Hooray - summer is coming! Time for sandals, sunscreen, jaunty ice-van jingles and loads of fun with your kids. "This is the best time of year for parents," says Cornwall-based mum Faye Gooding, who’s a veritable expert in keeping her five boys entertained. "The sun’s shining, everyone’s in a good mood, and you can have an amazing time outside, letting your youngsters explore the new sights, sounds and smells of the summer. At this time of year, my boys will play happily in the garden for hours, racing on their scooters, doing finger-painting and chasing one another. Low-key bliss!"
And should the joy of chasing and painting wear off, we’ve come to the rescue with 44 more fun ways to enjoy the summer with your child. Ready? Get prepped to play...
Summer activities at home
Make a doorway web. Use painter’s tape to create a sticky spider’s web in your doorway. Put a cut-out picture of a spider in the middle. Then encourage your toddler to throw scrunched up bits of paper at the web to see how close they can get them to the spider.
Make mystery paintings. Get some heavy-duty white paper (thick enough to cope with watercolours), then draw or write secret pictures, names or messages on each sheet in white crayon. Give your toddler some water and some watercolour paints and get them to paint the paper – as they do so, the crayon will repel the paint and they'll uncover the secret drawings!
Fun things to do indoors
Make a song bag. Get a little bag and fill it with objects to represent different songs: a tube of bubbles for Pop Goes the Weasel; a cuddly animal for Old MacDonald Had a Farm; a lavender drawer sachet for Lavender Blue. "Let your youngster pull out an object, and then sing the nursery rhyme together," says Faye.
Play Sticky Ball. Get a ball and wrap it with painter’s tape – sticky-side out. Give it to your baby to explore – and to stick wherever they fancy, be it their tummy, hands, you, the carpet, or a cushion!
Make edible art. Let your weaned baby ‘paint’ with custard, or mousse, jelly or puréed fruit. Messy but tasty!
Make a summer soundtrack of baby babble: Talk to your child, record their answers, and play it back!
Make a weather calendar. Each day, get your toddler to choose and glue a cut-out image to represent the weather – a welly boot for rain, a sun-hat for sun, or a cloud for a grey day.
Install a bird feeder. Choose one that suckers onto your window, so that your child can watch wildlife close-up through the glass.
Play Tunnel Dash. Get a play tunnel, then challenge your toddler to do a jigsaw at one end. The twist is that all the pieces of the jigsaw are at the other end, so they have to crawl back and forth to get them!
Enter the tape Olympics. Get some painter’s tape and use it to mark out lines on the floor. Use the lines to measure how far your toddler can get when they lie on the floor and stretch, takes a big step, jumps, makes a bridge, throws a ball, rolls a ball, or walks on tiptoe without stopping...
Play Pig Does a Jig. This is one for older toddlers, to get them active while also widening their vocabulary. You make up a rhyme about an animal and your toddler has to pretend to be the animal doing the action. So pig does a jig; cow does a bow; hound does a bound; fox puts on socks; cat lies flat; hen builds a den; bear sits on a chair...
Summer activities in the park
Traffic control. Get a piece of paper. Paint one side red and write ‘STOP’ on it. Paint the other side green and write ‘Go’ on it. Now get your toddler to run around being a car – when they reach you, they have to obey the traffic signs.
Parachute drop. It takes a long time to develop catching skills (most youngsters are aged between three and four by the time they master it), but once your baby is able to sit securely, you can play this pre-catching game with them. Get a clean hanky, and float-drop it down to your baby. It’s moving slowly, so they can follow its flight and reach for it, which will help to develop their visual skills.
What’s changed? While your toddler closes their eyes, you make a sneaky alteration to the environment – swap sunhats with another child, turn the picnic blanket over, change a paper plate for a big leaf. Your toddler has to open their eyes and see if they can spot what you’ve done.
Pillow race. Older toddlers love this game. Grab some old pillow cases. Use them for a DIY sack race. Fall over while your tot boings to the finish line.
Take a dog for a walk. Get a shoe box. Give it a face and ears and decorate it with your child. Add a small hole at each end and feed through a length of string/ ribbon. Leave enough at one end to be the dog’s ‘tail’ (knotted so that it doesn’t come out). The other end can be the lead.
Chicken-egg. This is one for youngsters who can walk securely. Get two light, bouncy balls. Put one between your legs and one between your tot’s legs. See which waddling chicken can get to the finishing line without dropping their ‘egg’.
I hear with my little ear. I-Spy, but with sounds. Who can be the first person to work out what’s making a sound?
Flying Frisbees. ‘Recycle’ your picnic paper plates into Frisbees and see how far they can fly.
Rainbow dancing. Get ribbons in the colours of the rainbow. Tie them to railings near where you’re sitting (high up out of reach). Your baby can watch them as they flit in the breeze and your toddler can do a fluttering rainbow dance.
Top tips for a perfect picnic
• Make everything baby-friendly including finger food, baby cutlery and re-useable plastic glasses.
• Put on long-lasting, sun lotion before you leave home.
• Scout out your spot. You need shade, a clear view of the horizon (so no one goes toddling off) and to be near the swings. "Give your youngsters a good go in the park before the picnic and hopefully by the time you want to eat they’ll be tired and ready to sit and chill," says Faye.
• Use an old sheet as a picnic blanket and bring along fabric pens so your youngster can unleash their inner artist.
• Play Pass the Picnic Parcel. On every layer, you unwrap a challenge: make a daisy chain; jump all the way around the picnic rug; sing The Sun Has Got His Hat On; tell the time on a dandelion clock; give somebody a big cuddle; tell everyone to puff out their cheeks and squish them with your hands.
Be down with the ducks
Give peas a chance. Bread isn’t good for ducks so try feeding them a healthy snack of peas, sweetcorn or grapes (cut into quarters so the ducks don’t choke).
Quack! If your little one is aged three plus, give them a duck quacker whistle so they can lure the ducks in with a realistic honk.
Make a nest. Collect sticks, feathers, grass and leaves to make a cosy nest for a duck family.
Summer activities in the garden
Build a zoo. Provide cardboard boxes and pens, and challenge your tot to create colourful homes for their cuddly toys. Get them to show you around their zoo.
Make a rainforest vine. Get a long length of green wool and hang it up in the garden (out of reach). Draw leaves, butterflies, insects and frogs with your toddler and stick them onto the vine.
Big it up. Give your youngster a magnifying glass so they can get an up-close look at flower seeds, petals, bark, grass... Just remember to keep the glass out of the sun.
Garden fun for babies
Get a baby’s-eye view. Babies are fascinated by seeing the world from different angles, so give them different views of the garden by facing their baby chair in alternate directions, putting it in new parts of the garden, and lifting them up.
Play Pat-a-Herb. Babies love reaching for – and touching – dangling objects. Take their play gym outside to a shady spot and – instead of dangling toys – securely tie a bunch of parsley or a clump of dandelion clocks out of reach, but at a height that will encourage them to swat at them.
Try leaf peek-a-boo. Get a variety of leaves of different sizes and use them to play peek-a-boo with your baby. Start small and build up to a leaf that’s big enough to cover your face.
Throw a beach ball. Sit in a shaded spot in the garden and roll a large beach ball to your baby. Or throw it gently above them so they can watch the colours, or lay them over it (holding them securely) to let them experience the feel of it moving underneath them.
Garden fun for toddlers
Play Pillowcase Ping-Pong. Hold a pillowcase between you and put an airflow ball in the middle. Now your toddler needs to try and get the ball to fall off the pillow case at your end – and vice versa.
Make a teddy-bear swing. Cut off the top flap from a tissue box. Put two holes in the sides, and thread ribbon through. Hang the swing on the washing line or a tree. Put a teddy inside and let your toddler push him!
Make mud huts. Put two spoonfuls of mud and one spoonful of water in each compartment of an ice-cube tray, leave them to harden in the sun and then turn them out and use them to build a tiny mud hut.
Make bubble-wrap artwork. Tape a large square of bubble wrap to the ground, give your youngster some child-friendly paint and let them go wild! They might take ages painstakingly painting every bubble a different colour or they might tip the paint over the entire bubble wrap. Let their creativity loose!
"Whenever your youngsters are playing with water, make sure you’re with them," says Faye. "And wear old clothes – because you will get wet!"
Play hosepipe limbo. Hold a hosepipe so that the water creates a horizontal jet for your tot to limbo under.
Play water windmills. Half-fill your toddler’s bucket with water. Get them to hold it straight down by their side. If they keep their arm straight and spin it round in a circle – like a windmill – no water should come out of the bucket. See how many rotations they can do!
Create some super soakers. Carefully clean out some empty washing-up liquid bottles, then fill up with water and use to squirt one another.
Float iceboats in the paddling pool. Make them by freezing water coloured with food colouring, in plastic tubs with a lolly-stick “sail” Blu-tacked to the base of the tub.
Make a splash. See what you can drop in the paddling pool to make the biggest splash.