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It is summertime, school is out, and at this point in the summer many families are wondering how to fill the next couple of months of their children’s free time (who may be bored or spending too much time in front the television or computer). Images of summertime are usually cast in a light of hot, lazy, relaxing days, but the reality for most working families is the struggle to balance the demands of adult work schedules with providing enjoyable, safe, and inexpensive activities for children. We have done a bit of research to come up with some ideas for such activities. So what do we do to keep young children busy, yet also allow them to enjoy the summer months? Whether your child is a preschooler or school-age, many opportunities for fun, educational, and even relaxing activities exist.

How to make a fossil with homemade play dough (recipe included)

Materials for making fossils: Clay, items to imprint – leaves, coins, bugs or whatever you can think of. (If you are playing with children 3 or under ensure that you are not using any items your child could choke on.)

· Make a rock or plaque shape from the clay or use the dough recipe.
· Create a smooth surface on the top side of your rock. (Use water or just flatten the top on a counter or plate).
· Make imprints with different objects. Try leaves, coins, shells, or even a small toy. Make a foot that you can use to leave footprints. (A pipe cleaner was used to make the fossil pictured on this page.
· When it dries, bury them in sand or dirt and have an expedition to dig up fossils like an archeologist.

Dough Recipe: (1 cup flour, 1/2 cup salt, 1 cup water, 1 tbsp oil, 2 tsp cream of tartar)

· Mix all ingredients in a pot and stir over medium heat.
· Mixture will be soupy with lumps. Suddenly it will form into a ball.
· Remove from heat, and knead on a non-stick surface.
· Useful for many types of projects.
· Store in fridge, or allow creations to air dry.

By the time you have kneaded it for 3-5 minutes, it should look and feel like play dough. This dough can crack as it dries depending on the shape of the object.

Treasure Hunt

Creating a Treasure Hunt for your kids can keep them busy for hours! There are many different ways to plan a treasure hunt. For younger children, an adult can hide clues in different locations.

1. Plan a treasure hunt with each clue leading to the location of the next clue. You can buy a set of plastic Easter eggs, but you don’t need them. Just make the clues easy to identify (use orange paper). Children as young as 2 can play this game by using pictures instead of words. (e.g. Put a picture of a bathtub in an egg. The next clue should be in the bathtub.) The final clue would lead to the treasure (trip to their favorite park, invitation to go to water slides, movie pass, and lemonade). For older children, the clues could be riddles they need to solve. In the beginning, limit the number of clues to the age of the child (7 year old could follow seven clues to the treasure).
2. Make a treasure map (or list of directions) that would lead to the treasure.
3. Use a single type of paper to make the letters that spell out the location of the treasure (e.g. guest bed). The kids need to find the letters, than unscramble the word to find figure out where is the treasure.
4. Write up a list of common objects and have the kids find every item. If there’s lots of kids, divide them into teams, and then give each team a list.
5. Get a roll of 100 pennies or any collection of coins. Either hide the change around the house, or toss it on the lawn or a gravel driveway. Kids will spend lots of time making sure they’ve found every coin. (Over 3 year olds.)

Using cardboard boxes to create forts!

Build a spaceship or castle – Obtain a large cardboard box by contacting appliance stores, moving companies, or grocery stores. Help your kids decorate it, and make it a backyard “fort”. Just remember to bring it indoors at night, so the morning dew doesn’t warp the cardboard.

Paint your own Shirts

Let the kids create a work of art they can wear!

(plain shirts, fabric paint, card board, brushes, and sponges)

· Have the kids start with an old T-shirt or piece of fabric in the beginning. Put a piece of cardboard under the first layer of fabric to make sure there is no leaking.
· Some fabric paint comes in squeeze bottles which is good for lines, or they can use a paint brush or sponge.
· Once the kids are use to working with fabric paint, they can start working on good clothes.

· Designs from handprints are interesting and make a great present for grandma.
· If they need pattern ideas, use the pictures in a child’s coloring book for line drawings.
· Kids can use a sewing pencil if they want to draw a design on the shirt, then use the paint to fill in the design.

Activities especially for Toddlers:

1. Sidewalk chalk art – Have you toddler lie down, and trace around them. They can embellish your tracing with details and draw around themselves. The adult can also draw large shapes and play a game with their toddlers by telling them to stand on the triangle, walk around the circle, jump on the square, etc.
2. “Paint” the house – Give your toddler a clean paintbrush (inexpensive disposable paint brushes work great) or sponge and a bucket of water. Allow them to “paint” the outside of the house or garage door. The water shows up for just a short time, and dries without a trace.
3. Obstacle course – Create an obstacle course in the back yard for your toddler. Some sample ideas for the course include jump into a hula hoop, crawl through a large cardboard box, run around a tree, and touch the top of a lawn chair.

Something for the Older Kids:

Making Rain Sticks from materials at home

Materials needed for making rain sticks: long tubes from gift wrap or paper towel, strips of cardboard, nail and toothpicks or nails and hammer, paper, tape, seeds, macaroni, beads, dry beans or rice.

Kids age 8 and older (with adult supervision) will enjoy making this rain stick.

1. Use a pencil to draw a spiral beginning at one end of a cardboard tube and ending at the other. Don’t follow the natural seam. 2. One can have an adult poke holes in advance and then the kids can put toothpicks in the holes, and then seal them with glue. If necessary, cut off the sharp ends of the toothpicks and cover with tape and/or paper. Or one can have an adult hammer nails that are 1/4 inch shorter than the tube’s diameter at 1/2-inch intervals along the spiral. 3. Cap one end of the tube. If it didn’t come with caps, cut a piece of cardboard the same size as the hole and hot glue it securely to the end. 4. Put some un-popped popcorn, beads, dry beans, pebbles, seeds, gravel, rice or other dry filler into the tube. 5. Cover the open end with your hand and test the sound by turning it upside down. 6. Experiment with the amount of filler for a sound you like. When you’re satisfied, put a cap on the open end. 7. Cover all of the nail heads with contact paper or masking or duct tape. 8. Decorate your rain stick. Try paints, torn paper or corrugated wrapping. 9. Empty paper towel rolls are the easiest, but 2- to 2 1/2-inch postal tubes (24 inches long) make the best rain sticks. Make sure to get the plastic caps that go on the ends. You can also use carpet tubing, which you may need to drill before putting in the nails. 10. Don’t limit yourself to one kind of filler. Try combinations for different effects. 11. Decorating the sticks can be the most fun. The kids can decorate the sticks before or after they have filled them. Just remember that paper circles will be taped part way down the sides if the kids want to do the decorating first.

*Warning: Younger kids may be inclined to put the filler in their mouths! Supervision by an adult is always necessary!

Rain Stick Source

Don’t forget to also use our local resources:

Watch for special events, such as free outdoor music festivals or concerts. Many communities host evening concerts in local parks–pack a picnic dinner and enjoy time with your family. People are resources too–collectors, painters, and backyard naturalists may live in your neighborhood, eager to share their knowledge with children. Plus don’t forget about visiting the library with your kids. The library can be an amazing resource for summer activities.

For more activity ideas click here