Liven up children's summer days with plenty of projects

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

''What can we do, Mom?'' Two little faces peered up at me, waiting for an idea. It was a hot summer day, and the swing set and sandbox just didn't attract their attention. So what could they do?

I gave them a box and sent them on a hunt for pine cones, acorns, and small stones. When they returned, they sorted the objects by size and made crazy creatures with them.

It isn't always easy getting children involved and keeping them entertained on hot summer days, and sometimes they need a few suggestions from parents. Some of the projects below can get parents and children thinking and planning for outdoor fun on those beautiful summer days.

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* Drawings on cement. Supply children with colored chalk or water paints and brushes. Explain or demonstrate how to use these items on a cement driveway or sidewalk. Artistic creations can be easily washed off with a hose, or nature will erase them with the next rainstorm.

* Bicycle wash. With a couple of sponges and a pail of water, children can wash tricycles, bicycles, and riding toys on warm days. This project not only provides them with something to do, but it gives them a sense of accomplishment.

* Clothesline tent. Our tents are usually saggy and baggy, but our boys have had many hours of fun in a crudely constructed clothesline tent. They love to eat snacks in there, read books, and pretend they're camping out.

* Texture booklet. Supply each child with a crayon and eight or 10 pages of scrap paper stapled together into a booklet. Show children how to make imprints of various textures by laying paper over a chosen surface outdoors and rubbing with the crayon. Suggest trying tree bark, cement, bricks, bike tires, wood, leaves, and other items. This activity also serves as a good recall game later as children tell which imprint represents a particular object.

* Rock painting. Children can have fun painting little creatures or designs on rocks. When done outside, this project is not as messy, and it also helps the paint dry faster.

* Scavenger hunts. Last summer, our four-year-old and his friend went on a scavenger hunt for sand, leaves, green pine needles, brown pine needles, grass, littered paper, small stones, bark, twigs, etc. After finding the items, we taped them into a booklet and labeled them. They could ''read'' each page, and for them that was something to be proud of!

* Find 10 game. We used 10 pencils when I was a child, but any 10 simple objects can be used. All children stay in the front yard while one person hides 10 pencils in the backyard. When summoned to hunt, the player finding the most pencils is the winner and gets to hide the 10 pencils the next time.

* Outdoor playschool. Spread an old blanket on the lawn and supply children with an assortment of ''crafty'' items. Things to include might be coloring books, crayons, scrap paper, tape, children's scissors, and string and beads.

* Picnic lunches. It isn't necessary to drive to a park for children to enjoy a picnic lunch. Our boys have one or two special spots in the yard where they like to put a blanket for picnic lunches. After last summer, I wholeheartedly agree with the popular theory that appetites are much heartier outdoors!

* Obstacle course. Help children construct an outdoor obstacle course. They'll giggle with delight while hopping over empty boxes, crawling under lawn chairs, running around trees, and doing somersaults on the path of a beach towel!

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