6 Lackadaisical Summer Activities


Maybe it’s the heat, sitting heavy over each day as if to add weight to the day (or here in Louisiana, we might say “it’s not the heat, it’s the humidity”). Certainly, the days are longer with not enough shade in sight. Whatever the reason, in my class, summer activities take on a languorous feel, no rush to get things done. Despite the summer heat, it’s refreshing to have the freedom to take our time. I’ve now taught at two year-round schools, and during the summer sessions, the days feel endless, as though we have all the time in the world. We have time for week-long projects, to wait for seeds to erupt from the dirt, to sit waiting and watching nature, and even to watch paint dry.

Here are 6 of my favorite lackadaisical summer activities.

“There must be provision for the child to have contact with nature, to understand and appreciate the order, the harmony and the beauty in nature… so that the child may better understand and participate in the marvelous things which civilization creates."

-Maria Montessori

1. Bird Watching

I’m always struck by the saturated colors of summer. The leaves are SO green, and the birds are majestic. My two favorite playground visitors are the red-winged blackbird and the indigo bunting. The orangey-red of the blackbird looks like it’s glowing against the pitch black of its body.  

I love to put bird watching on the shelf because it is open-ended. The extent of work on the shelf is an invitation: binoculars, a backyard bird’s book, journal paper, art supplies.

Sometimes a child accepts the invitation as a break from the stimulation of the classroom or challenging work. Nature is a great place to take a break and get grounded.  

Other times a child’s interest is piqued, and the invitation of bird watching becomes an all-day project. Extensions are limitless and easy to follow a child’s interest: journal papers to record birds and sketch them. Or modeling clay and paint to sculpt them.  

2. Gardening

Gardening is part of our curriculum year-round. But summertime is the time to harvest many of the children’s favorites (depending on where you live): tomatoes, cucumbers, and watermelon. 

Planting food is a great way to introduce a plant’s life cycle, from seed to plant to flowers to fruit. Children spend days tending the garden… identifying which are our beloved plants and which are weeds. We read books on photosynthesis. After the children marvel at the way plants “eat”. Once I overheard “these leaves are full of chlorophyll” as a child gleefully admired a growing tomato vine! 

One of a million reasons why I love Montessori is that we trust children with accurate vocabulary and real-life experiences.  

3. Fossils

In my current classroom, I have six future paleontologists. They dig EVERYWHERE to find fossils, dinosaur bones, and other worthy and interesting finds. 

To nurture their love of archeology, I fill our class library with books on fossils, dinosaurs, and prehistoric animals. On our science shelf, we have a nature observation tray with interesting specimens from nature. For a while, I’ll put away the preserved snakeskins and bees, bits of bark, and seashells and put out petrified wood and fossils in every shape and size. We have a set of matching cards where children can match the fossil to the living animal. And their FAVORITE work is a small basket with a magnifying glass. They sit in the pea gravel on our side yard and search for their own fossils. 

For days and days, sometimes the search yields no fossils, just “interesting rocks.” But we can hear the gasp and celebration from inside the classroom when our young explorer FINALLY finds the elusive fossil.  

4. Leaf Pressing

This summer activity bc it takes a long time, about a week, suiting the pace of summer perfectly. First, we go out to find the perfect fallen leaf. Personally, I look for the greenest leaf I can find. We use the botany cabinet to identify the leaf shape (this is a great opportunity to learn along with your child) and a book of common Louisiana trees to identify the type of leaf. Using a flower press, we press the leaves for about a week. 

I prefer using fresh summer leaves rather than waiting for autumn leaves because they are less likely to break. After the leaves are pressed, the children paste them onto paper and label the leaf shape and the type of leaf.

5. Writing Letters

When I was a child, I sporadically had a pen pal (usually a cousin). I remember the anticipation of receiving a reply, running to check the mail when it felt like it enough time had gone by for them to get their letter and write one back. I remember making jewelry out of paperclips and beads to enclose carefully in my folded loose-leaf letter. I remember getting frustrated when we were out of stamps, reminding my mom to PLEASE get stamps when she was out. 

Primary-aged children LOVE telling stories. They are generous little people, always finding bits of nature or shiny things to bestow upon me at playtime.  

Writing letters to loved ones is perfect for these generous storytellers.  

Children use the moveable alphabet to help get their ideas organized, then carefully copy their letters from rug to paper. Most times, they will choose to illustrate the letter as well. In my experience, they will often include a small gift, a pebble or a flower, or paperwork they’re especially proud of. 

6. Action Art

Each month on our art shelf, we highlight an artist, and the children practice a technique with that artist’s favorite medium. I would guess that every child remembers who Jackson Pollock is. In the summer, our side yard gets splattered with paint as the children get inspired by the work of “Action Jackson.”  

On our side yard, we set out a variety of paintbrushes and small pots of washable tempera paint. We lay a drop cloth far away from our garden and keep our supply of paper safe inside. There is enough space for one child to create for as long as they want.  

Through our classroom windows, we watch the children fling paint, twirling or dancing or jumping as they create art. Some children approach the paint timidly, not quite ready to make abstract art so unconventionally. Others embrace the work, moving their bodies and the paint with reckless abandon. When the painting looks complete or their bodies are tired, we let the paint dry under the sun and clean paint from ears, hair, and fingernails. 

Summertime is a time for getting outside. After a day of digging and gardening, and painting, all that’s left to do is take a good nap! 

If you have questions, comments, or if you’d like to suggest future topics, please leave a note in the comments section below.

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