The dog days of summer are here … Pass the time with kid-friendly ideas from the childcare staff at Syracuse University

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aerial view of Gaia the Turtle at Ithaca Children

Campus & Community

Would you like to squeeze in some summer fun in the coming days and weeks before the kids go back to school? Courtesy of the staff at Syracuse University’s Early Education and Child Care Center and Bernice M. Wright School, we’ve put together a few outside-the-box ideas for fun both inside and outside the home.

Destinations and day trips

Gaia the Giant Turtle is a highlight of the Ithaca Children’s Garden, which is just over an hour from campus.

  • Ithaca Children’s Garden is a 3 acre public garden designed just for children based on the basic concepts of play and connection with nature. The garden is free and features honey beehives, a garden with bird habitats, a rice paddy pond, a wildflower meadow, a farm stall, and more.
  • Cornell’s Botanic Gardens and Arboretum is considered by some to be one of the Finger Lakes Region’s best kept secrets. Complete with a koi / turtle pond and sculptures, the living museum is free to visit and a fabulous spot for a picnic lunch.
  • The Discovery Center of the Southern Tier is located in Binghamton right next to Ross Park Zoo and has a variety of dramatic playrooms – an ambulance for kids to play with, a dentist’s office, a hair salon, a grocery store, etc. There is also a science-based exploration room and more a fairy tale garden where children can play.
  • The Wolf Mountain Nature Center in Smyrna offers hiking and the opportunity to “meet” wolves, coyotes and foxes. Pack lunch as there are picnic areas along the mountain! The center also offers a Camping with the Wolves option for families with children aged 12 and over.

Adventure and activities

  • Letterboxing is a treasure hunt-style outdoor activity that involves exchanging unique stamped images using various websites and mobile apps to look for mailbox clues. The AtlasQuest.com website has a list of places within 30 miles of Syracuse that have hidden mailboxes. Bring a blank diary, stamp pad and whatever your personal family stamp will be and go on an adventure!
  • Over 1,100 public libraries and branches across the country are open, offering fun and exciting summer events and enriching activities for students of all ages. The Summer Reading at New York Libraries program provides access to a variety of books and other resources, and offers creative and educational programs for children and teenagers to aid summer learning and prevent the “summer slide”.
  • Hot day? Try freezing small toys, seashells, Lego bricks, glass pebbles, fidget or other colorful objects in open plastic containers (to-go containers work well), use food coloring or liquid watercolors to color the water. Put them in the back yard or driveway and let the kids discover the treasures while you cool off at the same time! You can even turn this activity into a scavenger hunt or, if age-appropriate, provide a small hammer and some golf tees to crack into the frozen treasures.
  • Children’s shoes often have a unique pattern on the sole, which turns the soles of old slippers or broken flip-flops into excellent “stamps” for painting. Apply a thin layer of acrylic paint on a paper plate, slide your hand into a slipper or around a flip-flop and “kick” it in the paint, then press onto paper or fabric for a unique design.
  • Take a cardboard shirt box, put a sheet of paper in it, and add a few drops of tempera or acrylic paint. Then treat yourself to a few marbles, golf balls or an old matchbox car. Hold the sides of the box while tilting and rotating it, the balls or car will roll through the paint and make a design.
  • Check out the ARTBAR blog tutorials for watercolor paper pinwheels and dream catchers (and many, many more home craft ideas). Remember, with the internet available to you, there is no limit to what you and the kids can create together!

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