Everything under the sun

Ailsa Chapman
Thursday, May 9, 2019

Make the most of the warm and sunny days of summer to introduce the topic of holidays and travel, and organise a variety of outdoor activities, including water and sand play, picnics, sports and trips.

May, what a wonderful month. Spring is almost over and summer beckons. Splashing in paddling pools, days that never seemed to end, ice creams and hose pipes, seaside with bucket and spades, the warm sun on your face, the smell of cut grass; the subject of summer is a very evocative one. Most people have happy memories of long, hot days on holiday or outside, playing and enjoying themselves. As spring draws to a close, the promise of longer days and warm sunshine is welcoming to most people after the many months of cooler weather. The onset of summer also often signifies the end of an academic year and the closure of being in one year group. Children are usually very familiar with their practitioners and classmates by this time and have settled happily into the rules and routines of their setting.

As the topic of summer will naturally encompass the outside area, children find learning about it enjoyable and exhilarating. It is a theme that naturally lends itself to the free-flow nature of early years and one where children can make the very most of the natural environment around them.

My last few articles have stressed how important the learning environment is to ensure excellent provision for children. What we provide on a daily basis is vital to ensure that children have the time, space and resources to become independent and critical thinkers, capable of making choices and solving problems when they arise. That said, there are times of the year that naturally lend themselves to exploring the weather and special occasions during that season.

Outdoor play

It is hoped that children will have free-flow access to the outside area whenever possible. If direct access to a safe outside space is not available, then it must be ensured that children have daily access to some sort of outside play, preferably for an extended period. In the summer, awareness of the dangers of the sun must be taught to the children. The wearing of sun hats should be encouraged, as well as the use of sun cream. Settings will have different policies on applying sun cream, so ensure that the parents/carers and practitioners in your setting are clear about that policy in practice. Natural and artificial shade should be made use of, as well as keeping children in the shade or out of the sun completely in extremely hot weather or at the hottest parts of the day. Parents/carers must be informed that the children will be outside for at least part of the day and that adequate sun protection should therefore be provided. Talk to children not only about the dangers of the sun, but also about the benefits in terms of helping the body produce vitamin D, as well as the fact that for a lot of people being outside in the sunshine makes them feel happy. For many, however, summer can be a miserable time if they have allergies such as hay fever. Be aware of any children (and adults) that may be affected in your setting. Do any of the children have allergic reaction to bee or wasp stings? Such allergies can be potentially fatal and practitioners need to be aware of the emergency protocols for such children.

Ensure that cold, fresh water is available for the children throughout the day to prevent dehydration and encourage children to drink frequently. Most supermarkets now sell drink containers with taps so the children are able to help themselves to fresh water throughout the session. You could make the water more exciting by adding slices of cucumber or orange/lemon.

Water play

Summer presents the perfect opportunity to experiment with water on a larger scale and in different ways than is possible inside. Teach children how to use hose pipes (check first that there is not a hose pipe ban in your area) to fill paddling pools and water trays. Encourage the children to look after the flowers and plants in your garden by regularly watering them with watering cans (but not during the hottest part of the day or most will evaporate). Teach the importance of water conservation by setting up water butts to catch rain water and allow the children access to the tap to fill their watering cans and buckets. With very close supervision from adults, allow children to enjoy paddling in a paddling pool. Use a paddling pool to play with sea creatures and boats. Use fishing nets to retrieve objects. Make water systems by linking old drain pipes with water trays at different levels. It is much less stressful for the adults when large-scale water play is not all over the floor inside where it needs to be constantly mopped up.

In the summer, awareness of the dangers of the sun must be taught to the children. The wearing of sun hats should be encouraged, as well as the use of sun cream. Settings will have different policies…

Mud kitchen

The start of the warmer months is a perfect time to set up a mud kitchen if you have not already. A quick internet search will give you ideas for making a cheap one, which can be accessorised with saucepans, frying pans, empty tin cans (check the edges are smooth), kitchen utensils and so on. Consider old microwaves, kettles and other reclaimed items for the children to cook up a storm with!


Role-play opportunities linked to summer are usually such fun and can take on a completely different dimension when set up outside. Consider some of the following: travel agents; airports with large-scale construction opportunities to build the aeroplanes outside; beach scene; ice-cream kiosk; café; souvenir shop and so on. Enlist the help of the children when deciding which role-play to set up and what is needed to make it successful. The key is often in the preparation and brainstorming initial ideas and making lists can be a good opportunity to start discussions and getting the creative juices flowing. As far as possible, ask children to help in making notices for the role-play to give them ownership of their play.

Lengths of material, tents and wigwams can be used to excellent effect as both shade and reading areas, shops or whatever the children want them to be at that time!

Making lollies

Who can resist the ice-cool enjoyment of an ice lolly or ice cream on a hot day? They are usually particular favourites with children and making their own can be lots of fun. Lolly moulds can be bought in most supermarkets and homeware shops relatively cheaply. Make simple fruit lollies by freezing different types of fruit juice such as orange or apple in the moulds. Diluted cordials such as blackcurrant also work well. You can also be a little adventurous and make ‘rainbow rockets’ by freezing a third of one type of juice in the moulds, then adding a contrasting colour of juice for the next third and freezing again, finishing by the last colour of juice before freezing one last time.

Enjoy the lollies as part of snack time, preferably outside, and talk about the properties of ice and how it will melt over time – especially when it is hot.


Hot, sunny days are ideal for exploring shadows. Concrete playgrounds or areas are the best place to undertake this activity. When the sun is strong enough in the morning to create a shadow, take a group of children outside and draw around their shadows using chalk. Ensure that you write the time and the name of the child on each shadow. In the afternoon, get the children to stand in the same place as they did in the morning (perhaps use an X to mark the spot where they stood originally) and draw around the shadows again. The shadows will have moved. Ask the children why they think this is. Discuss the earth moving all the time and demonstrate using a globe. Make sure you take photographs of the shadow markings you have made.

Teddy bears' picnic

The warmer months provide ideal opportunities for eating ‘al fresco’ and what better way to get the children involved in planning their own outside dining than hosting a picnic for their teddy bears or favourite soft toy. Ask the children (perhaps via a letter to the parents/carers) to send into the setting on a specified day their teddy of choice, preferably with a label attached with the name of the teddy and its owner. Provide spare labels for those who may forget. Talk to the children about the kind of food they could have at their picnic – preferably steering them to think about healthy options. Make lists together of possible foods and plenty of things to drink. Either make the food in the setting with the help of the children or ask the parents/carers to send in a small packed lunch on that day for the picnic. Find a suitable area outside to set up the picnic and lay down rugs. If the day is hot, you will need to think about shade and if it is raining the picnic may have to happen inside. Sing songs such as The Teddy Bears Picnic and have a great time!

Sand play

Make the most of the good weather and take the opportunity to take your sand tray outside. Experiment with wet sand and make sandcastles. Make flags for the sandcastles and think about the different patterns the children could incorporate. Get buckets and spades out and get traditional sand play in action! It is a great chance to explore capacity and think about mathematical words such as full and empty.

Sand can also be explored on a smaller scale. For example, filling jam jars up with coloured sand in layers can be fun and great for developing concentration and fine motor skills in trying to pour even and small amounts.


Use the work of Van Gogh to inspire the children to plant their own sunflowers from seeds. Have a competition to see whose grows the tallest. Make sure children remember to water their plants and repot as necessary. Use standard and non-standard methods of measure (e.g. using metre sticks, tape measures, hands, string). Paint the sunflowers and make a summer-time display.

Memory game

Sit in a circle and play memory games involving summer themes such as ‘I went to the beach and I took my bucket and spade’. The next person has to remember what the previous person and then add their own item; ‘I went to the beach and I took my bucket and spade and my swimming costume.’ And so the game continues. Use prompt items in the middle of the circle for the children to choose from and then hold as appropriate if they are very young or find the memorising very difficult.

Sorting clothes

Put a variety of clothes in the centre of your circle. Ensure that there is a good mixture of both summer and winter clothing; include woolly hats, gloves, coats, swimming costumes, t-shirts, sun hats and so on. Talk to the children about the most suitable kind of clothing to wear when it is hot and why. Sort the clothing into two sets (winter and summer) and ask the children to give their reasons when selecting their items.


While the luxury of a holiday may not be one that all the children in your setting experience, many of them may have visited relatives abroad or been on a seaside break in this country. Talk to the children about holidays they may have been on and where they went. How did they get there? What was the weather like? What did they do on holiday? If possible, ask parents to send in photos of family holidays and make a display. Ask the children to write postcards from a real or imaginary destination and scribe for them if necessary.

Talk to the children about popular holiday resorts in the UK, such as Blackpool, Devon and Cornwall and perhaps look some of these resorts up on the internet or show travel brochures. Talk about the things you can do on holiday.

Discuss destinations further away such as Australia and New Zealand and how their seasons are the opposite of ours.


Music can be very evocative and stirs up all types of memories in both adults and children. Play some famous summer songs to the children, listening to the lyrics and talking about the way the music makes them feel. Consider some of the following songs:

  • Summertime by Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince
  • California Dreaming by The Beach Boys
  • Summer Holiday by Cliff Richard.


The icing on the cake this summer would be taking the children to a nearby beach resort. If you are lucky enough to live near the seaside, or a day trip is feasible, give the children this first hand opportunity of experiencing the beach and the sea.


Summer presents the ideal opportunity to learn some new sports and games activities that the children may not be familiar with. Use any outside space you may have and teach the children some elements of the following sports:

  • Cricket
  • Athletics
  • Rounders
  • Tennis
  • Swimming lessons if you are lucky enough to have a swimming pool or access to one nearby for lessons. Learning to swim is one of the most important skills that a child can be taught, it can literally save their life.

For very young children, practise some simple throwing and catching or throwing objects at a target, to encourage and develop their hand/eye co-ordination.


Most of us hope for some long, hot, summer days when everything somehow seems less gloomy. Children love to be outside and therefore the focus on summer as a season is a fantastic one for young children. There will be lots to observe as they experience all elements of it first hand. Let's hope that this summer is a warm one and we can all enjoy the great outdoors at its best.

Useful resources

  • Equipment for water or sand play, outdoor sports
  • Clothing items, accessories and resources for sorting according to the seasons and for travel-related role-play

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