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Try these fun summer activities with young children!

As we move into the hazy days of summer, guide children's play in ways that will help them develop skills that will serve as launching pads for learning once summer's through.

Use language purposefully to draw children’s attention to counting

Children can, during their first few years of life, engage in play related to counting that increases their mathematical understanding. Parents and caregivers can mathematize elements of play and use language purposefully to draw children’s attention to counting and numbers in their daily interactions and activities.

Children who have exposure to early counting experiences do better in mathematics when they start school.

The authors of Let’s Talk About Math: The LittleCounters® Approach to Building Early Math Skills encourage you to make counting part of children’s everyday activities—be it on a nature trail; in corn mazes; at the beach, putt-putt course, or skating rink! Here’s a simple example:

Catching tadpoles (… or frogs … or fireflies)

Danny and his 2-year-old son, Harley, love to visit Laurel Creek. When the creek is running fairly slowly on a sunny day, it is easy to stand at the banks and catch tadpoles. Danny bends down and scoops up some water in his cupped hands. Harley is delighted to see two tadpoles swimming in his dad’s hands. He squeals with delight! Danny says, “Two tadpoles! Let’s catch some more.” He scoops up some water, and in his palm are several small tadpoles. Harley yells, “Two tadpoles!” Danny says, “It looks like there are more than two tadpoles! Let’s try to count them.” Harley begins to count, skipping a couple of numbers but getting to six before reaching in to try to scoop some tadpoles from his dad’s hands.


Children have been found to count more accurately when counting is accompanied by either their own or another person’s gestures such as pointing or touching.

The most frequent types of gestures by parents playing with their toddlers are

• grouping objects in a set

• counting objects while enumerating

• tapping/touching

• holding up an item

• pointing at an item

Try one more activity

Encourage science-based learning with simple experiments

Following the principles introduced in the Preschool Pathways to Science (PrePS) program, you can develop children’s observational skills for purposes of obtaining information in a reliable way—through their own observations and explorations of the world and also through discussions and by engaging in simple experiments.

Science learning opportunities should be strengthened in early education.

Some rainy day, try this Blubber Glove Experiment. Talk about how people and animals stay warm in the winter. Then introduce the concept of blubber and let children know you will be doing an investigation to find out more about blubber.

The experiment involves filling double-layered, sealed plastic bags with solid vegetable shortening (“blubber”). Children will be able to slide one hand into a glove with blubber and one into a glove without blubber. Then they place their hands into a bucket or cooler of icy water.

Before doing the experiment, have children predict whether blubber or no blubber will keep their hands warmer. You can extend the opportunity to practice experimental procedures by varying the substances in the gloves (feathers versus no feathers or blubber versus feathers).

Key science practices

With the PrePS program, children are encouraged to think, talk, and work scientifically. When children are actively observing, predicting, and checking, they are also learning the correct vocabulary words to describe these actions.

The PrePS program introduces activities that reinforce five key science practices:

1. Observe, predict, check
2. Compare, contrast, experiment
3. Vocabulary, discourse, and language
4. Counting, measurement, and math
5. Recording and documenting

See how to introduce observation

Make a point of using juicy words, with an intentional focus on advanced vocabulary

When we use rare, or “fifty-cent words” with children, we do more than expand their vocabularies. We engage them in making nuanced distinctions and in investigating concepts and relationships.

All children enjoy juicy words, the ones that are fun to say, impressive to use, and carry high-interest content.

According to the author of Talk to Me, Baby! as we talk with children about the meanings and usage of such words, we learn about how they understand the world and what they have yet to learn. Look around you for opportunities to expand on these “words worth teaching”:

Find out what’s under the familiar ground of the neighborhood

Turn over rocks, dig holes, study sidewalk cracks, peer into a storm drain, and trace the roots of trees and bushes. Scoop up a handful of soil and strain it through a sieve. Watch squirrels, birds, chipmunks, ants, and earthworms. Take a subway ride. Talk with the workers who repair water, gas, and sewer pipes. Pull a weed and investigate its roots. Encourage children to represent their discoveries by telling stories, drawing pictures that show what’s under the ground and what’s on top, or building a terrarium.

Find more suggestions in Twenty Fun Things to Do with Preschoolers.


Even in vacation mode, you can share talk and experiences with young children that will build their math, science, and language muscles—setting them up for greater learning and success once they get to school!

Originally published: July 2018