Great Ideas for Making Music Outdoors

Music has the power to lift us- body, mind and spirit. This is especially true for young children. Making and moving to music promotes all areas of development:

  • physical– coordination, muscle tone, fine and gross motor skills develop as children play instruments or dance to music
  • cognitive– creating and listening to music includes problem solving, logical thinking, patterning, counting, cause and effect, scientific discoveries, imagination and creativity
  • language– vocabulary, phonemic awareness, and rhyming can all be developed through songs
  • social– cooperation, turn-taking, give and take and the creation of shared experiences are all a part of the music making process
  • emotional– self-expression, personal reflection and the exploration of moods and feelings

When we take music outdoors all of these wonderful qualities are enhanced. Outdoors children (and teachers) have a heightened sense of freedom. Outdoors we feel more comfortable to let go and explore. We can sing loud, we can play loud, we can get silly and experimental.

So consider creating a music corner in your outdoor space. Every-day items can make wonderful instruments.

  • Plastic flower pots or 5 gallon tubs make great drums
  • a variety of old spoons hanging on a coat hanger can be chimes
  • PVC pipes of various lengths can be tapped with an old flip-flop to create all kinds of cool sounds
  • Pea gravel makes a neat sound when poured over an old washboard
  • Put a little water into a metal bowl and tap it with a stick to hear more funky sounds

Let the Children Play is another blog full of all kids of photos and ideas for musical fun outdoors. Check it out! And if you want even more info on how to create fun and inexpensive musical experiences to your children check out our Music with Little Ones binder for Infants and Toddlers, or our Making Music binder for ages 3-8.

Summer Skills Series: Critical Thinking

The ability to think through problems, anticipate the results of your actions and reflect on what you have done are all critical thinking skills. While these don’t fit neatly into the categories of reading, writing and arithmetic, they are definitely important skills for success in school and in life.

The brains of toddlers and many preschoolers aren’t ready to organize their thoughts and move through this kind of high-order thinking. Cause and effect experiences are a great start for this age group. Some age-appropriate activities that often create cause/effect experiences for toddlers include:

  • playing with blocks
  • digging and playing with sand (especially at a beach near a body of water)
  • water play
  • exploring outdoors and interacting with nature

Preschoolers can also develop these skills through the activities mentioned above. Help them add more thinking to their play by creating challenges:

  • Can you build a block wall strong enough to stand up to a rolling tennis ball?
  • How do you make a sand castle?
  • Can you figure out a way to make a boat that will float from these recycled materials?
  • If we wanted to find bugs or other creatures in the yard, where should we look?

Encourage older preschoolers and young school-age children to use their past experiences and knowledge about the world to think through a problem or challenge step by step, or predict what will happen when you lay out the steps for an experiment. Help to encourage problem-solving and critical thinking skills following these simple steps:

  1. Go to your local library and check out books on science experiments or cookbooks for children.
  2. Invite your child to choose an experiment or recipe that looks interesting.
  3. Encourage your child to write down their prediction for what will happen during this experiment.
  4. Help your child follow the steps outlined for the experiment or recipe.
  5. Invite your child to draw a picture of the end result. Talk about it. Was the prediction correct? Why or why not? Encourage your child to verbalize the steps of the experiment.

Following a step-by-step format and encouraging your child to make predictions and then reflect on the process step-by-step is a great way to help children to slow down, think about what they are doing and learn to organize their thoughts. Doing this through science or cooking experiments makes it fun and exciting for your child.

For more great activity ideas, check out World of Wonder’s Terrific Topics for ages 3-6.

Tips for Successful Mixed-Age Groups

Whether spending time at home with siblings, in a family child care setting, or in an early childhood program where lower enrollment allows for mixed age groupings, summer often provides a unique opportunity for kids of different ages to play and spend time together.

This can be a great experience. Younger children watch and learn from older children. They are motivated to try new and challenging things as they imitate the activities they see. Older children have the opportunity to develop nurturing relationships and develop the positive self-esteem that comes with being a role model for others. Everyone benefits.

But along with these benefits come challenges. Differences in developmental stages and abilities can cause conflicts and misunderstandings. Scheduling issues can arise when infants or younger children need to be fed or nap while older children want attention. Taking the time to promote positive relationships among the children in your care will create an environment of cooperation that is well worth the effort.

Here are a few tips for promoting positive relationships between children of different ages:

  • Praise children for being helpful or kind to one another.
  • Be understanding of a child’s developmental stage.
  • Avoid punishing toddlers or older children for disturbing younger children. Instead make it a teachable moment. Explain the possible consequences of their actions and redirect the behavior.
  • Involve older children in the care of younger children.
  • Take pictures of children engaged in cooperative play, then talk about how wonderful the experience was as you look at the pictures later.
  • Give all children the opportunity to take on a chore or task to develop a sense of importance. Even toddlers can water a plant or put napkins on the table.

For great activity ideas complete with tips for modifying activities for different ages and abilities, check out World of Wonder’s Mini Kits. Exploring Water is especially great for summer fun!

Summer Skills Series: Early Reading and Writing

Unlike walking, talking or even problem-solving, reading and writing are not skills that develop naturally in children. Both the right-brain and the left-brain have to work together to decipher an image, connect it to a particular sound and then string several of these picture-sounds together to create a word. It’s complicated, and takes practice!

That is why every teacher will tell you, once your child has begun to blend sounds together to either read or write words, keep up with it all through the summer. Some kids love it! They’ll take every opportunity to sound out signs, read you simple books or write lists and labels for everything. Other kids need a little more encouragement. Here are some fun and simple ideas to squeeze a little reading and writing into summer:

Get organized! Encourage your child to make labels for toy bins, book shelves or anything else you’d like to organize. Don’t worry about correct spelling. The important thing is working matching the written letter to the sounds your child hears in each word.

  • Invite your child to help you write a grocery or other list. Again, correct spelling is not important.
  • When you’re out and about, ask your child to help you find things (stores, menu items, landmarks, etc.) by looking at and deciphering signs.
  • Encourage your child to keep a summer journal to remember fun events or keep track of backyard adventures. The journal can be mostly drawings. Ask your child to tell you about the drawing, then write a sentence or two of what he says. Encourage him to do some writing too, even if it’s just a word or two.
  • Incorporate signs into children’s make-believe play. Invite them to create a sign for their club house or lemonade stand. Have them write a menu for their restaurant, etc.
  • Ask your child to help you sound out a word or two as you read a story out loud.
  • Invite your anxious reader to read to a pet or younger sibling.
  • Create a weekly reading chart- across the bottom of a paper, label the date of the week, then every time your child reads a book that week, let them make a check mark or add a sticker to the chart. See which week has the tallest check mark tower!

Summer Skills Series: Fine Motor Development

Whether you are a parent looking for activities that will prepare your child for school in the fall, or a teacher looking to try something new and different, summer is a great time to practice emerging skills in fun, new ways. Throughout the month I will give tips and activity ideas that will help children develop some of the important skills necessary for the upcoming school year.

Fine motor skills describe those small muscle movements necessary for holding a pencil, writing, tying your shoe, etc. It is very common for preschoolers to have trouble with fine motor skills, and even toddlers can begin working on them. Here are some ideas:

For toddlers and young preschoolers:

  • Place a couple of small cups and a small pitcher of water on a tray for your child. Encourage her to pour the water into the cups. You’ll be amazed at how absorbed your child will be! Tip: Use a tray with sides to keep the water contained if doing this indoors. Provide a sponge cut in half to encourage your child to clean up the spilled water.
  • Place two shallow dishes on a tray. Fill one with water. Give your child a damp sponge cut in half and encourage him to move the water from one dish to the other by putting the sponge in the dish with water, then squeezing it out over the empty dish. Tip: Use a tray with sides to keep the water contained if doing this indoors.
  • Place a variety of rocks, golf balls, or other small objects in a plastic bucket. Give your child a pair of kitchen tongs. Challenge her to remove the objects from the bucket using the tongs.

For older preschoolers and kindergartners:

  • Give children a white ice cube tray, a cup of water and an eye dropper or pipette. Add water to three of the compartments of the tray and add a drop of red food coloring to one, blue to another and green to the third. Encourage your child to move the colored water and add new water by using only the eye dropper. Can he make new colors in other compartments? Can he make a color lighter or darker?
  • In a shallow dish, set out a variety of different seeds (sunflower, bean, etc.), beads or other very small objects. Give your child a pair of tweezers and encourage her to sort the seeds using only the tweezers.
  • Slow down and encourage your child to zip, lace, string and even attempt to tie things as at every opportunity. It will take longer, but zipping jackets, lacing shoes, threading string through grommets are all great practice and give your child a sense of importance and helpfulness.

Letter Days

My daughter’s preschool started a new concept for their summer program and it’s been a great hit with all the kids. They are celebrating the alphabet with “Letter Days”. The idea is a simple one:

  • Each day a new letter is celebrated
  • Children are encouraged to bring in an item for “sharing time” that begins with that letter. Today is “O” day and my daughter chose to bring in an orange bracelet. She is thrilled that orange starts with O and that it looks like the letter O.
  • Each day features a craft and snack that starts with that letter. For “H” day they had hummus (with pretzels) and made “hearts and hands” wrapping paper by stamping hand prints and heart shapes on a “huge” sheet of paper.
  • Each day they make a special “tribute” to the letter. The featured letter is written in the center of a half sheet of paper. Around it, the children do a leaf rubbing (they rubbed goldenrod leaves for “G”, a maple leaf for “m”), stamp images of something beginning with the letter and draw pictures.

The kids are loving it! Each day at drop-off children are showing me what they brought for sharing. Many are even choosing the clothes they wear to coordinate with the letter of the day, a shirt with a picture of an island for “I” day, a dress for “D” day. I overhear conversations children are having about things they encounter that begin with the letter of the day. At bed time my daughter wants to brainstorm ideas of words that begin with the next day’s letter. It has been a great way to reinforce alphabet concepts over the summer, but I’m sure it could be an equally successful school year project.

Ensure that Water Play is Safe Play

Summer, kids and water are a classic combination that can’t be beat! Kids find endless possibilities for entertainment and there’s no better way to stay cool. But did you know that according to a study by the National Safe Kids Council, 88% of all drowning victims under the age of 4 were under some sort of supervision?

A recent article in The Cradle gives some great safety tips for the bath, pool and beach that can help you to ensure that your water play experience is a safe one. Here are a few:

  • In many drowning instances, one parent thought the other was watching the child. Have the parent who is in charge wear a wrist band as a visual reminder that he or she is “on duty.”
  • Keep a cordless phone near the pool so you don’t have to leave the area to answer a call.
  • If you are having a pool party with a group of kids, establish a buddy system. Every 10 minutes yell, “Buddy Check!” and have each child find his buddy.
  • Avoid using flotation devices as this can give your child a false sense of security.
  • If your child has had swimming lessons, never assume this means he or she can’t drown!
  • Make sure that anyone who cares for your child is certified in infant and toddler CPR and First Aid.