When spring starts to wane, many of us get super excited for summer. We whip up a laundry list of things we want to do to make the most of the season. Then we get about one month in and… now what?
Planning out intentionally-inclusive activities for the summer takes more than just creative thinking. It requires a true understanding of a child’s needs and preferences, as well as some initial reconnaissance. You may need to visit potential field trip locations, for example: Scanning environments to make sure they are free of barriers to physical access or participation, ensuring they aren’t overstimulating or stress-inducing, etc. It’s no wonder we’re inclined to plan a season’s worth of activities ahead of time!
With plenty of summertime left ahead of us, you may need extra inspiration to pad out your itinerary. Don’t worry! We’re revisiting a few of our favorite activities and outings to recharge your creative batteries. Here’s what we have planned for the coming months.
Food is always fun! Better weather makes it more tempting to take your mealtime outside. Find a spot that’s accessible for the kids in your crew and pack up some portable eats. The change of scenery will be exciting enough but adding in treats that aren’t part of the everyday menu makes a picnic an outing to look forward to.
Keep your picnic inclusive with some attentive preplanning. When choosing a location for your picnic, environmental factors can make a world of difference. Here’s what we look out for:
- Consider the presence of any allergens like bees or certain grasses that you need to be wary of. Keep your kids’ allergies in mind when mapping out your menu, too.
- Plan to go on a temperate day, if you can help it. Too much bright sun or overall heat can make the experience unpleasant for some kiddos.
- Anticipate your seating arrangements. If picnic tables are available, great! If not, look into bringing camping chairs, trays to eat off of, etc.
It’s even better if you plan your picnic at an inclusive playground!
2. Water Works
Sprinklers, splash pads, pools, water balloons, sponge balls… the ways to add water to your playtime are just about endless! They are a refreshing way to take your activity time outside, too. Depending on your location and resources, some water-based programs are easier to enact than others. However, most of them only require a hose and a dash of ingenuity. Get your group involved to see what sounds fun!
To make these ideas inclusive for everyone, consider how your kids will interact with the activity. Some things to think about are:
- Equipment and how to protect it from getting wet. Power wheelchairs, braces, casts, and other equipment often aren’t meant to get wet. Find out how to keep them dry during your water play. If you’re unsure, a child’s parents will likely be able to help.
- Narrating the experience. For children who are blind or experience low vision, set up the activity in a structured way and describe the setup so everyone stays safe. Let them know where sprinklers are located, where the steps are in a pool, etc.
- Physical barriers – intended and otherwise! Selecting a safe, inclusive spot for your activities is important. That can mean picking a spot free of physical obstacles or setting up your own perimeter to keep the activity secure from unfamiliar equipment.
Pulling out some paint and letting your kids tap into their artistic abilities is always fun, but this year-round favorite comes in especially handy on rainy summer days. Even when you bring it outdoors, painting has hours of potential. Take kids to a new location and prompt them to paint what they see, hear, or feel. You can do the same with music or other experiences, helping kids to tangibly connect with the world around them.
Bringing this fun activity to life only requires supplies and space.
- Get materials. Make sure you have enough materials for everyone and get a variety of options to suit all involved. Will you provide brushes or are we fingerpainting? Will you paint on paper, banners, or canvas? Keep cleanup in mind, too, when choosing your supplies!
- Make room for creativity. If you’re working outside, set up an area that gives every artist their own personal space. Inside, be mindful of what’s nearby. Move anything you don’t want accidentally painted!
4. Dance Party
Even after prom season is long gone, some of us can’t help but boogie. Whether you take things outside for an impromptu music festival of your own or stick to dance hall decorum to learn line dances indoors, you’re bound to share some fun. Actual dance skills are optional, of course.
We’re proponents of everyone getting out on the dance floor and letting loose, but that can be intimidating, too. Before you turn on the music and get everyone grooving, consider:
- Children who need more time to learn new things. Learning line dances is no joke! To keep kids comfortable and confident, help them learn the steps ahead of time with a video of the dance. Alternatively, use picture cards that show the steps in order.
- Music volume. Loud music may be hard to handle for the kids in your group. Find a respectable level that prevents anyone from clamping their hands over their ears or retreating away from the group. It’s a nice thing to do, especially if you’re planning to play music in a shared or public place. To help keep everyone happy, ensure that noise-reducing headphones are available to stifle the volume for those who prefer some quieter entertainment.
5. Beach Day
A day at the beach offers just as much education as it does fun. It’s a 360-degree sensory experience: Sun on your skin, sand and shells with their unique textures, foamy water rushing up to greet you, plus plenty of flora and fauna to explore. Beach trips are an unparalleled summer staple.
But keep in mind that the sensory circus offered at the beach may not be a great fit for every child in your group.
- Ask parents about their kids’ experiences. Find out what the children do and do not like about the beach. Collecting shells or spotting dolphins in the distance may be a highlight. Sand, heat, and crashing waves may be dysregulating. Knowing about sensory sensitivities can help you plan an enjoyable beach trip for everyone.
- Ensure accessibility. Look for wheelchair-accessible beaches near you, and try to find beaches with a visitor center that can offer interactive learning opportunities for your kids. Indoor education areas offer an excellent alternative for children who prefer to stay out of the heat or away from the water.
6. Scavenger Hunts
Looking for a go-to group activity? Scavenger hunts are meant to be a meeting of the minds! Get your group to work together to find tangible items, take pictures in specific locations, or complete mini activities. Whatever works for your space! You can tap into memorable moments you’ve shared to write the clues, use things your campers have learned throughout the summer, or come up with riddles to challenge them. This is a huge creative opportunity for you and your kids.
Before you get caught up in the excitement of creating your clues, remember to:
- Create a visual menu of items. As you set up your scavenger hunt, consider snapping pictures of the items kids will need to find. This will be helpful for younger children who don’t read, and older youth who struggle with reading or process visuals better.
- Make clues equally accessible. We want everyone to experience the joy of finding an item on their scavenger hunt list. Put clues and items in areas that are easy to access for all participants so anybody can join the fun.
7. Open-Air Theater
Catching a live show is lightning in a bottle. Every performance is unique and there’s something special about live theater that you can’t capture with TV or movies. In the summer, theater in the park, amphitheater performances, and other outdoor theatrics can make your day truly special. Look for touring children’s theater companies or local productions to see what suits your schedule and interests.
As an added bonus, seeing a show may inspire your group to come up with and perform their own!
While you prepare for your day at the theater, maximize the potential of your outing with these tips:
- Set expectations for a theater environment. Take some time to teach your group about theater etiquette like how to dress, when to clap, and what an intermission entails. While open-air productions are often less formal than their indoor counterparts, any theater outing is a great time to learn about the arts.
- Get to know the show. Do you know what show you’ll be seeing? Is it a play or a musical? Introduce the children to the characters they may see on stage or play a few tracks to get them interested before the big day.
8. Field Day
Field days bring a ton of fun activities under a single umbrella. With different game stations, there’s bound to be something for everyone to enjoy. Try the traditional games, or go rogue and create your own! Relay races and egg tosses may not be your style, but pulling together a unique-to-you roster of field day activities is easy. Pull together the materials you have and the sports you know your campers will love. Putting a spin on common games can give them new life for your field day. Never-before-seen sports can introduce your group to activities they didn’t know they enjoyed.
To set up an intentionally-inclusive field day, take a look at your list of activities.
- Plan a variety of options. Field days don’t need to be entirely dependent on sports. Games are a great way to get kids involved, too. Strike a balance by including both. Throw in some Simon Says or trivia. Tack on more leisurely sports like croquet or cornhole. The best part about a field day is the myriad of activities!
- Mix up the format. Many kids love competition. Others, not so much. Team sports are similar – some kids crave them, others want to work alone. As you build out your list of activities, ensure a strong blend of group and solo options, as well as competitive and casual events.
9. Nature Excursions
Try adding a trip to the woods to your schedule, especially if you’re looking for an urban escape this summer. Like a day at the beach, a galavant through the woods surrounds you with experiences. The crunch of the leaves, the feel of the tree bark, distant animal sounds, that earthy green smell… There is so much to explore! If not the woods, then lakes, plains, or hillsides can present similarly stimulating nature outings.
To get extra activity from your nature trip, use the days ahead to create bingo cards full of the things you’ll see. It’s a fun way to build anticipation, squeeze in some education, and prepare kids for what’s to come.
Preparation for your excursion should include a few more considerations as well:
- Demystify the great outdoors. Why is it that just about every scary story involves the woods?! To take away the spooky factor, educate youth about the kinds of animals that live in your local woods. And, of course, plan your trip during the day.
- Check out the environment. Before you pack up your pals to go parading through the woods, make a separate trip out to assess the physical accessibility of the area. Are there trails? If so, what kind – gravel, dirt? For children using wheelchairs, can they travel through the area safely? Chart out a path that works for everyone attending the trip ahead of time. This will also help you to prepare children who are blind or have low vision, as you can narrate the next steps confidently while you’re in the woods and before you go.
- Clear up communication. Any new outdoor area presents its dangers. Out in the woods, you and your group must be able to stay on the same page. For children who are deaf or hard of hearing, establish clear signals for important information. Make it fun, rather than scary, by teaching everyone signs for the animals they may see or other natural features they will want to point out, as well.
Sometimes simplicity is the hidden gem of summer. And a fun, different day may only need some suds. Whether you grab a bunch of traditional bubble sets and let everyone have a blast blowing their own parade of bubbles, or you get one of those massive wands that can encapsulate an entire kid in a rainbow-reflecting bubble, there’s magic in the making here. As an alternative, bubble bins are rising in popularity as a foamy sensory experience. No matter how you approach the idea, bubbles can provide some much-needed levity to your summer schedule.
How you decide to create this sudsy experience is up to you. We have a recommendation as you get ready:
- Get the right equipment. While bubble sets are easy to find, your kids may need adapted handles to take control of their bubble-blowing adventure. For example, if a child uses special equipment for writing like a specific kind of handle grip, they may need something similar for their bubble wand.
Need More Inspiration?
We want to help you create an inclusive environment all summer long, one where fun is never in short supply. We understand that embracing the outdoors and thinking outside the box are musts for people in your position. It’s why we’ve created courses and training programs that can help you rethink what disability inclusion looks like for your programs.
Take a look at our course catalog, or reach out to us on social media to continue sharing your ideas for inclusive summer activities. We’d love to see you putting these 10 summer pastimes into action!