Have you heard what 'They' have been saying? No? Well, 'They' have been saying that, some time in July, we might just be visited by something which is known as 'summer'. Su-mmer, sum-merrrr... the word rings a bell doesn't it? Oh, summer! Hoo-flippin-RAH!
As we all breathe a sigh of relief at the prospect of weeks of sunshine, during which the children can be causing havoc in the fresh air rather than emptying every drawer in the house, it's also nice to know that time spent outdoors is good for our kids in every respect.
It not only gets their legs and hearts pumping (and we've all read about the growing problems with inertia among children), it also has beneficial psychological and learning effects. According to one report; "Children under five generally improve their wellbeing, behaviour, physical development, knowledge and understanding of the world though learning outdoors."
And Tim Gill, who wrote Sowing the Seeds: Reconnecting London's Children with Nature, concluded: "Regular contact with nature is part of a balanced diet of childhood experiences."
Well, with the sunshine comes the perfect chance for us to conjure up some really creative outdoor play time.
It goes without saying that, in hot weather, children should be covered up and/or wearing a high protection sunscreen, they should drink lots of water and they must always be supervised.
If you're looking for some ideas, here are our super 7:
Welcome to my den
It's quite possible that the torrents of rain many of us have seen in the last several weeks have turned your outdoor space into some kind of jungle. If you have trees or bushes which need cutting back, save the bigger branches (as long as they aren't thorny of course) and help the children make an outdoor den in a corner of the garden. Put a blanket down and tell them they can invite their toys over for a tea party. That should keep them nicely entertained while you get on with the rest of the pruning.
Quick on the draw
If the patio needs a good scrub, let the children loose on it first with a big tub of coloured chalk. They might not believe their luck when you tell them they can draw whatever they like all over the floor (just make sure they know this is an garden-only game!). When they have finished creating, the chalk can be washed away with the rest of the debris left over from those rainy, muddy days.
This is a brilliant one for toddlers, especially those who've always itched to do a little DIY. It's as simple as anything – give them an old paintbrush and a big pot of water, and tell them that you need the fence painted quicksmart. Most wooden fences will satisfyingly change colour with each stroke of water and it'll keep them busy for hours. By the time they get to the end of the fence panel, the bit they started on will have dried out and need doing all over again. Bliss!
My miniature garden
This one will require a little financial investment, but it has long-term entertainment potential. Buy a large pot from a garden centre, as well as a few seedlings/small flowers, and perhaps even some miniature fir trees.
Now fill the pot with soil and help your children design their own miniature garden. They can sink a foil bun case into the earth to make a pond, perhaps borrow some gravel to make a path, and put the plants wherever they like.
When it's done, they can populate the garden with some small toys (for example, Sylvanian Families type characters) and dolls house furniture. They'll come back and play with it (or add to it) over and over again.
Print off (or draw if you are capable!) pictures of insects and creatures for your children to go and hunt for in the garden (this will work well in the park, too). For example, they might have to find, and tick off: an ant, a worm, a caterpillar, a butterfly, a squirrel, a ladybird and a spider.
They can always come back to it if they can't find them all at once. Give them a magnifying glass if you have one, so they can get a good look at all the bugs and beasties!
Messy mud pies
Yes, it will be messy. Yes, you will have to hose them down afterwards (or chuck a bucket over them if you're in hosepipe ban territory) but making mud pies is just about the most fun children can have in the garden.
So, find a spot (or perhaps a big pot), give them lots of water and stirring sticks and watch your children change colour.
Mine like adding blades of grass, dried leaves and sometimes my herbs (ahem) to make a very fragrant meal for our resident (yet invisible) 'tree giants'.
X marks the spot
This one will require an investment of your time, but the children will love it. Draw various objects from the garden, and hide the pictures as clues. Give your children the first one, then they will have to go from place to place, finding the next object to discover the next clue.
The more you draw and hide, the more time you'll have for weeding (or drinking Pimms)!
Make a large X, using two sticks, and yes, do bury the treasure. It might be something to eat, or something to do, but pop it into a sealed tupperware box and bury it as deep as you can for them to dig right back up again with their spades.
Pirate outfits are not essential, but might add to the fun!
What do your children love to do outdoors? Share your top tips for affordable summer fun here.
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