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Summer Activities to Promote Development and Skill Building in Toddlers and Kids

Summer is here! Schools may be out for summer but that doesn’t mean that the learning and fun stops!  Summer is a time where kids can get outside to explore and learn from all of the elements in their natural environment. Outdoor play provides opportunities for open-ended exploration that can influence the development of learning, problem solving and imagination (Bento & Dias, 2017).  Evidence shows that exploration and play in natural settings can enhance learning by providing a more calm and supportive environment (Kuo, M., et al., 2019) The best part is, outdoor play can provide an easy low-cost experience, which is a huge win for me.  Of course, summer has its rainy days too but don’t worry, I’ve got you covered with some fun summer crafts that are easy to set up and clean up!

Nature Themed Sensory Play

We are huge fans of nature walks for sensory exploration. On our walks, we bring a baggie to collect leaves, pinecones, flowers, rocks and branches.  Just add liquid or water and seal your baggie to make an easy sensory bag! Grab some contact paper and tape it onto a wall, floor or window, sticky side up. Make sure it’s eye level with your toddler and have them place everything that they collected onto the sticky paper! This is great to encourage your child to explore and tolerate different textures from spiky to sticky.  Encourage conversation about the textures by asking your child to describe how each texture feels.

Dandelion Pickin’ & Paintin’

No paintbrush? No problem! During spring and summer we get an abundance of dandelions in our yard. My little one loves picking and collecting as many as she can. When we’re finished collecting, we bring them inside and use them to paint! This is a great multipurpose activity for kids to work on fine motor skills, grasp and hand strengthening.

Tree Art

Who needs an easel when you have a tree? Just tape some paper onto the tree, grab crayons or paint and you’ve got yourself a DIY easel. Coloring and painting on vertical surfaces is great for upper body strengthening as the child has to hold their arms up against gravity. It also allows their wrist to be in the optimal position to promote grasping skills. The bumpy surface and texture of the tree can provide feedback to the brain and body, which cues your child to press with enough force on the crayon. Go find a tree and give it a try!

Decorate the Starfish

This is one of our favorite indoor summer themed activities! We glued our starfish to sandpaper to provide a realistic beach feel and used cheerios to decorate each star.  This is great for encouraging pincer grasp and fine motor control as the child has to work their fingers to place each cheerio within the circle.

Ice Cream Art

This is another indoor favorite of ours. We made our ice cream cone, glued some cotton balls on top and used droppers with food coloring to decorate.  This was a fun opportunity to work on labeling our colors, eye-hand coordination and hand strengthening.


Bento, G., & Dias, G. (2017, April 6). The importance of outdoor play for young children's healthy development. Porto Biomedical Journal.

Kuo, M., Barnes, M., & Jordan, C. (2019). Do Experiences With Nature Promote Learning? Converging Evidence of a Cause-and-Effect Relationship. Frontiers in psychology10, 305.

Content and references are for informational purposes only and are not intended to replace medical advice or occupational therapy intervention. All presented activities should be done with the supervision of a parent or caregiver.