Summertime, and the parenting is easy?
September 6, 2011 3:06 PM   Subscribe

Please give me ideas for projects and time wasting fun to keep the three year old and myself entertained out of doors at home this summer.

First off, I'm in the Southern Hemisphere, to save confusion!
Spring is upon us, and I've awoken from my new baby haze to realise that this winter, while I was pregnant and had a newborn, First Born has been allowed to spend far too much time Indoors, Watching Television, and has become Pale, Puling and Pestilent. Out with you! Shoo! Go discover the glories of nature while Mummy makes interesting mosaics from destroyed Wiggles DVDs.

Sadly, things are not so simple - there is only so much 'alone' play a three year old boy will do. He wants my Attention, he wants to Do Stuff Together - and why not? I too have become PPP, and can use the sunshine.

We have afternoon Kindergarten, and visits to and from other children, but we still have a huge amount of time on our hands, so I am looking for ideas for things we can do at home that won't be too boring for me! I want us to be able to look back and say "that was the summer we ...."

Our main resource is a large garden that can be Destroyed if necessary (all but the asparagus bed, darling, PLEASE!). I'm up for shortish excursions with the pram, but would prefer to stay at home as much as possible.

I have vague ideas concerning vegetable gardening and water play, but please don't refrain from making Blindingly Obvious suggestions, because it is likely I am overlooking them.
posted by Catch to Human Relations (16 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Could you make a sandbox for him? Then he could build sandcastles in your back yard while you garden.

Colored chalk drawing on the asphalt?
posted by egeanin at 3:14 PM on September 6, 2011 [2 favorites]

Water is basically an endlessly entertaining tool for play, though the form of the water will change as the child ages. At 3, I would lay out a paddle pool and let him (and you) get soaked, often and completely. I would also bring out interesting objects to pour with, and objects with which you can play the guessing game Float or Sink?

Coloured chalk, yes! Also a large white plastic sheet and tempra paint for painting right on the sheet itself, and for painting with your feet on the plastic sheet when that gets dull. Sprinklers. Hula hoops. Bucket skee ball. Lawn bowling.
posted by DarlingBri at 3:24 PM on September 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

Poke some holes in the lid of a jar and look for/catch insects for closer examination. Look around for other signs of animals - eggs, tracks, droppings, what have you. Collect rocks, wash or paint them if you want. Collect sticks, make words and pictures with them on the ground. Make a wind chime or mobile out of random things collected in nature. Fly a kite. Trace your shadows with chalk. Blow soap bubbles (endless fun; you don't need more than dish soap and household items for this). Beyond the usual "play in the kiddie pool": get some dish pans of soapy and clean water and have a toy car wash.
posted by Knicke at 3:27 PM on September 6, 2011

I'd suggest making things together. A sandbox sounds wonderful, or a bird feeder/bird house, or a set of wind chimes, or...

Obviously at 3 you'll be doing most of the work, but I bet he'd be happy to "help", and you just might give him a real love for hands-on projects.
posted by vorfeed at 3:29 PM on September 6, 2011

If you or your neighbors have cats, you do NOT want a sandbox.

Oscillating impact sprinklers are fascinating to little kids.
posted by Mr. Yuck at 3:29 PM on September 6, 2011

Best answer: A few more: Try drawing a map of your house/yard or neighborhood together. Make an obstacle course out of anything handy, including things to crawl through/under/over. Get a plastic magnifying glass or binoculars, look at stuff with them.
posted by Knicke at 3:31 PM on September 6, 2011

Response by poster: I love the idea of an obstacle course - what I am really looking for is sort-of-ambitious projects that will span a few days or even a couple of weeks - building, growing, etc, something to return to time and again.

(We have a sandbox, and we also have cats. Highly sociable cats who go and fetch the neighbour's cat from across the road and bring them back to play in our garden).
posted by Catch at 3:41 PM on September 6, 2011

Best answer: Make tents out of a bedsheet/blanket/towel and chairs or a folding table. Clothespins are really useful when you're doing this. Have lunch in the tent!

Play kitchen and "cook" with mud, pebbles, flowers, etc.

Roll a hoop or ball back and forth between the two of you.

3 might be too young to catch on to this, but hide an object and have him try to find it while you say "hot" or "cold," according to how close he is to his target.

Plant some hard-to-kill seeds and water them every day. This is extra exciting if you plant edibles.

Mosaic stepping stones, along the lines of this would be an easy and long-lasting memento of this summer. (I realize you don't have Joann Fabric stores in Australia, but you get the idea.)

One of the most fun projects I ever did as a child was to build an entire city of mud for some (nonexistent) mice who were going to find our city and promptly move in once they'd realized their luck. I will caution you that my mother liked this project much less than I did, seeing as how I had to be hosed off in the yard before even approaching the back steps. It doesn't have to be mice, of course--rabbits, gnomes, and fairies are undoubtedly also on the prowl for a nice pre-fab city to live in.
posted by corey flood at 3:47 PM on September 6, 2011

While not every 3 year old might not have the attention span for it I'd suggest some sort of veggie garden. Even if its only a few fast/easy growing things in pots. My niece used to love "helping" pick strawberries for her grand dad and watering all the plants.

Going for walks together is amazing when kids are that age, stopping to look at the pretty flowers in someones yard. Looking at the galahs in the trees or the ducks on the pond at the local park. Finding faces in the patterns on trees. It's a habit I'd gotten into with my niece of going for a walk when she was over. We talk about the most anything that comes to our minds and now she is going on 11ish we have a great connection and can still talk about anything which I am hoping like heck we can keep going as she hits puberty.
posted by wwax at 3:48 PM on September 6, 2011

Seconding walks.

Go for a short-long-slow walk without a stroller. Short in distance, long in time, slow in speed. Your toddler sets the pace. Expect to stop every five or six steps to examine an interesting leaf, a dead spider, a puddle that must be jumped in or over, a bird alighting on a fence post, a squirrel scampering up a tree, a flower that you thought was just a weed, a parked car with rust spots, etc, etc, etc. If you allow yourself to slow down to their speed and see things from their viewpoint, it can open up your mind and spirit in a zen-like way. Three years old is just about the right age for this. Savor it. Embrace the aimlessness. The window for enjoying these kinds of walks with your child is smaller than you can possibly imagine. (sigh...)
posted by marsha56 at 4:42 PM on September 6, 2011

Best answer: 1. Birdseed is not just for bird-feeders! My mother-in-law, who got her bachelor's in Child Development when I was pregnant with my first baby, filled large pans with it providing mesmerizing opportunities to pour, sift, scatter and fill, for my daughter (said first) when she was three. Bird seed is cleaner than play sand, and can be recycled, of course, as--bird seed! Try the old cover the pine cone with peanut butter, roll in bird seed, hang from tree, bush, pole and watch birds (and squirrels) enjoy.

Birdseed also works with glue as a collage material. Spell your child's name in liquid glue and have your child sprinkle the seeds all over, then shake off the excess--voila!--This is also doable with various beans (bigger ones must be hand lain on the glue--great for small-motor/hand-eye/concentration and fun to boot), or glitter. You get the picture.

2. Clay. If you can buy some real clay that takes firing, and find someone or a business with a kiln that will fire it for you (assuming you don't happen to have your own), this is a great long-term project. You can just fool around, or you can brainstorm fun things to make (for your intriguingly "destructible" yard, such as a bird bath, or even a bird feeder, or maybe a fountain--you can get a cheap hose attachment that will fit inside almost anything your little one can dream up, so long as it's big enough, draw sketches of what you're going to make and then get messy and make it/them! If you buy a standard bag of clay, you'll have enough to invite a friend/friend's parent to go along with you.

3. Make a Reading Journal. Take a plain composition book and enter and date the books you read aloud together, providing space for your child's comments/illustrations/impressions. (Okay, I admit, this is more of a memento creation project for you than for your child in the long run, but
h/she will find it interesting and ongoing, provided you suggest it as take it or leave it, not an assignment. Well, that goes for just about everything with three-year-olds, doesn't it?

4. Make or buy postcards and send them to friends/relatives who will write back! (Some may need a little heads up.) For all we know (esp. here in the U.S.) so-called "snail-mail" may soon be a thing of the past, but for now it remains. It is fun to get mail, especially the kind you can hold, no?

5. Make enough jello and fill up a kiddie pool. (Helps to have friends for this one.) Disclaimer:
I have never done this, but one of my best friends from my children's early childhood days sent her daughter part-time to an in-home day-care provider in her town who was famous for this one.
As for "wasting food," jello is dirt cheap and I wouldn't want to eat it anyway, but I mean no offense. My friend's daughter graduated from college two years ago with a math/theater degree and seems no worse for the jello.

6. Make a "Mystery Box." Take an ordinary shoebox, cut a child-hand-sized hole in one end, cover and decorate and place ordinary objects within to be felt and guessed. For example: a button, a feather, a spoon, a pencil, a cork, a block, a lego, etc. Believe me, you can get really creative with this one. (I actually find that even fifth graders are beside themselves with anticipation for their turn, but I do give them for challenging and anachronistic things like a
clothespin, a wristwatch, a yo-yo, a skeleton key.) You could do one every day at a set time, and you could see how well visitors fare in identifying common objects by touch alone.

I could go on, but I'll leave you with that! Enjoy yourselves! Before you know it, they're . . . almost all grown up!
posted by emhutchinson at 5:31 PM on September 6, 2011 [2 favorites]

Best answer: We gave our son a raised bed in the garden -- like a sandbox, but with dirt instead. Not only easier to grow vegetables that way but helps him know that's HIS part of the garden to destroy as he sees fit. We planted some colorful little plants (all dead now) and POTATOES. Which are like a treasure hunt if you can keep him from digging them up long enough for them to flower. He digs in there just about every day, sometimes hunting for potatoes, sometimes just digging dirt.

Also a bucket of water and a paintbrush and he can go "paint" the sidewalk, the driveway, the bricks, the patio stones -- whatever. And he can do it as long as he wants, and then start over. For some toddlers, this is ENDLESSLY entertaining. And it's cheap and wet-messy rather than staining-messy.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:01 PM on September 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

Prefer to stay home...hmm. I was going to suggest you just pack up in the morning and drive to a beach with a cooler of food and a bag of inflatables, buckets, spades, etc, and an umbrella for the baby; I just finished summer-with-3yo and that was all-day excitement, the beach, any beach. Lots of grumbling now that the beach season is over. Low-hassle if you go regularly as the supplies are always partially packed.

You do want a sandbox; you just want the kind that comes with a lid... A partitioned-off area of Your Own Dirt is great too.

We get some mileage out of sidewalk chalk but "chalk paint" (ours was a Crayola product) is really thrilling for some reason. Better coverage, I guess? Easy to paint pretty large spaces...
posted by kmennie at 6:42 PM on September 6, 2011

file this away for when kiddo is a bit older, but I loved tent sleep-overs with my dad (and was horribly disappointed when my younger sibling didn't want to sleep in the tent) when I was about 6.

You know that playschool song "Let's go walking" ? We did that, would go out into the garden and walk up and down. I must have been about 2, and I remember it.

Also, I love all the mentions of squirrels and sprinklers- depends on where you are in Australia for allowed to use sprinklers and see squirrels!

When painting feet and making prints, paint bub's feet also, and compare sizes with yours and kiddo's feet. And Daddy's feet! :)
posted by titanium_geek at 7:04 PM on September 6, 2011

and oh the irony.You're not in Australia, but in NZ. sorry about making assumptions!
posted by titanium_geek at 7:07 PM on September 6, 2011

We would get an empty container and make a house for bugs with plants, rocks, water. My daughter adopted a lot of snails, sow bugs, etc. She would try to figure out what they liked to eat and if they wanted to be set free. We've also done it with lizards though we don't keep them.

Also, there's a fun color matching activity where you paint the inside of an egg carton with different colors. Then you go on a nature hunt looking for red things for the red egg carton compartment, green with green, etc. Here is an example.

The kids at the school I taught at liked to pretend to paint a wall. Basically, we filled up some buckets and they had paint rollers and brushes to water paint the wall outside and watch it "change color" (even though it was just getting a bit darker).

You could also put out a giant piece of cardboard against a wall and paint it or get a refrigerator box and paint it, make it a spaceship or a boat or a clubhouse with windows.

The kids also liked to do laundry where they set out some clothes, buckets, soapy water and then hang the clothes to dry on a clothing line with clothespins.

Also, if you do make a sandbox a really simple popular "toy" at the school was a section of PVC pipe. The kids take the watering can and make water flow through the pipe as a waterfall.
posted by hellochula at 7:09 PM on September 6, 2011

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