School’s out. At least for a few more weeks. I say make the most of it. Time for summer fun only the way summer can afford. Exploration, imagination and creepy crawlies. Fishing, forts, spring peepers (baby toads) and eating from the garden. What can be better? These are days to relish and remember. Move over electronics, hello play clothes. Time for open-ended hours spent outside.
Here are 5 activities perfect for summer:
- Create a Creature — Make an animal or other creature using items from nature. Encourage children to forage for materials, preferably small. Sticks, down from flowers, leaves, feathers, mud or clay and grasses are all a perfect place to start. I generally ask kids to collect only what he/she needs and, if picking leaves or flowers, to only take one or two and leave the rest for bees and other animals. Ingenuity and creativity are required to lash together items using grasses or other materials. The challenge is using items only found in nature (no glue or tape) however sometimes I break down and pull out thin gauge wire.
- Spider Patrol — Summer is prime time for spiders and, even if they’re not your favorite animals, they’re vital to food webs and fascinating to observe. In fact, if your children are afraid of spiders this is the activity for you. Model wonder even if you have to fake it. Ask questions like, “What animals live in our garden?” or “What animals live here?” Once kids go through the soft and fuzzies ask he/she to guess what might be living under leaves or in nooks and crannies. “Spiders!” The next round of questions will be, “How do we find spiders?” and “What do spider homes look like?” and “Are all webs the same?” And finally, “Let’s go find out.” This is a perfect time to break out a nature journal where all things nature is celebrated, recorded, collected (leaves, etc.) and drawn. Consider conducting a spider patrol monthly to observe changes in spiders through the seasons.
- Habitats — build habitats for real and imaginary animals. Homes for squirrels, snails and fairies and favorites. Like with Create a Creature, encourage children to forage items from nature and think through the best location for their animal of choice. To help, ask kids, “What do animals need to live?” and go from there. (Think food, shelter, water and fun.)
- Story Walk — Children write a story that is posted one sentence at a time along a favorite path or place. It doesn’t have to make sense to you but will most likely be meaningful to your child. I find this activity is best with one or more friends.
- Scavenger Hunts — Create a scavenger hunt with your environment in mind. What’s living in your garden, yard, community park, lakeshore or woods? Non-living things? What works in my area won’t necessarily work for you but if your kids are driving you nuts or your simply looking for a way to get them outside, it’s worth taking the time to make a list or draw a series of pictures (depending on the age of your child) of things for them to find. What I love about a good scavenger hunt is it forces kids to look at things in a new way, to pay attention to things he/she might otherwise run past without observing. A leaf suddenly comes alive, animals are found and the world discovered. I have a load of scavenger hunt lists. One for every season and purpose. I’m including some of my favorite items below but please write if you’re looking for more suggestions and inspiration.
Sample scavenger hunt items (modify with age):
- A sign an animal is living nearby
- Plant with a square stem
- An animal with spots
- A flower a hummingbird might like to visit
- A leaf that is shaped like a star of hand
- A stinky smelling plant
- 3 different insects
- A leaf with spines
- A feather
- A plant with a root you can eat
- A nest
- Something that smells good
- Something that makes noise
- 3 different bird songs or calls
- An animal home
- A heart shaped leaf
- Something soft
- A flower with 4 petals
- Something that was alive (but isn’t anymore)
- 5 different animals
- Something purple
- A plant with leaves you can eat
- A hairy plant
For more outdoor activities and ideas for gardening with kids visit 20 Tips for Gardening with Kids via Pass the Pistil.