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Along with warm weather and altered routines, summer brings opportunities to discover new activities and jumpstart your family fun. Here are a few ideas to encourage learning and development through play and exploration.

Water Play
Benefits: Water play can activate the senses (which aids in overall development), as well as engage children’s imaginations through open-ended play. Older kids can benefit from the gross motor play or derive comfort from the water.


  • Search for worms in puddles after a rainfall.
  • Head to the pool or beach for swimming. (Younger children can dip their toes in the water or dig them in the sand at the beach.)
  • Fill a sensory bin with water and toys in the backyard. Include items of different textures to best engage their senses. By discussing the experience – for example, talking about what floats and what sinks – this can also be a learning opportunity.
  • If your child doesn’t enjoy getting wet, offer them a spray bottle or water gun. That way they can participate in the fun without having to get wet themselves.
  • Wash patio furniture. A bucket of soapy water and a sponge is all you need. Bring out plastic chairs, or set up a toy car wash. Children love “helping.”
  • As a rainy-day alternative, children can wash dishes inside or, if they’re up for it, put on some rain boots and splash in the puddles.

Scavenger Hunts
Benefits: Scavenger hunts encourage exploration and investigation and promote visual tracking (the ability to focus on an object as it moves across a field). Scavenger hunts also encourage children to learn rule-following and cooperation and collaboration if others are playing.


  • Create bingo cards filled with local plants and animals, and involve your child in the process by asking them to predict what you might find. (Be sure to include plants or other stationary things. Young children may struggle with tracking objects in motion.) Then search for the items on your cards.
  • Practice letter recognition and letter sounds by reading through the scavenger hunt list together. For young children, use photos of the animals along with words. If the child can read, you can just use words. Either way, have your child find and check items off the list.
  • Add on a game of “I Spy.” This will promote observation and associative skills.
  • Practice fine motor skills by drawing a treasure map of your hunt route or drawing pictures of the items on your hunt. For young children, draw the basic map yourself, and ask them to draw or mark where they found items.
  • Encourage the child to describe what they are searching for: What color is it? What is its texture (rough, smooth, furry…)? Is it bigger or smaller than other items?

Obstacle Courses
Benefits: Creating and completing obstacle courses aid in developing imagination, cooperation, planning, and gross motor skills.


  • Inside: Use blankets and cushions to create a safe place to hide, climb, and crash.
  • Outside: Create a course out of outdoor furniture, picnic blankets (the floor is lava!), cones, jump ropes… anything! The goal is to engage the child in open-ended play.
  • Include your child in the set-up brainstorming session, and adjust the course as you go to keep it challenging but not frustrating.

Benefits: Making volcanos aids in understanding cause-and-effect and promotes planning skills. This is an easy one to execute indoors with a tray or box under the experiment, or head outside, and use the ground.


  • Grab some baking soda and vinegar to combine inside a jar or vessel, and let your child conduct an experiment.
  • Create a learning opportunity by talking about the reaction that occurs after you’ve combined the ingredients.
  • Plan on using a full box of baking soda and bottle of vinegar so you can repeat the experiment.
  • Use various-sized containers to compare what happens.

Mail Time
Benefits: Writing letters to friends and family promotes fine motor skills, relationship-building, and letter recognition.


  • Together, create a list of one or more people your child would like to reach out to this summer, and write them each a note.
  • Younger children can draw or color a picture, discuss colors, and talk about where the mail goes.
  • Help preschoolers learn their own addresses and write their names on the letters. Also, talk about other letters they recognize.
  • Encourage older children to write the notes themselves.

Whether you engage in the above ideas or chart your own playtime path, keep the following in mind:

  • Not every activity will elicit a long attention span… and that’s OK!
  • There are several benefits of open-ended play. Children can choose the complexity of activity that fits their developmental level; they can adjust the play to match their current mood; and they’re able to advance their physical skills, as well as their higher-level thinking skills. So alleviate some of the planning that goes into summer play, and allow time and space for exploration.
  • Encourage positive interactions.
  • Above all, make some time to be together!

And Finally… Calm Spaces
Benefits: Play is great, but we also need time to decompress. Creating and using calm spaces at home promote self-regulation, routine-building, and the ability to play independently.


  • Whether it is a corner of the room with a few books and a blanket, a pile of pillows, or a standalone space, establish a spot for your child to rest when they feel overwhelmed or need a moment alone.


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