35+ summer activities for you and your preschool student that don’t involve screens

June 5, 2023 | Emily Ford Sytsma

Congratulations on making it all the way to summer! You may already be looking at your preschool student and thinking about adventures that you can have together. Here are some activities that have a hefty dose of fun and learning.


One of the best things that you can do for your child is to instill a love of story and language. So head over to the Hoboken Public Library, Jersey City Public Library or your own local library. Or try an independent bookstore like Little City Books, Word Bookstore, or Little BOHO Bookshop.

Check out some of these excellent authors/illustrators:

Eric Carle

Donald Crews

Lois Ehlert

Kevin Henkes

Rachel Isadora

Kevin Lewis

Rosemary Wells

Grace Lin

Juana Medina

Kadir Nelson

Matthew Paul Turner

Mo Willems

Mem Fox

Ezra Jack Keats

Jan Thomas

Tania Hoban


Nursery rhymes can get stuck in your head, and that’s a good thing! They promote language acquisition and speech development. Build memory. Cognitive ability. They’re often full of sequencing, math, and counting.  Let those rhymes get stuck in your head. (Or set them up on SpotifyYouTube has plenty as well!) Make up some hand and body motions for extra fun and memory support.  Here are some of our favorites:

  • Two Little Blackbirds
  • Miss Mary Mack
  • Jack Be Nimble
  • Little Miss Muffet
  • Five Little Monkeys
  • I’m a Little Teapot
  • Little Sally Walker
  • Here We Go ‘Round the Mulberry Bush
  • Grand Old Duke of York
  • One, Two, Buckle My Shoe


Children need nature and nature needs children. There’s a growing body of research that indicates that exposure to nature is important for healthy childhood development. Below are some ways to explore nature together in the city. 

  • Camera activity: Go for a walk and look for something to take a picture with your imaginary camera. Zoom in, find the right angle and pretend to take a picture. Or teach your child to use your actual camera and examine the nature images more closely at home after your outing.  
  • Ten sounds: Go for a walk. Along the way, find a place to sit down. Close your eyes and raise a finger for every new sound you hear until all your fingers are up. Can you identify the source of the sounds?
  • Dig at the beach in Hoboken by Maxwell Place, in Jersey City at Newport Sand Beach, or in the dirt anywhere.
  • Plant a seed and watch it grow.

Want to know more about how nature benefits children and vice versa?  Read Last Child in  the Woods by Richard Luov.


Preschool students love dramatic play. Pretending and acting stories out engage language skills, as well as social and emotional learning.  As children act out what they have observed in the world, their learning becomes consolidated in the brain. Joining your child in the dramatic play increases all of these benefits! 

  • Have a tea party. Or a feast. Or a birthday party for the teddy bear.
  • Have different clothes, scarves, and hats available as impromptu costumes.
  • Transform a big box into something or use chairs, a table and sheets to build a special place in which children can play inside.
  • Dramatize a book or story.
  • Make shadows.
  • Visit a theater performance in the park. Stay as long as the children are interested.
  • Write a play and then act it out.  Be sure it has a beginning, middle, and an end.


Not only are art activities fun and engaging, they help children develop critical fine motor skills.  Did you know that using scissors engages the muscles children will need when they begin to write?  While working on crafts, children learn how to follow directions and work through procedures.  In open-ended art activities they learn to use symbols to represent their ideas.  Art experiences increase academic success

  • Take a small sketchbook wherever you go and draw what you see or what you are imagining.
  • Have a variety of paper sizes, colors, shapes, and types available. Include Post-its, cards, and envelopes. Also try a variety of drawing materials–chalk, crayons, pencils and ballpoint pens, flair pens, colored pencils.
  • Paint a rock or a clay pot.
  • Use water and a big paint brush to paint rocks and walls and sidewalks outside.
  • Cut with scissors for the fun of it. It doesn’t have to lead to a project. Same with tape! A roll of tape and some paper can keep a child busy for some time.
  • Experiment with watercolor pencils.
  • Make a collection of beautiful recycled or found objects and create a sculpture using glue and tape.


Playing with oral language (talking aloud) not only increases a child’s ability to use language, it increases a child’s ability to understand language.  Both build the foundation a child needs before learning to read. 

  • Play with new words you encounter. Use them in different ways so that your child understands them in different contexts.
  • Find rhyming words or words that start with the same sound.  Create nicknames for favorite stuffed animals or for each other that rhyme or start with the same sound (Freddy Teddy, Soggy Doggy, Peter Penguin, Mia Monkey).
  • Tell a story and change important words to something silly. Bonus points if you use a rhyming word! (The mama bear said, “Who’s been sitting in my pear?”)  Or change the first sound in a word every sentence or two. Children find this silliness engaging and it teaches them to listen carefully.  (The big, bad, wolf knocked on the floor.)
  • Make up your own tongue twisters or build on some favorites like, “She sells seashells by the seashore.”
  • Have conversations at meal times. Ask tons of questions and enjoy their answers.


Lots of families participate in summer reading programs or incorporate books into their daily routines.  But sometimes we forget that math lives outside of the classroom too.  Children begin to understand counting, shapes, and patterns quite early and summertime practice with these concepts is key.  

  • Look for patterns wherever you are and point them out.  Start with simple A/B/A/B patterns, like a checkerboard.  You can also find patterns in fabrics, tiles, nature, and music notes.
  • Count everything. Spoons in the drawer. The steps on the stairs. The blue things in the room, etc.
  • Set the table. Determine which items are needed and how many of each before you even start laying them out.
  • Compare objects.  Which is bigger or smaller. Heavier or lighter. Wider or thinner.  Taller or shorter.
  • Play with blocks.
  • Play board games and card games that practice counting spaces and strategy.  There are plenty of apps that review these skills but children will learn more and more deeply if you interact with them while they learn. 


While oral language is important for building literacy, preschoolers are ready to work with language on paper as well.  Children learn how to express meaning as they grow in the ability to compose a drawing.  And soon they become interested in playing with writing and letters too.  

  • Make simple three-page books and have your child tell and illustrate a story with a beginning, middle and end.
  • Have your child retell a favorite story. Write the words she says on different pages.  Then let your child illustrate it and staple it together.  Design a cover and put it on your bookshelf, making your child a published author.
  • Fill a whole page with circles. Try using different colors. Try coloring them in.  Then try straight lines, squares, zig-zagging lines and curves. These forms are a foundation for writing letters.  
  • Begin a shared journal about something you and your child want to learn. Collect items.  Label them. Then draw and write about them.
  • Send messages back and forth to each other by making a mailbox for each family member in your home.  Send some drawings to a faraway friend or grandparent by visiting the post office.
  • Play restaurant and let your child take orders using whatever marks or letters he wants.


There are lots of great children’s songs. You probably know some from your own childhood. Or you may prefer more parent-friendly options, like songs by Hoboken’s own Fuzzy Lemons! Make up some dance moves and have fun!  Going on a trip? Replacing some device time in the car with music and singing will boost your child’s learning and your whole family’s mental health.  Here are some easy favorites:

  • The Itsy Bitsy Spider
  • Down by the Bay
  • Five Little Ducks
  • This Little Light of Mine
  • He’s Got the Whole World
  • If You’re Happy and You Know It
  • A Tisket, A Tasket
  • No More Pie
  • Los Pollitos Dicen

Have a great summer!

Emily Ford Sytsma

Early Childhood Director

Ms. Sytsma began her career as an educator working in inclusive classrooms in the state of Hawaii but found her roots began to grow here at Mustard Seed School when she came to teach in 1996. She joined the preschool team in 2007, after teaching for many years in the Middle School. She finds delight in the preschool’s approach to teaching and learning, inspired by the preschools in Reggio Emilia, Italy. As Early Childhood Director, she seeks to support teachers in their work helping children learn about thinking and creative expression.

Ms. Sytsma’s the mother of a MSS alum and a current student. When not at school, Ms. Sytsma enjoys traveling with her husband and two children. She tends a very simple rooftop garden in Jersey City Heights and on long Saturday mornings, she may be seen taking long walks along the Hudson River and listening to audiobooks or podcasts while organizing her thoughts and getting her heart rate up.

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