Summer Activities for Preschoolers

by Lynn Hess, Director

Summer should be a break in the routine…a time to relax a little and enjoy family life in a way that isn’t possible during the school year. We are so blessed in Wake County to have many resources close at hand. Mid Summer seems to be a time when we’re ready for new activities to experience with our children. Listed below (not in any particular order) are a collection of ideas to explore, learn and enjoy with your child.

Create, create, create…

  • Make play dough (see website or SOG cookbook)
  • Make goop: cornstarch and water. When it sits still the mixture becomes a solid, when you try to hold it, it changes to a liquid. This little bit of science can captivate a child (and most adults) for quite some time! For more interest…add food coloring.
  • Color rice with rubbing alcohol and food coloring in a Ziploc bag. Let it dry on wax paper, then pour into a bucket or dishpan for lots of fun: pouring, scooping, hiding small toys, uncovering….
  • Paint large boxes and add blankets for a cozy corner. Make this your child’s special space…ask permission to enter!


  • Roll up newspapers for towers, use cereal boxes for skyscrapers, margarine tubs for swimming pools…tape or glue recyclables together to create a city, village, space scene.
  • Help your child make posters of “throw away” items and “recycle” items, then he/she can be the recycle scout! Let your child help carry (or push) recyclables to the curb each week. Make a family challenge to measure the amount of recycling each week and try to increase. You can expand this into a simple chart to check your progress (math, science, environment…)
  • Make a recycle collage.
  • Use newspapers to build a fort.


  • Use coffee cans, large tubs, wipes containers to make drums of varying sizes and shapes. Cover with paper and paint or color.
  • Use boxes and string or rubber bands to make a guitar. My oldest son’s favorite toy when he was a preschooler was a guitar made from boxes that I covered with white contact paper. We added an old belt for a strap and he used crayons for the features. When his friends came to play, the first toy they looked for was the guitar. We didn’t even add strings of any kind. They just enjoyed pretending to play while listening to music!
  • Decorate paper towel tubes for a clarinet, saxophone, or turn it sideways and make it a flute.
  • Use film canisters or plastic eggs. Fill with uncooked rice or beans, glue shut and you have shakers!
  • Another one of our music favorites were our maracas made from bias tape (a strip of cloth) with a button sewn at each end. I made a loop of fabric under each button for the fingers. These make very pleasant (not too loud) tappers!
  • When you’re tired of hearing the same children’s music over and over, try some classical or new age music. Because this music has rhythms that are less predictable, both sides of the brain have to work together to listen…boost that brain power! Add the instruments you’ve made and everyone is in for a treat!
  • By the way…laundry baskets are great for holding all of these music makers…and when the boxes sag and eggs crack…there aren’t any guilty feelings about throwing away expensive toys!


  • Start a garden, whether a raised bed, small hole in the ground, or in an old cracked kiddie pool. Children learn to care for their environment when they have the opportunity to see first hand how things grow. Let your child plant seeds and/or small plants. The sunflowers, pictured, were grown from seed by the Tadpole class in May.
  • Try some herbs like basil, oregano, mint and rosemary. Rosemary lasts all year long. Children love to feel the leaves, then smell their fingers. Of course, the herbs can then be used to season your food or add a pleasant aroma to your home!
  • Hearty flowers like zinnias and impatiens can add a boost to your child’s gardening interests. These grow quite easily from seeds.
  • Tomatoes of several varieties are highly recommended! Once a child tastes a sun-warmed tomato, fresh off the vine…they are hard to resist. Our favorites are grape tomatoes that you can just pop in your mouth!
  • Everyday: let your child check the soil and water, if needed. Make a chart of the growth or measure and draw pictures.
  • Take pictures and make a book or photo album. Let your child dictate his/her version of the plant’s growth.
  • Compost. You can get fancy bins, make your own, or just start a pile! This is an incredible science activity! The heat from the compost is quite impressive, along with the study of worms and how they help us!

Read, Read, Read…

  • Before: Look at the cover and ask what your child thinks the story is about. Look at the pictures and “guess” the story.
  • Read the story, then ask your child to retell the story. Ask what happened in the beginning, middle and end.
  • Cut out signs and symbols from magazines and newspapers. Make a game of guessing what each symbol is (STOP sign, restaurants, stores…). This is a fun pre-reading activity!

Write… (building comprehension and a desire to read are more important at this age than alphabet flashcards)

  • Have your child dictate a story to you; let him/her draw the pictures. We have created many stories while waiting in doctor’s offices. My children would tell me what to write, then I would read it back to them.
  • Create a storybook about your family, your vacation, a day at a park…add photographs or let your child draw pictures.
  • Use snail mail! Write letters (child dictated) to a friend or relative whom you know will write back quickly; let the child decorate the paper.
  • Record your child on either audio or video tape as he/she is telling a story. If you use a child’s tape recorder, he/she can play it back independently over and over again! Record yourself reading a story or telling a fun story about your child, so that your child can listen, even when you might be busy or not at home.
  • Keep plain paper and markers/crayons/pencils available all the time!

Water, Water, Water

  • Enjoy the sprinkler or wading pool everyday! Let your child run around in the backyard naked (a great way to learn about toileting!). Add different toys for variety.
  • Experiment with things that float and sink. Try to predict what will happen.
  • Draw with chalk on the driveway, then spray it with water to see what happens.
  • Paint the house with a thick painter’s brush and water.
  • Rainy day? Enjoy the bathtub (Mom or Dad might want to bring a book…the fun could take hours!)
  • Remember: a child can drown in only an inch of water, so don’t take any chances….supervise well!

Field Trips

  • Museums: Art, Science, History, Life and Science in Durham
  • Zoo
  • Parks: vary each trip with small kites, tricycles, picnics, a stop at the playground. Let your child plan the snack/lunch and help pack it up.
  • Always take a camera.
  • Bring a notepad to write down questions your child had or items of interest that you can explore in more depth at home.
  • One of the best gifts I ever received was a child seat for the back of my bike. Our family was then able to cycle all over the greenway, on vacation at camp grounds, in neighborhoods where we were visiting relatives.

Rainy Day Play

  • Set up a card table (buy one at a yard sale if you don’t have one…these are indispensable). Pull out the sheets or old tablecloths and drape them over the top…let your child create a castle, obstacle course, secret hideout…the possibilities are endless.
  • If you want to purchase something for lots of fun, get one of those tunnels that pop open. They are simple for storage and can be a fun entrance to any imaginary hide away!
  • Yes, let your child pull the cushions off the couch and build towers…my teenage and adult children still talk about the forts they would build with cushions! The best part… is easy!


  • This can get messy, but is invaluable! There are many children’s cookbooks. Measuring, pouring, reading…you can pack simple science, math and language arts into one activity!
  • Let your child create his own recipes! Cut up fruit together and combine adding yogurt or another favorite “binder”. The important part is to let your child choose what goes into the bowl! Try cooking up different types of pasta and mix them together with a favorite sauce. Make some dip and use the thick, pumpkin carving knives to let your child help cut up vegetables.


  • You can never have enough balls…throw them in laundry baskets or a kid size goal outside. Try the super sized clear plastic pretzel containers for smaller balls. Set up milk cartons and try to knock them over while “bowling”.
  • Board games: Some of the old classics are the best (Tiddlywinks, Hi Ho Cherry O, Checkers, Memory), but Cranium has some wonderful games that tap into many types of learning and expression. Don’t always let your child win…if they can’t lose at home, it will be hard to lose when playing with friends.
  • Make your own board game with cards that read, “Jump up and down five times”, “Run around the room”, “Give everyone a hug”, “Show your happiest face”….

Whew…Mom and Dad are Tired…

  • Pull out pipe cleaners. Make them into shapes, pretend to go fishing for Cheerios, create a large sculpture. When my children were very young, I would bend the ends over so they weren’t quite so sharp.
  • Pull out a tent, real or children’s and have an afternoon sleep-in. Add some sleeping bags and books, lay around reading all afternoon!