Summer’s finally here and the outside is a-calling. Maybe it’s the first summer your little one has been big enough to truly enjoy doing ‘stuff’ outside or maybe it’s not and you’re just stuck for inspiration. Here are my favourite activities for my kids in our teeny tiny London garden. Of course, when we leave the city to stay with grandparents there are bouncy castles, ponds, tents and camp-fires to wow the kids but some of those just aren’t possible in a London garden.
12 fun activities for little ones in a London garden this summer:
- Leaf printing – does require parental involvement.
I learned this from my daughter, who learned it at her amazing forest nursery. Grab some absorbent material (we used those free tote bags everyone gives away, another recommendation would be a good, absorbent card), a piece of wood, kitchen roll and a hammer. Put the wood under the material (if you’re using a bag, put it inside the bag), choose your leaves/flowers/grasses etc and off you go.
Ensure that the leaf is flat to the material, (use masking tape if you’re not happy doing it free hand), lay the kitchen roll over and hammer over the area (checking every now and again that your print is coming through). Peel back and marvel at your creation!
We tried: leaves, flowers from the garden, shop bought flowers, grasses, both with seed and without, herbs and weeds.
You can set the colour by washing the fabric in a vinegar and water solution for around fifteen minutes.
The kids may (or may not be) be interested to know that you’re actually smashing the chlorophyll out of the plants. Our three and five year olds loved wielding the hammer and as an off-shoot, their dad ended up teaching them to hammer nails in to a piece of wood (truth be told, the five year old boy enjoyed that more than the leaf bashing).
Always an easy win, right? A couple of years ago I got some blackboard paint and covered one side of our shed in it. Total waste of time. The kids would far rather cover the patio and side of the house in drawings than use the actual appointed area.
We practice writing this way. I also draw around the kids and leave them to decorate themselves and last week I entertained them by getting them to stand against the wall and drew arrows to them with various names. They had to find the correct sign/arrow combination.
This one requires freezer space as well as outside space, I’m afraid.
Fill a tuppaware box with water and a couple of small toys (that won’t be ruined by water) and freeze. Once frozen, hand it to the kids with a pot of salt, access to water and a spoon. Leave the kids to figure out how to get the toys out of the ice. Sit back and watch the greedy little buggers work hard to get to the ‘prizes’. And look, they’re even learning something in the process!
- Washing stuff
I have no idea why this is so much fun but my kids absolutely adore being given a sponge and a bowl of soapy water. Last week I got them to wash their outdoor toys and then even got them scrubbing the steps (suckers!) before they moved on to washing their own buckets for no reason at all. And then they stood in their buckets but that’s just my kids. Every year they get out these buckets, fill them with water and stand in them. I think they do it to make me look bad. We have a paddling pool but they’d always rather stand in these tiny buckets for some reason.
- Mud kitchen
We have an area behind our shed where the sun just don’t shine so we’ve given in and embraced the mud. We put a large and deep tray on some bricks and filled it with soil and water. To be honest, our kids don’t always remember that it’s there but when they do, they get very excited and spend hours moving mud around and stirring in sticks and leaves.
Won’t entertain kids for hours but it will wow them every time you do it: Get them to bring you two daisies. Carefully pick the head off one at exactly the point where it joins the stalk. If you’ve done it right then there should be a tiny hole just big enough from the stalk of the other daisy. Pop the head on the other stalk and show the kids. Best done if you hold it in the middle so it looks as if you’re holding two together. Then put it in their hand and watch the amazement on their faces!
- Mentos and coke. Proper science, innit.
We’ve all seen this experiment on youtube, right? Well, why not recreate it for real in the garden? All you need is a bottle of original coke and a pack of mint mentos. Pour them all in and watch the coke come rushing out just like a volcano.
- Water gun skittles
Line up as many old water bottles (or other stuff that will fall down). I put varying amounts of water in the bottles to make some harder than others. Give kids those cheapo water pistols that are covered in foam, tell kids to stop eating the foam and shoot at the targets.
I also made another version of this: I placed an empty bucket half way down the garden and asked my kids and their older cousin to fill it using only their water pistols from about ten metres away. Took them ages. Hah!
Yes that’s right. Give them a broom and ask them to sweep stuff. They can’t get enough of it..until they can.
Good, old fashioned rubbings. All you need is paper and crayons with the paper unwrapped. Teach kids to turn crayon on its side and rub. Send kid off to find things to rub. Marvel at what they’ve achieved.
- Treasure Hunt
If you’re feeling super engaged and involved, kids love a treasure hunt. We have recently moved from simply hiding stuff for them to find to either drawing picture clues or writing very simple clues for the kids to follow now the big one is five and can (technically) read.
- Actual pottering and gardening
Don’t be afraid to get the little ones involved in actual gardening from a very young age. If you’re out there, involve them, get them interested and happy to get their hands dirty. My kids are super excited by planting, weeding and watering. One is amazed by his morning glory (sorry, makes me snigger every time) and the other is happily watching her lettuce grow. We go out and water their plants together and they weed their own areas. They also adore picking herbs and trying them. We have just started letting the big one use the clippers to help prune.
- Sit still and let the little buggers entertain themselves. Don’t they realise how lucky they are to have access to outside space in Central London?