, pompoms, cotton balls, plastic lids, clothespins, dried beans, dowels, straws, q-tips, raw spaghetti, etc.) and a container to put it in (muffin tin, ice cube tray, jar with a big opening, water bottle with a small opening, boxes, a cardboard box with a small opening cut into it, a container with a plastic lid with a slot cut into it, a spice container or parmesan cheese container with small openings in the lid, a colander turned upside down). For one year olds, you’ll choose larger not-chokeable items that are easy to pick up and containers with large openings. For older children, smaller items and smaller openings. Once they’ve mastered putting items in with their fingers, let them use tongs or tweezers.
  • Pick berries. Pull weeds or pick carrots – you need to pull just hard enough but not too hard, so it’s good for practicing how much strength to use.
  • Sensory bin play – read my Ultimate Guide to Sensory Tables
  • Water table play – read my Ultimate Guide to Water Tables
  • Just go to pinterest or Instagram or google and search for “fine motor activities for toddlers” and you will have thousands of ideas. Don’t be afraid to try them! With you alongside as they learn, your children can safely explore and discover all sorts of wonderful things.

Stretchy Band Play

On a recent day at preschool, we weren’t able to go outside due to air quality issues from wildfire smoke, so I pulled an item out of our music/group time cabinet for some fun large motor music time. My co-teacher said she had no idea what the item was or what it was for, so I thought I’d write a quick post on it and how it works.

Ours is just a red elastic band loop – the elastic is maybe 1 – 1.5″ and about 12 feet in diameter. The products I see on Amazon are called stretchy bands, and look like they would work in a similar way. Or you can purchase from Bear Paw Creek. Or Elastablast from Let’s Play Together (they offer a booklet of ideas with a companion CD). On a 12 foot band, you could fit up to 8 adults or up to 16 children. On an 18 foot, you could fit up to 11 adults or up to 22 children. You can also find DIY instructions, including info on how to make one from pantyhose.

The basic idea is that children take hold of the band in a big circle, and then they move it up and down together or in and out together. It’s a little like how they use the parachute in parachute play but without all the extra fabric to get tangled up it can be easier for younger children (toddlers) to manage.

See a video of a stretchy band in action:

Or this stretchy band song shows how children can all work together as they raise it up and lower it, go side to side, and more. (I would do a simpler, shorter song for younger children!)

What makes this an interesting activity is that everyone works together. They are all encouraged to do the same thing at the same time, and they can tell if it’s working if they’re doing the same thing and the band is going the same way for them as it is for everyone else. Tuneful Teaching points out that this is helpful when you have a child who has a hard time keeping a beat – put them between two children who have mastered that skill, and the band moving in rhythm will give them the sensory experience of the beat.

There are lots of activities you can do with the band – many parachute play activities and rhythm activities can be adapted to work with it. But here are some specific suggestions:

Start when they’re sitting in a circle – tell them you’ll put something in front of them but don’t touch yet – and then lay out the band in a circle. Or lay it out in a circle BEFORE they come into the room. Then they sit around it and pick it up.

Have them raise it up, lower it down, go up, go down. Do that several times. Go in and out. Shake it fast and slow. You could do a wave where when you point at them, they raise the band – go around the circle where one raises, then the next, then the next. Play a game where if you play/sing a high note, they raise it high. If they hear a low note, they hold it down low.


Walk around the circle to Sousa march music or the Nutcracker March. Or to Mulberry Bush, where when you get to the “pop” part, everyone quickly lifts the band high and lowers it. Or to Ring Around the Rosey, where everyone falls down, still holding onto the band. Or I sing “Let’s go round and round the circle, go round and round the circle, go round and round the circle as we have done before. Go in and out the circle…”

Do a counting song – like 5 little monkeys if you have five children – at the beginning, all are standing and holding it and moving it up and down in rhythm to the music. When you say “one fell off”, you tell them which child should let go and sit down. They have a visceral sense then of how four is different than 5. And so on down. (Idea from Music and Movement Products.)

While sitting:

  • sing Sing Row Row Row Your Boat while making a rowing motion with the band. (Video)
  • Wheels on the Bus go round and round (rowing motion); wipers go swish (back and forth); driver says move on back (lean back), people on the bus go up and down. (Idea from Pre-K and K Sharing.)
  • Play a piece of classical music, and have them move the band to match it (might be slow and gentle waves, or fast and marching, depending on the music!)
  • Say “trot trot to Boston, trot trot to Dover, watch out baby or you might fall over” having children move hands up and down (trotting) and then fall / lean backward while holding onto the band.

Keeping the beat. Count together as you move the band 1-2-3-4. Once they get the hang of the rhythm, go around the circle saying each child’s name on the first beat. Peter-2-3-4, Ben-2-3-4, Isabel-2-3-4. Or do animal names or colors or shapes or whatever.

If you have a multi-colored band, then you can do things like “everyone who is holding onto blue, lift it up. Everyone who is holding yellow lean back to stretch it out.”

Stretchy Band Train: make one person the engine, and one the caboose. They walk around with the band stretched between them to make a train car – other kids can board the train car and walk with them. Watch this video.

Use it as a resistance band to stretch out and away from each other – the children can face outward and put it around their bellies, or face inward with it around their backs as they back away. (See pictures on Music Therapy Moves.) Try this pattern: Holding the band from the outside of the circle: Take four steps out, take four steps in. Then get inside the circle, facing out and wrap the band around their bellies. Take four steps out to stretch the band. Take four steps in (going backwards).

Find more ideas: