J. Schatzel works in healthcare administration in rural upstate NY and has a master's degree in history.
Ideas for Outdoor Fun
We live in upstate NY and enjoy every second of warm weather once summer finally arrives. After what feels like an eternal winter, I am always happy to venture outside in the summer for a break from work/school. While I enjoy taking the kids for lots of walks and swimming, there are plenty of fun warm-weather activities you can do with young children without leaving home.
- Make a Painted Flower Vase
- Cook Outdoors—on the Walkway
- Find New Uses for the Kiddie Pool
- Paint With Nature
- Make Painted Flower Pots
- Feed the Birds
- Draw With Chalk
- Bake Dandelion Poppy Seed Shortbread Cookies
1. Make a Painted Flower Vase
My 3-year-old had fun learning about mixing colors by combining a few paint colors and making a pretty new vase. I let him paint all he wanted on a jar that tomato sauce came in. (As with most paint-related toddler activities, outside on a warm day seems like the best place for such an activity!) He marbled together blue, yellow, and white. He ended up with a mostly sea-foam green vase, with some swirls of unmixed blue and white paint visible. I took it outside one sunny day and sprayed it with a clear sealant.
It was actually pretty cute, and we enjoyed refilling it weekly with whatever flowers were blooming that week. I love the phase my son is in where he wants to pick his mommy flowers every day—definitely an unexpected highlight of being a mom of all boys! We had daffodils one week, then tulips the next, then wild mustard and pansies, then dandelions and buttercups. This week is lilacs!
More Ways to Explore Flowers
My son picked a handful of chive blossoms one day, and he was surprised when he smelled an oniony scent coming from them! We put food coloring in the water and watched Queen Anne’s Lace slowly turn green. We put tulips that weren’t open yet (overzealous flower picking by a toddler was bound to happen!) and watched them slowly open over the course of a few days.
2. Cook Outdoors—on the Walkway
One particularly hot day, I put a cast-iron pan on the walkway to warm up in the sun. Later in the day, we cracked an egg on it, and my toddler was amazed to see that even though the pan wasn’t on the stove, the egg was cooking! We talked about how hot the sun is, why it’s important to protect our skin from the sun, about how we need to be careful when touching things because you never know what might be too hot, etc. We were able to fry an egg and a few 2” pancakes.
3. Find New Uses for the Kiddie Pool
Although you may think of that plastic kiddie pool as a place for the kids to splash and cool down in on a hot day, we have found other fun uses in the summer as well.
- Filled with gravel or dirt, the kiddie pool is a great place for toy trucks and tractors to play.
- Filled with water, the kiddie pool is a great place for young children to practice fine motor skills by scooping with a net or “fishing” for bath toys.
- My 3-year-old likes to dip his watering can into the kiddie pool to fill up before watering the flowers.
- My 3-year-old is currently in a phase where he enjoys speculating whether an object will float or sink, then testing it out in the pool. Dandelion? Floats. Rock? Sinks. Stick? Floats. Hat? Floats for a little while, then sinks.
- The kiddie pool is a great place for kids to play after engaging in a particularly dirty activity. Covered in mud from jumping in driveway puddles? Sure, go splash in the kiddie pool. Covered in dust from helping in the garden? Cool down in the kiddie pool, and track a little less muck into the house!
- With a 1-year-old and 3-year-old, a current favorite activity in our kiddie pool is making makeshift sailboats out of milk jugs, yogurt cups, etc.
- Another fun activity was the Cozy Coupe carwash. Last summer, my then–2-year-old enjoyed dipping a big sponge into the kiddie pool, then wiping down his Cozy Coupe inside and out. He washed his tricycle, slide, and basketball hoop. (Bonus: He also wiped down the lawn chairs at his makeshift "carwash.")
- It is also a great place for parents—you can dip your feet in and cool off as you watch the kids play when they’ve tired of the pool and moved on to other activities!
4. Paint With Nature
My kids had a blast using flowers, pine cones, ferns, leaves, rocks, grass, and sticks to stamp paint onto cardboard. I opened up a cereal box so it was a large unfolded blank canvas, and I cut the end tabs off. The kids had fun trying to stamp the different shapes and objects they had collected from the yard, then showing their work to Daddy when he came home.
5. Make Painted Flower Pots
A fun activity for kids of all ages is to paint flower pots. Whether these pots are to be used for flowers on a porch, herbs in a windowsill, or holding pens/scissors on a desk, they make cute keepsakes while serving a purpose. Kids can personalize their pots and get excited about using them.
My 1-year-old finger painted his pot, and my 3-year-old worked on his skills using a paintbrush with his. They had a great time, and Mommy has two new flower pots for the porch! We’re looking forward to transplanting the lettuce we’re currently growing in the kitchen windowsill in a few days. We also painted a few extra pots to give to the grandmas and great grandmas on Mother’s Day.
6. Feed the Birds
We are lucky to have a pine tree with sizeable pine cones, which provides a near-infinite supply of potential bird feeders. An easy (and fun!) activity for toddlers is to slather peanut butter on a pine cone and roll it in birdseed. My son loves guessing what kind of bird will eat from his bird feeder. He likes using binoculars to check from the house whether his bird feeder has been picked clean yet.
7. Draw With Chalk
We do not have a paved driveway or sidewalk, and we live in a rural area with lots of gravel roads. For an alternate chalk-drawing surface, my toddlers have a chalkboard (meant for indoor use) that we get out on dry days. They can color with chalk outside on it, and we stick it back in the garage when we're not using it. This way, we don’t get chalk dust from two toddlers in the house, and they still get to play outside with chalk.
8. Bake Dandelion Poppy Seed Shortbread Cookies
Living in upstate NY, our yard is COVERED in dandelions for the month of May. My toddler especially enjoys making these cookies! He gets to pick the flowers, help mix/roll/cut the dough, and drizzle the glaze. It is a quick and easy summer recipe that uses ingredients most kitchens have on hand already.
One added bonus is the adventure outside to retrieve the flowers! If you have a place outdoors that is not pesticide/herbicide treated, chances are dandelions make their appearance nearby sometime during the spring and summer months! Dandelions lend their sunny yellow color to these cookies, and only a handful are needed for this recipe.
- 1 cup butter, melted
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1 cup dandelion petals (yellow only, no bitter green pieces!)
- 2 1/2 cups flour
- 1/8 teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoon poppy seeds
For the glaze:
- 1/2 cup powdered sugar
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- Mix butter and sugar.
- In a separate bowl, mix the flour, salt, poppy seeds, and dandelion petals.
- Stir in butter and sugar and mix until a crumbly dough forms.
- Roll out the dough to 1/4-inch thickness, and cut into the desired shapes.
- Bake at 325° Fahrenheit for 20–25 minutes, depending on the size of your cookies. They will be slightly browned underneath when done.
- Remove from the pan to cool on a cooking rack.
- Make the glaze: Whisk 1/2 cup powdered sugar into 2 tablespoons of lemon juice until smooth. Drizzle the glaze over the cookies as they cool.
Ideas for Indoor Fun
Playing outside is not always an option. These indoor activities are especially great for a rainy day.
- Make a "Garage" From a Box
- Create Potato Stampers
- Trace and Decorate Yourself
- Create an Indoor Beanbag Toss
- Make Homemade Playdough
- Give Toys a Bath
- Draw Homemade Birthday Cards and Signs
- Do Some Windowsill Gardening
1. Make a "Garage" From a Box
My mother-in-law had a box (slightly larger than a shoebox) that she cut door and window holes into. My toddlers love using it as a garage for their cars and trucks. I let them finger paint the “garage,” and then I sprayed it with a clear sealant (I used Mod Podge). They play with it inside on rainy days.
It has been a great place to store their accumulated stickers as well. When they come home from school or Grammy’s house with a new sticker, they have fun wallpapering the “garage” with it—and then it doesn’t end up in the laundry or on a wall in my house!
2. Create Potato Stampers
My kids have enjoyed painting with their potato “stampers,” which are slices of potatoes cut into various shapes. This is a great activity to practice identifying shapes and colors.
3. Trace and Decorate Yourself
I broke down a large cardboard box, and the inside was just plain cardboard. It broke down into one large rectangle once I removed the flaps. It was the perfect size for me to trace my 3-year-old on, and then I let him color in the picture of himself. It kept him busy off and on for three days! From the stripes on his shirt to the laces on his sneakers, he had a blast coloring in an area, then laying back on the tracing to ask if it matched or ask if he was taller than the tracing yet.
4. Create an Indoor Beanbag Toss
We took two sturdy boxes that diapers came in and closed and sealed them with packing tape, then we cut holes in the tops of them. We let the kids decorate the boxes and used them for an indoor beanbag toss game. They had a blast! The 3-year-old had a great time with the beanbag toss, while the 1-year-old was more interested in retrieving the beanbags for him. It worked out in everyone’s favor (for now at least!).
5. Make Homemade Playdough
Homemade playdough is always a hit! I like the recipe that uses 2 parts cornstarch and 1 part hair conditioner (like in the video above). I used the strawberry Suave conditioner we had on hand, and it worked well. It kept well in an airtight container for just over a week (with daily use) before it started to dry out and crumble. When it did start getting crumbly, it was super easy to clean with a quick wipe from a wet cloth.
6. Give Toys a Bath
My son’s favorite stuffed animal, who goes everywhere with us, is thankfully a durable toy that I’ve now washed in the machine at least weekly for nearly three years. If his stuffed animal gets particularly dirty (my son has tried to share ice cream with his buddy and once decided he needed to be colored with sidewalk chalk), I have let my son give his toy a bath.
After my son is nice and clean from his own bath, he gets to wash his stuffed animal, which is going into the washer after anyways. He is always more careful after giving his toy a bath—trying to shield it from any baby brother drool or food that might mean his toy needs another bath.
7. Draw Homemade Birthday Cards and Signs
When friends or relatives have birthdays, my 3-year-old enjoys coloring homemade birthday cards or signs. It has been a great way for him to practice his letters and colors! I draw the letters for him to color in and ask him to color in the H, etc. He does great with identifying the letters and finding the correct colors to use: “What color is the sky? Lets color the S the color of the sky.” Etc. It is like a scavenger hunt and coloring activity in one, and he is always excited to share his finished product with the recipient.
It's a great idea for long-distance birthdays, too. During the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, we shared the cards and signs virtually with digital photos.
8. Do Some Windowsill Gardening
When cooking with carrots, cabbage, lettuce, onions, scallions, or celery, I save cuttings to grow in water in the kitchen window until they can be transplanted outside.
- While the carrot tops don’t regrow the actual carrot, they do regrow the greens (which make a tasty pesto) and will eventually go to seed—for planting more carrots!
- The cut-off base of a bunch of celery or a head of lettuce/cabbage will start to regrow quickly as well, and it can be replanted in soil after a few days.
- Scallions regrow quickly in only water and don't need to be transplanted to soil.
My toddlers love checking on the progress of our hydroponic starter-garden every day. Celery and lettuce grow quickly, and the novelty of growing it himself means my 3-year-old happily eats celery any chance he gets. Parenting win!