Water is always good
Besides the sprinkler and kiddie pool, there are many ways to play with water.
- Sprinkling/watering cans for anything outside to grow, squirt bottles for the same. Have kids walk around with either and water things or even clean things around the yard with the water.
- Big bowls or tubs of water … with measuring cups, stirring things, things to pour, to strain, to mash. Kids can do all sorts of play with a bowl of water. Also, they love to pretend to do what they see adults doing…washing dishes, hand-washing doll clothes (and hanging them out to dry), making “food” for dinner, washing baby dolls in their tub. They learn a lot through “mimic” play.
- “Painting” with water: a bucket of water and some old brushes. They can “paint” the house, the car, the sidewalk, etc.
- Painting with water and tempera paint in a squirt bottle. Squirt the paint onto an old sheet hung up in the yard or on the grass. They will want to squirt paint on many more objects, so perhaps you have boards or old furniture or rocks that they can “spray paint.” I have an old picnic table that kids can paint on with acrylic paint and paintbrushes (this is more artistic and takes longer).
Gardening and nature activities
- Find some place in the yard that can be their own piece of dirt. Provide buckets and small hand shovels. Hours can be spent in digging! Also, there are so many stores now that carry kids sized gardening gloves, shovels, tools, etc., if grandma wants to get something fun for the kids.
- You can also help them plant their very own garden in a pot or in a plot of land. They can be responsible for their very own plants.
- Magnifying glasses are good for more than frying ants in the sun. You can collect bugs, leaves, any kind of foliage, the wing of a dead butterfly lying about, or even a bird feather. All of these things would be fun to look at under a magnifying glass (if you get a fairly good one).
- Binoculars can hold the same fascination as you look at things far away … trees, mountains, barns, etc (not neighbors). Bird watching can begin at a young age … just start noticing the birds around you.
- Tree climbing with mom as spotter is always a great activity.
- Also, it’s fun to grab a bag and just collect natural things on a walk. Then maybe talk about them when you get home, or not. My kids never had that long of attention span after we got home.
- Chalk works well on sidewalks and is fun if you get it wet and then draw. I have always found that kids will spend a long time drawing with chalk if you sit down beside then and draw and talk with them. Don’t praise them for every little thing, rather ask them to talk about their art and describe it to you.
- How about collecting photos of your extended family and creating a family “tree”? Draw a tree on some poster board and trim the photos to just include head shots of individuals. Then glue the photos in the appropriate spots for the family.
- Cutting and gluing things is a great activity for 4 and 5s and some 3s. You can have them cut or tear things out of magazines and glue them all over a piece of white paper … doesn’t have to look pretty or have a theme … the process of creating and doing is important here.
- Preschoolers are still developing their fine motor skills, so drawing and coloring are not on the top of the list for great activities. Boys especially fare better at this age with large motor skill activities … their creative activities might tend more towards tent building or creating an action figure “scenario.”
- Fingerpainting works well with both boys and girls.
- Hand prints or footprints … dip in paint and apply to poster board or construction paper. Or try fabric paint and hand prints on a t-shirt. My dad publicly wore his wild-colored, hand-printed sweatshirt, and it was so fun for the kids to see.
- Paint clay pots together and put dirt and a flower in it for a beautiful gift.
- Use a rope and clothespins to hang art inside or out. Could you get other moms together and create a kid art show in the back yard?
- Play dough and clay are always great for creating and also for hand muscle and coordination development.
Activities around and about
- Running, skipping, jumping, hopping, climbing … these are very important activities. Kids need heavy doses of activities involving the large muscles. No couch potatoes!
- Create scavenger or treasure hunts for your own kids or several families. The more the merrier with these! Draw pictures for the clues and give hints. (Kids love hints!)
- Make maps of your neighborhood. Draw pictures of the houses and trees and any landmarks. Also can do 3D maps using cereal boxes cut to size or other kinds of small boxes for the houses.
- Check out all of the libraries in the Valley. Whitefish, Columbia Falls, Kalispell, Bigfork. They all have children’s story hours and summer reading programs. You could even make a book scavenger hunt. Make up a list of good books to read with your kids this summer and go to different libraries to find them. You will find all kinds of book lists online. Just look for recommended picture books or early reader books and also for award winners: Newbery Award and Caldecott Medal Award.
- There are so many good parks here, tucked away in neighborhoods or schools in Kalispell or around the lakes in Bigfork or Whitefish. Some of my favorites: City Beach or the “kiddie park” in Whitefish. Wayfarers Park on Flathead in Bigfork is great for picnics with kids. Bigfork’s Sliter’s Park is fun too. In Sommers, Volunteer Park has a beautiful beach that attracts lots of mamas and kids. In Kalispell, we often went to school playgrounds, especially ones with shady trees. Check out Lawrence Park if you’ve never been there. Also, Swan Lake is a great place with a beautiful beach, about 15 minutes south of Bigfork on Swan Highway.
- One of my kids’ favorite activities was to go up to Glacier Park and throw rocks into Lake McDonald! Don’t forget to let other moms know where you are going so they can join you!
- Also, Lowe’s, Home Depot, and JoAnn’s Fabrics usually have activities for kids to learn to make something.
Family fitness and fun
- Running, walking, skipping, and crawling races for the whole family in your yard. (Who cares what the neighbors think?)
- Obstacle courses made up by you and your kids.
- Measure a distance with the kids. Show them how to use a tape measure. (Measure your house, your car and everything else while you are at it!) Then count the steps it takes each of you to get to the point that you measured.
- There are all sorts of yard games to play with kids … I will leave that for you to discover.
- Don’t forget to have at least one night to look at the stars. You can sometimes see the Northern Lights.
- In August (10-13), there is an incredible meteorite shower, but the best viewing around or after midnight.
- Arts in the Park, farmer’s markets, and parades on the Fourth of July are all things that happen all over this Valley.
- Even if you don’t camp as a family or your kids are too young … try setting out camp in your yard. The kids will play there even if they don’t stay overnight.
Have a lot of fun this summer! Enjoy your kids! Make great connections with other moms!
The summer will fly by, and we’ll see many of you next fall.
Please use these ideas as a springboard to many more. And please post your additional ideas here at Bigfork MOPS or in our Facebook group.
Jan Roberson has been a mentor in the Bigfork MOPS for 7 years. She has taught in public and private schools, homeschooled and has been a private tutor. Dan and Jan have two adult children, Caitlin and Nathaniel, and have lived in the Flathead Valley for more than 20 years.