School Is Out -- Keeping the Kids Busy It's the end of June, school is out and the kids are ecstatic. You may be a bit overwhelmed not knowing how you are going to entertain you children for the entire summer. They are used to being in school for the majority of their days and now they are free and clear to do as they please and it is up to you that they stay busy. Or is it? Yes, children need activities to learn and have fun but it is also just important for them to have some free play time too. So while you are planning all of the activities and outings for them to participate in remember that they need some free play time too. Depending on the age of your children and their level of independence the free play time may take different forms. For younger children independent time will have to be supervised but for older children it can be a nice break for both of you to let them play alone in their room or outside in the yard. Let your kids have a say in what goes on too. Have a couple of options ready; let them help plan how you will spend the day. Letting your kids plan what goes on in the day is a sure way to get their buy-in and participation. Just be sure that if there isn't any wiggle room in what you have planned for the day you make it clear from the beginning. When there are choices (limit them to two to three) ask and when there isn't a choice simply tell them what is planned for the day. A good balance between planned activities and free play or independent time will make for a fun-filled summer for the kids and for you too. Join a Sports Team Kids love to play with other kids. Joining a sports team will give them the opportunity to play with other kids, learn the rules of a sport, and have some structured play time. All of this while giving mom and dad a break. There are sports camps and teams that children can join when they are as young as three years old. The age and type of sport they join will dictate the time commitment needed and the cost. Have a discussion with your older children about what kind of sports they are interested in and what is available. Find out if they want to play on a team or if they would prefer to play a game that they are on their own. Summer sports played in teams: * Baseball * Soccer * Lacrosse Summer sports played individually or in pairs: * Tennis * Swimming * Track and Field * Golf Being active and having fun should be the goal of any sport your child chooses. Make them give it a chance but if they aren't having fun try and find something where they will. If joining a sports team is too expensive or the availability isn't there, consider starting a sports day or night in the neighborhood. Talk to some other parents and go to a local park or a volunteer's backyard to let the kids play. You can set-up official teams or be more casual and let the kids have fun while learning the rules of the game. With this option, you can choose a different for each week of the summer or rotate between a few favorites. Not all kids are into sports, so don't push it. Some kids can be just as happy to come along and be the cheerleaders, join them and think up some fun cheers to encourage all of the players. Free Tours around your City Tours of local attractions take place on a regular basis but you can organize your own tour with just your kids or with a few other families in your neighborhood. You may be surprised by what companies and organizations will provide free tours of their facilities. The fire hall is always intriguing to young children. If you call your local fire hall and speak with the fire chief he will be happy to arrange a time for you to stop in with your children. They will show the kids around, let them see inside the fire engine and if there is time the children can see a fireman in all of his gear. Not only is this fun, it is a safety precaution for kids. Chances are they will be less scared of a firefighter in his full uniform with a mask if he or she sees one before an emergency. You will have to be prepared for the tour to be cut short if an emergency is called in. Your local postal outlet may provide small tours too at no charge. Call ahead and ask to speak with a manager and ask if you can stop by and show the children what happens to the mail after it is dropped in the mailbox. The volume of mail that the post office handles and the machines that are used to sort letters are sure to fascinate the kids. The grocery store or supermarket will conduct tours for young children. The manager of each department (deli, bakery, produce) will let the children know what they do to provide fresh food to the customers. Each department plays a very different role in the store and this can be an educational trip for everyone. Most times the children get to leave with a cookie or other goodie from the bakery department. It's a Circus The idea of a circus can make a child's eyes light up. If there isn't one coming to your town or city this summer help the kids put on one of their own. You can be the ring master and invite over friends and family to watch the finished production. Depending on how many children are participating some kids may have to perform in more than one act. Find out what each child wants to be and try to find a way to include all of their talents. Older children may like to take on the challenge of learning how to juggle before the big show. So now one gets hurt (including the audience) use tissues or kerchiefs for a beginning juggler. An acrobat can use a log or long piece of 2 X 4 to showcase their balancing skills as they cross the high wire -- with no net. This might be a popular one, let all the practicing acrobats participate. If your family owns a well-trained dog, recruit the family pet to be a lion and have one of the kids be a lion-tamer. If there are no animals to use for this, convince one of the children that they can be the lion. You can't have a circus without a lion and a lion tamer. Another popular act at the circus is the clowns. Let your clowns dress up and create their act by themselves so it is a surprise for everyone. As the ringmaster, try and be as authentic as possible and introduce each performer as grandiosely as possible. You will know you are doing a good job by the number of giggle you elicit as you announce the children's names. Don't forget the popcorn and peanuts for the audience to munch on as they watch the show. Movie Day Its summer time and you don't want the kids cooped up in the house in front of the television set. But a day here and there is not going to hurt and it could be a sanity saver for you on a wet and cold day. Make it a planned event. Go to the video store and let each child pick out their own video. Make sure the ground rule is set. They can pick out their own videos but have to agree to watch what the other children pick out too. Make sure to pick up some popcorn if you don't already have some at home. Set the mood; let the kids create their own movie theatre in the living room. Their movie theater can take the form of a fort, lawn chairs, or whatever else they can think up to make themselves comfortable for the movie marathon. As the parent you will have to be in charge of the concession stand. Popcorn is a given but also have some healthy snacks on hand to satiate their appetites. Vegetable sticks and sandwiches are easy to make and if you are letting them eat in front of the television they won't make a big mess. When children are in front of the TV for extending periods of time their energy gets pent up and they are going to need a way to release it. Come in between movies and have a stretch or exercise burst to shake away the sillies. It can be just like the 9th inning stretch at baseball games. Play follow the leader in the house or do jumping jacks -- make it fun. When the rain stops, send the kids outside. You will find they won't ask for TV as often with a few of these days thrown in each month. Become a Summer Tourist There are many activities in or around your city that you probably know all the tourists go to, but when was the last time you went? Just because you have been there many times before along with your children doesn't mean they wouldn't love to go again (and again and again). Take a few days during the summer break to visit attractions and destinations that you haven't been to in awhile. If you know that the place is going to be crowded on the weekend or in the afternoons go on a weekday morning. The added benefit of being a local and going to a tourist destination is that you know the ins and outs and the tricks to get the most out of your day. Water parks are always popular and tend to fill up around and after lunch time. Try and go when the park first opens to beat the crowds. If you leave before lunch time, you can save money by eating at home and get out of the hot midday sun. Going to your local zoo is an all day event. Pack a picnic lunch and if you aren't able to bring it into the park get a hand stamp and leave for awhile to eat. Consider buying a season's pass too. Most times a pass will pay for itself in less than three visits. If you don't want to spend all day at the zoo, break it up into 2-3 hour chunks and keep coming back. Go to your local visitor's center and pick up the free brochures that are available there. You might find some excursions you didn't know about or had forgotten existed. The staff at the visitor's center usually have coupons for free or discounted admission too. Take advantage of your local resources. Scavenger Hunts A scavenger hunt is a fun way to keep little hands busy. It can be pre-planned or spur of the moment, either way it will still be great fun. This is a great activity for children of all ages, for younger children make it simple and tell them exactly what they are looking for. If you are playing with older children, give them hints and see if they can guess and find what they are supposed to be looking for. The best type of scavenger hunt is a nature one that can be played in your backyard or in the park. This will lessen the chances of children picking up garbage and having to leave your supervision to do their hunting. A good rule of thumb for nature scavenger hunts is to incorporate a lesson for the kids and have them find items already on the ground so they can be gentle to nature. Some examples of nature scavenger hunt items are: * A special color or shaped leaf * A flower -- specify color or type * Rocks -- size, shape, or color * Ladybug, ant, or a worm * Moss * Pinecone * Anything of a certain color With some pre-planning and a trip to the dollar store you can have a scavenger hunt with any theme you can think of. Turn it into a secret agent mission and hide clues that they have to find or make it a treasure hunt and hide chocolate gold coins that they have to hunt for. This is an activity that can take at least an hour or more. If you have older children and know your neighbors quite well, you can include items that they can knock on doors to find -- a penny from a certain year, a cinnamon stick, an unmatched sock -have fun with it. Summer Memory Jars Instead of keeping a journal or starting a scrap book a child may be interested in making their own memory jar from the summer. If all the memories will not fit into one jar they may want to make several for special days or outings that happened during the summer break. What you will need is a large clear glass jar with a lid. This can be used from an empty pickle jar or other food container that is empty and has been cleaned out. If you are having trouble getting the entire label off, you can use nail polish remover to dissolve the glue and paper that is still stuck. Have the child collect small mementos or other meaningful objects that will fit inside a jar. They can be photographs, a special rock found, something they made, a friendship bracelet, the options are really only limited to their imagination. A good example for a day trip memory jar is one from the beach. Fill the bottom part of the jar with sand or pebbles that were collected from the beach, add in some shells and other interesting finds. Take a picture of your child at the beach and they can use it as a backdrop for the items. As time goes on the children may want to open their jars, and rearrange them and as long as they are careful with the glass that is fine. Put up a shelf in their room and they can have a collection of memory jars. Put a label on the top of the jar with the date or date range and the location of where the items were collected. These can be kept for years as a lasting reminder of the fun they had growing up and going to special places with mom and dad. Put on a Play Kids love to dress-up in costumes or other articles of clothing that aren't their own. Instead of putting away the Halloween costumes each year, leave them out in a play chest to be used year round. Whether you have lots of Halloween costumes or old clothes that you don't wear anymore instead of getting rid of them let your kids have them. You will be amazed and pleasantly surprised at the imaginative play that will result from playing dress-up. Encourage them to get dressed-up and to put on a play in their costumes. Invite the neighborhood kids over to participate or just watch the show. Props are great too, let the kids go around the house (with the rule that it will all be put away) to collect things they need for a play. A curtain and stage aren't necessary, but if you can find a way to improvise for either it will add to the excitement and sense of pride the children will have for their production. You can get involved too. Let your children direct you on what you need to say or do during the play. Get into the role and have fun, don't worry who is watching or that you can't act your kids will be thrilled that you are joining in the fun. The play may change each time or the same play may be acted out again and again. Consider video taping the efforts for future enjoyment or add the tape to a time capsule to be opened in 5-10 years from now. Just keep in mind that the type of tape or disc you are using may be obsolete by the time you open the time capsule. Or transcribe the play and write out the script to add to the time capsule, maybe your grandchildren will use it in the future. Lemonade Stand Start your children on the road to business success by teaching them the basics of running their own lemonade stand. An actual stand isn't necessary, you can bring out a small table and chairs for the kids too. If it is a hot and sunny day, provide a beach umbrella for the kids and their customers to get out of the sun. Supplies needed to open a lemonade stand: * Lemonade or other juice mix * Juice jugs * Paper cups * Ice * Some coins to make change for customers and a place to keep the earnings * A sign to advertise the stand and the price * Garbage can or bag for the used cups As your children are most likely going to come into contact with strangers (depending on the location of the stand) it is best that an adult stays close by to supervise. In picking a location, if you live on a street in a busy neighborhood the front yard is an ideal place. But if this isn't practical, why not go to a local baseball game at the park or other gathering place. It will be appreciated by the attendees and your kids will have a captive clientele. This activity is great for children's math skills as they count money and make change. It will also give them a confidence boost as they are going to be talking to many different people and most likely having to make small talk. Let them decorate their signs or stand any way they choose and be sure to take pictures of their first business venture. When they are done for the day, have them count all the money they earned and share it equally amongst everyone that participated. A good rule of thumb is to have them put half of the money away for savings and they can spend the other half. Berry Picking Towards the end of the summer all the different kinds of summer berries will start to ripen and be ready for picking. If you don't have any bushes or berries in your back yard, take a trip to a local berry picking farm and bring home some yummy and nutritious snacks. Most places that you can go berry picking advise you to bring your own bucket. Each child should have a bucket of their own and depending on how many you want bring extra buckets too. Strawberries and blueberries are the most popular pick your own businesses. If you know a place where blackberries or raspberries grow wild (and they aren't on private property) take the family for a walk and pick those too. When getting dressed to go to a berry patch, don't wear clothing that you will be upset if it gets stained. It can be hard to bend over the whole time and you are sure to find your children sitting on the ground as they pick (and sample) the berries. Berries will be everywhere and it is guaranteed they are going to get berry juice on their clothes. Once you bring home the fruits of your labor give everything a good wash and decide what to do with the berries. There are many options for eating berries. If you have brought home too many you can freeze a portion in air tight containers or freezer bags. Some eating suggestions: * Sprinkled on top of an ice cream sundae * Added to a morning bowl of cereal * On their own with some milk or cream * Baked in a pie * In a crumble with oatmeal and brown sugar Berry picking is a fun activity but since it is done outdoors in the summertime, be sure to wear hats and put on sunscreen. Safety in the Summer Sun Precautions should be taken year-round to protect young skin from the harsh affects of the sun. But this is especially important in the summertime when the sun is at its hottest. Aside from sunburns, heatstroke and dehydration are additional hazards to watch out for in young children. But with a few safety steps and by planning ahead you can avoid sunburns and the like. The best way to prevent sunburns, heatstroke and dehydration is to stay out of the sun. But that isn't practical or very fun. Buy sunscreen that is specifically made for children and be sure to apply it at least 30 minutes prior to going outside. This gives the sunscreen time to work. Once outside, reapply every two hours or more frequently if there is swimming or a sprinkler involved. There are many products that can be purchased to make this easier from colored sunscreen that goes clear after it is absorbed by the skin to spray brands to make application easier. Once outside, a hat is still important. Ideally the hat will cover the face, ears and the back of the neck -- all very sensitive body parts that are prone to getting burnt. Wearing a hat will also protect you and the kids against heatstroke. Have water available for each child when playing outside. The combination of them running around and the hot sun can quickly dehydrate little bodies. Staying out of the sun from 11:00 a.m. until after 2:00 p.m. is the best prevention. This is the hottest time of the day and when the sun is at its peak. By avoiding the outdoors at this time of day you can prevent sun related illnesses. If this isn't possible seek out some shade for the kids to take a break in. Avoiding the sun isn't the solution it is being smart when you are out in it. Recycling Box Crafts Recycling in itself is a great activity for children, it teaches them how to take care of the environment and how to sort objects into different materials (plastic, metal, paper). As long as all the items are clean and free from sharp edges children should be able to make use of any and all items in the family recycling bin. As any parent knows, younger children are more fascinated by cardboard boxes than what came in them. This isn't as true for older children but they still love to play with and create things out of cardboard. Some other items that children can use that you may not readily associate with recycling are: * Birthday or Christmas cards -- if you do not keep them year after year kids can cut them up and use the images for pictures or as puppets by gluing a popsicle stick to the back. * Old newspaper and magazines. The newspaper can be shredded for paper mache or children can cut out individual letters to create a secret message. The magazines can be used to cut out letters too or cut out pictures to make a collage. * Old clothing such as orphaned socks or jeans that are beyond repair. Use the socks to make sock puppets and put on a puppet show. You can use other recycled materials to decorate the sock puppet. A popular craft made with blue jeans is to cut off the back pockets and sew onto a purse or use both pockets to create a smaller purse. * Old compact discs that don't work anymore can be decorated and re-used as coasters. Children have great imaginations, let them pick their own materials from the recycling and see what they come up with. Just be careful with glass and other items that could cut or otherwise hurt younger children. A Family Time Capsule Preserve the memories of your children's youth while making a fun keepsake. At the beginning of the summer choose and decorate a container to store all the mementos you will collect to put inside a time capsule. When choosing a container, it should be air tight, water tight and sturdy. After a container has been chosen the next step is to decide how long it will be sealed for. The longer the better, but be warned young children may want to open it up the day after it is put away! The best thing to do is put it in a place that they don't know about or cannot access. A good time frame is 5-10 years. Sit down with the children and explain to them that you want to preserve the memories that they are going to make that summer and brainstorm some of the things that can go into it. Some ideas are: * Photographs (get some photo-safe envelopes to store them in for protection) * Crafts * Toys * Awards won * Letters * If you include any DVD's or other types of media you may want to consider how they will be used in the future -- it is possible they may be obsolete if you are storing your time capsule for 10 years or more into the future. If you are going to store your time capsule for years and years make sure you leave yourself some form of reminder to take the time capsule with you if you move (especially if you have decided to bury it in the backyard). Keep the items in the time capsule personal and meaningful to your family. You can always check a history book or newspaper archive to find out about the news of the day -unless of course your family was in the news. Keeping in Touch with Letters This activity will require some planning before school is out and is meant for children who are already reading and writing. With the help of the child's teacher you can arrange a pen pal system or get the mailing addresses of all the children in the class. This is especially important if a child is going away for the summer to get the mailing address where they will be. What fun it is to receive mail from a friend. If a child is going away for the summer it will keep them connected with their classmates and it can make the back to school transition easier. In addition to keeping in touch it will help build children's reading, writing and communication skills. If you weren't able to get the addresses of your child's classmates before school was out it doesn't mean you still can't do this activity. If there are family members who are on vacation or live far away have them write a letter to them. Another fun way to spin this activity is to make a mailbox for every member of the family that is positioned outside of their bedroom doors. Once a week, each person in the family has to write a letter to another. It would be best to draw names for this activity so no one gets left out without a letter. Put the name of the person on the envelope and one child can play the part of mailman delivering the letters to the right mailboxes. You can use a shoebox or a small cereal box that is decorated as the letter holder. Make it authentic; give the mailman a bag to carry the letters around in as they make their deliveries. Let the children make their own stationary by decorating plain paper and envelopes -- it doesn't have t be expensive or fancy. Homemade Play Dough Store bought play dough is fun to play with but you can make your own at home for less and part of the fun is making it with the kids. Here is a easy to follow recipe that can be made on the stove or in the microwave: * 1 cup of flour * 1 cup of water * 2 tablespoons of cream of tartar * 1/4 cup of salt * 1 tablespoon of oil * Food coloring (optional) Combine all the ingredients in a pot or microwave safe dish and mix until it is lumpfree. Then on the stove stir over low heat until the mixture starts to thicken being careful that it doesn't burn or stick to the bottom. Stop when it is the consistency you want for the play dough. When making the play dough in the microwave cook it in small increments on a lower power setting. Take it out and stir at least every 45 seconds. Again, you are done when the play dough has reached the desired consistency. Let the children play and build whatever they want. If they don't already have toys designated for play dough let them use some kitchen utensils such as cookie cutters and a rolling pin. It is food safe and easy to clean-up afterwards. If something is sculpted or made that the child is particularly proud of, set it in the sun for a day or two and let it dry out. It should harden nicely and they will be able to keep it for some time. Charge the children to use the dough to find different textures around the house or outside. Gently press the play dough into the textured surface and see if the children can guess what it came from (like the bottom of a shoe or a cheese grater). Start a Reading Club Reading is an activity that should occur all year round but it can be made into a fun summertime activity too. If each child doesn't have their own library card yet, that is a good place to start. While you are there, see if there is any summer reading programs available to join. If there are, great sign-up the kids but if there isn't start one of your own. Most summer reading programs will focus on getting children to read as many stories as they can in a set period of time. For younger children who can't read yet, each book that is read to them will count as one book towards the final tally. You may want to break the program up into smaller chunks, either two-one month programs or hold one every two weeks. Have the children keep a list of the name of the book they read and the day (or date range if it is a chapter book). You may find that you are taking frequent trips to the library as your kids are going through the books, but that is a great thing! This will teach children to be responsible for their library books and the importance of taking care of things that do not belong to them. You can award prizes to the child with the most books read, something small like a bookmark or you can take them to a book store to purchase a book that they can keep. If you do decide to give out prizes, consider having small second and third place awards too. Whenever children are showing an interest in reading your want to cultivate and encourage it. Something as simple as a blue ribbon or a certificate printed from the computer with their name on it saying they completed the reading contest will be fine. Obstacle Courses This summer activity can be played in the park, the beach, or in your backyard. You can use props, actions or a combination of both. When you set-up an obstacle course it doesn't even have to be for a bunch of kids, one person can play this game too. In your backyard set up stations and have the child or each child move from station to station in a different manner. The can somersault to one, run backwards to the next, and skip to the last one. Other methods of locomotion could include walking like a crab, crawling on all fours, walking sideways, hopping on one foot, or any other sill movement that can be thought of. Using this method is also a tricky way to get kids to move along when you are out for a walk with them. Pick a marker not too far in the distance and have them do a silly move to get to it first. When out at the park, use the play equipment to set-up an obstacle course for the kids. They may have to zigzag through the swings, go down the slide and then touch a tree to win. Involve the kids and ask them what they think should be involved in the obstacle course or race. Equipment that can be used to make the course more challenging are jump ropes, safety cones, different size balls, and other sporting equipment. An obstacle course is anything that makes it trickier to get from point A to point B. You can add in a task for older kids to develop special skills like knot tying or balancing -- have them balance on one foot on top of a log to the count of 15. If they fall off they have to start all over again. Charades for Kids The traditional way to play charades is to have slips of paper with all of the words or items that need to be acted out written down. But to make things easier for the kids and have them use their imaginations more have them decide what they are going to act out without telling anyone. This is a great game for outside or indoors on a rainy day. If some of the children are having a hard time thinking up ideas be prepared with a few back-up ones to whisper in their ear. If you have enough people to play, charades can be played in teams but it also works with single players. One person stands up and has to act out a word, object or saying. Depending on the ages of the children, objects are usually the easiest things for them to act out. There is absolutely no talking done by the person who is doing the acting (also called pantomiming). As the child is trying to get the other kids to guess what they are acting out the kids yell out their guesses. It is okay for the actor to give an indication if they are right, wrong, or on the right track by hand and head gestures. If playing as individuals instead of teams, the first person who correctly guesses the object gets to be the next person to pantomime an object. Some easy objects for kids to start with are helicopters, airplanes, rowboats, cars. Emotions or actions can be fun too such as laughing, being silly, scared, or crying. For older children they can act out a movie title. When a string of words is involved it is easiest to tackle one word at a time. This is a classic game that is still around because it is so much fun. Hopscotch Sidewalk chalk or even regular chalk is inexpensive and kids will love being able to draw on the road or on another piece of concrete. The beauty of sidewalk chalk is the no clean-up required rule. The next time it rains it will all be washed away. If the children use a back patio as their canvas you may want to hose it down with water so chalk isn't tracked inside the house. Hopscotch is a fun activity that will help children learn their numbers while hopping. It is great exercise and energy burner. Play with the traditional rules of using a marker (a small rock is perfect) and numbering the squares of the hopscotch pattern with the numbers one through eight. Each child must toss their rock onto a numbered square starting with one and hop through the pattern without touching the square the marker is on. Then they turn around and come back picking up their marker on the way. This continues with the marker being tossed on each subsequent number. If a child misses the correct number they are out of the game. At the end of the hopscotch squares, the children can draw a half-circle for a resting place (this is optional). They can take a second to regain their balance before hopping back to pick-up their marker. The only other time the children should place two feet down is when there are two squares placed side-by-side in the pattern. The marker and number part of the game can be skipped and the kids can just have fun hopping through the squares. Let them make the pattern as big and elaborate as they like. Another variation is to use the alphabet instead of numbers or have the child spell out their name in the hopscotch squares. Timeless Running Games -- Part 1 You probably remember playing them as a child and they are still around today. The running games with the simplest of rules (like tag) that require nothing more than space, imagination, and energy. These games don't need any preparation and can be played almost anywhere. Red light, green light is a game where one person is "it" and the rest of the children have to try and sneak up. The child that is "it" stands at least 20 feet away from the other children. When they are ready to start they turn their back towards the kids and yell green light. All the kids run towards "it" until he or she turns around and says red light. Everyone must freeze, if anyone moves they have to go back to the beginning. The purpose is to reach the person who is it while they have their back turned during green light. Whoever reaches "it" first gets to play the traffic light in the next round. Mr. Wolf is a game that is set-up similar to Red light, green light. The child who is "it" is Mr. Wolf. The rest of the children ask, "What time is it Mr. Wolf?" and then take the appropriate number of steps depending on what time it is. For instance if Mr. Wolf said it was three o'clock than all the children would take three steps towards him. This continues until Mr. Wolf decides that it is lunch time. When the children ask what time it is and Mr. Wolf replies, "It's lunch time!" Everyone runs away, the person Mr. Wolf catches is the new Mr. Wolf. Children love the anticipation of being chased especially if they don't know when it is going to happen. If the same children are always "it" you may want to step in to make sure everyone has a turn. Some running games are best done in teams of four or more children per team. These are great activities for a summer birthday party of if a large group is meeting up at a local park. These games involve all of the children and no one is going to feel left out. Red Rover is a game made up of two teams with equal numbers on both sides. The two teams face each other in a line holding hands with their team members space about 20 feet apart. The first team calls over to the other team, "Red rover, red rover, we call child's name over." Once a child's name is called, they run towards the other team trying to break the link of two children holding hands. If the running child is successful and is able to run through he or she gets to return to their team. If the running child is unsuccessful and can't break through the held hands, they then join that team. This continues back and forth until there is only one team left or a halt is called to the game. Soccer is always popular and everyone knows the basic rules. If there are no nets, make some with either rocks, natural posts such as trees or use outdoor toys. The same idea can apply to football, don't worry if you don't have the right kind of ball anyone will do -- kids have great imaginations. Or run just for the sake of running by having a relay race. You can use sticks as the batons or get more creative. Have the kids say silly word or a joke as the pass-off instead of physically passing something back and forth. Or it can be a getting to know you came, each kid has to tell their partner something about themselves for the pass-off. Activities for All Ages If you have children that are not very close in age or run a daycare with a wide range of ages it can be tricky to plan activities that will engage everyone. But it is not impossible. There are activities that can be planned that everyone can participate in at their own level or ones where the older children can help the younger. Don't despair about the age gap or feel that you need to plan something different for everyone. Follow the tips below as a guide or starting point to including everyone in your summertime activities. Indoor or outdoor crafts are perfect for kids of all ages. Provide the materials and general instructions and see the different masterpieces that will be created. When making crafts keep in mind that the instructions are more of a starting point. Let kids use their imagination to make it all their own. You will be pleased with the results when fewer parameters are put on a child's imagination when creating artwork or other hands-on crafts. Old-fashioned games of hide-and-seek or tag are games that children of all ages will enjoy. The added benefit of the physical activity will run of some of the abundant energy children possess. By participating yourself you can fit in your own exercise for the day too. Let older children help facilitate the summer activities that you plan. By engaging the older children to help the younger they will feel a sense of responsibility and importance. This is a summer activity in itself, teaching leadership to children will help in many aspects of their lives. When the situation warrants it, let the older and younger children do their own things. But don't feel that you can't combine the activities too, it is easier for you and great for the kids. Bird Feeders Kids are naturally attracted to animals and will love the birds that come to eat off of their homemade bird feeders. The following instructions are for a very simple bird feeder that can be made again and again. Once you put out food for birds and they start coming on a regular basis you should continue to feed them as they are rely on the feeders as a food source. What you will need for this simple bird feeder is a piece of string or yarn, cereal in the shape of an "O", peanut butter and birdseed. It is going to be hung from a tree branch once completed. Give each child their own piece of string (can be anywhere from 6-12 inches) and have them string the cereal onto the string until it is full with about one inch left on each end. Take the string back and tie the ends together. If you do not want this to turn into a messy activity, you can take the bird feeders outside as they are and hang on a tree branch. But to make them even tastier for the winged friends who will come you can smear peanut butter onto the cereal. Once there is a coating on all the cereal pieces roll the string in a birdseed mix and it will stick to the peanut butter. Bring the bird feeder outside and hang it so birds can come to eat. Be sure to place the bird feeder in a location that can be seen from inside the house. The children are going to want to watch as the birds enjoy the meal they made for them. As a bonus part of this activity, see how many different birds they children can identify as they come to eat the food. Tie Dyed Shirts Do this project with your kids at the beginning of the summer and you will see them wear it all summer long -- their own summer uniform. Other articles of clothing can be tie dyed too cotton shorts and jeans can be done instead or at the same time. Materials you will need for this activity are clothing to be tie dyed, fabric dye (available in most grocery stores in the fabric care aisle), rubber bands, gloves, and marbles (optional). You can use various colors of dye, but for younger children it is easiest to use a one-color version as per the instructions below. With the rubber bands, roll up the shirt and place the rubber bands around the shirt in various locations. Make sure that they are nice and tight -- this is where the contrast will come in as the dye will not touch the shirt where the rubber bands are. For different effects, place marbles inside the shirt and then twist a rubber band around the marble. The next step is to prepare the dye according to the packages instructions. Once that is complete, an adult should put on the gloves and submerse the shirt (or other garment) in the dye for the specified time. If you want brighter or deeper colors you can leave it in longer. Most dyes will recommend rinsing at this point, when the excess dye is removed let the child remove the rubber bands and marbles. If you want to try multiple colors, start with the lightest color and progress to the darkest. After each dunk into a different color dye add more rubber bands to the shirt. They should be thrilled with the results and no two shirts will look the same. The shirt will last the summer and beyond. Make one for yourself too; the kids will love your matching summer uniforms.
Rock Pets and Other Rock Crafts Kids love to paint especially when it is something other than paper. Rock crafts can be made into many things from pet rocks to stepping stones and even garden markers. Materials needed for this activity are rocks of various shapes and sizes, tempura paint, paint brushes. Optional materials include glue, permanent markers, and googely eyes. If you have access to rocks outside, let the children pick their own. You can tell them to find rocks that they think have a special shape or would look good as a certain animal or bug (lady bugs and frogs are popular choices). If you are going to be making something larger like a stepping stone, garden stone, or vegetable marker, you can go to your local gardening or landscaping supply store. Older children may like the added challenge of finding many small rocks and piecing them together to make a creature or object. If you do not have glue that is strong enough to hold rocks together clay will work as an adhesive too. With various shaped rocks you can build a car using an oblong rock for the body and four round rocks for the wheels. Let the children paint their creations and let dry thoroughly. You should put the children's name on the bottom of the rock for future identification. When the rocks are completely dry you can hand them over to their new charges if they are not meant to go outside. But if they are going to be going into the garden as a marker for a row of carrots or just decoration they should be treated first so the paint does not wash away. If you cannot find a child-safe sealant for the paint, finish the last step when they have gone to bed or are occupied with something else. Once the sealant is dry it can be put outside in its new home. Bubble Making Not only do kids of all ages love to blow bubbles there are many activities they can play that revolve around bubbles too. And one of the activities is to make the actual bubble solution. If you decide to skip this step and use store-bought bubbles that is fine too. Everyone knows that to make your own bubble solution you mix dish detergent and water but here is a recipe that will yield bigger and stronger bubbles: 1/2 cup of dish soap, 1 1/2 cups of water, and 2 teaspoons of sugar. Mix it up in a large container and you are done. If there are quite a few kids playing, make a large batch of the solution and fill up a kiddie pool with it. No spilling or waiting turns to use the bubble solution. If you are making your own bubble solution, you will also need to find or make bubble wands too. Here are some ideas to use items around the house that kids will get a kick out of: * A (clean) flyswatter * Straws * Turkey baster * Slotted spoon * Funnel * Use the lid to a yogurt or margarine container with a hole cut in the middle * A piece of string tied together into a loop Have a bubble blowing contest, see who can blow the biggest bubble or see whose bubble lasts the longest. Have a counting contest, challenge the kids to see who can blow the most bubbles in a predetermined time frame. Or shout out a number and see who can blow that many bubbles at once, no more or less. And just let them have fun, kids love to have bubbles blown for them and then chase them down and try to pop them all. You be the bubble blower and send them running to burst all of your bubbles. Making a Kite Flying a kite is good exercise and a lot of fun (even if you don't get the kite up in the air). Instead of going out and buying a kite, make one instead. You will need fabric (or very strong paper), strong glue, two wooden dowels and string. To begin, lay the two dowels in a cross position and use some of the string to lash the sticks together into that position. You will do this by weaving the string in and out of the dowels. Once the dowels are secure, put glue on the string and leave it to dry. Once this is done you should have a strong frame for your kite. The next step is to create a frame around your dowels using the string. To make sure the string does not slip, cut a small notch at the end of each dowel. Starting at one end, wrap the string around the dowel where the notch is and then bring the stringto the next dowel while keeping the string taut wrap it around the next dowel. Continue until string is connecting all four dowels. Again, put dabs of glue on the string where it meets the dowels and leave to dry. Once you completed frame is dry, lay your fabric on the kite frame and cut it with an extra one inch on all sounds to wrap around the frame. Use glue to secure the fabric around the kite frame. The last step is to attach the string to the kite. You will need to make what is called a bridle by attaching the string to the kite frame in two locations (they should be on opposite sides) in a loop formation. Then attach the string you are going to use to fly the kite to the bridle. A Day at the Beach Visions of summer will eventually lead to a day at the beach. It can be at a lake, the ocean, or any sandy area you can find but it no matter what it will be a day to remember. There are many activities that can be done on a beach day, or just go to have fun and relax. By being prepared for a few different scenarios you are sure to have a great time. The most important part of beach day is safety. There is water safety -- no child should go into the water alone or without adult supervision. And there is stranger safety, most beaches are quite crowded on a nice summer day, it is always a good idea to review stranger safety before going out to a crowded public place. The standards supplies to bring on any beach day include sunscreen, towels, water, and pails and shovels. There are more things that you could use and always remember to err on the side of caution. If you think you might need it and have room, bring it along. If there isn't a natural place to be in the shade in the form of a tree, something should be brought for the children to have a break in. A beach umbrella or a tent for the kids is a smart choice. Children know instinctively how to have fun especially on a beach. Building sandcastles, digging holes, collecting seashells are all part of traditional beach fun. A beach scavenger hunt will keep them busy too. Not to mention the swimming. Don't forget to keep reapplying the sunscreen and have the children keep on their hats -- even in the water. The beach may be a once in a summer trip or you may be able to go every week but either way it will be a summer activity they will fondly remember. A Journal for all Ages By encouraging children to keep a journal they will benefit from writing down their emotions and what they have been doing all summer. They will also improve their writing skills and be ready for that assignment that is given out at the beginning of every school year -- an essay on what they did for the summer break. The journal itself can be a store bought notebook, an actual journal or some loose-leaf paper bound together. The form isn't what is important; it is getting the children in the habit of writing in it every day. This won't be for all children but those that show an interest should be encouraged to develop a routine with it. If they don't know what to write about, provide them with journal prompts. Some examples can include: * Describe things that make me: sad, angry, happy, etc * What would it be like if you were a: kitten, leaf, waterfall, etc. * Write about a favorite activity or object * Goals, what you will do in 1 year, 3 years, etc * A log of what happened during the day and how you felt * What you want to do tomorrow For younger children that cannot write on their own, encourage them to draw a picture of something that happened during the day. And then when they are done have them tell you what they want to be written on their journal page. The picture they draw doesn't have to be of what happened; the same journal prompts listed above could be used too. A variation for this activity is to start a family journal. Have one journal for the entire family and they each have to write one page in it every night. It would be a great idea if the page each person writes is about the same topic, but it doesn't have to be done that way. Gardening for Kids Here is a summer activity that can last the entire summer. Helping the kids grow their own garden is fun and they will be able to reap the benefits before school starts again by harvesting their own vegetables. This activity will require some pre-planning and most likely should be started before school is out. The best way to start a garden for children is to germinate the seeds indoors. After it is decided what type of vegetables to grow, get the plants ready inside so they have a better chance of success when they are moved to the outdoors. Beans, radishes, and carrots are all easy vegetables to grow. Strawberries are a popular alternative to vegetables and are also considered an easy plant to take care of. Have the children make home-made row markers for their vegetable garden using paper and Popsicle sticks. You can have the pictures laminated or do-it-yourself with some clear packing tape to protect them from rain. Make the garden the child's responsibility, if there is already a garden plot in your yard give them a section to call their own. Most children can be in charge of their own weeding and watering. This is another good activity that fosters independence and will give the children a sense of accomplishment come the end of the summer -- eating vegetables that they grew themselves in their own backyard. If fruit and vegetables do not interest your child, try a different kind of plant. Growing sunflowers is very rewarding. They can grow up to 8-12 feet tall and the seeds are edible. Or, go to the garden center together and let them pick out a small plant or seeds that they want to take care of for the summer or maybe for longer if they pick a perennial plant. Sun Art This is a craft where the sun will do most of the work. You will need to find the sunniest spot in your house or yard and it will take some time -- at least three hours of full sunlight. You will need brightly colored construction paper and various shaped objects. Lay the piece of paper in the sunny location first and then place the objects on the page. Be sure to leave space around each object, they should not be touching. Items such as leaves, coins, utensils, or anything else with an interesting shape can be used. Then you have to wait, but it will be worth it. After a period of time, the sun will fade the paper that is not covered by the objects that were place on it. When you take the shapes off you will have made a picture with the sun. To make it more interesting you can use different shapes or objects to create a picture or a scene instead of only trying to get shapes. Good materials to use for making a sun picture are different shapes of pasta, string, and other household items such as cotton swabs and cotton balls. It is best to use a bright colored piece of paper or this craft will not work properly. The quality of paper used should not be poster board. The poster board or similar paper will still fade but it will take longer (maybe more than one day in the sun) to get the desired result. Be careful with the finished artwork. If you hang them up in a sunny spot in the house, the sun may continue to work on the paper and fade away the hard work that was put into the craft. The best way to preserve it is to tuck it away in a scrapbook or art folder. Bug Bingo Don't worry; this doesn't involve catching bugs just finding them. You will need a piece of paper for each child that is playing, crayons or pencils and stickers. Divide each piece of paper into nine squares with three columns and three rows. The middle square is a free space. In each of the other eight squares draw a picture or write the name of a bug that can be found in your backyard. Send the children out with the stickers and their bingo cards to find the bugs. As the child finds each bug they can place a sticker on the appropriate square. The only rule that should be reinforced is that the bugs are not to be touched (or squashed, squished, etc.). To make the game longer or shorter you can either have the children find all the bugs on the page to win or like in traditional bingo the first person to make a line on their card wins. Once you put the effort into the game cards you may want to spend a bit of extra time and money to have them laminated. They can be re-used over and over again. When they are laminated you can choose to use a marker or crayon instead of stickers to check off the bugs that are found. A good list of bugs to put on the cards: * Ladybug * Ant * Caterpillar * Worm * Bee * Spider * Wood louse * Beetle * Butterfly * Any other bug or insect that can be easily found in your yard. Different variations of this game include using leaves or flowers instead of bugs. A prize for winning the game can increase the fun for the kids. It doesn't have to candy or a toy, even letting them decide what video to watch or have for dinner can be enough of a prize for a child. Summertime Picnics Summertime, kids, and picnics are meant to go together. Having a picnic doesn't have to be reserved for a day out at the beach or park. Kids love to eat outside, especially if it means they don't have to stop playing to come inside and get cleaned up. If you are going to have a picnic during an outing, be sure to practice food safety and have icepacks in with the food or cooler. Picnics can be as simple and easy as peanut butter and jam sandwiches with apples to as complicated as fried chicken and potato salad. It all depends on how much time you have and the preferences of those you will be serving. But whatever you make, let the kids help you prepare. If your little ones are active, you can prepare a picnic that consists of all finger foods. Let the kids come and go as they please have a snack here and there as they need it. Some easy finger foods for a picnic include: * Cheese and crackers * Vegetable sticks (carrots, tomatoes, and cucumber) * Ants and dirt (fill celery sticks with peanut butter and top with raisins) * Fruit * Deli meat * Hard boiled eggs Even if none of your children are in diapers anymore, having baby wipes or another wet wipe on hand after a picnic is necessary. They help with clean-up before and after eating. They also can do double-duty to clean off the picnic table at a park before you use it. Paper plates are practical but if you use them a lot they are an added expense -- you can pick up a plastic picnic set that is easy to wash and can be used over and over throughout the summer. Not nice enough outside for a picnic? Who says you can't have one indoors too! Balloon Wars In the winter everyone loves a good snowball fight, build a fort and stockpile the snowballs and you are set. The same idea can be implemented in the summertime too. If it's a nice day, fill balloons with water and have a balloon war. If you don't like the idea of your kids throwing balloons at each other than there are other uses for water balloons that are just as fun. Set-up a target and have a competition to see who can hit it the most times. You can make it a challenge to break the balloon each time or make it harder by setting the rule of hitting the target but not breaking the balloon. Play water balloon baseball; replace the baseball with a water-filled balloon. Of course the person up at bat is going to get wet if they are able to hit the target. If a child hits the balloon and it doesn't burst it is considered a strike. When the balloon is hit and does burst it is an automatic home run. A simple game of catch can be fun too. Trying to catch the balloon without bursting it can be hard -- see how long one balloon can be tossed before it breaks. As the kids are going to get wet, it is best to play any of these games on a hot day. Clean-up after any game that has involved water balloons is very important. Small children and pets could pick up the small pieces and choke on them. You can make picking up the most balloon pieces a game at the end for incentive. Let the kids know that whoever has the most balloons after they are all cleaned up will get a special surprise. Or, give each a different color of balloon and make it their job to pick up all the balloon pieces that are of their color. Different Ways to Play Hide and Seek The traditional way to play hide and seek never gets old, but you may want a change if it is requested every day. Here are a few ways to play hide and seek with a twist while staying in the backyard. Have the kids pick out some toys that are not too small and are allowed outside. While they cover their eyes and count, you hide the toys around the yard. You can let them run loose and try to find them or play hot and cold if they are having a hard time. If the kids don't understand the concept of hot and cold you can use different words "you're getting closer" or "you're getting farther away." Or give away little hints they have to figure out. Sardines is a fun variation on hide and seek. You will need a few kids to play (at least three or four). The person who is designated as "it" does the hiding instead of the counting. Once the allotted time is up everyone has to try and find the hidden person. As each child finds the person who is hiding, instead of calling out they found them, they hide with them. This continues until all the kids are in one spot. It can get really squishy playing this game -- just like in a can of sardines. Chain hide and seek is also best if at least four children are participating. As the person who is "it" finds the other kids playing, they have to hold hands and form a chain until everyone is found. Falling down and giggling are sure to ensue as the kids try to run around while holding hands. This is a great one to play in the park. Involve all the kids in the park and see how long the chain get get. Build your own Sandbox Kids of all ages love to play in the sand. It can be a construction site, made into a sand castle or add water for a muddy mess. It is easy and inexpensive to build a sandbox in your own back yard to enjoy for the entire summer. When you are deciding where to put your sandbox try and find a location that gets a lot of shade throughout the day. When the sun is hot, and the kids still want to be outside this will be a great activity for them if it is out of the sun. All you will need are four boards, a weed barrier for the bottom, a tarp or piece of plywood for covering and the sand. Nail the four boards together into a square shape and then take the weed barrier and affix with a staple gun. If you do not want to use a weed blocker or barrier, you can nail a piece of plywood to the bottom of the frame you made but this will require measurements and a bit more planning. Then add your sand. The cover is a nice touch to keep out rain and unwanted animals such as cats digging in the sandbox. But it is not a necessity. Now relax as the children spend hours creating cities and other imaginative buildings in their very own sandbox. If you do not have enough pails and shovels or other sand toys available for all the children, raid the recycling box and re-use old plastic containers to fill and pour sand with. If the children want the sand to stay together like it does in at the beach you can give them some water to play with. The sand will dry and if you use the weed barrier it will allow water to drain out of the sandbox. Making Musical Instruments Spend a summer day making musical instruments with the children it is lots of noisy fun. Once everyone is equipped with their homemade instrument go on parade through your neighborhood to show off you new marching band. Make a tambourine with two paper plates and something that makes noise to go between them. You can use beans, rice, or small bells from a craft store. Use staples to keep the two plates together with the noise makers inside. Have the child decorate the outside and hang long streamers from the edges. You can make a drum with a large empty cereal box. Punch two holes in the sides of the cereal box and tie a piece of yarn to go around the child's neck. Use two pencils or wooden dowels with corks or empty thread spools affixed to the ends for drum sticks. Use a wrapping paper or paper towel cardboard tube to make a horn. This can be used just as is and some decoration. To make it sound more interesting, cover one end with was paper and keep it in place with a rubber band. Poke some holes along the tube and make noise through the open end. Use a shoebox, a paper towel roll and some strong rubber bands to make a guitar to take on the road. With the cover off of the box, put the rubber bands around the box. The bands should be stretched but not too taught that they can't be plucked or strummed like a guitar. Glue the paper towel roll to one end of the box to be the arm of the guitar. After everyone has made their musical instruments let them jam for awhile and then march about sharing their music with everyone. You can carry the baton and be the band leader. Make a Wind Chime The sound of a wind time in the summer breeze is very relaxing and making one can occupy the children for an afternoon. The materials you will need are items that will make a pretty sound when they rub against each other (shells, beads, or even old utensils), something sharp to poke a hole through each item, a hammer, string, a round item (a lid or piece of wood) for the top, and a hook to hang the wind chime. Once all the items are collected the adult should use the hammer and sharp object (such as a screwdriver) to make a hole in each object. If the item is too hard to make a hole in (like a rock) tie string around it several times until it is secured. After the holes are made tie a piece of string to each item. Take your tools again and punch holes in the round lid that you are going to use, one for each item that will be hanging from the wind chime. Thread the string through the hole and tie a knot so that it will not fall back through. Poke two more holes in the lid and tie one piece of string through both holes and attach the hook. All that is left is to find the perfect spot for your wind chime. Place it close enough so that it can be heard through an open window on a breezy day. If the items do not knock against each other when the wind blows you may have to adjust the lengths of the string a few times until you get it just right. Keep an eye on the wind chime to make sure it doesn't loose any of the pieces. If it does be sure to pick them up as they can pose a choking hazard to young children. Going Camping Sleeping out in the wilderness in a tent or camper may seem a little bit intimidating with children but it doesn't have to be. Kids love to be outside and camping is a part of growing up. If you really don't think that camping out in the woods is for you, pitch a tent in your backyard instead. With the exception of a campfire you can do all of the other camp activities and crafts. Some tips to ease any fears that your children may have about going camping: * Bring a flash light for each child and let them use it as much as they want (bring extra batteries too). * If the children are younger and are having difficulties going to sleep drive slowing around the campground and transfer them to their sleeping bag once they are asleep. * Playing soothing music or a lullaby disc will help to mask the sounds the forest makes at night time that can be scary to a child that is not used to it. * Bring their pillow and any other comfort item they like to go to sleep with (a stuffed animal or favorite blanket). Let the children create their own memory jar from the camping trip or buy them their own disposable camera. Have them photograph the camping trip and once the film is developed let them make a book to write down all the memories that go with the pictures. Bring along all the families favorite board and card games to play during some down time too. Even if you do decide to camp in your backyard make it a time when there is no TV, telephones or other electronic games. A great way to ensure quality family time is created without the distractions from the outside world. Start a Collection Give the children an activity that can last the entire summer and maybe beyond. Starting a collection is a good way to learn more about a topic and can be the start of a new hobby. A good summertime activity is to begin a nature collection or book. If your child is interested in a particular collecting genre it would be best to go with that first (seashells, stamps, hockey cards, etc.) but if they don't and you want to introduce them to the world of collecting here are some easy suggestions. But them a scrapbook or make one with acid free paper and encourage them to find things outside that are a part of nature that can be added to their nature collection. They may decide to fill the entire book with different kinds of leaves or the same type of leaf in different shapes and color variations. Another option is to start a pressed flower collection. This does take time to let the flowers dry out in a flower press or a heavy book. The heavier the book or the tighter the flower press the quicker the flowers will dry out and retain more of their original color. Once a child begins collecting and getting the hang of it you may be surprised by how focused and enthusiastic they become about it. This should be encouraged, take them to the library to learn more about collecting or the items they are collecting. If they are interested in collecting an item that are of high-value try starting out at the smaller (and cheaper) end of the scale. As their interest grows so can the value of items they collect. It will make gift buying easy for relatives and friends too if they know your child has a specific collection. Library Events The library is a magical place to children, full of so many books, magazines, and movies that they can take home to use and then bring back. But most libraries offer more to children than just being able to take home books. A library is a community place with many free events to participate in. Check with your local library branch to find out when they have story time for children. In some libraries there will be multiple times in a week some will specify that they are for children of certain ages only. These are usually interactive story times with the children participating or a puppet show might be put on to tell the story. If the time you want to go is for younger children, have the older ones find a book of their own to read in a quiet corner while their younger siblings enjoy the show. Craft days or magic shows are both events that a library will host for children. These are mostly done during spring and summer breaks. Some libraries require a pre-registration to ensure they aren't overbooked or the library doesn't become too crowded. Try and get a calendar of events from the librarian so you can be aware of what is coming up and don't miss out. Reading clubs are available at the library for all ages including moms and dads. Set an example and join one for the summer and let your children join one or start one of their own. By seeing a parent read it can encourage children to pick up a book too. Chess clubs or other organizations can be found at the library too. The library is utilized by many different clubs as a meeting place. Find out what groups meet at your local library and see if your children are interested in joining one for the summer. Bowling Kids love to bowl, being allowed to roll a ball to towards a target and knock it down takes skill and is fun to do. You can take a trip to the local bowling alley or try these variations of the game that can be played at home -- inside or outside the house. If you have ten plastic soda bottles in your recycling box, fill the bottom with a small amount of sand or small pebbles. Put in just enough that they will stand sturdily on their own but not too much that they are hard to knock over. And any ball that you have will do, the larger the ball the easier the game is to play. Soccer balls and beach balls are ideal but if you really want to make it difficult you can use a baseball too. Try to bowl on your kitchen table using a balloon as the ball and something very light as the pins (such as building blocks). Instead of rolling the balloon try and blow it hard enough to move across the table and knock down the blocks. For a version all kids will get a kick out of use yourself as a bowling ball. Somersault towards the targets (plastic pins you can buy at the store or the homemade version with pop bottles) and try to knock down as many as you can. Kids will think that this is hilarious, especially if mom and dad give it a try too. If you do go to the bowling alley to play a game, ask them to put up the bumpers for the kids. These are inflatable sections that fit into the gutters so the children do not get a gutter ball. They will cut down on frustration for the younger and new bowlers. Nature Bracelets Kids love to collect things, with this fun summer activity they can collect a little bit of nature and have a keepsake for later. All that is needed to start this craft and activity is a roll of clear packing tape and a pair of scissors to cut it. Cut a piece of tape that is long enough to go loosely around the child's wrist with a small amount needed for overlap. When you put the tape around each child's wrist put the sticky side out. And that is all the prep that is needed. Send the kids out into the backyard, park -- somewhere outdoors and have them find things to add to their bracelets. They will have to be small so they will stay stuck on the tape. But small flowers, blades of grass, or leaves should all work. Have them find enough treasures or bits of nature to completely cover the tape. They can wear their creation for the day and when it is time to go inside carefully cut the tape of each wrist. Either use more tape or use staples to fix the nature bracelet to a piece of poster board or construction paper. Have each child write about the different bits of nature they collected for their bracelet and why. If you have a child who can't write yet, ask them why they picked each item and write it down for them. Most kids won't have a hard time finding things to put on their bracelet and may even be done in record time. As long as you have enough tape, let them make as many nature bracelets that they want and use them for a collage later on. Another alternative is to bring a piece of paper outside with tape already adhered to it -- the kids can put their nature finds right on the paper. Print Making with Food Stamps are great for crafts or decorating stationary before you send a letter. Here is a way that children can make their own stamps to decorate clothing, make a picture, or to make homemade wrapping paper to wrap a present in. The best food to use when making your own stamps are apples and potatoes. Apples make a great design on their own cut in half vertically (for a traditional apple shape) or horizontally (for a circle with a star-shape in the middle). With a potato, cut it in half and then make your design. Depending on the age of the children you may or may not want to let them execute this part. An easy way to make a design on the potato to use as a stamp is with small cookie cutters. Press the cookie cutter into the potato and the remove the excess flesh. You can make a positive or negative impression by removing the inside of the area or the outside of the area where the cookie cutter made its mark. With tempura or another toxic-free paint, dip the apple or potato into the paint and have an extra piece of paper handy to dab off the extra paint. Make many different designs with the potatoes to great a variety of designs. If you want to use the stamps as print making on clothing, buy some fabric paint at the craft store. If the paint is too thick add a few drops of water at a time until it is at a consistency that is easier to work with. Be creative with your choices, you may also want to try carrots or another hard vegetable to see what kind of mark they leave. An alternative and less messy way to get the paint on the vegetable is to paint it on with a brush instead of dipping it into the paint. What do you Feel? With this activity, your children are going to be using their sense of feel to figure out what different objects are when they are blindfolded. You can create different themes to play this game (items from nature or the kitchen) or mix things up for a game that is a bit harder. All you need for this activity is a blindfold and many different objects that are different shapes, sizes and textures. The children have to wear the blindfold and try and guess what they are holding by touch alone. Examples of items to use from nature: * Pinecones * Moss * Flower (all different kinds) * Blades of grass * Leaf * Stones * Dandelion seeds Examples of items to use from the kitchen: * Sponges or washcloths * Potato or other textured vegetable * Pineapple or other piece of fruit that won't be damaged easily * Soap in a container, have a cloth handy to wipe their hands with afterwards * Measuring spoons You can set-up different stations for the children to go to or having everything laid out on one table. A variation on this activity is to use the sense of smell instead of touch. Still use the blind fold but use items that have a distinct odor to see if the children can guess what the item is. Spices such as cinnamon and pepper are easy to identify. You can set up different tables where different senses have to be used at each table. A touching table, a smelling table, and a tasting table. The tasting table can be fun, but if you are playing with children that are not your own make sure you are aware of any allergies that they may have. Also, don't put anything out that a child strongly dislikes it will prevent them from wanting to play the game again. Back to School Party Parents can celebrate a back to school party or kids may prefer to call the festivities an end of summer party. Other way, it is a fund way to look back on the summer and have a get together with everyone before school starts again (or for some the first time). An outdoor party with a barbecue is the perfect way to feed the party guests. Ask the children what their favorite parts of the summer were and what they are looking forward to most when going back to school. Try and incorporate these things into the party. Make a school bus cake using two square cake pans. Use one cake as the body of the bus and cut up the second cake making wheels and the front part of the bus that jets out. Make goodie bags for all the children to take home and place them in brown paper bags with their names written on them. Things to put in the bags: * An apple * Small notebook * Pencil * Eraser * Calculator * Anything else school related Hold a spelling bee and give a prize to the winner (maybe a new backpack). Have a large jar full of jelly beans or another fun treat and have the children guess how many are in the jar. The closest person gets to take the jar home. Think of other activities that revolve around the curriculum the children will be going back to once the school bells starting ringing again. Invite children from your child's class that maybe he or she hasn't seen in the summer. For younger children this can make the transition back into the classroom easier if they have a familiarity with the people they are going to be seeing everyday. The other parents will be appreciative to as it will help their children too. Summer Learning Summer time is a break for children from lessons, homework and the everyday structure that school provides. But if you let the children stray too much from this routine during their summer break it can make the transition to school harder in the fall. You do not have to make the children sit down every day to learn a lesson but you can include summertime activities that are fun and are centered on learning. You can purchase workbooks for children that are meant to be preparatory for the next grade level at school and they are a great stepping stone. But you can have a conversation with the child's teacher at the end of the school year to determine what they need to work on and choose some activities that will help develop those skills. For young children entering kindergarten count and name everything around you. Read and spell out street signs to help with letter recognition. Independence is the most important skill you can teach children entering school for the first time. Encourage them to clean up after themselves and put on their own coat and shoes just like they will at school. For older children, use little chores or errands and learning tools. Have your child write down your grocery list as you go through the cupboards. Have them pay for things with their own money or figure out how much money they need to save for a special item. School is a big part of a child's life and you want them to be successful. Remember that taking a break is part of that so don't overwhelm them with learning in the summer. But don't let them forget the important skills that they worked hard to learn the year before. Continued reading through the summer is the best preparation. A Space of their Own For studying, reading or just for some downtime create a space where your child can go during the summer or after school starts to call their own. Let them help you create the space so it has what they need and are comfortable there. A desk for your child or a work table can be a place to do their homework, crafts, or keep their collection. Communicate with your child what they would like to do in their work space and try to incorporate as many elements as you can into their space. A quiet space is ideal, whether it be in their room or maybe a corner of the home office. But it should be away from the TV and other distractions like a telephone. Some things you may want to consider adding or providing: * Shelves for books * Pencil/pen holder * A cork board and/or whiteboard for posting assignments or keeping important reminders * A calendar for marking down events or due dates * Comfortable chair * A lamp or other adequate light source Consider setting up an office or desk space for your child an investment in their future. They will have a sense of pride over their desk and a place that isn't cluttered or loud to concentrate on their work. As your child gets older, esthetics are going to become more and more important. Understanding this will help down the road. Just like parents feel better when they have things in their home that they like, a child needs the same sense of pride and ownership. Chances are your child is going to need a computer to complete their homework as they get older. If they have one of their own they don't have to book computer time against you or siblings. Another good investment.
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