Development-boosting summer activities for children
Summer is the perfect time to boost healthy development through outdoor play and activities for children. Children need to participate in unstructured play and open-ended activities to reach their full potential. This is especially true during a child's first five years. Plus, outdoor summer activities are a fantastic opportunity for you to get a good look at how your child is growing and changing.
Many helpful and fun activities are free or use inexpensive materials you may already have at home.
Outdoor summer activities can give both kids and parents a break from the usual routine. There are many potential benefits of outdoor play, including:
- A stronger immune system
- Better sleep
- Improved fitness
- Increased creativity
- Lower stress
Playing low-pressure, fun games and exploring nature encourages children to learn and move in new ways. Kids get the chance to make new friends and use their imagination, too.
Outdoor activities also give children opportunities to strengthen sensory integration. This is the ability to collect information from the senses and use the information to do daily activities. Playing outside is especially helpful for improving hand-eye coordination, depth perception, balance, and body awareness, which support sensory integration.
Even infants and young toddlers benefit from outdoor activities. Feeling the grass under their feet, watching other people, hearing birds chirp, and smelling flowers encourages curiosity and engagement.
Watching your child play can also help you see their strengths and where they may need extra support.
Planning and preparing for summer activities is the perfect time to learn about child development and developmental milestones, or skills that most children have by a certain age.
Knowing what to look for will help you plan appropriate activities for your child.
Developmental milestones are grouped into four main categories:
- Cognitive. These are skills involved in thinking, problem-solving, and learning. They are essential for school success and thinking of new solutions to challenges.
- Language and communication. Speaking and listening are two parts of language development, which also includes being able to read facial expressions and body language. These skills help children express their needs and wants and understand how others experience the world differently and need or want different things.
- Physical. This area includes two main parts. One is gross motor development, which involves large muscle movement and coordination. This type of movement is needed for tasks such as walking, navigating stairs, and keeping the body stable during activities. The other is fine motor skill development, which includes small muscle movements and coordination. This type of movement is needed to hold a cup, write, and pick up small objects.
- Social and emotional. These skills help children interact with and relate to others and themselves. Social and emotional skills are needed to build solid relationships and develop positive mental health.
Developmentally appropriate activities are tasks that match your child's developmental skills. These activities need to be challenging enough to pique a child's interest and stretch their abilities. But they should not be so challenging children can't complete them without getting overwhelmed.
Here are a few ideas for kids' activities that can be customized for different ages and skill levels.
You don't need a pool to have fun in the water. A large plastic tub is enough to spark your child's imagination, provide sensory feedback, and start conversations.
- To support problem-solving and language development, ask your child to predict which objects will sink or float. Moving items in and out of the water also encourages fine motor development and hand-eye coordination.
- Build fish from pool noodles and household supplies and go fishing. Making and catching fish promotes hand-eye coordination, following directions, fine motor skills, and body awareness. Talking about your catch encourages language development. Make a fun game by trying to catch the fish in a specific order or adding obstacles in the water.
- Boost cognitive and social development and encourage sensory integration by sitting with your child on the grass. Set a timer and feel the ground, wind, and sun while sitting quietly. After the timer goes off, talk about what you saw, heard, or felt. Ask your child what it was like to be still and how they felt afterward.
- Encourage cognitive and motor skills by finding, collecting, and sorting flowers, acorns, rocks, or clover. Give your child a basket or tote bag to collect their treasures and improve sensory integration. Ask kids about what they found to promote communication and social and emotional growth.
- Go on a scavenger hunt. Look for specific items or items that fit a particular category, such as blue things, to promote physical, cognitive, and language development.
- Make an obstacle course to improve gross motor skills, attention span, and balance. Use hula hoops, pool noodles, or chalk to mark the course and create obstacles. Work in teams to support communication and social and emotional growth.
- Tell a story about a bird or tree you see. Build items from your story out of natural materials to improve social, cognitive, language, and fine motor development, or reenact favorite fairy tales or stories.
Make a plan before playing in the summer sun. Use sunscreen to help prevent sunburn. Know the signs of heat-related illnesses and have plenty of water available. Having healthy snacks on hand can also help make the day more fun while ensuring kids get proper nutrition.
Always supervise your children outside and avoid items that may break or have small pieces. Infants and toddlers should only play with balls or other round objects that are 1¾ inches across or larger and other items bigger than 1¼-by-2¼ inches.
If you have questions or concerns about your child's development, talk with your pediatrician. He or she may recommend occupational, speech, or physical therapy to support your child's development.
Talk with a Reid Health pediatric specialist to learn more about keeping your child safe and healthy.