Summer time often means more time for grandparents to spend with grandchildren. Sometimes that’s a vacation or cottage getaway. Sometimes it’s a childcare-in-the-city situation. Either way, it may be a time where grandparents get more day-to-day interaction with their grandkids who are not in school. With lots of activities and destinations to choose from, how does a grandparent decide what to do?
You may want to think about summer activities, which, while being fun and novel, will also support academic learning. Some of these will be obvious, but some might have benefits you have not thought of.
Take the dolls tea party, for example. Set the table for tea time with the dolls, stuffed animals and action figures—don’t forget about the beloved cars and trucks. Discuss patterns, distributing one napkin to each creature, anticipating the needs of others. Pouring out the “tea” and passing the cookies provides practice in turn-taking and polite pleases and thank yous.
If you want to go all out, how about baking the cookies? Choose a really simple recipe with few ingredients. But even a three-year-old can help to measure and pour and stir. Cooking is a great way to reinforce math concepts (measurements of volume and weights, setting timers, talking about temperatures).
Baking is also an opportunity for practicing fine motor skills, pouring, cutting (butter, with a table knife, for example—nothing sharp!), blending butter into flour. It gives kids a chance to experience and talk about textures (powdery flour, greasy butter) which they don’t feel every day, as well as smells: cinnamon, lemon peel, cloves. Not to mention the way soft dough become crisp cookie—it’s not magic, it’s chemistry!
Building with blocks provides lots of opportunities to practice fine motor coordination and engineering skills. Of course it all starts with you building a tower and your grandchild knocking it down. A great exercise in turn taking! A little later, set up a small construction and challenge your grandchild to copy it. Then ask them to set you a challenge. Create enclosures for toys animals and dinosaurs. Make a house for the dolls. Lots of opportunities for telling stories.
With older kids (4 and up) grandparents can teach them card games. Start with sorting the cards into red and black, or suits, or numbers versus face cards. Progress to Memory where all the cards are laid out face down and each player turns over two at a time. The goal is to remember where the cards are and find matching pairs. Games like War and PishePasha great starting games that don’t require small kiddy-hands to hold fanned-out cards (that’s a difficult fine motor skill!). By the time kids are 6 or 7, they can learn Crazy Eights or Gin Rummy. And I know eight-year-olds who play Bridge!
Summer means outdoors, and outdoor play is a great time to develop gross motor skills, like running, kicking and throwing.
These skills take a long time to develop and kids need a lot of practice! Take the opportunity to discuss things we CAN kick and throw (balls in the field, stones into the water) and those we must not. There are lots of games you can create around throwing stones into the ocean or a lake: who can throw it farther (of course), who can hit that log, who can do the silliest throw, who can throw over their shoulder. But just meditatively tossing stones in the water can make space for conversation and connection.
Time outdoors also promotes healthy eye development. Studies have shown that spending a couple of hours a day outdoors reduces the incidence of myopia (short-sightedness). It seems that the bright light of the outdoors, and the opportunity to focus on the far-away things give the eyes the stimulation they need.
On Vancouver Island we are so lucky to have relatively easy access to the shore and the ocean.
There are so many opportunities there for wildlife observation, exploring tide pools, building sand castles, collecting pebbles or driftwood. But remember that just being outdoors, with unstructured time is hugely beneficial for children—and everyone else. The fresh air, the sunshine (remember sunscreen, hats, and the hydrantion), and the freedom is what summer is all about!