Wong Herbert Yee’s new book Summer Days and Nights evokes memories of my childhood summers in Michigan, where I spent time outdoors from the moment the sun rose above the treetops until several hours after it made its descent into Lake Michigan. Like the preschool-age girl in Yee’s book, I eagerly embraced the summer adventures of butterfly catching, lemonade sipping, pool soaking, picnicking and discovering nocturnal creatures.
Unfortunately, the summer Yee presents is not feasible in our Valley of the Sun, where intense heat makes outdoor activities less than enjoyable. Nonetheless, Summer Days and Nights can serve as springboard, providing inspiration for indoor play and motivation to find other entertaining children’s books.
Chalk is cheap, talk is priceless
The prismatic illustrations in Yee’s book inspire the artist within, making one want to grab a bucket of pastels and sketch away on the pavement. But not on our hot summer sidewalks!
Why not bring the chalk inside? Clear a space at the kitchen table and allow your child to draw on colored construction paper. In a pinch, a brown paper grocery bag also works as a suitable drawing surface. Children will delight in using tools besides standard crayons and markers. Be sure to show interest in your child’s artistic endeavor and let them tell you about their drawing. Encouraging conversation with “wh-questions” (who, what, where, when, why or how) supports a child’s language development.
Recommended read: Chalk by Bill Thomson, a wordless picture book about three children who create chalk drawings that come to life. With the help of a prompting adult, wordless pictures books motivate young ones to practice oral language and storytelling skills.
Picnic it up!
The preschool heroine in Summer Days and Nights enjoys a picnic in the park, where she gets to slip off her shoes, munch on a sandwich and count black ants. Here, even ants know better than to join a sweltering midday picnic. Think about moving your family’s picnic to the living room floor. Cover the floor with a tablecloth or sheet, invite favorite stuffed animals to the party, involve your child in the planning and preparation of the picnic menu and play board games.
A stand-in for the ants—that good old standby Ants on a Log—reinforces counting skills. Fill celery sticks with peanut or almond butter then topped with raisins or dried cranberries. Allow your child to count out each “ant” by placing raisins on a paper plate. Start with 10, then work up to 20. Assist your child to fill pre-cut celery sticks with your choice of nut butter, then top each “log” with a few raisins.
Recommended read: Ants at the Picnic, a rhyming and counting book by Michael Dahl. Count down from 100 as you watch the ants scurry away with yummy picnic treats. Available from Greater Phoenix Digital Library.
In Summer Days and Nights, a jump in the pool keeps the young protagonist cool. But with outdoor desert pools more akin to hot tubs, a refreshing bath might be a welcome substitute. Under your constant supervision, let your little one cool off in the tub while working on vocabulary development. With a small, plastic cup, demonstrate concepts like full and empty, sink and float, flow and drip, above and below, wet and dry, etc. Mix in some early literacy lessons by using colorful bathtub crayons to draw letters and shapes on the bathtub walls. Looking for a grander aquatic experience? Check out the indoor water park at the new Salvation Army Ray & Joan Kroc Corps Community Center. From a super slide to shallow shores, there are attractions for every member of the family to enjoy.
Recommended read: Rub-A-Dub Sub by Linda Ashman, an excellent pre- or post- bathtime book. It’s chock full of superb rhymes to promote reading readiness.
Prowl & Play
At the end of Summer Days and Nights, the young adventurer shares one more summer activity with readers—a sort of nighttime safari where she meets woodsy creatures close to home.
Doubtful or fretful of the kind of creatures you might uncover in your backyard? Consider an evening trip to the zoo! This summer the Phoenix Zoo will host one more Saturday evening of Prowl & Play events from 6 to 9:30pm Aug. 11. Enjoy water play, music, and a chance to say “night-night” to some of your favorite animals. Tickets are listed as $6 for members, $8 for non-members. For more information, call 602.273.1341.
Recommended read: Goodnight Gorilla by Peggy Rathman. Join the zookeeper as he makes his evening rounds.
Young children revel in novelty, and it doesn’t take much to transform the simple into the spectacular. With a little imagination and enthusiasm, you are sure to create magical summer memories and foster moments of learning and wonder for your child.