15 Summer activities

The weather is (sometimes) scorching and the summer holidays are finally here. I have been fairly proactive this year in organising things to do over the summer: visiting family etc. but there will always be days at home and I really don’t want my little ones sat in from of the telly when the sun is out. I really like to keep things simple and try to keep all of my activities doable with a few basic items. So, to keep your little ones busy this summer, here are my top 10 Summer activities …

1. Water play.

This seems simple, because it is. You don’t need space, a washing up bowl will do, a few cups and spoons and children will happily entertain themselves for ages.

If they need a little more stimulation try finding things in the garden and experimenting with sinking and floating, or try and make a raft out of twigs and see how much it will hold.

 

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2. Go to the park

We are lucky to live a two minute walk from our local park and my five year old never seems to tire of going there. Although it can be a little stressful taking my one year old, it can be a great way to fill the odd half hour when they are feeling a bit bored and we have nothing else planned.

 

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3. Making ice lollies and or ice smoothies

This one needs a bit of preparation to make sure you have the ingredients and obviously needs time to set. Saying that if you make them first thing in the morning, they should be ready for an afternoon snack. We do this a lot as my children think it is a really special treat and is a great way to avoid all the sugar and additives that go in shop bought ice lollies and ice creams. You can make them anyway you want really, we tend to buy a healthy fruit juice and add some chopped up fruit. If you don’t have time to set them you can blend fruit with yogurt and ice for a delicious iced smoothie.

 

dinousaur4. Fairy/dinosaur garden

Children love doing things for themselves and if you can give them a little bit of garden to theselves they will love it. It doesn’t even have to be garden, it can be a container. You can grow some plants yourself (see here) and give them some stones, sticks etc to arrange to make a magical world for their toys.

 

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5. Picnic in the garden

In summer we tend to move outside and eat as many meals as we can, in the garden. This is extra fun when you can pick food that you have grown yourself. We have a lot of berries growing in the garden so it can be really fun for the children to pick their own pudding – there is nothing nicer, on a hot summers day, than fresh berries straight from the garden (maybe mixed with a little ice to make a cool drink!)

 

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6. Build a bug hotel/ wildlife area

Creating a bug hotel can be a big project, including used pallets, bricks and logs; or as you see here it can be made from a broken plant pot and a few sticks and stones, depending on how permanent you want your structure to be. My daughter often disappears into a world of her own when making bug homes, using grass for bedding, leaves for a roof etc.

 

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7. Making a den.

A few old sheets, some pegs and a few chairs is all you need for this one. On very hot days, den building is ideal as it makes shade that the children really want to stay in. They can have lunch in there and will be happy playing for a surprising amount of time.

 

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  1. Cook with home grown produce.

Many children prefer to bake sweet things such as cakes and biscuits, so if you grow any fruit this can be a great activity to do. Generally though, children will happily get involved in any simple tasks such as chopping and mixing. you can keep it simple with a salad, which can be 100% home grown or maybe try making a vegetable pie and get them to help harvest, prepare and cook the ingredients.

 

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9. Outdoor art

This can be as simple as having a bucket of chalk by the back door or you can string up some paper for them to do some painting in the garden (see here). Being outside means you don’t have to worry so much about mess as the rain can do the cleaning for you – just be careful to choose washable paint!

 

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10. Garden Lotto

This encourages that all important inquisitive nature that all children have. Send them off searching for various things in the garden (make sure they are not too difficult or tears will surely follow!) If you put different things on the sheets then the children can swap when they have finished and will be able to help each other search. We like to play so that children draw what they find, however this is optional.

 

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11. Bug hunt

Age old exploring fun! Check out our shop for all you need to search for, collect and observe any little critter you that might be hiding in your garden. This never seems to grow old with children and is a great exercise in gentleness and respect for other creatures. Read my article all about bug hunting here.

 

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12. Build an obstacle course

This really doesn’t have to be complicated and can be done using anything at all. It can be really fun to take a household item and see how it can be used in an imaginative way in the obstacle course, for example – balancing a banana on your head for 10 steps.

 

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13. Garden Spot it

This is similar to garden lotto, except the cards are already made (see here.) Children select 6 cards at random and the first to ‘Spot’ all 6 cards wins. When making the cards, you can use themes such as flowers, animals, colours to make it a bit more interesting.

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14. Nature hanging
We love making art out of natural resources and you may also be picking up on my affinity for garden searches! Making a nature hanging involves children finding things in the garden that they find particularly interesting, or beautiful (makes sure you tell them if you have a favourite flower you don’t want picking!) You can easily create a frame using sticks and hang your artwork in the garden for all to see! For more info see my previous article on nature hangings here.

 

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15. Days out
Popular tourist destinations run loads of great family days throughout the summer and there are lots of ways to go to them without spending too much money. Check online for discount vouchers and keep an eye on our facebook page for giveaways throughout the summer.

Bug hunting

Going on a bug hunt can be as simple or as complex as you want it to be. You can kit yourself out with the full works: pencil, paper, identification cards, bug jar and catching net (see here for a great little set); you can choose just a couple of tools such as a jar and magnifying glass like we did(see here); or you can just hunt for bugs without any tools. It can be fun to take a couple of things, like a jar to look at anything up close, and a magnifying glass can be good to so children can really see what they are looking at.

What ever you decide though, bug hunts are great fun and it can be really interesting to see what you will find.

In our garden we have a little wildlife area, as you can see below. All it consists of is some long grass underneath an apple tree with shrubs and flowers that have self seeded. I have put a little insect house there as well to provide some shelter for bees etc.

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Our wildlife area.

It can be really fun and very simple to make your own insect hotel, which can be done using completely free and recycled materials. Keep an eye out for our article on how to do this soon.

A few top spots to hunt for bugs are either in bright and colourful flowers, or dark, damp holes. The types of insect you will find in each of these places are very different, as you can see below.

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A hard working bee likes bright flowers.
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These woodlice were on the underneath of a brick laid on some soil.
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We found this snail hiding deep in between two branches of a tree stump.

We also happened to find this ants nest (in my greenhouse…) during the time when the ants are leaving the nest. This was a particularly interesting find as children don’t think of ants having wings so we spent quite a but of time discussing this.

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We had a great time searching for bugs in our garden, and we did collect some in the jar shown below. I was just so enthralled by watching them all in the mini habitat that we created for them that I completely forgot to take any photos!

Our Garden Mama bug jar and magnifying glass.

Strawberry Jam Recipe

Surely one of the best jams to eat but I’ve never made it before now. With the strawberries ripening nicely in the garden I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to try. It is so simple to make, the important thing is to make sure you heat it to the right temperature or it wont set. (note: if you increase the quantities, you will also need to increase cooking time)

The other great thing about this recipe is that, with home grown strawberries, the only cost is for a bag of sugar! If you save up your jam jars all year round they are free too. Just make sure you sterilise them properly before use,  especially if you are making lots of jam and want to store it.

Ingredients

250g of jam sugar

500g of strawberries (picked fresh from the garden!)

A couple of sterilised jars

TOP TIP: Use the largest pan possible.

Method

* Wash and remove stalks from the strawberries and cut in half

* Add strawberries and sugar to a pan, give them a little mash

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* Bring to the boil

* Simmer for 5 mins

* Remove any scum from the top and check to see if it has reached setting point (see below for more info)

* Leave to cool for 15 mins

* Fill and seal your sterilised jars

* Store in the fridge.

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Set test: Jam sets at 105c (220F) so it can be handy to have a jam thermometer to check if your jam has reached this point. If not, a good test is to put a blob of jam on a plate in the fridge. When it has cooled run your finger through the centre, if it leaves a clear line then you jam has set.

Now I’m off to buy some fresh bread and proper butter!

Ps: Here’s why you need to use a big pan…

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Make your own butterfly Garden

It’s that time of year when parts of the garden start fluttering, and butterflys can be seen dancing in the wind and lazing in the sun.  Whether you have a huge plot or a small terrace with just enough room for a few pots, with the right plants you can build your own butterfly haven.

What is a Butterfly Garden?

It is simply a sunny spot, filled with plants that specifically attract butterflies and are generally nectar-producing flowers. Butterflies are present in almost every region of the world, so with the right plants virtually any spot can become a haven for them.  Children will love spotting them fluttering about, and it can make a good game identifying the different types you see. If you are lucky enough to find one bathing in the sun, you can creep up, using one of our magnifying glasses and take a proper look. Be careful not to touch them though, butterfly wings are very delicate.

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So here are a few pointers:

It it good to have a variety of different plants that flower at different times of the year, ensuring a ready supply of nectar for your visitors.  In Spring good nectar providing plants are Cuckoo Flower (Ladies Smock), Forget-me-not, Wallflower, Sweet Rocket, Primrose and Daisies.  In Summer and Autumn, Budleia, French Marigold, Lavender, Ice Plant, Red Valerian, Michaelmas Daisy, Scabious, Knapweed and Ivy are all good. The seeds provided in our Butterfly Garden Grow Set offer a range of perfect flowers that are sure to attract butterflies into your garden.

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Grow set with everything you need to start your own butterfly garden.

Butterflies thrive in the sun and the plants that attract them are typically plants that require lots of sunlight. When choosing your location, look for an area where there will be plenty of sun throughout the day.

Try and pick a spot that offers good protection from the wind – Butterflies are delicate and like sunny areas with very little wind. By creating a sheltered garden you will attract more butterflies. You can do this by planting tall plants and shrubbery to act as a barrier around smaller nectar producing ones.  Choose plants that butterflies like to lay their eggs on too, they love cabbage plants but be careful as they will take over.  Perhaps if you are growing cabbages leave a few unnetted so the butterflies can lay eggs on those rather than your whole crop.

Most pesticides kill or repel butterflies so organic growing methods are a great choice for a butterfly garden. Choose an area where pest control isn’t necessary or where you can limit your use of chemicals.

Most importantly enjoy and protect the butterflies that visit! Encourage children to observe them in their natural habitat and talk about the vital part they have to play in our ecosystem. Butterflies are a beautiful part of the garden and one to be truly cherished.

Nature hanging

This is another brilliantly simple activity that encourages children to explore and engage with their natural surroundings. You can easily tailor it to suit their personality as well, so for example some children might like to search for spiky, scary looking plants, rocks or sticks where as others might want to have a hanging made from only the colour purple! It really is up to them.

 

You will need…

4 sticks

string and/or thread

scissors

Method…

My daughters brief was ‘to find anything you find interesting or beautiful’ and put it on a tray. Our collection consisted of a range of petals and leaves of different shapes, colours and textures.

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Tie the four sticks together to make a rectangular frame, and tie a large loop from one end to the other on one side, to hang your creation up with

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When you have assembled your selection of items, pick your favourites and attach them to the top stick with some string, or the thread for a more subtle look.

Hang your nature hanging in the garden, or indoors if you would rather, to make a lovely, natural piece of decorative art.

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Tip: Petals, flowers etc might not last long on the hanging, though some will last longer than others. They can be easily swapped for something else, providing a great opportunity to discuss the natural life cycle and changing of the seasons etc.

Outdoor painting

It is all too easy to over complicate things where children are involved, to feel we need to get them the newest gadgets and the shiniest toys. It just isnt necessary! If you are looking for something to keep your children entertained whilst you get on with a spot of gardening, this could be perfect for you. It is incredibly simple, but can provide hours of fun and can be adapted to create completely different activities.

 

You will need:

Paint brushes

Water

Food colouring (optional)

Paper (optional)

Pegs (optional)

String (optional)

Capture

There are a few different ways of proceeding with this. Either you can give children the plain water and paintbrushes and let them paint on the walls, fences etc.

Another option is to add some food colouring the water, though this isnt recommended if you mind stains! The food colouring will wash off walls etc over time in the rain, but may be visible for a while.

The third option, which is the one I chose, is to string up some paper, using the string and pegs, and let the children paint on that using the food colouring. Though I have to say, we did eventually get the ‘proper’ paints out for a very arty session!

Lavender Bags

Lavender makes a fantastic addition to any garden, asides from the beautiful, strong smelling flowers it produces, it is also brilliant for attracting wildlife such as bees and butterflys. When I moved house I was lucky enough to inherit some fantastic, if somewhat woody lavender bushes. I have had the same lavendar bouquet stood in a jar for over two years now so I thought it time to reuse and up-cycle.  I will be making more of these in Autumn with some fresh lavender.

You will need…

Lavender flowers

Needle and thread

Small amount of material

fill

Method…

  1. Take a rectangle of fabric and fold it in half. If it is patterned, fold it so the pattern is facing inwards.
  2. Sew up two open edges, ensuring the stitches are small and close together, so three sides are sealed. Turn the bag inside out, if there is a pattern this should now be on the outside.
  3. Crush the lavender up to release the scent and place inside the bag.
  4. I folded the top of the bag over and sewed in a line to create a space to thread a tie through, you dont have to do this though. Once the bag is filled, you can simply sew it shut along the top.

I sewed a hem along the top edge of my bag so I could thread it with lace and hang it up.

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Lavender Envelopes

This is a variation of the lavender bags shown in a previous post [see here]. Having made the bags, I still had lots of lavender left over so decided to make use of some jazzy wallpaper I received as a sample.  Again, this is a fantastically simple activity, and would be suitable for dong with small children to help them learn to sew.

You will need…

Paper

Lavender

Needle and thread

Method…

1. Make an paper envelope by folding a rectangle of paper in half and sewing up the the sides either by hand, or using a machine.

2. Carefully poke a pin through the envelope to make holes for the  lavender fragrance to come through.

envelope pin3. Fill the envelope with lavender and seal the remaining open edge, again either by hand or with a machine.

I have placed my lavender envelope on top of the radiator shelf so when the radiator is on, the delicate aroma of lavender fills the house.

envelope done

Coloured Sand

Sand is a fairly obviously option for entertaining the children in the garden.  They will happily play for hours, building sand castles etc. but they can get bored of it eventually so we decided to make our sand a bit more interesting by giving it a bit of colour. I have looked up various ways of doing this and have chosen the simplest method. It is likely you will have everything you need already so no shopping trip required, always a bonus!

 

You will need…

Sand

Kitchen grater

Coloured chalk

Method…

1. Using the small side of the grater (used to grate citrus peel) grate some coloured chalk into a bowl.

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2. Add sand.

It really is that easy! You can adjust the colour by adding more chalk or more sand, and ultimately, in our case at least, coloured glitter.

We decided to use our sand to make a natural picture with, as you can see. But you could just use it as regular play sand…

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