Cool Summer Activities for Preschoolers on Hot Summer Days

toddler summer activities, preschooler water play

Summer is chock full of opportunities for entertaining and enriching little kids’  development through new experiences and activities. Need some ideas for summer activities for preschoolers? Check out these ideas for summer activities for the 3-5 year-old set. They’ll come in especially handy during the dog days of summer, headed our way. 

1.  No-Stress, No Mess Water Play

Take advantage of a sunny day (or even a rainy one, provided there’s no thunder or lightning) to set your kids loose outdoors and let them burn some energy doing what all kids love to do as a summer activity – play with water. Fear not, city dwellers, simply set a big plastic container filled with water on whatever outside space you have and arm your tikes with any of the following, all which make for great water play for little hands:

Summer Activities for Keeping Preschoolers
Ice Cube Boat via Alpha Mom
  • Small plastic fish or animals
  • Barbie or Polly Pockets dolls
  • Sponges and a wash cloths
  • Small paint brushes for “painting” the sidewalk
  • Matchbox cars for washing
  • Boats – make your own Ice Cube Boats with nothing more than an ice cube molded in a plastic cup set with a drinking straw and flag for a sail.  These boats are adorable, and perfect for hot days.
  • Plastic cups for pouring and filling
  • A watering can for watering plants
  • A garden hose
  • Pull out the inflatable pool and let them splash for hours.

2. Easy DIY Crafts Just for Kids

Every kid needs a creative outlet, not to mention a quiet, inside activity once in awhile. We’ve found loads of great summer crafts for kids of all ages, some that can be made in minutes and others that will occupy a preschooler for the full duration of his baby sibling’s nap. Check out our Summer Crafts for Kids Pinterest board for ideas, including these adorable and easy-to-make Flowers.

3. Explore a Good Book

Be sure to save time in your summer schedule for the simple pleasure of reading with and teaching your preschooler skills that will help him learn to read.  You can encourage preschoolers to spend time with books by having them join older siblings in a summer reading program, whether it be one from a local library, Scholastic or a homemade incentive program. Encourage any form of reading, including pre-reading activities, like tracing or practicing their ABCs; “reading” to you or a sibling; or having a summer ritual of reading  together as a family, perhaps a chapter of an endearing family-friendly favorite like Make Way for Ducklings, by Robert McCloskeybefore bed. Scholastic has a helpful list of book recommendations for kids of all ages, including good picks for 3-5 year olds.

4. Get Your Groove On!

Another good hot summer activity is getting your groove on. Turn a playdate into a musical instrument making extravaganza (hint, hint, call in a babysitter to help!) and create the neighborhood’s next musical sensation. Check out Meaningful Mama’s fantastic list of 20 DIY Musical Instruments for Kids and see how simple and easy it can be to make anything from a bottle-cap tambourine to a full-on drum set.

Summer Activities for Keeping Preschoolers
DIY Musical Instruments via Meaningful Mama

5. Master a New Skill (and give Mom and Dad a helping hand!)

Teaching kids new skills helps develop their independence and shows them that they are an important, contributing member of their family… and eventually of the bigger world. Early childhood education experts recommend building skills by assigning chores, and believe that most preschoolers are capable of any of the following simple “taking care of myself and my house” chores:

  • Setting and clearing their place at the table
  • Making their bed
  • Sorting their clothes from the dryer
  • Picking up and putting away toys and art supplies.

See our handy guide to age-appropriate chores for kids for more ideas.

After all the fun with these summer activities for preschoolers you might need a parents night out. Book an UrbanSitter and leave the entertaining to the sitter!

Meet the Music-Loving Solares Family, Bucktown, Chicago

By Lela Nargi

Jessica Solares and her husband, Luis, don’t just teach music in Chicago’s creative epicenter; they live music, too. Parents to 3-1/2-year-old Lucia, who attends preschool at Bucktown Academy, near the Solares’ Bucktown Music studio, the two met at Elmhurst College, where they both studied Music Business —a major Jessica describes as “odd” and also uninspiring when put to real-life practice—before they decided instilling a love of all things musical in tots, teens, and even adults was their ultimate calling.

Although they and their staff teach voice and pretty much every instrument imaginable to school kids as well as the occasional grownup, they describe Kindermusik, an early-childhood-development curriculum for infants as young as, well, 0, as the real lynchpin of their operation— and their first love. Read on to find out why! And how important music is for them, their daughter, and families throughout Chicago.

Why is the Bucktown neighborhood such a great location for a music studio that caters mainly to kids—and that your own kid spends so much time in?
Jessica Solares: There are a lot of other cool businesses here: an art school called Easel Art Studio, a dance place where they teach ballroom—Dance SPA Chicago— a playspace around the corner called Purple Monkey Playroom. We were one of the first businesses on this corner, and just a few blocks down from us there’s a hub with fancy shops, restaurants, and bars: we love Irazu Costa Rican restaurant and Red & White Wines. There’s also a doggie day care, and an auto repair shop, so it’s kind of strange. But there’s always plenty of parking on the block!

What is it that you guys love so much about Kindermusik?
Jessica: When I began teaching at other places, I had students who were excelling above and beyond in their lessons. I wondered, Why are they so smart? It turned out they had all taken Kindermusik classes. I looked into and I liked the concept. It’s not just singing and dancing; it helps with brain and language development, prepares kids for school, teaches them patterning, how to use their bodies. It also gives kids way to express things when they don’t otherwise have the language, because kids can start singing even if don’t know words. It helps their soul. And when we listen to music they can notice instruments: “I hear a piccolo!”

Jessica leading a Kindermusik class“Music helps reading, language, math, abstract concepts, spatial awareness, and teaches kids to work in groups.”




In my own experience as a parent, Lucia and I have a song for every activity, from mealtime and brushing teeth, to bathing and going to the grocery store, to the doctor, to the park, plus feelings and sounds. The songs have saved me countless times while waiting in line or at a restaurant with a restless child!  They are a great, easy, positive distraction that doesn’t need anything but your voice.

Luis Solares: Jessica brought Lucia to a Kindermusik class when she was 1 week old. We were running the business and had to be here, and Jessica was tired of being home. Lucia loves music. She’ll say, “Papa, lets play ‘No Woman No Cry,’ or ‘The Lion Sleeps Tonight.’ That’s one of her favorites. She sings perfectly in tune and gets joy out of it. I don’t know if she’s going to be musician; she might be an accountant or a fitness instructor. But we’ve had this time together and music is part of her life.

Jessica: I don’t expect her to pursue a music career.  Our goal at Bucktown Music is the same for all children: that they can be musical children, not child musicians. I want her to understand how music can express feelings and give her a pleasurable activity to release stress. Music also helps reading, language, math, abstract concepts, spatial awareness, and teaches kids to work in groups if they are in an ensemble. So far, Lucia loves singing and playing all of the percussion instruments.

Does she like hanging out at the studio?
Jessica: Yes! She likes to chat with customers, color, play instruments, read books, and participate in whatever class she can!

Is Lucia also learning how to play an instrument?
Luis: Not yet, but we know she’s going to do piano for sure. It’s the most fundamental instrument, the instrument kids can be most successful at a young age. But if at 8 or 9 she wants to play guitar or violin, that’s fine, too.

Jessica: We’ll start her on piano when she is 5 or 6 years old, and it will be important to make it a positive experience for her so that she will want to continue.

What were your backgrounds in music growing up?
Luis: I was involved with the choir, a little band that did performances in church. That was my only association with music as a kid. I moved here for college 17 years ago; I’m originally from Guatemala. It was supposed to be temporary but I decided I loved music and wanted to continue being involved. I used to have bands that performed in local bars and restaurants a couple of times a week. It was a gratifying experience; and it also shows my students you don’t have to be famous to get rewards from music. In fact, I have a lot of adult students—doctors, lawyers, accountants, nurses. They play music to relax, it’s their hobby.

Jessica: My family has a musical background. I have three younger brothers and two of them are professional musicians; one works here now. My dad and brothers are also luthiers, so I grew up my whole life with music. It’s strange to me that not everybody does that. It was so great for me to always play music with my dad, violin, and he played guitar. And we had a family band, Wild Rice. We played hot rock/jazz type of stuff because my dad was big into the bluesy thing. And yes, we have been compared to the von Trapps.

What instruments do you each play and teach?
Luis: Jessica was the lead singer for a band, and when she went to college she played violin in the orchestra but was a voice major, and she’s also good piano player. I teach guitar.

Jessica: A good music teacher should have a variety of things they can do. Mostly, we want everyone to learn a love of music and get inspired.

Visit to learn more about Bucktown Music.

Photographs by Thomas Kubik, TK Photography.


News You Can Use: Are Music Lessons Good for Kids’ Brains?

By Lela Nargi

Likely you remember a scenario like this: a young you, looking forward to dinner and TV after a long day at school, scrambling to finish your homework by dim winter’s light, only to hear your mother’s admonition, “Time to practice!”

Unless you were a true music aficionado, you probably wanted nothing more than to be let off the hook for that half-hour of tootling on your piano, or your flute, or your sousaphone. You counted off the days until the end of the year when, your parents had promised, you could quit the lessons. But years later, here you are with kids of your own and to your own shock, for reasons you can’t quite put your finger on, you find yourself determined that they, too, should be subjected music lessons.

Now, you’ve got science to explain that nagging sensation that all this must be good for you. According to a study published last year in the Journal of the Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry,  researchers at the University of Vermont College of Medicine determined that music training helps kids develop their brains, their attention spans, and their emotional control.

Dr. James Hudziak and colleagues used MRIs to scan the brains of 232 children aged 6 to 18, three times at 2-year intervals. Analyzing the data, they discovered that playing music alters the motor areas of the brain, “because the activity requires control and coordination of movement,” according to an article in Science Daily.

Additionally, playing an instrument thickens various parts of the brain that are responsible for executive functioning, including “working memory, attention control and organizational skills,” according to “In short, music actually helped kids become more well-rounded.”

Is it too late for us parents to go back and revive their own music educations? The science is still out!

What Kids Really Gain from Arts Education: One Mom’s Personal Reflection

By Lela Nargi

It’s a late evening in early December and I’m sitting with my tween daughter in a stiflingly heated, baldly lit, packed-to-the gills auditorium near Coney Island, waiting for Mark Twain middle school’s winter concert to begin.  We’ve come out to see a friend of my daughter’s sing with her 7th grade choral class. It promises to be a long night, with three grades’ worth of choral performances, three of band, three of orchestra, and a few extras thrown in for good measure. But I’m used to these sorts of engagements. As the parent of a kid who’s been lucky enough to attend public schools that vigorously buck the current trend of defunding arts programs, I’ve been sitting in on biannual music, dance, drama, photography, and broader “talent” shows since my daughter was in Pre-K. I hardly give the enterprise any thought.

Arts education has been a big educational talking point for years, but possibly never more than since the advent of the test-driven Common Core curriculum. As across the country the arts have been cast aside in favor of reading comprehension and STEM subjects—as well as the high-stakes exams that supposedly determine a child’s competency in them—the findings of multiple studies have been invoked to champion the ability of painting, drumming, ballroom dancing, playwriting, to enhance creativity, fine motor skills, and language development in our kids—with even more significant and lasting boons for low-income children.  Many parents with kids who are painting, drumming, dancing, and playwriting through school, both where I live in Brooklyn and elsewhere, accept these benefits as a given. But they’re not what are on my mind as the lights in the auditorium dim and the first orchestral group streams onto the Mark Twain stage.

The students are wearing the customary on-stage uniform of white shirts and black bottoms. They march purposefully out from the wings in a steady and orderly manner, delicately carrying their instruments. They quietly find their seats, set their music on their stands, and follow along with their section leaders in tuning their instruments. When Jamie Baumgardt, Mark Twain’s strings teacher, appears on stage they stand, then await her cue to sit again. As anyone who’s ever watched an orchestra knows, this is business as usual. But if you’ve ever spent any time with a large group of rabid tweens and teens, you know how exceptional this sort of behavior is.

And if you’re an educator, you know it even more acutely. I’ve listened to my sister-in-law, a 20-year veteran of elementary school classrooms, bemoan the mounting inability of her students to sit still and focus. She chalks it up to the use of smartphones and tablets, devices that encourage them to eschew human interaction and reward them for making fast, unconsidered decisions. For years, my husband taught literature to community college students and every night came home with frustrated stories of kids who didn’t know how to behave in his classroom: truly didn’t know they shouldn’t text and take phone calls, didn’t know they shouldn’t gobble sandwiches and bags of candy, didn’t know they shouldn’t listen to music through one headphone as he led them (or attempted to lead them) in discussions of Kafka and Chinua Achebe. Children are losing their understanding of basic courtesy and in the process, are becoming ever more removed from their peers and larger society. With this loss, life becomes less pleasant and more challenging for all of us. Because the loss is palpable everywhere we go. Think of the people texting through movies. Refusing to let you pass as you haul heavy grocery bags down the sidewalk. Shoving you aside to get onto the subway car first.

And this is what I’m thinking about as the strings students finish their performance, again await Ms. Baumgardt’s cue to rise, and quickly, silently take their bows and leave the stage. An orchestra has many governing rules. To survive and thrive in this setting, an orchestra member not only has to know them, she has to tacitly agree to follow them. As these rules govern how members of an orchestra treat their leaders, their equals, and the audience that has come out to see them—in addition to expectations for their own personal responsibility to practice—an orchestra, quite simply, offers a blueprint for how to behave in a society.

“My music students learn professionalism and that, regardless of the context of the setting, there are times and places to be professional,” Ms. Baumgardt tells me. “Running around in the park you can be kids and throw Frisbees. But in a professional setting there are expectations. What values should musicians have that translate to the rest of their lives?” Plenty. Do we want our children to be able to make eye contact with friends and strangers as they politely converse with them? Do we want them to be able to show empathy for others, both locally and globally? Do we want them to understand the positive influence of their hard work, not only on their own development, but on the achievements of an affiliated group? Thanks to the efforts of Ms. Baumgardt and other teachers of music, dance, drama, and plastic arts such as sculpture and drawing, they’re getting an excellent footing. “I show them that being committed leads to success, and that can make you feel great about yourself,” says Ms. Baumgardt. “But it’s also about the bigger picture. The efforts they contribute, in the long run, are going to make everyone successful.”

In some cases, that even includes their own parents. As my daughter’s friend takes the stage with her fellow singers, a dad sitting in front of me becomes animated. After snapping photos with his stage-obscuring iPad, he begins to wave his arms over his head, trying to get his kid’s attention. She ignores him. He tries again. And again. She finally acknowledges him with the meager-est of nods. By behaving professionally, as she’s been taught, she’s given her own father a subtle clue about how to behave with professionalism and courtesy. Hopefully, that tiny trend will radiate.

The very fact that my daughter and I are here tonight is proof that the lesson transcends beyond the classroom and the stage for kids, too. My daughter has come out to show support for a friend, just as this friend came out to support her a week earlier, when my daughter danced in a performance of The Nutcracker. The older they get, and the more serious about their various artistic pursuits, the more supportive they become for each other. Empathy (in the plastic arts, critiques would be miserable without empathy) is built right into the framework.

And empathy—along with discipline, listening skills, manners, the ability to articulate and to work as a team—will serve these kids whether or not they eventually choose careers in any arts-driven field. Sarah, a violinist in Ms. Baumgardt’s 8th grade ensemble, wants to be a doctor—and feels the emotional connection she’s developed to music will help her have an emotional connection to her future patients. Tricia, an 8th grade violist, thinks teamwork and intuition are the two lessons she’s learned from music that will be most valuable to her possible future career as a children’s dentist. Ultimately, the goal of arts education is not to churn out professional artists. As Mark Twain’s principal, Karen Ditolla, puts it so succinctly, “By helping children learn these crafts, we’re helping them grow as people.” There isn’t any goal finer.

Photograph from the George Grantham Bain Collection, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA, #LC-B2-3849-6

News You Can Use: Singing to Soothe a Crying Baby

Crying baby

By Dawn Van Osdell

Every parent has tip-toed away from a nearly sleeping baby after using all the tricks in our arsenal to sooth him. Turns out, these shenanigans might not be necessary.  A new study from the University of Montreal found that the best way to console a crying baby is to sing him a nursery rhyme. Babies in the study, which was recently published in Infancy, remained calm twice as long when they listened to a song—even one they didn’t know—as they did when they listened to parental speech.

We’ve known for years—generations, even—that music has a calming effect on humans, but until now it wasn’t known whether infants had the mental ability to be enraptured by it as well. “Many studies have looked at how singing and speech affect infants’ attention, but we wanted to know how they affect a baby’s emotional self-control,” says Isabelle Peretz, professor at the University of Montreal’s Center for Research on Brain, Music and Language. “Emotional self-control is obviously not developed in infants, and we believe singing helps babies and children develop this capacity.”

Her research studied 30 infants aged 6 to 9 months. In order to eliminate the possibility of influence by other factors—sensitivity to a mother’s voice, facial expressions, and connection between performer and baby, for instance—all speech and music were uttered in Turkish, a language that was unfamiliar to the babies; and parents were present, but out of sight. The music used was recorded rather than live, so no points were awarded for an especially talented singer or for social interaction between the singer and child.

When listening to the nursery rhymes, which tend to have a specific range of tones and rhythms, babies remained calm an average of nine minutes. They were calm for roughly half as long when speech—using baby-talk or not—was attempted as a means to sooth them.

“Our findings leave little doubt about the efficacy of singing nursery rhymes for maintaining infants’ composure for extended periods,” Peretz said. “Even in the relatively sterile environment of the testing room—blank walls, dim illumination, no toys, and no human visual or tactile stimulation—the sound of a woman singing prolonged infants’ positive or neutral states and inhibited distress.”

The findings are important because mothers, and Western mothers especially, speak much more often than they sing to their children. Switching to song as a comforting response could mean the difference between a crying baby and a content one.  No worries if you don’t know the words or can’t carry a tune—infants haven’t yet developed the capacity to judge you!

Photograph by Angelica Lasala via Compfight

Profiles of Childhood: Rachel Policar, Opera Singer and Sitter, New York, NY

Policar poses in the trees beside the Metropolitan Opera House at Lincoln Center


As told to Lela Nargi

“I grew up in a town called Issaquah, WA, 20 miles east of Seattle. Then I went to Arizona State University for my undergraduate degrees in vocal performance and musical theater before moving to New York five years ago.

Now I am a coloratura soprano, which is a classification of soprano that sings a high and fast repertoire. It’s a little bit challenging because you’re expected to be perfect at all times, so it requires a tremendous amount of dedication and practice and time spent learning and working on your craft. But I love it, and it allows me to play a lot of fun roles.

I just sang my first Gilda in Rigoletto by Verdi this summer. She’s more of a lyric soprano but she has some coloratura elements to her, and that stretched me out as a singer and gave me a whole new bag of tricks to pull from. I’ll be doing my fourth Gretel this January with the Knoxville Opera’s outreach program. I get hired more often than not to play very young girls, because I don’t look super old and I’m on the small side. I love playing children. It helps me relate to the children I babysit for, and they love when I show them pictures of myself in costume as a little girl. They think that’s the coolest thing they’ve ever seen.

Upon request, I’ve shown a couple of my kids YouTube videos of me singing. One little girl I babysit for regularly was obsessed with a recording I have of West Side Story and insisted that we sing together. Her mother asked me recently if I teach voice, and that would be the ultimate reward for me—to take a child I’ve babysat for and introduce her to the world I live in most of the time.

Mostly, though, kids have a lot of questions about opera singing. The number one question hands-down is: Can you break a glass with your voice? It’s actually very difficult to do that; you have to sing a really high note very loudly. I can’t do it yet, but maybe someday! Then they ask me how I make so much sound come out of my mouth. They ask me a lot of questions about costumes, and they want to know everything about opera, which is great. I like to think I’m building the next generation of opera lovers.

My first teacher, Phyllis Peterson, was 80 years old when I met her. She had fire engine red hair, and she was about 5’1”—a tiny powerhouse. Her energy and smarts, especially when she was telling me stories about her amazing life and career, made me feel like I was part of something special. She encouraged me to try things I wouldn’t necessarily have wanted to do on my own and helped me to find myself. Her passion was inspiring. And I’ve come to realize that what I’m able to do really is special.

Being in a creative field, opera singers are by nature emotional beings and very in touch with what we’re thinking and feeling—in much the same way that a child is. Children have this wonderful innocence and generosity; they’re not afraid to share with you everything that’s going on. Singers have so much of that in what we do, too, and I love that kind of interaction with the kids I babysit for. I also love playing games with them. Inevitably, I’ll be shocked by something they’ve thought up, and frustrated and challenged. It opens your imagination to be able to relate to kids on that level and not have that fear of judgment. I’m not afraid to get on the floor and roll around.

You have to be physically fit to have the stamina to make it through an opera. Your vocal chords are two little muscle membranes that sit in your throat, and they require exercise and strengthening and just as much practice as running football sprints does. To sing those amazingly long phrases over an orchestra, opera singers have the same lung capacity as some Olympic swimmers. But it’s really fun to open your mouth and have this enormous sound come out. You get to wear these beautiful clothes, and put on wigs, and have people do your makeup, and take on these characters that sometimes are wildly different from who you are. Yes, it’s a profession but we also get to play for a living.”

Photograph by Roy Beeson