Even though your child might spend part of her day in a summer program, you can still seize the learning opportunities that arise naturally during the more leisurely summer months. Children continue to learn during the summer — just in a different way.
Studies have shown that free, unstructured time gives the brain a chance to integrate and expand on what was absorbed through more structured activities. Summer is an excellent time for doing some open-ended projects that reinforce what your child has learned throughout the school year. Here are six ideas for creative, outdoor fun with your child on the next sunny day:
Take a hike. Plan a long walk together — perhaps along a trail or bike path. Hikers like to carry gorp, a high-energy snack made with raisins and nuts. (Not for kids under 4, as it can pose a choking hazard.) Together, pack gorp in individual plastic bags. Clip a pedometer to your belt or check your smartphone's Health app to see how many steps you take.
Press flowers. Gather flowers (grasses and dandelions also work), self-adhesive clear vinyl paper, glitter, and scissors. Cut the clear contact paper into wide strips. Help your child peel off the backing and ask her to place the strips lengthwise in front of her, sticky-side up.
Next, invite her to place flowers and grasses on the bottom half of the sticky vinyl. Encourage her to add torn pieces of colored tissue paper or glitter around the design. Finally, ask your child to fold the top half of the vinyl down over the bottom half and press it in place. The pressed flower designs can be cut into strips for bookmarks or into large rectangles or ovals for placemats.
Create an ice painting. Make frozen paint by filling ice-cube trays with warm water and adding one-eighth teaspoon of powdered tempera paint to each cube section. Stir until paint is dissolved. Place an ice-cream stick in each cube, and freeze overnight. Cover a table with newspaper, and provide a pile of thick, white drawing paper. Pop a few cubes out of the tray, and invite children to hold the sticks and paint with the ice. As your child paints, she'll probably notice the cubes beginning to melt. Be sure to talk about what's happening to the ice. (Remind her these cubes are for painting, not eating.)
Make bubble prints. Mix one-half cup tempera paint with one-half cup detergent in a jug filled with water. Stir and let stand overnight. Take the jug outside and before dipping into the paint, practice blowing through a straw with your child. Ask her to place her hands at the end of the straw so she can feel the air exiting. Pour the paint mixture into a low pan or pie plate. Blow bubbles! When a mountain of suds forms, gently place a piece of art paper over the bubbles. As the bubbles pop, they leave an unexpected design on the paper.
Get down and dirty. Dress your child in old clothes so she can engage in messy, hands-on outdoor play. This casual approach allows children the freedom to experiment.
- Explore the sun and shade. Take a walk around your backyard, park, or playground to see if there is enough shade. Then bring out some rope and a collection of old sheets. Invite your child to brainstorm ways to make a shade tent. Point out that she can watch how the sun moves throughout the day. Where is it shady in the morning and in the afternoon?