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By the time August rolls around, summer has gone into overdrive and the kids have all but exhausted the popsicle supply in the freezer. Even though school is still three weeks away and the TV is starting to look like a good option to keep everybody happy, there are still plenty of things to do outside that can help Littles work on their cognitive skills.

When the mercury starts to rise, our normal inclination is to head indoors, but preschool teacher Nikki Thompson encourages parents to keep getting their children outdoors even if that means modifying your schedule to hit the cooler parts of the morning and evening.

More: Tips for outdoor summer learning

“Exercise is incredibly important in regards to learning,” she says. “Do not be afraid to let them make a mess.”

She encourages parents to keep a station for painting and playdough and play sand.

“Buy a simple dollar store baby pool and let them paint in it,” Thompson says.

Fill it up with water when they are done and you have just created at good hour of entertainment for you and your child. While it may seem like a big mess, it helps strengthen their pencil grip later when they start writing.

Upstate mom Dara Park encourages her daughter to use the water table.

“We fill it with tiny things she can discover as well as thing she can use to pour,” she says. “It keeps her cool and helps her work on eye hand coordination.”

They also use sidewalk chalk as a means of practicing her letters and numbers. Park writes them on the back porch and her daughter helps her “water” the letter garden.

Thomson also encourages parents to get down and have them copy what you create on the sidewalk. Making a simple flower in chalk may be easy to an adult but is actually an exercise in color and shape identification for a young child. Additionally, having them trace your work gives them more practice with fine motor skills.

For those of you lucky enough to have a swing set in the backyard like we do, you can use that to your advantage. My own son likes to swing on his belly, so as he pushes himself off, I park myself in front of him and have him review. With every swing forward, I hold up a flash card and he identifies objects on the card. He thinks it is fun and doesn’t realize he is learning at the same time. As he gets older we can modify it for harder concepts like addition and sight words.

Need something even easier than sidewalk chalk learning and bubbles? Nothing is as fun for a Little as a simple sprinkler. When you just need a break, grab a book, a glass of sweet tea, and turn on some cheap water fun for your kiddo. After all, they need a bath and you need five minutes of peace.

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