Sleeping late. Hours of uninterrupted play. Lazy summer afternoons. Glasses of ice cold lemonade. It's that special time of year known as "Summer Vacation."
This summer, before the kids complain of "nothing to do" or spending hours glued to the "flickering blue tube" determine to make some changes. Instead, teach your little ones about our wonderful earth. Involve them in creative and imaginative activities.
Research shows that unless children continue summer learning, they may lose up to 30% during the summer of knowledge gained during the school year. Can your youngsters afford to lose this information? Instead, try these free or inexpensive ideas that focus on language arts, math, science, art, social studies--all part of the curriculum last school year. Both of you will make this a summer to remember.
1. Mud Pies and Beet Juice. Mud and children go together. Collect several small molds or jar lids. Mix mud and water into a paste for "pies." Top with beet juice thicken with flour for a beautiful pink frosting. A childhood memory to treasure!
2. Clover chain. Find a patch of clover nearby and gather long stems. Tie the stems to the next head to form a necklace. Or, use a long chain for measuring.
3. Garden hat. Find wild flowers and push stems through the crown of an old straw hat. Invite neighborhood children to join in.
4. Fragrance bouquet. Gather wild flowers to add a pleasant scent to indoor space. Strip the leaves and remove blooms from stems. Allow to dry and place in a small basket. Wild roses, honeysuckle, and wild phlox make a pleasing aroma.
5. Play store. Save discarded food containers and boxes for a "play store" under the trees. Add a lemonade stand for thirsty friends.
6. Tepee. Using an old sheet or blanket, make a tepee by making a knot in the center of the sheet. Tie a cord around this and hang from a nearby limb. Weight the four corners or use stakes to secure in the ground. Reward: hours of fun!
7. Cardboard box building. Use appliance store boxes for make-believe. Try transportation, or construct buildings. Painting, is another option. With colored chalk, crayons, or water-based paint allow the artist within to emerge. Perhaps another Van Gogh?
8. Water paint. Using large paintbrushes (discarded) and a bucket of water, encourage water painting on sidewalks.
9. Rock collection. One of the interesting things about rocks is the vast variety. Plan for safe-keeping and organization. Search for different ones as you travel.
10. Fossil search. Teach children observation skills. Look for fossils in rocks in a creek bed, in a ditch and other places.
11. Insect count. Keep a tally of the number and variety of insects observed in a given day. Or, place a hoola-hoop on the ground. Count the number of insects found. (Purchase an insect guide.)
12. Calendar. Make a daily, weekly, or monthly calendar of summer activities. When children ask, "What's next?" you'll be ready!
13. Pick wild blackberries. Assist the child in making a jar of jam. Eat the rest with sugar and cream.
14. Make butter. Place a cup of cream in a one-quart fruit jar. Shake until it forms into butter. Serve with crackers.
15. Ice cream. Use a favorite ice cream recipe. Fill a quart jar with the mixture and place in a larger container filled with ice. Rotate the jar until it freezes.
16. Fruit pops. Pour fruit juice into plastic holders for a nutritious snack in hot weather.
17. Wild flower press. Use yesterday's newspaper to press wild flowers, unusual weeds and grasses. Make an arrangement and place in a inexpensive frame.
18. Study a jar of lake or pond water. Pour into a clear jar. How does it look a day later? A week later?
19. Climb a tree. How does the world look from a higher location?
20. Read. Get a library card. Provide an outdoor reading center under a shady tree. Reading allows your child to visit faraway lands and people.
21. Understand map symbols. Practice these as you drive in your area or on a trip. Look for railroad crossings, lakes, streams, and backroads on your map and identify the location.
22. Conquer the metric system. Use this system as you measure mileage, amount of gas purchased, and tools around the house.
23. Learn to make change easy. Allow your child to make purchases and feel confident in receiving change.
24. Learn or improve camera skills. Make a photographic record of favorite summer activities.
25. Triangle, circles, rectangles and squares. Watch for these shapes as you drive along. Keep a tally of the number found.
26. Hidden letters. Watch for ABC's in nature, objects, and buildings. Example: (T) telephone poles, (O) end of a large pipe, (A) swing set.
27. Giant messages. Use a stick to write on a sandy beach or smooth soil. Make "big" letters.
28. Leaf Match-up. Find leaves during a nature walk. Give each child a leaf and place the others across a boundary line. Have two lines and run a relay to find the matching leaf. If only one child plays, use a timer.
29. Water play. Spread an old shower curtain or plastic tablecloth on a grassy spot. Using a sprinkler let children slide and enjoy water play.
30. Balancing act. Players try to walk from one marker to another with a spoon holding an egg. Or, try balancing a paper plate on their head filled with leaves.
31. Crazy-Maze. Place yard furniture in an irregular line. The object is to crawl under without knocking over or moving the object. Reward with a wading pool or sprinkler at the end.
32. SeaShell Pictures. Turn those beach collections into art projects. Glue shells to a cigar box for a jewelry chest or surround a wooden picture frame. Spray paint a sturdy piece of cardboard and create an original design.
33. My Big World. A magnifying glass opens the door to an appreciation of nature. Use it to observe insects, patterns on leaves, grains of wood and hundreds of other objects.
34. Barges on the River. Hook pieces of Styrofoam together with chenille stems. Punch a hole in the 1st "barge" and tie a string. Pull in a wading pool or on a nearby lake. (Supervise near water.)
35. Compost bin. Teach conservation by making a compost pile in a sunny location. Use vegetable peelings, grass clippings, and soil. Turn and water regularly. In a couple of weeks, your child has rich compost for a pot of flowers.
36. Bicycles on Parade. Invite the neighborhood kids to participate in a bicycle or tricycle parade. Supply crepe paper cut into streamers. Plastic flowers adorn handlebars. Clothespins secure flexible cards to the spokes for a noisy vehicle.
37. Obstacle course. Place safe equipment, such as old tires, watering hose looped, and outdoor furniture in a row for a timed obstacle course. Compete against others, or try to beat own record.
38. Morning Glory Hut. Push bamboo canes in the ground in a 4- foot circle. Leave a 2-foot opening in front. Plant morning glory seeds (or green beans) around the base. In a few weeks, your child will have a beautiful private spot for play or reading.
39. Pick Your Own Fruits or Vegetables. Watch the classified section of your newspaper for places you can pick your own produce. Allow children to fill their own container.
40. Observe an Ant Colony. Find an anthill. What time of the day are the ants most active? Trace their path. How far away do they travel? Which direction do they go?
41. Diamonds on Dew. Arise early on a summer morning. Observe how the sun makes the dew resemble sparking diamonds. Share this simple pleasure with your child.
42. Sun tea. On a hot summer day, add four tea bags to one quart of cold water. Allow to set about 4-5 hours. Watch the water change to the dark color of tea.
43. Pickup Truck Swimming Pool. Line the back of a pickup truck with a heavy-duty plastic sheet. Fill with water. Have fun splashing in your own backyard pool. (Always supervise when playing in water.)
44. Paper bag art. Use brown grocery bags to create vests, headbands, and other apparel. Decorate with crayons or paint.
45. Who Am I? Provide a box of dress up clothes for both boys and girls. Don't forget hats, shoes, and jewelry. Guess the character or person your child is imitating. Make a stage for modeling under the trees.
46. Camp Out Under the Stars. Choose a starlit night during the summer for a camp out. Lie on your backs and search the sky for familiar constellations. Determine the stage of the moon. What direction does it rise?
47. Listen to the Night. Take a nighttime walk. Listen to the sounds associated with evening. Can you identify the insects and animals you hear? Ask a grandparent or older friend to help match the animal/insect with the sound.
48. Corn Cob Doll. Choose a ripe ear of corn. Carefully pull the shucks down halfway on the ear. Allow the "silks" to drop and lie on top of the shucks. Tie a bright ribbon around the middle of the ear to form the waist of the doll.
49. Decorate a bird's nest. Cut 8-inch pieces of colored yarn and old narrow ribbons. Place them under trees where birds can pick them up for their nest. Later, search for nest that contains your offerings. Write a story about how you help the birds decorate their nest.
50. Make a frog house. Using wet sand or dirt, form a mold over your bare foot. Then, carefully remove your foot without breaking the dirt. Check early the next morning. Perhaps a toad frog will choose this spot as a temporary home.
These are only a few of the many ways to keep children entertained during the summer and extend learning. Remember, what children really want is for you, their parent, to spend time with them. You are making memories that will last a lifetime--or maybe continue for several generations. Plus, you're teaching about our interesting world while making learning fun.
Carolyn Ross Tomlin, Jackson, TN has taught kindergarten and early childhood education at Union University. She writes for numerous education publications.