When summer rolls around, it’s time to get outside! As the days get longer, encourage your children to spend more time outside, exploring the world around them. Each day contains endless possibilities for playing, discovering, and creating, whether it’s in the backyard, down the block at a park, or heading to a nature preserve or hiking area. There is so much for children to learn about the world around them, and summer is the perfect time for children to become more connected to the plants, animals, and ecosystems around them as they learn and grow.
Even though summer is an exciting time for exploration, it can also be challenging to keep kids busy during long days out of school. Though “backyard playtime” is an important time for learning and for play, structured activities and projects can encourage kids to think outside the box and explore new ideas. In order to keep children learning even during summer break, we’ve compiled some ideas to get the summer started!
Make a Treasure Map
In order to heighten excitement about the great outdoors, make your kids a treasure map. Rather than encouraging your children to search for some kind of prize or “treasure,” instead encourage them to explore different elements of your backyard habitat. On the treasure map, include specific plants, animal habitats, and elements of your backyard to encourage them to get to know the place they live better. Ultimately, the treasure will be much more exciting than any prize: getting to know a space better and feeling more comfortable and in touch with the world around them. Some ideas for the treasure map: dandelions, ant hills, the oak tree, basil or other herbs, or rabbit habitats.
Forage for Dinner
No matter where you live, there are always plants in your habitat that are edible and yummy to eat. Foraging is a good way to inspire your kids to feel more connected to the earth and the bounty it provides, and to encourage them to draw connections between the food they eat and the things growing in nature around them. Easy things to forage for (depending on where you live), include edible flowers, mushrooms, and greens. Remember to teach your children (and remind yourself!) to be careful about what you eat and do your research before you eat or touch plants you aren’t familiar with. Once you’ve foraged items, use them to create salads, teas (dandelion tea is an easy option), or toppings for pasta or stir fry.
One of the greatest lessons you can teach your children is that they are artists—but they don’t need expensive store-bought art supplies to create! Sculptures are a fun and easy place to begin. There are so many possibilities for creating sculptures: collect rocks, twigs, mud, flowers, or leaves and begin to build! Sculptures are a good tactile exercise for children to being learning how objects can be combined to create new ones, and for them to learn to balance and support objects. Sculptures also provide children with an important lesson: things break and fall down, and that’s alright. You can always rebuild something anew.
Learn Some Survival Skills
Another way to empower your children to feel more comfortable in nature is to teach them some basic survival skills. Some basic skills to teach children include building a fire, reading a map, how to use a compass, how to find water and make it safe to drink, how to find shelter, perform basic first aid, and cook on a campfire. These skills are fun and rewarding for kids, and will make them more excited to get outside. Motivate your kids to take the lead. For example, teach your children how to use a map or compass, and then ask them to guide you home.
Build a Garden
Another fun activity to do outside together is to construct a garden. This will teach kids more about food creation and agriculture, and will give them a fun and rewarding activity as they witness time passing. A garden gives kids a great deal of creativity and initiative: to choose what they want to grow, to do research about how to best care for plants, to water and care for them, and ultimately, to reap the rewards of their labor and to eat the food they grow! Whenever you harvest plants from your garden, plan a special meal that allows kids to celebrate their hard work.
Create Forts or Fairy Houses
A timeless activity to share with your children is creating either forts or fairy houses. Using bigger, more structurally sound materials, you can create forts with your kids to play or hide in. Use branches and rope to construct the base structure, and use outdoor findings like flowers, leaves, and vines to decorate the structure. If large branches or space for a fort are not available, consider the smaller option of fairy houses. Fairy houses can be as small or as large as you wish, and can be made with a wide array of materials, including twigs, rocks, mud, and flowers.
Another fun art project that may interest both you and your kids are natural dyeing creations. There are many plants and objects in nature that create beautiful natural dyes that can be used to color fabric or paper. This can also be a fun way to repurpose or upgrade clothing that is faded or is no longer exciting for your kids. In order to dye fabrics, you generally need a big pot for dying, fabric, vinegar, and plants to dye with. Common plants that can be used to dye with include onion skins, avocado pits and peels, pecans, black beans, and blueberries.
Create a Time Capsule
Encourage your kids to memorialize their childhood and remember what has made it so special. Have them collect significant items from their room, yard, and have them write notes to their future selves recounting stories from their great summer adventures. Ask them to draw the most exciting things they’ve learned or found outside this summer. Inspire them to think about things they hope to learn or find in the future.
No matter what projects or activities you end up doing with your kids, this summer is sure to be a season of growth and change. Encourage your kids to watch the ways they are changing, growing, and learning. Embolden them to connect with the ecosystems around them by crafting their own activities for getting outside and learning more about the world around them. By giving them ideas of places to start, and guiding them through those activities, they will slowly begin to develop interests of their own. Support them in following and exploring those interests and passions as they grow. Now that you’re ready and full of ideas for the summer, head outside!