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As you might have gathered, I often get inspired by ideas (and people) that I come across online. One place which is great for finding some summer activity inspiration right now is the instagram hashtag #julyideasandinspo which has been created and cared for by the lovely Gina of @andbreathe_challenges. It’s all about child friendly summer activities which are free or low-cost, as explained in her initial post HERE (link opens in new window). There have been loads of ideas added throughout the month, so the hashtag is now like a bank of activities, available whenever you need a dose of inspiration.
This got me thinking that I should gather a few of the things we do together into a blog post or two, so that I can have my own little bank of ideas here too. I’m starting with this post focusing on sunny day activities, and intend to follow up with another one about less weather dependent ideas in a week or so. All ideas are either free or cheap, and as we’re very much about the sensory aspects in life, that shines through here too. Also, all these activities are ones that have worked well for our boy who is autistic, non-verbal and developmentally delayed. So I’m hoping you’ll find that these ideas are suitable and enjoyable for a wide range of ages and abilities!
We made the faces pictured here on the beach, but they can be done anywhere really, as long as you can find a few nature objects get creative with, such as stones, shells, sticks, grasses, leaves, flowers, acorns, pine cones, seaweed, etc.
Penguin isn’t really one to ‘get creative’ himself, so when we do this kind of thing, I’ll start it off and then leave some obvious parts out (like nose or mouth, for example), which he’ll then complete. And then I might suggest changes or additions for him to make (or not), or I’ll change something and he might accept it or change it back. Either way it provides som fun multisensory interaction, as well as an opportunity to discuss facial features and expressions, emotions etc. These are things which some autistic people find tricky to interpret, though it seems like Penguin isn’t too bad at matching facial expressions to their correlating emotions.
I guess this is a pretty obvious choice, but it’s too good to leave out! Penguin has always enjoyed playing with water in various ways, and using the garden hose is still a firm favourite. Most of the time he just loves watching the water, spraying it in random directions (while I duck and dive to avoid getting completely soaked – or just give in and enjoy it). At other times we use it as part of an outdoor art project, or fill up a bucket and play ‘sink or float’, learning a bit of simple science as we go. You could add some soap as well and make it a toy washing station, to get something useful done while enjoying the water and bubbles.
While on the theme of water, another thing which is especially lovely in hot weather is playing with ice. You can reuse old ice cream tubs and other plastic containers to freeze water in, and add food colouring, flowers, plastic toy animals etc to create variation. There is definitely some multisensory learning to be had too, as in this activity that I wrote about last year: Frozen Flowers: An Early Learning STEAM & Sensory Activity
FREE ENGLISH HERITAGE SITES
Englis Heritage looks after hundreds of historical sites across the country, including castles, abbeys, prehistoric sites, gardens, forts and more. And while a family membership can be great value for your money if you have a keen interest in history and live somewhere with several sites of interest, you don’t actually have to pay anything at all to visit some of the English Heritage sites (other than potential travelling costs)!
Two such places which we’ve visited this year are Bayham Old Abbey and Reculver Towers & Roman Fort, which are both beautiful places to spend some time on a sunny day and soak up some historical knowlegde along with the sunshine.
You can easily search for places to visit near you on the English Heritage website, and when you click through to each place it will clearly tell you if it’s free to visit, and if it’s open all day, all year round, or at more limited times. There’s also a filter for ‘Free to enter’, but unfortunately I’ve noticed that it seems to have some flaws. For example, Bayham Old Abbey doesn’t show up if that filter is selected, even though it definitely is free to enter (and even has free parking).
EXPLORING PUBLIC FOOTPATHS, LOCAL FORESTS & NATURE RESERVES
Getting outdoors and exploring places in our region by foot is something which we’ve enjoyed more often over the last year than before. Having lived in Sweden for many years, it has taken us some time to figure out how to find places to roam more or less freely around the countryside. Two sources which we’ve found useful in this are the Woodland Trust website and the Ordnance Survey maps. Another great site is the Wildlife Trusts where you can find your nearest nature reserves, or search for places based on what kind of wildlife or nature experience you’re interested in.
Here are a few snaps of places we’ve enjoyed lately, via public footpaths:
Sometimes it can be a good idea to set some kind of goal or task when going out for a walk. Perhaps collect items which could later be used to make a collage or craft of some kind (or nature faces!), or look for things of a certain colour or shape. Or you could make spotter sheets to make the walk into a nature hunt!
These could be made by drawing (like our one pictured here, which I laminated before we went to the beach with it or it wouldn’t have lasted two minutes), or you can use pictures you find online or in magazines etc, or photos from previous walks. You could focus on a specific theme/subject for them (insects, flowers, seaside, season, etc.) or go for a more random mix of things. I think they work best if you can be fairly sure to find most if not all of the items, to avoid disappointment.
Have you ever used water beads? They are biodegradable little balls which swell up when soaked in water, and they come in a range of different colours, usually more or less see-through. They feel great to run your hands through and they glitter like little gems in the sunlight. They’re not for free but very good value, as you get a huge amount for about £10 (click HERE to purchase from Amazon, opens in new window). Water beads are non-toxic (though make sure it says so on them when you buy, I’m not 100% sure that all brands always are) and they don’t have any significant smell at all. They’re lovely for sensory play as they are, or you could hide objects in them to search for, or add cups and bowls for pouring, sorting etc.
Make sure to soak your water beads well in advance for playing with them (they take a good few hours to swell up) and never leave unsoaked beads anywhere where kids can get to them, as they would be dangerous if still swelling up after being swallowed.
GETTING ARTY IN THE GARDEN
One great advantage of the outdoors, as I see it, is that messy activities aren’t as scary there as they can be indoors, where you need to worry about potential stains etc. So another thing which I think good weather days are great for, is doing art projects in the garden. You can get some ideas from the pictures below, or take a look at some of our previous posts for more inspiration:
- Colour Theory Fun: Painting Branches in Primary & Secondary Colours
- Oral Motor Fun: Making Bubble Prints
- Painting Wet-On-Wet: A Mindful Sensory Art Experience
EASY PEASY PICNIC
I’ll admit straight away that I’m not actually a great picnic person, and nor is Penguin. He’s pretty selective about what he’ll eat (this is very common in autism, and is usually linked to sensory issues, but can also be anxiety-based, or a combination of both), and not many of his preferred foods are that great for picnics.
So no, we don’t really do ‘proper’ picnincs, but what we do like is to have easy peasy picnics in the garden. Basically, it’s just eating outdoors and on a blanket rather than at a table. We often do this on a Sunday, as we always make pizzas on Saturdays and always have leftovers from that for lunch the day after. On other days I might just cut up a selection of things which Penguin will usually eat, like peppers, apple slices, cheese, carrots and olives, and bring those outside on plates along with some bread and something to drink. Food tastes differently when sitting outside on a picnic blanket, and it makes eating into something more fun than the mundane necessity it otherwise often tends to be.
BRINGING THE INDOORS OUTDOORS
Similarly to having food outside, bringing things ususally used indoors outside can make them seem more exciting. So make a simple tent using chairs and a sheet, and put some cushions and books in there, maybe a few favourite toys too? Let the toy animals come out to graze on the lawn. Bring games out to play together on a blanket, perhaps with some fruit or other snacks handy. Maybe even have a games tournament, if there are a few of you?
I’m also happy to allow and iPad or similar outdoors (as long as there’s no paddling pool to close to it…). The benefits of fresh air and daylight are still valid even if you’re combining the greentime with screentime, as I see it. Choose your battles. And perhaps you could encourage using the tech for someting which involves interacting with the surroundings, like taking photos of bugs or plants, or even make a short film or stop motion animation?
What are your favourite low cost or no cost things to do on a sunny summer day? Please let us know in the comments, it’s always great to hear what other families get up to, to get some more ideas to draw inspiration from! x