Our summer science class this year isn’t very outdoorsy. The whole reason I initiated summer science four years ago was that I wanted the Littles to be able to get some Hands-On, Outside, Science Stuff Experience. It has served us well over the years, making summer school seem less like school. And even though it seems just as un-school-like as ever this year, that’s because they’re talking about and playing video games. Screen-time science. Important, I know, if they want to be able to function in today’s world. But how am I to get them outside for some screen-less lessons when we’re studying code?
Well, the perfect solution is a backyard camping trip. We did this last year, and it was so much fun we are still talking about it. We took a Saturday and I set it up like a summer camp, with crafts and activities and a tent set up on the trampoline (because Mama’s back wasn’t up to the cold, hard ground). This year we have a camper we can sleep in for our summer camp because the trampoline may actually have been worse than the ground!
Last year’s itinerary was so fun I thought I’d share my ideas with you.
First of all, the summer solstice was on the weekend last year, so we picked that date for our camp day. We set up a temporary awning in which to do crafts and the like because even though we are surrounded by woods, the backyard doesn’t have a whole lot of shade in the heat of the day. It turned out that we really, really needed it, so I’m glad I thought of it beforehand. So the date was set, the yard was prepared, and we were ready to go! Here’s what we did:
We had prepared “Sun Bread” the day before as a sweet breakfast treat. It ended up lasting through the day, so we just munched on it whenever a sweet tooth moment hit. I made it from monkey bread recipe, but rolled the dough to look like sun rays and, of course, made a ball on top for the sun’s nose. Then I poked the eyes and mouth into the dough with a kabob stick before popping it into the oven. I’m in love with the way it turned out.
Any ol’ monkey bread recipe will work for this. I made up my own biscuit dough, but you could probably do it with canned biscuits. Just maybe buy a couple of cans to make sure you have enough. Also on the foods list were, of course, hot dogs (shudder) for lunch and s’mores for the campfire. It was not a day to worry about healthy eating. It was a day for fun!
Make a sun with colored pasta
Since we were celebrating the solstice, I thought it appropriate to do a sun craft. Easy peasy, since I always have colored pasta on hand. Just pick any type of pasta you want to use, put about a cup in a bowl or sealable bag, mix together 1/4 cup rubbng alcohol and 10 drops food coloring (or more if you want more vibrant colors). Stir or shake, then leave in the bowl or bag for a few hours, stirring or shaking occasionally. Lay the pasta out on wax paper or foil-lined cookie sheets and allow to dry overnight. Whammo! Colored pasta. I always make extra and keep them in their own jar in the classroom.
For the sun craft, I simply got out the colored pasta and Elmer’s glue, gave each boy a paper plate, and told them to make me a sun.
Make amulets from found things
For this craft we simply walked through our woods gathering moss, seeds, grass, a snakeskin (great find!), flowers, etc. I have a tub of wood shapes in the classroom, but any flat surface will do for an amulet. We used stars because we didn’t have any suns, and the solstice includes the shortest night of the year, so why not celebrate that, too?! We added the bells to attract fairies. 🙂 Simple and fun, making an amulet from nature requires only a short walk, a flat surface, some glue, and a string or ribbon. I still have mine in a little box in my room. Can you guess which one it is?
Make a birdhouse
For this idea, I grabbed some of the empty breadcrumb cans I had saved for a
rainy sunny day. They’re shorter and squatter than Pringles cans, but Pringles cans would definitely work. Other supplies included yellow, white, and black construction paper, pipe cleaners, Kabob sticks or dowel rods, and google eyes. Oh, and scissors and glue, of course. We cut the construction paper into 1-inch strips and glued it around the body of the can. Then we took the lid off and cut one bird-sized hole in the plastic and one hole for the kabob stick. We put the lid back on before we glued on the googly eyes and pipe-cleaner antenna. Then cut some ovals out of the white construction paper for wings and glue them on. Add a string to the top for hanging, and you’ve provided a new home for the birds. Just make sure you hang it somewhere where it is protected from the weather. The cans Are made of cardboard, after all.
Make a castle from outdoor things
Make glow lights.
For this project, I simply picked up some cheap glow sticks at the dollar store and fished out some old jars. Some sea salt or rock salt is the only other supply you need. When dusk started to settle, we filled our jars about halfway with the salt, curled up the glow sticks in a circle and pushed them down into the salt. The salt diffuses the light, making the whole jar look aglow. We slept with them in the tent. It was pretty neat. You can also fill your jars with water and just drop the glow sticks in and cap them–it has a similar effect. For some reason I didn’t take pictures of this awesome craft, but while searching for one online to show you, I found a braver type of glow light at The Gold Jelly Bean that involves actually cutting the sticks to get the liquid out. It looks pretty amazing, too.
Bean bag bowl toss
Going on a bear hunt
Tell scary stories
look at constellations
catch lightning bugs
soak thyme in olive oil and lightly anoint eyelids to see fairies
Nearly all of these activities can be done on the cheap. For the bean bag toss I filled colorful buckets full of water and let them get splashed as they played. I actually had them use the things they found in their scavenger hunt to make their amulets. We waited till dusk–after we made the glow lights–to anoint our eyelids to see the fairies, then we made s’mores. While Daddy took care of the fire so we could sleep safely, we lay on the trampoline outside the tent and picked out constellations until we were tired. Then we took our glow lights in and went to bed.
Summer camp 2014 was truly one of the best experiences of my life. I’ll never forget how great it was to spend a whole day just having fun with my littles, no pressure, no outside worries. For it to work, we all had to stay completely unplugged. I think this year we’ll do summer camp closer to autumn when we can make scarecrows and have pumpkin treats. Or maybe we’ll do it this weekend. Because, you know, the backyard is always there.