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Summer heat: Get creative with routines


It’s so hot and steamy,” says Jennifer. “I’m dragging myself through the day.”

“I know how you feel,” says Miriam. “I wish I could take a nap when the children do.”

“What can we do?” asks Jennifer.



One way to beat the summer heat is to make creative changes in the daily routine. Switch outdoor activities from mid-morning or mid-afternoon to early morning when it’s cooler, for example. Close blinds and pull down shades enough to keep out the heat but still provide ample light for learning activities. Plan new and innovative learning activities.

Include parents in your planning. They may be able to offer art supplies and recyclables as well as ideas for change-of-pace activities.

Here are some ideas to start:


Wear a sun hat
As children arrive, invite them to choose a hat they may wear all day, but especially during outdoor play. Provide an assortment, preferably straw sun hats with wide brims. Children may decorate their hats by gluing or stapling paper or plastic flowers, sports decals, miniature flags, feathers, and stickers to a length of wide ribbon and tying it around the crown.

Talk about how hats shield faces from the sun. Review safety measures for preventing sunburn (applying sunscreen of at least SPF 15, wearing long-sleeve shirts) and staying hydrated (drinking plenty of water).

Transition songs and rhymes
As you move children from one activity to another, sing or chant songs and rhymes like those below. Add finger and hand gestures, if you like.


“You Are My Sunshine”
You are my sunshine, my only sunshine.
You make me sweaty when I’m at play.
You make the air warm and help the plants grow.
You shine your bright light throughout the day.

You are my sunshine, my only sunshine.
You make me happy when skies are gray.
You chase the clouds off and bring the rainbows.
You keep on shining from day to day.

Tune: “Are You Sleeping”
Watermelon, watermelon.
Slurp it up! Slurp it up!
Red and ripe and juicy.
Red and ripe and juicy.
Clean me up.
Clean me up


Five Little Sea Shells
Five little sea shells lying on the shore.
Crash went the waves, and then there were four.
Four little sea shells down by the sea.
Crash went the waves, and then there were three.
Three little sea shells smooth as new.
Crash went the waves, and then there were two.
Two little sea shells sleeping in the sun.
Crash went the waves, and then there was one.
One little sea shell all by itself.
I took it home and put it on my shelf.


Wash hands—and feet
In addition to washing hands after toileting and before eating, have a feet washing activity. Feet can swelter in socks and athletic shoes, and blisters can develop. Take off shoes and rinse them with a water hose before coming in after outdoor play or soak briefly in a dishpan of cool water. Dry feet thoroughly, inspect for sore spots, and dust with talcum powder.

Talk with children about feet. Name the parts: toes, arch, heel, and ankle. Invite children to flex their toes and move ankles in a circle to increase blood circulation. Ask: How are your feet the same or different than the feet of your pets and birds?

Make a fan
As an art activity, invite children to make a fan, either by folding a sheet of paper accordion style or by stapling a craft stick to a small paper plate. Before folding or stapling, encourage children to decorate the fan with markers or crayons.

Talk about how fanning moves the air and helps us feel cooler. Explain that people used hand-held fans before air conditioning became common in homes and buildings.


Nap and quiet time
Toddlers and 3-year-olds as well as some 4- and 5-year-olds benefit from a daily nap. Rest improves mood and increases alertness and is especially important in hot summers. Preschoolers who don’t nap need quiet time when they can look at books or work puzzles. TV and videos are too noisy and over-stimulating, and in any season they have limited use in the early childhood education setting.

For a quick cool-down, explore the impact of a cold compress. Dampen washcloths and place one inside plastic bags that are labeled with children’s names. Place the bags in the freezer for a couple of hours or overnight. After outside play, invite children to place the cold packs on their heads, behind the neck, or at pulse points (wrist or ankle). Talk about how and why this quick-cool works.


Game day
Invite parents to dress their children in a ball cap, T-shirt, or other clothing with the logo of a college or professional softball or baseball team. Have a few extra clothing items on hand for those who forget or don’t have a favorite team.

Engage children in a discussion about baseball. Who has seen a game? What happens in a game? What kind of field is used? What do the players do? How can you tell who wins?

On a grassy field outdoors, lay out a baseball diamond, using bags filled with sand for home plate and three bases. Place the bases about 10 feet apart, and lay surveyor’s tape along the base lines. Use a whiffle ball (hollow plastic ball with holes) and a lightweight plastic bat.

Have children take turns batting. You pitch the ball to the first batter, and regardless of whether the ball is hit, the batter runs to first base. Continue pitching and letting batters run the bases. If a child manages to hit a ball, declare a home run and let everyone round the bases. The idea is to give children a feel for batting and running. As children grow and gain skill, they can learn about fielding and pitching.

Set up a computer with an Internet connection so children can search the websites of one or two baseball and softball teams. Discuss team colors, uniforms, and mascots. Display a real softball and baseball, and discuss the differences. Offer an art activity in which children make felt or paper banners with a team logo. Teach children to sing baseball’s anthem, “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.”


“Take Me Out to the Ball Game”
Take me out to the ball game.
Take me out with the crowd.
Buy me some peanuts and cracker jack.
I don’t care if I never get back.
Let me root, root, root for the home team.
If they don’t win, it’s a shame.
For it’s one, two, three strikes you’re out
At the old ball game.


Show children a real sunflower. Ask if anyone has seen this kind of flower before. Where does it grow? Name the colors: yellow, brown, and green. Name the plant parts: petals, leaves, stem. Ask: “Why might this flower be called a sunflower?” Place the flower in the science center with a magnifying glass for children to explore on their own.

Read Van Gogh and the Sunflowers by Laurence Anholt. The same story appears under the title Camille and the Sunflowers. Both tell how a child influenced the Dutch artist Vincent van Gogh to paint his well-known series of sunflowers. (Note: Anholt has written several books in which children encounter artists, including Matisse, Monet, and Degas.)

Invite children to create their own sunflowers by painting a picture, making a collage, or using play dough.


Light, nutritious meals
Review lunch and snack menus to ensure plenty of light, nutritious dishes. Use the oven sparingly. Instead of baking apples, for example, make a fruit salad. Invite children to make fruit smoothies or other cool snacks.

Avoid sodas and other high-calorie beverages. (See article on drinks in Texas Parenting News in the Summer 2013 issue of Texas Child Care Quarterly.) To reduce calories in fruit juice, dilute with water, but be careful to maintain compliance with the U.S.D.A. Child and Adult Food Program’s dietary guidelines for cost reimbursement and adequate nutrition. Encourage children to drink plenty of water throughout the day. Offer water when children are thirsty, and especially before, during, and after physical activity.


Let’s have a picnic
At snack time, have a picnic. If you have ample shade in the play yard, take the picnic outdoors. Spread a red-checked cloth over a table, and serve a nutritious snack (fruit wedges, low-fat cheese, whole wheat crackers, for example) on paper plates. Or serve watermelon slices, and have a seed-spitting contest.

Talk with children about picnics and cookouts they have with their families. Ask what their families cook and eat on such occasions.

Plan a picnic or covered dish supper for your next parents’ meeting. Keep the menu simple and use paper goods for easy cleanup. Demonstrate math and science activities that parents can do with their children, or choose another topic that parents suggest.


Summer bugs
Insects abound in warm weather. Check the play yard regularly for hazards such as wasp nests and fire ant colonies. Eliminate low muddy spots and watery potted plants that can breed mosquitoes. Make sure garbage bins have tight-fitting lids to keep away flies.

If you have planned and tended your garden carefully, you may be able to enjoy butterflies that emerge from caterpillars, ladybugs that eat aphids and other pests, and bees that spread pollen. Observe these helpful creatures with children, and learn more about them from books and Internet sites.

If you’re lucky, you may be able to catch a grasshopper. They generally are easier to catch at night or in the cool of the morning when they move more slowly. You can try cupping your hands around a grasshopper or snaring it in a net. Place it in a jar with holes in the lid. After observing it closely with the children, let it go.

Be alert to sounds of cicadas during the heat of the day. Open a window and encourage children to listen to the buzzing and clicking. To see an image of a cicada and learn more, see


Let’s go to the beach
Set up the home center as a beach. Use child-sized lawn chairs or drape colorful denim over regular chairs. Provide beach towels, sun hats, sunglasses, empty suntan cream tubes, plastic pitcher of water, and plastic or paper drink glasses. Set out a conch shell, dried starfish, and basket of sea shells. Fill a washtub with sand and stock it with toy sand-building tools (or use the sandbox).

Read What Lives in a Shell by Kathleen Zoefeld. Place a collection of shells in the science center with a magnifying glass.

Variation: Set up the home center as an outdoor camp site with props such as tent, bedrolls, poles and line for fishing, binoculars, short logs for a campfire, hiking boots, and field guides to birds, for example.


Sand play
Provide toy beach tools, plastic cups, spoons, and strainers for the sand box. Wet the sand so it will hold its shape as children build. Give children aprons or old play clothes to wear, and spread newspaper or plastic sheeting on the floor. Encourage children to build roads, bridges, towers, and other structures.

Bury sea shells in wet sand. Invite children to use spoons to dig for the shells and brush the sand off with a paintbrush. Discuss shapes, sizes, and colors of shells.


Water balloon toss
Have children dress in swim suits or old play clothes and go outdoors. Show children how to fill balloons with water and knot the neck. Children form pairs and stand facing each other. Give each pair a water balloon.

Invite them to take turns tossing the balloon to each other, first from one or two steps apart and gradually increasing the distance by a step. When balloons burst, start over or switch partners. Be sure to pick up any balloon remnants because they can pose a choking hazard for toddlers.


Dinosaur fossil
Encourage children to press a toy dinosaur on its side into a flattened lump of play dough. Let the dinosaur print dry outdoors in the sun. Compare the dried impression to a fossil, which is what’s left of a plant or animal that lived long ago. A fossil can be a bone or skeleton, animal track, shell, or an impression of a leaf, mollusk, or insect, for example.
Invite children to search for images of fossils on the Internet or in books.


Bring the field trip inside
Summer is often a busy time for the local art or natural history museum, zoo, planetarium, and similar tourist spots in your community. Instead of fighting the crowds and enduring the heat, invite a museum docent or guide to give a presentation to your children.

Representatives from other sites can also do a show-and-tell. A farmer could demonstrate how to grow strawberries in a small space (hanging planters, clay ceramic pot with side holes), for example. A forest or park ranger could bring leaves and bark from typical trees of the area and talk about fire safety in the woods. A local family could bring a camper trailer or other recreational vehicle to your facility and show children the spaces for cooking, sleeping, and using the bathroom.

Scan the neighborhood for an interesting site within a short walking distance. A quick trip to a fire station or library in the cool of the morning can provide an educational treat. Many libraries have story times in the summer. Or take a nature walk in a nearby park. Bring a camera to take pictures and a bag to bring back seeds, leaves, and other natural items.

Bring a thermometer to your classroom and explain what it does. Set it in different locations (in the shadow of a shelf and by a sunny window, for example), wait a few minutes, and have children report the temperature. Take it outside and test the temperature on different surfaces (asphalt, grass, cement, inside a parked car, for example). Ask why the temperature changes in different locations.



Important reminder: Never leave children alone in a parked car even for a minute. The temperature can soar within minutes to deadly levels, and children can die of heat stroke.