Summer camps, mega theme parks, and kid-friendly resorts have turned family vacations into expensive and exhausting endeavors. Whether you need to recoup from your travels or you're opting to spend the summer months close to home, you can help your child enjoy a fun-filled vacation right in her own backyard.
Start with these ideas, then let your child's imagination take over.
Encourage playing dirty.
Pull out old play clothes, set off a piece of the yard that is "his" (far from your prized roses), and let him dig into the earth. Set up a fence around his piece of the yard using sticks connected by lengths of thick string.
Depending on your child's personality, he may want to set up a construction site, build a fort, search for treasure, or plant his own garden (carrot tops, green beans, and sunflower seeds are easy first-time gardening projects). Let him decorate his section of the yard with colored rocks, pictures, and signs painted on planks of wood.
Let nature inspire you.
Bring paints, glitter, glue, and imaginations outside. Plan several summer projects with your child, from scenic paintings that take an afternoon to crafts that take several days to complete. In addition to using her creativity, nature-inspired projects also offer your child opportunities to observe and learn about science.
Make a sun catcher:
- Collect flowers and leaves of different colors and shapes.
- Press the materials between the pages of a book for a few days until they dry out.
- Together, arrange the pressed flowers and leaves in a sandwich bag along with glitter and bits of tissue paper. Leave spaces between the materials (so the plastic will stick together when heated).
- Place the bag between two sheets of aluminum foil and press the foil with a warm iron.
- When you peel away the foil, you'll have a sealed bag that your child can trim into a circle or other shape.
- Poke a hole in the top, attach a piece of thread, and hang in a sunny window.
Or, create a bird feeder together. Then encourage your budding ornithologist to draw the types of birds who visit and keep a journal about the how they behave.
Try building a birdhouse, or explore science by making a backyard barometer.
If you're fortunate enough to own a backyard pool, there are endless ways to keep your child busy. Remember though, children in a pool require constant supervision and need to know safety rules before they jump in.
Safe, soft pool toys (tubes, rafts, beach balls, etc.) are perfect for across-the-pool races and watery forms of volleyball or basketball. Teach your child and his friends games such as Shark, where one player swims underwater trying to tag other players, and Marco Polo, where one seeker shuts his eyes, calls out "Marco," and tries to locate, tag, and identify other swimmers by the sound of their response: "Polo."
Invite the neighbors.
Taking care of other children in addition to your own can be a big responsibility. The benefit is that you know your child is safe and you get to meet her friends. If you want to make your backyard "the hangout," set up a safe, welcoming, and kid-friendly environment.
- Set guidelines ahead of time. Let kids know which rooms inside the house are off limits. Make sure you have a parent or babysitter contact for each child.
- Lock up all tools, remove anything that is breakable or valuable, and be sure an adult supervises the use of any sports equipment.
- Keep basic medical supplies on hand, such as adhesive bandages, antiseptic ointment, and cold packs.
- Serve snacks and beverages. Iced tea, fresh fruit, ice pops, and pretzels or crackers are good choices. Avoid berries, nuts, dairy, or chocolate treats that may cause an allergic reaction in some children.
- Keep kids active! When your child and her friends say they'd rather watch TV or play video games, tell them that is sooo boring! Then teach them these timeless games.