Many parents dread the summer months. School is out for what feels like is forever and lots of children have nothing planned. It seems all they do is watch television, play computer games, bicker and moan. It doesn’t have to be that way. You can help your children have fun while continuing to work on their gross motor, fine motor, sensory processing, and cognitive skills. So, let a beautiful summer day be your motivation to get your child outside to play. Coming up with activities is easier than you think; here are a few ideas to get you started…
This list is aimed at children 3-7, but remember every child develops differently so choose and modify activities based on your child’s abilities.
1. Ride a bicycle (or tricycle)
Whether your child likes a tricycle or a “big kid” bike with or without training wheels, riding is a great way to help your energetic one develop gross motor skills and fine motor coordination. Plus, it’s a fantastic activity to get the entire family moving. Just be sure the bike is age- and size-appropriate and that your child is wearing the proper safety gear. Also discuss bike safety and the rules of the road (even if you’ll be on a sidewalk or at the park). Be patient! Learning to ride a bike engages cognitive, gross motor, fine motor, visual motor, and sensory processing skills to name a few and can be difficult to learn even for the typically developing child. Once mastered, try adding obstacles or play games where sudden starting and stopping is involved.
2. Build an obstacle course
Kids love obstacle courses. And what’s not to love…they have so many elements that children crave like running, climbing, jumping, crawling. I would suggest 3-4 different “stations” at any one time and upon mastery either add an element or assemble three totally new stations. For example, run around the house, jump over some broom sticks placed on lawn chairs like hurdles, and crawl through an old box.
3. Have a dance party
Kids love to dance, either freestyle or through songs with movements. Play music on a radio and make up dance routines together. Then perform your routine for older siblings or other family members. Songs with movements are also great. I like “ I’m a little teapot”, “Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes”, “Popcorn”, and “5 Little Monkeys swingin’ from a tree”.
4. Play catch
Who doesn’t like a game of catch? Well maybe your child, but maybe they would like it if you used a pillow or balloon? Playing catch offers a variety of opportunities for kids to utilize different skills and includes throwing, catching, and kicking. Generally speaking, many children don’t master catching and throwing until they reach five. Visual motor coordination is essential to playing catch and may take a little time to develop. In any case, practice makes perfect. Use balls of different sizes and textures. If you are really feeling creative try adjusting the amount of air pressure in a ball, less can make it easier to catch, or vary the weight of the ball. Start off closer together and gradually move further apart. Playing with a peer is great because your child will get many opportunities for turn taking; however a playmate is not always possible and let’s face it you have to do laundry or the dishes pilling up. Try using a bucket or hula hoop as a target. For the advanced child, try having the child or target move. Your child could swing while throwing bean bags towards a bucket. Really increase the complexity by having the child and target move.
5. Make mud pies
Pull out some pots, pans, and kitchen utensils, and then head outside. Add some dirt and water…voila! Instant fun! I recommend as few clothes as you feel appropriate and a nearby water hose for clean-up. Digging, stirring, and pouring all involve not only fine motor skills, but visual motor as well. And you get a great sensory experience. It is OK mom, mud washes off and as my grandmother always used to say, “God made dirt, and dirt don’t hurt”. Playing in sand can also be a great activity, or better yet mix the mud and sand together for an entirely new “sensory” experience.
6. Blow bubbles
Sounds easy enough, but blowing bubbles involves all kinds of skills to master. Children need to be able to accurately position their lips, blow with just the right amount of force, and manage what might be a slippery wand in their fingers. Try adding food coloring for a different take or using different household items in a bucket of homemade bubble solution to come up with new bubble makers. One of my favorites…a fly swatter!
7. Make the outdoors your canvas
Art projects take on a whole new meaning when outside. Try sidewalk chalk, washable paint, mud, or just plain water to help your child create hopscotch boards and race tracks. Why not trace each other and then add the facial details and clothing? Your budding artist might also enjoy spraying a water bottle filled with water and food coloring. Best part of this creativity…no clean up!
8. Go for a walk
Once again, get moving. Take a walk around your neighborhood, Local Park, or through a sprinkler. For variety, add marching, jogging, skipping, hopping, or even musical instruments to form a parade. As you walk, sing the ABC’s, count, or tell stories. When appropriate, get those shoes off! Many little toes love the sensory experience of grass, sand, or mud. Make a line with tape and pretend it is a balance beam. Plan a nature hike in your backyard. Grab some paper, crayons, and pencils. Draw pictures and label things you find. Pretend to be airplanes in the sky, ducks waddling, stiff legged robots, galloping horses, or fish swimming in the sea.
This child favorite can be a little tricky. Learning to pump requires balance, strength, and good timing. I would recommend that you hop on first to demonstrate for your child. Then when it is her turn, describe what it is that you want her to do. For example, you might say, “Push your legs out and lean back. Now pull them in hard and sit up.” Move your position, sometimes standing behind your child, sometimes in front while you push her, encouraging the correct motion. For advanced children, try twisting the swing then letting it untwist or let them experiment with different positions like lying on their stomach.
10. Play classic backyard games
Remember how fun it was to play hide and go seek, tag, follow the leader, red light/green light, or Simon Says. These games not only burn energy, but engage listening, sequencing, motor planning, and gross motor skills.
So grab a few water bottles, slather on some sunscreen and get ready to try some of these summer activities for yourself. Who knows, you might be wishing summer would never end!
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