One way to spend time outside with the children (any age from two up) is to work in the garden. A garden is more than just plants. It’s also a home for birds, bees, butterflies, earthworms and other creatures that help the garden grow.
Children love to care for other living things, and plants are an easy choice that can give a great sense of accomplishment. Check with your host parents about where you can garden. Ideally, your little garden will have at least six hours of sun a day.
For outdoor gardening you will need to buy some seeds. If your garden has less than six hours of sun, choose seeds that can grow in “partial” sun. Select flower seeds that germinate quickly. The back of the seed packet will tell you how long before the plants sprout. Marigolds and morning glories are easy to grow and will come up quickly. Buying vegetable seeds will allow children to eat and share what they grow. Radishes are the fastest growing vegetable – from seed to salad in just three weeks. Green beans, tomatoes, summer squash and cucumbers are other good choices, but they do take longer. Be sure to plant extra seeds because not every one will germinate. This is an important lesson for children – mistakes are natural and an inevitable part of life. If you are starting late and want to make sure you will have a vegetable harvest, you can also buy small plants at a local plant nursery.
Before you plant the seeds, use a shovel, trowel or spade to loosen the soil. Remove weeds, stones and grass from the area. If the soil is very hard (like clay) or very sandy, it would be a good idea to add peat moss or compost to the soil. You will also need a hose or a watering can so that the children can water the earth when it doesn’t rain. If the plants look droopy or the soil feels dry, it is time to water. It is very important to water even before the plants sprout. It is best to water early in the morning or in the late afternoon.
Gardening includes other simple science lessons, all concepts that children can understand. Plants lean or turn towards light. Plants use water, but some of it evaporates into the air. What happens to the water that has evaporated? Without water plants will dry up and die. Plants come from other parts of the world, and sometimes their form gives clues to their origin. Can you find seeds that are native to your country?
When you go out into the garden, take care of the plants, pulling up weeds gently and also any sprouted seeds that are growing too close to another plant. But also look around and look closely at the ground to find birds and bugs that are a part of gardening. You can discuss how living things rely on plants to live, and how the plants need their animal friends. Birds spread seeds; earthworms loosen the dirt for the roots of the plants. What do bees do?
Look for books about gardening in the library. Carrot Seed by Ruth Krauss is a wonderful book for very young children. Take photographs of your gardening project. It will be surprising and satisfying to look at the starting photos at the end of the harvest. And don’t forget to put on sunscreen before you do your gardening!
Learning about Insects
Talking to children about insects is a fun activity in the summer when there are so many around!
Some easy facts for you to know:
- There are more kinds of insects than any other kind of animal.
- They live all over the world, even in ice and snow.
- They never have more than 3 pairs of legs. If it has more, it’s not an insect!
- All insects come from eggs.
Outside Activity: To learn more about insects, go on a hunt outside. Collect the insects you find in a jar and then examine them with a magnifying glass.
Recipe: Make a snack of “ants on a log.” Spread peanut butter on a stick of celery and then add raisins on the top.
Read: Children up to age seven will enjoy “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” by Eric Carle. Look for it in the library.
- Make a caterpillar from a cardboard egg carton cut in half lengthwise. Turn each section upside down to paint with water-based paint. Use pipe cleaners to make the antennae. Draw or glue eyes and a mouth.
- Make a butterfly by putting small pieces of colored tissue paper in a clear sandwich bag. Seal the bag. Squeeze the bag in half with the sealed edge at the top. Twist a tie around the middle and adjust the end of the twist tie to make antennae.
Autumn is a season of change. It’s a great time to go out and help children explore what is different in the world around them.
Fall is apple season. Apples come in many varieties, colors, shapes, and sizes. Some are wonderful to munch on, others are best when cooked.
Apple Sauce is very simple to make.
- Remove the core and quarter the apples. If you leave the peel on during cooking, it will give the applesauce a pink color.
- When the apples are very soft, remove any peel that is left, have the children help mash the pulp or put it through a sieve.
- Add sugar if needed.
Try making Dried Apple Rings
- Peel, core and slive as many apples as you like into 1/8 inch rings (Macintosh or Golden Delicious apples work best)
- Have the children dip each ring into a mixture of lemon juice and water to help the apples keep their color.
- Pull a piece of string through the center of each ring and hang in a dry, warm place.
- They take 1-2 weeks to dry and become chewy.
Make Leaf Prints by painting one side of a leaf with tempera paint and then pressing it down gently onto paper to form the leaf pattern.
Make designs for fun, or use large sheets of paper (tissue paper, brown paper or even newspaper) and save the painted paper to use as gift-wrap.
Place some leaves between pieces of wax paper and iron. This will keep them from crumbling and give the leaves a glossy sheen. You can then glue them onto paper – try adding bits of bark and seeds too. Hang them in the window or use them as placemats.
Start the Halloween season off by going pumpkin picking – check the newspaper for farms where you can go into the fields and pick your own pumpkin! You can limit the size by telling children they have to carry their own.
Carve the pumpkin just a few days before Halloween if you want it to be nice on Halloween, as pumpkins rot quickly. Work with the children to plan the design on paper and then draw it onto the pumpkin before you begin cutting. Cut off a lid to clean out the inside of the pumpkin and design holes large enough to let light shine out when you’re done. With a special safe knife designed for pumpkin carving, the children can help carve the pumpkin. Check with your family to see if they have one of the special knives – they sell them in supermarkets if you need one. Always cut away from yourself using slow steady cuts. Scoop out the seeds and stringy flesh (this is a messy but fun job!). See the seasonal calendar for October for recipes using the seeds and the pumpkin you have cut away.
With fewer hours of daylight and colder temperatures, you may be looking for more ways to stay busy and challenged. Try these ideas, look for links on this page to other activities, and check the seasonal calendar.
ABC’s of Winter Fun
- A is for Art – try drawing, painting or gluing
- B is for Baking – bake a dessert together for dinner
- C is for Clay – Use non-hardening clay or play dough to shape and mold
- D is for Dance – put on a lively tape
- E is for Exercise – be sure to get some everyday
- F is for Friends – invite some over
- G is for Greenhouse – find a local greenhouse to visit to enjoy the sights and smells
- H is for House – make a playhouse from a large appliance box
- I is for Ice skating – take the children to a local rink
- J is for Jigsaw puzzle – be sure to pick one that isn’t too difficult
- K is for Kitchen science – try a safe experiment
- L is for Library – borrow some new books
- M is for Movie – make one with a video camera, or watch one
- N is for Necklace – make one out of cereal or macaroni
- O is for Origami – learn to make simple paper creations
- P is for Puppets – socks make easy and fun puppets – put on a show!
- Q is for Quiet Time – everyone needs some of this
- R is for Reading aloud – choose a good book and a comfortable place to sit
- S is for Seeds and Suet – put out food for the birds and watch them eat
- T is for Tent – make one from old blankets and chairs
- U is for Unplugged – do a day with no TV
- V is for Variety – try something new everyday
- W is for Walk – take one in any weather (be sure to dress appropriately)
- X is for Xylophone – make your own with glasses, water and a metal spoon
- Y is for Year – make a calendar or scrapbook to remember the year
- Z is for Zoo – visit the animals
Children love to watch things grow! Try this very simple and fun indoor gardening project: Take a root vegetable (potato, carrot, turnip or beet) and cut off the top 1-2 centimeters. Hollow out the inside. Tie a string around the vegetable and fill it with water. Hang it in a window and watch what happens! Don’t forget to add water as needed.
Make your own Snowstorm
Create your own snowstorm whenever you want! Find a clear glass jar, any size, with a tight fitting lid and no label. Cut a piece of aluminum foil into teeny, tiny pieces. The easiest way is to first cut strips then cut across the strips into little pieces. The smaller the pieces, the more it will look like real snow. It takes a lot of flakes (and patience) to make a good snowfall.
Don’t stop until you have enough to at least completely cover the bottom of the jar. Cut a small evergreen branch for your tree.Fill the jar with water, add the tree and one drop of dishwashing liquid and put the lid on. Turn the jar over, give it a shake and put it down right side up. Watch the snow fall!
Build a Playhouse
Glue 4 Popsicle sticks (available in craft departments) in a square to make a frame. Decorate the frame with glitter, lace, yarn, feathers, stickers, confetti or whatever you have on hand. Mount a picture from the back and be sure to date it! You can also glue a magnet on from the back so that the picture can hang on the refrigerator. (This activity is suitable for children 3 and older.)