9 Ways to Have a Nostalgic 90s Summer With Your Kids

When most of us recall our youth, we do so wistfully. With an air of nostalgia. But there really was something special about the 90s. Read on to learn how to have a nostalgic 90s summer.

<p>Getty Images / monkeybusinessimages </p>

Getty Images / monkeybusinessimages

Summer is magical—and always has been, at least for kids. It is a time of playful innocence. Everything is laid back and unbothered. Life seems simple and carefree. But today, things are different. Many kids are overscheduled. Children are signed up to attend endless camps and classes, sometimes a full year in advance. Childcare is at a premium because many families work full-time, and we often do everything we can to ensure our children have the latest and greatest everything. This means ensuring they are armed with protective sun gear, swim gear, and bug repellant. It means stocking the pantry with wholesome, organic, low-sugar snacks, and—for bigger kids—it means making sure they have a phone so they can text anytime.

Once summer is underway, it means documenting every dang second of said summer on that phone (and posting it to social media) for all to see.

Look, I’m not saying our kids aren’t having awesome summers these days, but there was something about the summers we enjoyed as kids that were just… a little more free. So bring on the (mostly) unsupervised summer evenings, the afternoons of swimming in a dirty pool and slathering our hair with Sun-In. Bring on the boombox in the backyard, running around the block to catch the ice cream truck, and staying up to watch Urkele, Sister, Sister, and the rest of ABC’s TGIF. And bring back spontaneity, delayed gratification, and boredom.

Bring some of that ‘90s magic back into your kids’ lives this summer, because it's more than '90s nostalgia. It's a way of life.

Throw An Outside Dance Party

Was there anything better than taking out the boombox, grilling up some food, and having a dance party with a few friends? I think not. While you may not have an old fashioned boombox handy, you can probably hook your phone up to a speaker and take the dance party outside. Your kids might resist at first, but you’re gonna want to cue up some of the best ‘90s summer hits. You can’t go wrong with “Waterfalls” (TLC), “Genie in a Bottle” (Christina Aguilera),  "The Sign" (Ace of Base), "All I Wanna Do" (Sheryl Crow), or "Summertime" (D.J. Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince). Your kids will love ‘em.

Ditch Your Phones for An Afternoon

 Back in the ‘90s, most of us didn’t even have flip phones. Yup, it was a time where people would just be out and about without a way to communicate with one another. There was no snapping 75 pics of our kids so that we could find the best one to post on Instagram. There was just being—and yes, somehow we survived. So, consider spending a few hours without your phone, or at least resist the temptation to use it except for essential tasks. You’ll likely find that you can focus more on your kids, and have a much better in-the-moment experience with them.

Get Your ‘90s Junk Food On

A ‘90s summer wouldn’t be complete without the junkiest, stickiest, additive-laden, processed crap available. We’re not saying this should be your kids’ regular summer menu, but consider indulging them in a ‘90s summer eating experience at least once or twice. Essentials should include any type of frozen ice pop (preferably wrapped in plastic), a crunchy, cheesy snack with bright orange coating—think Doritos or Cheetos—mountains of soda and juice boxes, and a few chain-store pizzas.

Organize a Block Party

With kids’ days so jam-packed and people communicating with one another mostly via texts and social media, it’s not often that you get to hang out with your neighbors. But there is something truly magical about doing just that, especially on a hot summer evening. So consider teaming up with a few neighbors and organizing a block party. You can pool funds for fun stuff like a DJ (ask them to spin some ‘90s faves) or an on-site ice cream truck. Make a scavenger hunt for the kids, or just take out some water spritzers for the kids to spray each other with. Purchase a few Super Soakers, if you want to be authentically ‘90s. Water balloons work great, too.

Let Your Kids Be Bored

Honestly, this one is probably going to be the hardest for most of us. Our kids are used to having constant entertainment and stimulation at their fingertips (sometimes literally). Either they’ve got an activity to attend, a playdate to be at, or a tablet to play on. Back in the day, being bored was just par for the course. Our parents didn’t expect to have to plan an activity for every waking second of our days, and that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. Boredom is where creativity blooms. It’s also where kids learn to become more independent and self-sufficient. So consider having a few hours with absolutely nothing planned, and put your kids’ phones and tablets away for a few hours. Let them just be, play, and figure out what to do with themselves. It will all work out in the end. We promise.

Cool Off Outside

These days, during the dog days of summer, most of us prefer to stay inside our centrally air conditioned homes. When we were kids, many of us had air conditioners, but they didn’t work that well, and usually only one or two rooms had window A/C units. The rest of the rooms had fans, which weren’t all that efficient. If we wanted to cool off, we needed to go outside and get wet.

This summer, on those super boiling hot days, have your kids go outside. You can purchase a Slip-n-Slide, if you want to add some ‘90s feel into it. Setting up some sprinklers is a must. Get a good ol’ kiddie pool and have your kid fill it up with the hose. You can even let them take a few swigs from it, mentioning that that used to be your main source of hydration during ‘90s summers.

Have a 90s Movie Night

When we were kids, movie night meant walking or getting a ride to Blockbuster or the local video store, spending an hour selecting a movie to watch, and making sure to leave with a gallon of Twizzlers and microwave popcorn. Nowadays, movie nights mean trying out a movie on Netflix or Disney + and being able to switch over to something else if you don’t like it. Having a ‘90s movie night means selecting one movie that came out in the ‘90s, stocking up on a tremendous amount of ‘90s candy (Airheads, gummy burgers, Nerds, Fun Dip) and popcorn, letting your kids stay up late, and watching the movie till they fall asleep. Tooth brushing can wait till tomorrow morning.

Some popular ‘90s movies that kids these days would dig are:

  • Toy Story

  • Babe

  • Beauty and the Beast

  • The Lion King

  • The Nightmare Before Christmas

  • Home Alone

  • Groundhog Day

  • My Girl

  • Jurassic Park

  • Men in Black

  • Clueless

  • Mrs. Doubtfire

  • Forrest Gump

  • Ghost

  • Titanic

  • Batman Returns

  • Crooklyn

Plan Less—Be More Spontaneous

Perhaps the most ‘90s thing you can do this summer is have some periods of time set aside where you have no idea what you’re doing that day and where you and your kids can figure it out. This looks like waking up in the morning with nothing on the calendar and letting your kids pick an activity. Maybe that means you’ll just hang at home and teach your kid how to make friendship bracelets. (Remember those?) Maybe it means deciding to spend the day at the mall. (Such a ‘90s way to spend a summer afternoon!) Or maybe it means getting your bikes out from the garage and biking through the neighborhood as the sun goes down. The idea is to just let things flow, be present with your kids, and allow them to call the shots.

Send Your Kids On a Bike Ride

Remember when you used to ride your bike around the neighborhood for hours on end? The wind whipping at your hair? The world at your feet? There was something special about it. The unstructured play was simpler. You would also regularly run into friends doing the exact same thing. So send your kids on a bike ride or, if their too young, go on a family ride. Just get outside and get moving, if you can.

Adding some ‘90s spice into your summer isn’t all or nothing. Most of us will probably spend a good deal of the summer utilizing modern-day technology, sending our kids to state-of-the-art camps and activities, and trying to keep them healthy and sunburn free. But infusing your summer with a bit more nostalgic ‘90s mentality may be just what you need to create the most memorable, joyful summer ever.

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