As anyone that knows me even a little bit soon realizes, I want to get myself and family outside as much as possible. I am working on 3 cubits, and one of them is on exactly this topic – getting kids outside, and what to do once you get them there. So, here are a few ideas that I have done over the years.
Right now, blooming all over the place and on my back porch, are some fun natural funnels. Campsis radicans, or trumpet creeper I think the common name is, has very large red flowers with a wider top end and narrow open bottom end that make perfect water toys. When they first fall off, or if you want to pick one, they are still fairly sturdy as far as flowers go. And you can dunk them into some water, lift them up, and watch the water pour out the small end. My son has used these often when we visit one of our favorite summertime rivers. They can also make wonderful decorations for whatever is being built, such as rock and sand piles, stick or fairy houses, and whatever else enters the imagination. And don't worry about picking the flowers, as there are many.
Many people find the Campsis vine to be a bit aggressive, but like almost any vine, its job is to grow up as fast as it can, and to spread. Pruning, like you would for your shrubs or other vines, is required to keep it where you want it, but I find it makes a wonderful natural shade screen. Here it is growing over my back deck, which is otherwise blasted by the full summertime midday sun. It is also making a nice ‘hide-away’, mostly because I have not trimmed it back yet. I may leave it like this for a while, so my son can play inside the canopy. And this is also a native vine, providing food for hummingbirds and cover for many critters. Finally, in the fall when it puts out its seed heads, these can be used for dried crafts, and the seeds can be flown in the wind.
Our favorite summer place to go is an area that is off limits to traffic, with a 2 mile bike ride to a freshwater tidal river. We bring our lunch and snacks, and hang out for the afternoon exploring, swimming, playing in the mud and sand, and keeping much cooler than being out of the water in the heat and humidity. Overall, it is a very fun time. It is also a bit primitive, with no toilets or other facilities, although there is a covered picnic canopy. But if you don’t bring it, you don’t have it. I think the lack of facilities must deter a lot of people, because I seem to have a tough time getting anyone to come with us. Oh well, we still enjoy it. Anyone care to join us next time?
This summer, we are also planting multi-colored miniature popcorn, luffa sponges, and Tennessee spinner gourds in the garden for fun. The spinner gourds and some moonflower vines are growing up an old porch umbrella that lost its fabric. This should make a fun summertime fort for my son as it gets covered with the vines, and is a good way to re-use the umbrella, as well. I wish I had some more of the large umbrellas, as I have other vines to grow up them, as well.
And finally, I have worked on making our own yard filled with habitat and plants to attract a variety of critters. We sit out on our front porch to eat breakfast and lunch, and watch the butterflies, birds, frogs, skinks, lizards, and whatever else happens to come by. The common milkweed is currently blooming, and is covered with butterflies, skippers, and bees. Common milkweed is also a wonderful smelling flower, and great fun in the fall with the fluffy seed heads. The hummingbirds enjoy the feeders, and the bee balm is about to bloom, which the hummers also use a lot. Hummers are also very good insect control, and will consume a lot of smaller things like aphids. I find flowers much easier to maintain than hummingbird feeders. We also like to catch fireflies, feed the birds, and have some bird houses that we monitor and watch the families grow up. And let us not forget about tree climbing. Mom asked me to check the tree to make sure it was sturdy enough, which was a mistake, so I climbed it and shook the tree enough to scare her, and declared it plenty sturdy.
And I almost forgot about raising tadpoles. I have a small pop-up aquarium that I found at a discount store, complete with water pump, that is now on our front porch right next to our eating spot. The gray tree frogs especially seem to enjoy laying eggs in just about any bit of water, including a bucket of rain water. So, before we got mosquitoes in the bucket, we caught the tadpoles and put them in the aquarium. The water movement from the pump keeps the mosquitoes out, and now we can take care of them as his temporary pets, as he calls them.
So what ideas do you have for fun summertime activities? Please share your own thoughts, and add them to the growing list of activities that are already posted here. I look forward to sharing your experiences, and hope we can come up with a good outdoor activity site here.