50 Fun, Fabulous, and Free Activities to Do With Your Preschooler This Summer
Preschoolers Learn Best Through Play
Before I start with my suggestions, I should offer a slight caveat—it being that I typically hold these kind of protracted lists in great contempt. While there's no doubt they're fun to peruse, they rarely provide any real substance, answering questions such as: What's the point of doing this? How does it benefit my youngster and what's the bigger picture here? They're quickly read and quickly forgotten.
With this in mind, I've included a research-based explanation of why these activities benefit young children. As a mom and former preschool teacher, I know there's a plethora of misinformation being circulated about what young children need to learn and grow (and, no, it doesn't involve workbooks, flashcards, “educational” computer games, tutoring clubs, or expensive math and language camps).
Summer Is the Perfect Time to Play With Your Preschooler
When spending time with your preschoolers this summer, you want to keep in mind the supreme power of play for it's what stimulates their curiosity, promotes creativity, and lets their spirits soar. Nancy Carlsson-Paige is the author of , a book that celebrates the importance of play and one I highly recommend to all parents of preschoolers. As a teacher of young children, I used it to establish a program that let my students be in charge of their own learning by playing, exploring, and imagining. Carlsson-Paige says: “play is the primary engine of human growth...driving children to build ideas, learn skills and develop capacities they need in life...in play children develop problem solving skills, social and emotional awareness, self-regulation, imagination and inner resilience.” So let yourself relax, turn off your technology, live in the moment, and tap into your inner child...and have a wonderful, adventurous summer with your preschoolers! Taking Back Childhood
Outside Time—The Antidote for Too Much Technology
At a time in history where young children are spending far too much time indoors with computers, TV, video games, and cell phones, researchers are taking a closer look at the many benefits that come from outdoor play. When kids leave the familiar surroundings of home, a whole new world of experiences opens up to them. They can be louder, get dirtier, explore more broadly, and be more physical. Without the distractions of technology, they can live in the moment, experience life to its fullest, and tap into their wildest imaginations.
Spending Time Outside Builds a Child's Self-Confidence
Research shows that outdoor play builds a child's self-confidence as their bodies try new things and conquer new feats: climbing a tree, pumping on the swings, building a sand castle, growing a garden, and running across a field. When children grow stronger physically, they feel proud of themselves. They're more likely to take reasonable risks, but they're also better at assessing perilous situations and avoiding them.
Dr. Jim Taylor believes many moms and dads are inadvertently limiting their youngsters' potential by “bubble wrapping” them from challenges. He writes, “these parents are actually doing their children a disservice by not allowing them to gain experiences that will build confidence and instill resilience that will be essential for success and happiness later in life...the current parental zeitgeist is one of worry and fear for our children that is far out of proportion to the actual dangers that are present in their lives.” With this in mind, here are some fun outdoor activities to do with preschoolers this summer that let kids cut loose, try something new, get wet and dirty, and just have a fun time:
Summer Is the Time to Let Kids Be Kids
1. Take a walk around the neighborhood, through the park, in the woods, or on the beach. Collect rocks and shells. Take them home and decorate them with tempera paints (these are best to use with kids because they come out easily in the wash). To protect the finished product and make them glossier, use acrylic spray.
2. Make a puppet theatre in the yard by using a clothesline and a sheet. Put on a show for your friends and neighbors.
3. Make a piñata by filling a plastic bag with water and hanging it from a tree. Take a stick or bat and strike it until it breaks.
4. Fill large balloons with water and tie them with a knot. Take one and toss it from person to person. If caught, the balloon probably won't burst. If dropped, it probably will. The one who stays driest the longest is the winner!
5. Build forts in the backyard by hauling out chairs, tables, blankets, and sheets from the house. Make a maze, a haunted house, or an entire compound. Spend the night in your creation!
6. Have fun with turkey basters. Give each player a turkey baster and a large piece of paper. Have each person put the paper on the ground in front of them and squirt water from the baster onto the paper. The first one to completely wet the paper wins!
7. Have a lemonade stand. Make signs to post around the neighborhood. Donate the profits to your favorite charity or buy something special you've been wanting.
8. Have fun in the sprinklers by playing with an umbrella.
9. Take a flashlight and go on a bug hunt at night.
10. Use a wet sheet for a large canvas. Hang it on a fence. Use brushes and spray bottles to cover it with tempera paints. Ask your friends and neighbors to join the fun!
11. Get in your swimsuits and play "sponge toss" with a wet sponge.
12. Freeze lots of little toys in large ice cube trays. Use tools to tap them out of the ice.
13. Use squirt bottles to move ping-pong balls across the driveway or lawn. Have races with your friends.
14. Line up empty juice cans or plastic water jugs on the grass or near the garden. With the hose, squirt them until they're all knocked down. Then try again!
15. Make an obstacle course in your yard and invite friends and neighbors to race through it. Use things around your house: boxes, jump ropes, hula hoops, and a mini-trampoline.
16. Have a scavenger hunt in your yard, neighborhood, or nearby park by looking for things in nature: a feather, a pinecone, an acorn, a 3-leaf clover, a purple flower, a worm, a butterfly, etc.
17. Make a bird feeder. Tie a few feet of string or yarn to a pine cone. Spread peanut butter on it and roll it in bird seed. Hang it on a tree branch in your yard.
18. Go through your closet and toy box to collect old games, toys, and stuffed animals for a garage sale.
19. Tie pots, pans, cans, plastic containers, and utensils to a fence, tree, or bush. Spray them with a garden hose or water bottle to make music.
20. Create drawings, write words, and make numerals on the sidewalk in front of your home with colored chalk. Use squirt bottles to erase.
21. Wash the fence, porch, car, or sidewalk with wet sponges or paint brushes.
22. Create sculptures with ice cubes and salt.
24. Plant a vegetable garden.
25. Go on a walk and collect leaves of various shapes and sizes. Place them on a piece of white paper and cover with another piece. Use the side of old crayons to roll over the paper and make a leaf rubbing.
Sensory Activities Are How Preschoolers Explore the World
Parents hear time and time again that sensory activities are valuable for preschoolers but often don't know why. They might get turned off by them because they require a lot of preparation and create a huge mess. They may wonder: What's the point of this? I'm doing all the work and my child only plays with it for five minutes!
As a former preschool teacher, who's experimented with many elaborate sensory activities over the years, I admit these parents have a point. I once cooked loads of spaghetti, divided it into batches, and tossed it with food coloring, thinking my class would have a glorious tactile experience. Instead, they wanted nothing to do with it. The tub of brightly-colored noodles sat for weeks untouched, got mildewed, and was eventually tossed out.
Less Is More When It Comes to Sensory Activities for Preschoolers
The lesson being that less is more (as so often is the case with preschoolers). While young children have always discovered the world through seeing, touching, hearing, tasting, and smelling, we're at a unique point in our history where we must now be more intentional with sensory activities. Because preschoolers are spending too much time looking at screens, their fine and gross motor skills are dramatically suffering. When starting school, they're unable to hold a pencil correctly and comfortably to write their names. They're unable to cut with scissors, string beads, tie their shoes, and even turn the pages of a book. That's why it's crucial that moms and dads do sensory activities with their kids at home, keeping them light, simple, and fun:
Sensory Activities With Preschoolers—Keep It Light, Simple, and Fun
26. Make a batch of play-dough and let your kids use cookie cutters, rolling pins, utensils, and scissors to squeeze, cut, roll, twist, and mold it.
27. Make little kites with construction paper, streamers, and string and fly them in front of a fan.
28. Make a dress-up box for dramatic play. Collect clothes from thrift stores, garage sales, and your own closets: dresses, shirts, hats, scarves, belts, shoes, feather boas, jewelry, purses, and costumes.
29. Explore with paints. Use watercolors for a week. Then switch to temperas. Listen to classical music as you create.
30. Make some musical instruments with items you have around the house: jingle keys on a large paper clip, shake a water bottle with uncooked rice inside and taped shut, shake two paper plates stapled shut and filled with dried beans, drum a coffee can with a plastic lid, strum an empty tissue box with a rubber band placed on it lengthwise.
31. Place a blob of tempera paint on a piece of white paper. Blow through a drinking straw and make the paint move across the paper. Add another blob of a different color. Watch the colors merge!
32. Slice a potato, a carrot, and an apple. Dip the slices into tempera paint and then place them on a piece of paper to make a print.
33. Draw the outline of a lamb on construction paper. Cover it with glue and place cotton balls on top of it.
34. Dip your finger in tempera paint and press it on construction paper. Try your pinky and thumb. Put some fingerprints close together in groups of three or four. Take a black marker and turn the prints into animals: a lion, a frog, a snail, a giraffe.
35. Take some brown lunch bags and turn them into puppets with construction paper, yarn, and crayons.
36. Brush glue over a glass jar or bottle. Cover it with ripped pieces of tissue paper, overlapping the pieces. Cover with liquid starch. When it's dry, spray with lacquer to make it shiny.
37. Make a healthy snack with celery sticks. Spread with peanut butter or cream cheese. Top with raisins or sunflower seeds.
38. Make a groovy smoothie. Cut 2 ripe bananas into chunks. Add banana chunks, 1 cup unsweetened whole strawberries, 8-ounces vanilla low-fat yogurt, and 3/4 cup milk into a blender and mix for one minute.
39. Make an astronaut snack and pretend you're going into space. Use what you have in your pantry: pretzel sticks, popcorn, raisins, Cheerios, nuts. Place in a plastic bag and shake.
40. Make face paint for imaginative play. In each cup of a muffin tin, mix 1 teaspoon corn starch, 1/2 teaspoon water, 1/2 teaspoon cold cream, and a couple drops of food coloring. Make a different color for each cup. Stir and paint!
41. Cover a tray with shaving cream and drive Hot Wheel cars through it.
42. Play a game of marbles.
43. Play with wooden blocks.
44. Play games that promote fine motor skills: Don't Break the Ice, Don't Spill the Beans, and Operation.
45. Take a plastic water bottle and fill it 1/2 way with water. Use a kitchen grater to make different-colored crayon shavings to drop into the bottle. Screw on the cap and secure with tape.
46. Make a "Creation Station" at your house by collecting recyclables: bubble wrap, egg cartons, plastic bottles, paper and cardboard scraps, bottle caps, and yogurt tubs. Build sculptures with these materials by using a hot glue gun.
47. Make bath time a fun learning experience by adding items from the kitchen: measuring cups and spoons, plastic bowls, soda bottles, a whisk, a colander, and a baster.
48. Do puzzles.
49. Make sculptures with toothpicks and play-dough.
50. String beads to makes necklaces and bracelets.
As a former preschool teacher and mom of two, I strong believe that every household with young children should own a sturdy set of blocks like these. When playing with blocks, kids learn about math (counting, measuring, adding, subtracting), engineering (balancing, strengthening, designing, problem solving ) and socializing (sharing, communicating, and cooperating). The best conversations my sons ever had happened during sessions of block play!
Questions & Answers
© 2018 McKenna Meyers