Insights, Ideas and Strategies for Educators and for Parents

Fun Free Summer Activities

Family Picnic in Summer
Tips for Parents

In these days of economic challenge, it is even more important than ever to find ways to have fun with children that don’t cost money. Amusement parks, movies, water parks, can all be quite expensive. Once in a while, of course, it’s lovely to have a family outing to a water park. Our family used to plan a trip to the Rockford, Il water park once each summer, usually in August. But there are so many wonderful things to do in the summertime. Here’s some suggestions:

  1. Take a blanket, some snacks, and some great children’s books (the libraries are a treasure, ask the librarian for help in finding books your children will love) and just go in your own yard or to a nearby park and have a story reading picnic. Great for a lazy afternoon!
  2. Set up a hose or sprinkler and have water play outdoors. This requires access to a water source, naturally. A few terrific parks have water features, look for them. Also, in Chicago there’s Milennium Park downtown, with that terrific water feature between the two large fountains. It’s just a couple of inches of water, but young children have tons of fun splashing around there, and you’ll see folks from around the world! Find the water play resources in your community.
  3. Children love all kinds of water play, you could even use a large Rubbermaid type bin and fill it up, put some toys in it and take a few towels outside and just have outdoor water play in bins. One could have soap suds with baby dolls to wash, one could have boats or other kinds of toys. Just making bubbles outside with the soap suds is fun!
  4. Take a walk along a river or lake, or just around the neighborhood, searching for signs of nature. I’ve noticed that this year we have an unusual variety of birds in northern Illinois, perhaps because we’ve had quite a bit of rain...look up some common birds of your area and go bird watching! Or look for other creatures native to your part of the country. Looking at pictures in books or from the internet first will enliven and enrich your nature walk. Talk about what you might see!
  5. Many communities have free concerts during summer months—look these up on the internet, call your city hall, look for notices around town. Sometimes this might require a bit of a drive or a train ride, but those are fun, too, for young children! Just be sure to prepare with snacks and a few books or toys to look at en route.
  6. There are many street festivals that have entertainment on summer weekends, sometimes there is entertainment for children. Check this out first, however, because frequently these festivals include goods to buy, and this could be frustrating if you do not want to make purchases. Doing a bit of investigating ahead of time and talking with your children about what you will and will not be doing (re purchasing, for example) is important. In general, it’s best not to take young children to large art fairs, as they are likely to be bored if the attractions are really for adults. Large crowds are frequently challenging with young children, so choose carefully!
  7. Make a picnic dinner and take it to the beach or a park. Just a change of scenery, the opportunity to eat outdoors and play and run around, makes for a fun experience, and will ensure the kids will sleep well because they will be tired! Don’t stay out too late, however, and be sure to take bug spray.
  8. Take a family bike ride around the neighborhood if you like biking and own bikes. Don’t forget your helmets!
  9. Look up public gardens or free zoos and go for a visit. Find a rose garden and smell the roses. Sadly some have been bred to be hardy and don’t smell fragrant! Look for the ones that still smell like’s worth it when you find one!
  10. On a rainy day, watch a movie you’ve rented from the library together with your children. Lay out a blanket on your floor and have some treats at home together while you watch!

Have fun, and enjoy summertime!

Tips for Teachers - Engaging Cooperation vs. Competition

Any time of year is a good time to help children learn to cooperate with one another. Because of the increased time spent outdoors in the warmer summer months (unless you’re in Arizona or other extremely hot climate zones, where children may spend more time indoors in the extremely hot summer months!), children have a chance to practice lots of gross motor skills through games and other activities. Focusing on cooperation rather than competition can make these activities more fun and less frustrating. Talking with children about cooperation is important as a first can we work together and help one another? How can we help everyone feel good? It’s not necessary to pretend that every child is equally talented in all areas, because that would be dishonest. As a matter of fact, it’s important to acknowledge that we’re all different, and we all have different strengths and challenges. Making this fact of life perfectly fine and not a problem is important as a classroom norm. At the same time, focusing on supporting children’s individual growth and the group’s working together is a very worthwhile pursuit.

Young children should not be expected to be able to understand or master the complicated rules of organized games such as basketball, soccer, baseball, etc. However, they see these sports all around them, in parks, on television, etc. and are frequently interested in “playing” them. One way to support children to get some exercise and develop some physical skills is to provide opportunities to kick a soccer ball, throw a basketball into a lowered hoop, etc. Teachers can encourage widespread participation by organizing such activities in a way in which everyone can participate who wants to, and cooperation can be encouraged by focusing on what a group can achieve together. First, have a few balls, not just one. Next, don’t focus on how far a child can kick the ball or who gets the most baskets, focus on how children are learning, how much farther a child kicked the ball today than he/she did yesterday, how children are helping each other by returning balls to one another or encouraging one another. If the teacher focuses on the group working together (this can be just a few children, not necessarily a large group) and cooperating with one another and supports children when they participate in that way, a valuing of cooperation is created. When children talk about how many baskets they got and become competitive, the teacher can both acknowledge a child’s strong skill and also redirect the conversation to how each child is progressing...the idea is to help children work on their own progress and on helping or cooperating with their friends, rather than “beating them,” or “doing better.” The value of cooperation needs to be taught and encouraged from a young age.

If you have a scavenger hunt outdoors, for example, in which children are expected to find things that have been hidden, instead of focusing on which child finds the most objects, focus on how many objects the whole group finds. Then the next week, do another scavenger hunt and see whether the whole group can improve their score. Working together to accomplish goals is very gratifying and rewards cooperation rather than rivalry.

Have a cooperative summer!

Questions or comments? call Nancy Bruski at (847) 475-1828 or post them on our contact form.