In the Good Old Summertime
By Nancy P. Alexander

Summer is a great time to be outdoors and a good time to take a fresh look at center activities. But keeping the curriculum stimulating and meeting the needs of the older children brought to your program in the summer can be a challenge to your creativity and energy. How do we make use of the long summer days and enrich the learning environment for children?


Think of the outdoors as a learning laboratory as you look for new activities. During the summer, children can observe nature by hanging bird feeders, planting radishes, searching for cicada shells, or watching the communal, determined behavior of ants transporting food. They can develop interpersonal skills of problem-solving and conflict resolution in small or large groups involved in dramatic play. Happy, involved children, occupied by the equipment and materials available, are far less likely to seek challenges in undesirable, aggressive, or unsafe ways or experience boredom. In short, keep bringing out new materials and ideas that will appeal to your children and your job will be easier.


When creating new activities, remember that the playground can provide abundant opportunities for learning, offering not only the freedom for more physically active play but space for nearly all other typical early childhood activities. Outdoor themes work very well when planning summer activities and provide a framework from which to plan. Here is a made-for-summer theme idea you can try in your program.


Playground Camping
Props to Use:

  • Make sleeping bags from king-size pillowcases.

  • Binoculars can be made from paper towel tubes.

  • Let children make fishing poles by tying string to sticks, dowels, or pieces of bamboo.

  • For a campfire, use sticks and rocks with red and yellow tissue paper or a flashlight for the fire.

  • If you do not have a tent, make one from an old sheet or blanket. 

What to Do:

  • Sit around the campfire and sing songs. Provide additional equipment such as a tackle box, backpack, first aid kit, flashlights, and any real camping equipment you have.

  • Pretend to go on a bear hunt by creating an obstacle course.

  • Make a trail of crumbs to follow. Encourage the children to guess what they might find at the end of the trail? A raccoon? A group of ducks? A hungry preschooler?

  • Read Arthur Goes to Camp by Marc Brown.

 Fun With Food:

  • Edible Campfire. Ground-Graham crackers spread with peanut butter, Kindling-Coconut flakes, Logs-Pretzels, Fire-Candy corn, Fire ring-Miniature marshmallows

  • GORP. Good Old Raisins and Peanuts mixed together make a new version of trail mix when you add pretzels, Cheerios®‚ marshmallows, coconut, or graham cracker cookies.

  • Instant S'mores. Top graham crackers with marshmallow cream and chocolate icing.

  • Cookie Cutter Sandwiches. Make a sandwich by combining two slices of bread with a topping of the child’s choice. Topping choices might include cream cheese, peanut butter, jelly, or jam. Cut out with a cookie cutter or glass jar. Eat the scraps, too!

  • Banana Wheels. Let each child peel and slice one half banana into “wheels.” Put slices in a sandwich bag with one tablespoon of sugar free gelatin powder. Shake together. Pour the wheels onto waxed paper and eat with toothpicks.

  • Peach Delight. Place a peach half on a small plate. Top each peach with a tablespoon of whipped topping. Crush two vanilla wafers and sprinkle on top.


Nancy P. Alexander is Executive Director of the Northwestern State University Child and Family Network in Shreveport, Louisiana. She is a frequent contributor of articles and photographs to early childhood publications. She is also the author of Early Childhood Workshops that Work: The Essential Guide to Successful Workshops and Training from Gryphon House,