Summer is a mixed blessing of sweltering days, cranky moods, fun things to do and blessed evening breezes. In summer, relief from the heat also can mean magical times for you and your toddler or preschooler to enjoy the outdoors together, and a little green time is good for everyone. Plan summertime activities for when the sun is low in the sky or there’s plenty of water or shade for chillin’. Remember the hats and sunscreen, and go have some fun.
Spring babies — at parks, petting zoos, wildlife sanctuaries and more — are up and moving around, doing cute things and being adorable by early summer. Toddlers and preschoolers gravitate to juvenile animals that are small and follow their parent around, too. Ducklings on a pond, foals in a pasture, fluffy yellow chicks on a farm or the nursery animals at a sanctuary or animal park are all good bets for delighting your child. On hot days, the animals are most active in the relative coolness of the morning and evening — more pleasant times of day in the summer for humans, too.
Flowers, Beans and Bugs — Oh My!
Many public botanical gardens have engaging children’s gardens, but you can also introduce your toddler or preschooler to the wonders — yes, bugs and all — of a garden right at home. Keep it fun, relaxing and age appropriate, and gardening can be an ideal learning experience along with a fun adventure for all. Don’t have a yard? Create a container garden. If you have the space, consider a bean pole teepee. Set up the poles in the shape of a teepee, all coming together at the top. The beans climb up the poles, your child has a green and shady teepee, and you all have fresh beans for dinner.
With gardens come bugs, another fascinating subject for young ones. Ladybugs and butterflies are enjoyable for all, without the creep factor. As always, don’t allow toddlers and preschoolers to handle small items, such as insects and pebbles without you right there, guiding. Keep everything non-toxic in the garden. Check with the children’s librarian for picture books about gardens.
When the temperatures soar, and you are holed up inside all day with the air conditioning, plan for summer magic outdoors in the evening. A good read aloud book about the type of nature in your neck of the woods can set the stage. Or simply go out and look up at the stars, smell the night-blooming jasmine, listen to the crickets, watch the clouds play peek-a-boo with the moon….Talk about what you see and hear. The fresh air will help everyone sleep better, too.
There’s nothing like cool water for refreshing on a summer’s day. Water play helps children develop fine motor skills and cognitive processing. Water is also soothing, relaxing and fun. Set up an “it’s OK to get wet” water station outdoors on a non-slip surface with a tub of water on a table or small wading pool — ensure nothing goes in the pool that would hurt if fallen on — and a few kitchen items, such as a plastic funnel, baster, pitcher, bowls and measuring cups. Toddlers may happily repeat the process of pouring from one container to another, while preschoolers often appreciate props for dramatic play, such as plastic marine animals and toy boats. Other fun water activities include running through a sprinkle on the lawn, going to the beach and playing in a pool.
Follow the American Academy of Pediatrics recommendations spelled out in the 2011 updated “Water Safety and Young Children” at HealthyChildren.org. Young children can drown in as little as two inches of water, so when your child is near water, stay within arm’s length and distraction free. Play it safe, and have a joyful and playful summer.