School's out for the summer, the days are turning warmer, and your child is ready to shift gears. As she sheds her long-sleeved shirts and puts on her sandals, she feels a new sense of freedom and excitement. The slower pace of summer is the perfect time to help her process what she learned during the school year and find new ways to spread her wings and stretch her mind. The following activities are fun and — shhhh! — educational.
Talk with Chalk
Suggest that your child grab some fat sticks of sidewalk chalk and head outside to create some colorful artistic drawings on the blacktop driveway, the concrete sidewalk, or the park pavement. For group fun, encourage several children to flex their big muscles and draw some large-scale cooperative pictures with interesting, connecting parts.
Test your children's scientific skills by tracing around their shadows at various times of the day. Observe how they move in the different outlined poses. Play a guessing game and see if they can match the colorful shadows to the owners.
Use the chalk to inspire a family or neighborhood message board. Write and draw great picture notes for those passing by to read. ("Today is Elise's birthday," "Come play hopscotch at 2:00.") Leave chalk for others to write messages back. (If you don't have any sidewalk space to write on, cut open brown paper grocery bags and tack them up for recycled "brown boards" to sketch upon.)
When you are finished, have fun by cooling down as you wash away the "chalk talk" with a hose or a watering can.
Help your child increase her observational powers. Together, gather materials to create a nature detective's kit. Use a backpack so she can keep her hands free while walking. If you put bracelets of masking tape, sticky-side out, on her wrists, she can collect little seeds, nuts, leaves, etc. to identify later on. Small plastic containers with snap-on lids will allow her to gather water, pebble, and soil samples.
A magnifying glass can be very useful to investigate tiny bugs or small details like the center of a flower. Or, show her how a clear plastic water bottle turned on its side can also magically double as a great magnifier when she holds it over an item and looks through the water.
Suggest that she find her own special "hot spot" in the backyard, at the park, or along a pathway while hiking. Arrange to visit it frequently and at different times of the day so your child can sketch the various changes with crayons on a pad from her nature kit. She can also graph plant growth with the aid of a ruler. She may wish to note the various textures and compare the shapes of natural objects through crayon rubbings.
Open a Box
Look for exciting ways to add to your play area and increase your child's imagination. For example, use different sizes of opened cardboard boxes to transform a jungle gym into a castle or rocket ship. Or use connecting boxes indoors or outdoors to create passageways, tunnels, and towers to crawl through and up and over. Add an old tablecloth or towels to design a playhouse with rooms. Make little cups and saucers for a tea party with acorn nuts and caps. Use big leaves for cake plates.
To create a colorful moving mosaic, let children dance and twirl with crepe paper streamers as they catch the wind outside or use a fan inside. For more color, put on bathing suits, and attach large sheets of paper to a fence or building. Use plunger-type spray bottles filled with bright tempera paint diluted with water to spray splashy designs on the paper wall.
Write and draw little notes that encourage your child to use his thinking skills and follow a number trail using the clues you leave for a treasure hunt. At the end, provide a picnic basket or cooler filled with yummy summer treats, such as lemonade, watermelon, and maybe carrot sticks grown in your own garden!
Build on Books
The public library is a wonderful spot to cool down, relax, and dream about becoming a variety of characters or pretend to be living in faraway places. Check out the magazine section for a change. For example, travel magazines are a great resource for learning interesting new words, finding fascinating recipes, and broadening your child's multicultural horizons.
Libraries (bookstores, too!) offer more than just books. Investigate the many unique summertime programs. Take advantage of puppet workshops, visits from children's authors, or dramatizations by storybook actors. Displays frequently showcase interesting collections like antique dolls and games or rare stamps. Your child might want to consider sharing his prized seashell or dinosaur collection with others.
As you can see, creative ways to keep your child engaged abound, whether you're in your own backyard or out around town. No matter what you do, the learning momentum you enjoy together will carry on into the next school year.