Remember: Enjoy the summer together but please stay safe! Don’t underestimate the power of the sun (even on a cloudy day) or the heat whether you’re at home or abroad. Keep well-hydrated, avoid going outside in the hottest part of the day and stay in the shade where possible. Children (and adults) should wear a high factor sunscreen and a sun hat (babies should be kept fully protected from the sun at all times). The NHS recommends factor 30 with at least 4-star UV radiation protection, and regular re-application.
1. Find a fossil: Dinosaur archaeological dig
Fill a sandcastle mould - or any moulds you have that would make suitable fossils - with salt dough, and then bake the resulting dough shapes. Once it’s fully cooled, place it underneath sand in the garden or in a sandpit and use garden forks, old spoons and toothbrushes to completely uncover the ancient sandcastle or prehistoric fossils!
For this you will need a clean plastic bottle, an old sock, bubble mixture (washing-up liquid will work well), an elastic band (a hairband will also work well), and a bowl to put the bubble mixture into. Cut off the bottom end of the plastic bottle (not the drinking end) and cover it with the sock. Put the band onto the sock to hold it in place. Dip the sock-covered end into the bubble mixture and blow through it from the drinking end of the bottle. It creates a great chain of bubbles.
An activity as simple as magic painting with water is a fun, low-cost and simple outdoor activity that young children will love. You only need paint brushes and water, then you can paint the patio, stones or a fence outside and watch the paintings disappear. Add a roller for further excitement. This is a fun activity for reinforcing letter and number formation with older children and early discussions about evaporation. Tip: if a child has spent time on their painting make sure you take a photo so that they can talk about it later and add the picture to their scrapbook.
4. Chalk drawing
Take some washable child-friendly chalk outside to draw on the patio. On a sunny day, you could draw each other’s shadows and talk about the sun and why some shadows are bigger than others. For older children, draw a hopscotch grid and teach them to play or try drawing numbers into different spaces on the patio, and when you call the number out the child has to jump to that number as quickly as possible. Both games are great for numeracy skills and physical development.
5. Grow flowers or plants from seeds
Plant some seeds, wait patiently and measure as they grow. You could keep a growth chart together. This helps children to understand the needs of living things and how to care for them, as well as providing an opportunity for number recognition. Nasturtium and marigold flowers are quick and easy to grow, are good for wildlife, and both are edible. Sunflowers are perfect for nurturing and measuring. Grow cress seeds on a windowsill indoors by sprinkling them onto damp cotton wool inside a decorated empty eggshell to create hair for egg characters, e.g. humpty dumpty, family members or friends. Fun, decorative and delicious!
6. Water gun painting
For this, you will need a water gun each (you could also use a spray bottle for watering plants or a clean spray pump cosmetics bottle), paper, child-friendly and washable play paint, a water jug and a funnel. Fill your water jug up with a mixture of paint and water. Pour it into your water guns using the funnel if necessary. Hang your piece of paper up outside, then use your water gun to spray paint onto the paper. Please be aware, for this or any similar activity, that small containers with water can heat up significantly if left in the sun and could pose a burn risk to children’s skin, this includes water left in hose pipes.
Make a list of treasures to find, then ask the children to go and find these objects and place them into their bucket, for example a brown leaf, a yellow flower, a stone, something that makes them smile, etc. Once they have found everything on their list, they come back in a circle and show everyone what they have found. You can treasure hunt in different locations to see if you can find a variety of treasures. You can make the treasure hunt as simple or as detailed as appropriate to the ages of the children, and it’s great way to develop language and observation skills.
Make an everyday walk or activity more interesting by playing eye spy. On a piece of card, write down or draw items and objects that your little one needs to spot on their outing. They can then tick this off as you go along. This is a simple way to make a walk to the park more exciting, or to kill time while waiting at the airport!
9. Nature walk
Using double sided sticky tape on a piece of card, you could go on a nature adventure through the park or woods and see what interesting bits and bobs you can pick up to stick on. You can also do a bracelet version, great for smaller items! You could turn a nature walk into a bug hunt by taking a magnifying glass (or by taking a pair of binoculars made from kitchen roll tubes) and turning over a log or large stone and see what you discover. This will encourage children to explore and investigate their world and stimulate a conversation about the needs of different living creatures to enhance their learning. When you get back from your walk, encourage children to draw pictures or create models of their favourite creature from the day, stimulating creativity and imagination, as well as content for your summer journal or scrapbook. In late summer, you can enjoy picking blackberries together to turn into healthy compotes, or frozen smoothie lollipops.
Re-use tired plastic bags by asking each child to select and decorate their own plastic bag – they can use pens, stickers etc. Then tie the handles together with a piece of string that they can hold onto while they run around. The wind catches easily in the plastic bag so you don’t even need a gusty day or hill (although that all adds to the experience) and voila, you are kite flying! Please remember to always supervise younger children when playing with plastic bags.
11. Make a bug hotel or raise some butterflies
Collect little twigs, leaves, old cardboard tubes and plastic or broken terracotta plant pots. Stack them up (more layers the better!) and leave in a quiet corner of the garden. Watch the bugs move in! Great for bug hunts. Consider investing in a butterfly raising kit to encourage natural nurturing skills and to learn about the fascinating development of these beautiful creatures, a perfect activity to accompany a read of The Hungry Caterpillar or to stimulate some creative butterfly making.
12. Make your own Olympics
Turn a trip to the park into a fun Olympic-themed event with family or friends. You could prepare gold, silver and bronze medals before you go, using different coloured card or drawing the medals with crayons or paint, create a hole in the medal and then tie some string or ribbon through. Together you can create some sporting events, like an egg and spoon race, a relay, use a frisbee for a discus, a three-legged race and so on. You could create a little podium area and play the national anthem for the awards ceremony; share the awards out so that everyone wins a gold medal.
Rainy day or cooling down indoor activities
1. Homemade ice lollies
These are great fun to make, you know exactly what’s going into them, and they’re cheap too! You could use water, milk, fruit juice, or mush age-appropriate pieces of fruit into lollipop moulds (or ice cube trays) and then freeze! If you have a blender, you can make smoothies together from fruit and vegetables. Children will enjoy watching the ingredients blend with milk, yoghurt, coconut water etc, and then you can freeze into moulds or ice cube trays. Great fun for all the family, good for learning about new foods, and a fun way of sneaking in extra fruit and vegetables. Children can help prepare the fruit to practice their fine motor skills (chopping with supervision and a child’s knife!).
2. Bubble painting
Add bubble solution (or washing up liquid and water) together with a large squirt of paint. Put a piece of paper over the top of a cup/ bowl/ pot with the mixture inside. Put a straw into the pot and blow, creating a bubble effect which will be apparent when you have finished blowing and the image you have created will be seen on the paper.
3. Ice-age excavation
You can freeze small animals or toys - or other everyday objects such as pebbles, shells, leaves and flowers - in ice cube trays or containers with water. Once they’re frozen, children will love to excavate them using a range of various age-appropriate tools (spoons, masher, paint brushes etc) to try and break them free! You could extend development for older children by talking about the science of freezing.
4. Scented gloop
This is a very easy activity! You simply mix 2 cups of cornflour to 1 cup of water. You will also need a spoon, a base, and various scented materials such as vanilla and peppermint extract. Put the gloop into a base – this could be a tray, plastic box or across a wipeable table. Put the cornflour in the centre of the base and pour the water (slowly!) into the cornflour, stirring gently. When you pour the water, you will feel the mixture changing as you mix! To make this mixture scented, just add peppermint or vanilla extract. You can also add lemon juice, a sprinkle of cinnamon (perfect for Christmas time too!) different colours (using food extract or children’s paint) or glitter - to add an extra sparkle! Please remember to keep reminding young children that gloop is not edible.
5. Create a miniature garden
Create a tray or paper plate miniature garden. Fill the garden with objects you have found outside, such as pebbles and sticks, make tiny flowers from tissue paper, make and bake salt dough creatures or animals, add in small toys, and so on. Great for encouraging creativity and for practising fine motor skills.
Create a pretty flower bouquet by placing two circular pieces of tissue paper in different colours on top of each other, then screwing them up into a rose or flower shape. Attach a pipe cleaner to the base (doubled over for strength if needed). You can put them in a vase or tie them like a bouquet. A great alternative to real flowers, and they last forever!
7. Make a summer journal or scrap book
Ask the children to choose a scrap book (a plain paper book ready to fill with summer adventures). Encourage older children to write a piece about their day, younger children could use a disposable camera to take lots of pictures when you are out on various adventures and during structured activities at home together. Then choose your favourite pictures and have them developed. Children can illustrate their journals with drawings, photograph caption and stick in small treasures, younger children can decorate their photographs with stickers, different materials, and paint. This is a great way to ensure that older children keep up their writing and language skills in the holidays too!
8. Recipe for simple-to-make salt dough
Making salt dough is a fun and easy activity for children and you are very likely to have the ingredients ready and waiting in your kitchen cupboards. Please remember to keep reminding young children that salt dough is not edible. All you need to do is mix together a cup of plain flour with half a cup of table salt and half a cup of water. Stir until it comes together into a clean ball. You can add food colouring dyes to create different coloured doughs. Use a floured surface to create any shapes you want with your dough, then pop your finished items onto a lined baking sheet and pop in the oven on its lowest setting for about 3 hours Once your creations are cool, you can paint them.