Open your eyes and take a look at your classroom spaces. How can you make them feel more comfy and homelike-a more appropriate atmosphere for the summer months? How can you create a relaxed feeling in the room? How can you make your outdoor play space feel more like a backyard from times gone by? How can you create more space? Can you put some materials away? What new elements can you bring in? Can you make the environment more multisensory?
Remember, setting the stage means more than creating the physical setting. The way you use your time, your expectations, and your interactions with children all set the tone for a relaxing summer of fun.
Here are a few suggestions to help you get started:
Recline Here! Borrow low beach chairs for children to settle into with a good book or magazine. They are great both inside and out!
Think Quiet! Provide a space and time for quiet activities as well as more active ones. Children need to be able to settle down between highly active periods. You can create a low hammock for reading books, a shady drawing area, or a quiet "conversation cave" made by draping sheets over a tree, climber, or fence.
Get Active! A good blend of active and quiet will help the day move in a natural rhythm. Set up physical challenges such as a kids Olympics, an obstacle course, a mini marathon, or a Wiffle ball tournament. Remember to keep children hydrated!
Get Down and Dirty! Ask parents to send their children in old clothes so they can engage in messy play. A more casual approach to play allows children the freedom to explore.
Cool It! Bring out the hose and a wading pool. Summer fun is about being cool and comfortable. Freeze water in fun shapes to add to the pool or to make "icebergs" in the sandbox.
Decorate It! Children love a giant art project both inside and out. Perhaps you can get permission to paint one side of the building with water-based paints or decorate the sidewalk with colored chalk. Cover an entire bulletin board with mural paper and invite children to add to it throughout the summer.
Use Your Fingers! Brain research emphasizes the importance of fine motor activities for the developing brain. Set a low table under a tree for doing large (25 to 50 piece) puzzles. Initiate simple sewing or beading activities. Introduce origami!
Add a Soundtrack! If possible, bring a boom box outside so that you can have music playing all day. Invite families to send in their favorites to share with the class.
Record It! Try reading and recording some of the children's favorite " books on tape or CD so children can listen to them outside in the shade. Include children in the recording. They love to hear themselves adding sound effects and comments on the recording!
SUMMER HEALTH and SAFETY
Summer programming requires special health and safety considerations. Instead of telling children the summertime rules, invite them to help you create them. Children will be more apt to follow rules and health precautions if they know why they are important and have played a part in developing them. Here are some things you can do to create a safe and healthful environment for children:
Take a safety inspection walk together. Look at playground equipment and explore potential dangers. Then discuss safety measures. For example, at the slide you might ask, "What might happen if we stand up or go down headfirst?" "How can we slide safely?" Encourage children to suggest a safe way to slide.
When creating rules together, emphasize what children can do, not what they can't do. This positive approach helps children hear the expectation, not the misbehavior.
Talk about the importance of drinking plenty of water. Recent research shows that our brain needs water to help us stay alert and keep us from becoming bored! Make water available throughout the day. Also, schedule water breaks so that you are sure children are getting more than a few sips from the fountain.
Make drinking water fun and challenging. Make "ice cups" by filling paper cups with water and freezing them for about an hour. The top will be lightly frozen but easily broken so that the water can be consumed. Even more water can be added until the whole thing melts. Do this fast, and do it outside!
Germs grow quickly in warm water, so it's important to put fresh water in your water table and wading pools daily. You can add a tablespoon of detergent bleach to the water for extra protection.
Use sunscreen liberally. Talk with families about their suncare routine. Ask what SPF they use with their children and if they have any allergies. You can also invite parents to send in their favorite brand.
Buy baseball caps or visors at a discount or dollar store. Children can decorate and use them throughout the summer for extra sun protection.
Keep your first-aid kit current, well stocked, and within easy reach.
ADJUSTING TO GROUP SIZE
The size of your group may ebb and flow, just like the rhythm of the summertime activities! As you know, most activities work best with small groups, as they give you more opportunity to discuss ideas and experiment together. Small groups also allow for children's individual interests and skills in undertaking and perhaps adjusting the activity. So follow their lead. see where the children take it. No one group will work exactly the same as another. Remember, adult-child interactions are the precious soil of educational growth. Whenever possible, try to do these activities in a small group while other children are engaged in free-exploration activities in or outside the room. Then try them again in a large group to see how their previous experience and knowledge affect the interactions.
Here are some things to keep in mind as you create your summer program:
- Plan to do as many activities as possible outdoors.
- Maintain a flexible schedule.
- Stop and explore children's interests as they develop.
- Make healthful snacks together.
- Observe and assist rather than "teach."
- Explore your surroundings with walks and mini field trips.
- Incorporate as many physical experiences as possible.
- Provide quiet areas where children can relax and chat.
- Keep a collection of activities handy so that you can pull them out whenever you need them.