From Sandcastles to Science Experiments: A Summer of Learning and Play

Girl playing with dolls in front of dollhouse

Pre school? Check. Soccer practice? Check. Piano lessons? Check. Ample amounts of unstructured play time? Ummm…

No one wants their kid to suffer from the summer slide – the term for the loss of learning that often occurs over the summer break. At the same time, no one wants to be a summer fun-sucker either, filling up the break with flashcards and worksheets. Fortunately, there are better ways to keep your kiddos learning over the summer – in ways that just feel like play!

Building Sandcastles

It’s one of those summer rites of passage – and it’s full of opportunities to learn! Constructive play (i.e. building things!) is always a brain-boosting activity that supports cognitive development. But building sandcastles is extra special. For one thing, your kids don’t get to do it every day, so the novelty factor will have them fully engaged! It’s also great for sensory play and problem-solving, as your kids experiment with different ratios of water and gritty sand, getting that goopy mix just right.

Depending on your kiddo’s age and interest, you can talk about states of matter, ocean life, 3D shapes, and math concepts as you dig, mix, build, and decorate together. Ideally, you’ll make it out to the beach for some sandcastle building, but on the other days, the backyard sandbox works great too!

Exploring Nature

Another thing the beach is great for? Cultivating a love of nature. If a beach isn’t exactly accessible (we see you, central states), rest assured there are plenty of opportunities to appreciate nature no matter where you are. If you’re having trouble finding spots for your budding naturalist, try these tips:

  • Look up state parks in your area – bonus if they participate in the Kids in Parks program!
  • Join local parent groups geared toward hiking and the outdoors. Facebook groups, Hike It Baby, and local “mom” websites often have great recommendations for hidden gems.
  • Make the most of the nature you have. You don’t need to be fully immersed in the wilderness to appreciate nature. Small, local parks and your own front yard still have plenty to offer.

No matter where you are, make nature time more fun by identifying local plants and animals and starting a naturalist of feathers, flowers, seeds, etc. You can usually find a field guide for local wildlife and plants for around $15. The Nature Pen Pal Exchange is a great way to get kids excited about collecting and identifying! They’ll get a penpal from another part of the country and can trade small natural “treasures” from their collections through the mail!

If you still need a few more ideas, check out the Super Simple Summer Bucket List from 1000 Hours Outside!

Science Experiments

Go beyond the baking soda volcano this summer with a few summer-themed science experiments! These ideas are all simple, inexpensive, and fun!

  • Melting Ice: Explore the states of matter by observing the melting process of ice. Let your kids experiment with different conditions (direct sun, shade, time of day, etc.) and record the time it takes for the ice to melt.
  • Solar Oven: Harness the power of the sun to create a solar oven! Help your kids build a simple oven using a cardboard box, aluminum foil, plastic wrap, and tape. Then, let them melt some marshmallows and snack on some s’mores!
  • Rainbow in a Jar: With a little food coloring and liquids of various densities (honey, dish soap, rubbing alcohol, etc.), you can layer the colors of the rainbow in a jar and discuss density and sinking!
  • DIY Clouds: Fill a glass jar with warm water and add a few drops of liquid food coloring. Place an ice cube on top of the jar and watch as a cloud forms inside! Explain the science behind it - the warm water vaporizes, rises, and cools upon contact with the ice cube, forming a cloud.
  • Beach Erosion: Discover how waves can shape coastlines by simulating beach erosion. Create a mini beach using a tray filled with sand. Pour water into the tray, gently rock it back and forth to create waves, and observe how the waves wash away the sand.
  • Solar Prints: Make use of that summer sun with solar prints! Arrange various objects like leaves, flowers, or small toys on light-sensitive paper. Leave the paper under direct sunlight for a few minutes, then rinse it with water. Watch as the areas exposed to sunlight create beautiful prints while the covered areas remain white.

Arts and Crafts

Arts and crafts are more than a way to pass the time. They make sure your child’s fine motor skills, problem-solving skills, and creativity stay in tip-top shape over the summer! Plus, they’re a fun way to introduce or reinforce other concepts you’re learning about. These simple summer-themed crafts are a great place to start!

  • Nature Collage: Make the most of all that outdoor collection with a nature collage! Back at home, your little artists can use leaves, wild flowers, and small sticks to create beautiful collages on paper or cardboard.
  • Sand Art: Get ready to hit the beach without leaving your backyard! Hand your kiddos colored sand, funnels, and empty bottles or jars, and let them layer the sand into their own patterns and designs.
  • Seashell Painting: Channel your inner beachcomber and collect some seashells. If you feel daring, bust out the acrylic paints, glitter, and sequins… or still with washable tempera paints if your kids aren’t ready for the more permanent stuff.
  • Paper Fans: Teach your kids how to fold and decorate their very own paper fans using cardstock paper, popsicle sticks, and decorations. They may not truly beat the summer heat, but hopefully the kids will be so distracted waving their fans around, they won’t even notice the sweat.
  • Sun & Earth Models: Teach your kids about why it’s so much warmer in the summer with some simple sun and earth models! Help your kids turn plain paper plates into happy sun faces and colorful planet Earths. Then, model how the earth moves closer to the sun in the summer months. If you want to teach them about the earth spinning on its axis too, they can paint 3D styrofoam balls from the craft store!
  • Windsocks: Catch a summer breeze with some homemade windsocks! Colored construction paper, tape, markers, and streamers, are all you need. They can decorate them, cut out shapes, and attach streamers for a fabulous flowy tail.
  • Beach-themed Sensory Bottles: Fill clear plastic bottles with sand, small seashells, and tiny ocean-themed toys. Add water and a few drops of blue food coloring to create an ocean effect. Seal those lids tight, and voila! Your kids can shake and marvel at their very own mini beach getaway.

Reading and Writing

We can’t stress this enough: local libraries are awesome! If you don’t have a card, you’re sleeping on one of the best ways to inspire your child’s love for reading. Check to see if your local branch has a summer reading challenge! Usually, kids hit certain reading goals, and get cool prizes to local spots (think free tickets to art museums, vouchers for kid-friendly restaurants, etc.) If your child can already read independently, try creating a kid-friendly reading nook to encourage them to read on their own too!

For writing, keep it age appropriate and fun! Kids who are just beginning to spell and write will have fun with a set of alphabet refrigerator magnets. For handwriting and fine motor skills, easels keep the practice fun and pressure-free. Kids who can already print and craft sentences will love captioning funny pictures you find or drawing and illustrating their own comic books.

Summer slide? Not around here – unless you mean the slide on the swing set of course! From outdoor toys like swing sets and sandboxes, to indoor supplies like chalkboards and craft tables, our play products are here to help you make this summer fun and packed with learning!