Family Time, Summer: Child Ages 2-3

One of the most effective ways to build a strong family is to spend time and do things together. This publication provides summer activities for families with children between the ages of 2 and 3.
Family Time, Summer: Child Ages 2-3 - Articles


Your Child from 2 to 3

  • Wants to do things for himself.
  • Is self-centered—the “me do” age.
  • Talks more, uses more words, needs to be talked with.
  • Is full of questions.
  • Likes to be read to.
  • Needs lots of fresh air and exercise.
  • Enjoys lots of large-muscle activities.
  • Needs to be hugged and held a lot.
  • Likes being with his parents.
  • Likes to help.
  • Is beginning to “make believe.”
  • Expresses feelings openly.

To Do Family Time You Must

  • Have a firm desire to help your family grow stronger.
  • Make a strong commitment to do Family Time activities regularly.
  • Set aside time to do the activities.
  • Be determined to involve all family members.

To Get Started

  • Pick an activity.
  • Before the family gathers, be prepared by getting together any materials that you need to do what you have planned.
  • Set aside some time each week when all family members can be together. Turn off the TV, radio, or other distractions.

A Word to Parents of Younger Children

One of the most effective ways to build a strong family is to spend time and do things together. The family who routinely spends time together establishes a tremendous reserve, or emotional bank account, that can be drawn on when daily life becomes a bit tedious or trying.

Family Time is a good beginning. The family that regularly does Family Time develops a pattern or habit of doing things together. Family members enjoy being with one another. They develop the security and good feeling about one another and themselves that is so vital to growing as human beings.

Family Time will not just happen, at least in the beginning. Parents especially must plan it, setting aside time and minimizing distractions. The family must do Family Time regularly. Skipping, canceling, or simply putting off is very disappointing, especially to the child. He may get the idea that he is not important.

Doing Family Time will be very rewarding in a number of ways. Besides deepening the bond with their child, parents will see the child do new things—the excitement on a child’s face after completing some activity is worth more than all the sacrifices a parent has made to set aside time. Family Time gives parents the chance to receive those human rewards and the satisfaction that no amount of money could ever buy.

Regardless of your family makeup, Family Time will help you build a stronger family.

James E. Van Horn, Ph.D., Professor of Rural Sociology and Certified Family Life Educator

Let’s Explore...Our Family

Fly the Flag This Summer

Introduce your family to the patriotic summer holidays. Don’t forget to fly the flag on Flag Day, June 14. Your child can help you get out the flag and put it up.

The Fourth of July is another time when he can help you bring out the flag.

Plan to add some red, white, and blue to your table. Make cupcakes with white frosting. Let your child top them with red and blue candles to celebrate our nation’s birth.

Serve a wedge of cake topped with whipped cream, blueberries, and strawberries.

Let’s See Where Daddy or Mommy Works

Does your child know where Daddy or Mommy goes when he or she leaves the house to go to work? Some summer evening or weekend, take your child to show him where you go when you go to work.

When you come home, you might like to make a scrapbook, or add to a family scrapbook, some pictures of someone doing the kind of work you do so that your child can look again and know what his daddy or mommy does all day.

Family Finger Puppets

Use water-based magic markers to turn your child’s fingers into a family of puppets. Draw simple faces on his fingers—Mom, Dad, me, baby, etc. Your child can make each one talk; tell stories all day long.

Wash off at the end of the day.

Our Family Picture Book

Your family can make a picture book about families by cutting out pictures from a magazine or catalogs. Children enjoy looking at picture books and pasting them together.

Look for a variety of ages, children with parents, grandparents, doing different things, eating, playing, reading, working together, bedtime, etc.

“Learning About Our House” Game

Some children learn many things just by being around people, but others need to be taught. Does your child know the names of things in his house? Try touring your house daily and naming things so that when you ask him to take something to the “front door” he will know not to go to the “back door.”

Start by naming the rooms. “This is the kitchen, this is the living room, this is the bathroom.” (This is especially important if you have just made a move.)

You can also name furniture. “This is the sofa, this is a chair, this is the clock, that is a lamp.”

If you and your child enjoy that game, you might try helping him learn words like big and little, round and square, in and out, rough and smooth, tall and short, fat and thin, yours and mine, walk and run. Use these concepts in the phrases you speak while touring the house. “This chair is little, this chair is big. This table is round, this table is square.”

Let’s Go on a Family Picnic

Summertime means picnic time, whether you are camping out or simply cooking out. A backyard is as exciting to a child as a national park may be to you.

Summer picnics can be as simple or as elaborate as you choose. Your child will enjoy a simple meal. Try a backyard lunch some day. If yours is an only child, invite a neighbor in.

Pack a lunch and a blanket, and picnic at your neighborhood park. Allow time for your child to enjoy running on the grass.

Finger Jell-O is terrific picnic food, assuming you are not picnicking at a place where a special dessert is the attraction.

Don’t overlook the magic of a marshmallow roast. Children of 3 and under will probably eat them uncooked off their stick and still think it is a nifty event.

Beware of your child running and eating from a stick at the same time!

Let’s Explore...Our Community

Watch a Parade

Summer holidays often bring summer parades. Your family will enjoy going to see one together, especially if it is a local one and you see people you know in the parade.

Your child will delight in the fire engines, the bands, and the animals. Be sure to take along her stroller and snacks for the family.

Talk to a Police Officer

Give your child a chance to see what community helpers do. Take her to talk with a police officer. He or she could give you a “tour” of a police car. This might include letting your child sit in the police car and hear the police radio.

Most officers will be glad to talk to your child, show her their badge, and answer questions.

Is everyone getting involved?

Play Town in the House

Some rainy summer day, build a play town in your house. Does your child have building blocks? Do you have some old cardboard cartons, some old blankets, or sheets? Suggest to your child that he build a play town in your house. Talk about what things you find in a town. You could have a grocery store under the dining room table, the school by the sofa, a gas station next to the chair, and houses near by. Blocks could be used to make the stores, or as roads in between. Bring out the toy cars and trucks. Let your child use his imagination. You can help provide the props, ask questions, and enjoy the town!

(Let your child decide how he wants to do it. One day he may just want to play gas station or grocery store. That’s fine too.)

Learning About Community Workers

Together read some books about community workers. Examples of such books are:

Policeman Small, by Lois Lenski

Daddies, What They Do All Day, by Helen Walker Puner

Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel, by Virginia Burton

Country Mailman, by Jerrold Beim

Then look in magazines for pictures of people and places that show community workers. Try to find pictures of schools, churches, post office, stores, restaurants, farms, factories, shopping centers, etc. Look for doctors, nurses, firemen, police, farmers, truck drivers, grocers, teachers, homemakers, and others.

Cut the pictures out and let your child paste them in a book called “Our Community Book.” Any kind of paper will do. You can tie the book together with yarn or shoelaces.

Going to the Barber or Hairstylist

Here’s another chance for your child to see what people in the community do.

When you go to get a haircut, take your child along to watch what the barber or hairstylist does. He can watch someone get shampooed, have a haircut, or get a perm.

Let him sit in the chair, too.

Stop at the Corner Store

Let your child pick out a small purchase. Then give him the money to hand to the cashier when you check out. He’ll be delighted to be “grown up” and to have his own bag. He will be learning about how to shop at the store and how to use money.

A Shopping Expedition

Take the family on a shopping trip together. One favorite stop will be the pet shop. Allow plenty of time to look at the animals, but be prepared to face desires to bring a pet home.

Let’s Explore...The Foods We Eat

Ants on a Log—and Other Critters

Wash and cut vegetables and fruits into 2- to 3-inch chunks. Let your family make finger snacks, spreading peanut butter or cheese spread on them. Add a few decorations such as raisins, peanuts, or olive slices. Have them give the snacks names such as:

Ants on a Log

Celery, peanut butter, raisins

One-Eyed Monster

Green pepper wedge, cheese spread, olive slice

Apple Bug

Apple wedge, peanut butter, raisins

The Blob

Carrot stick, cheese spread, peanuts

Lemonade and Orangeade

Your child will love to squeeze fresh oranges and lemons on the hand juicer and can add the sugar and water for a delicious, cooling drink.

With some help, he can fill an ice tray with real fruit juices and freeze them into cubes for refreshing treats later.


  • 3 cups water
  • 1 cup lemon juice (4 lemons)
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • ice

Frosted Goodies

When you have some frosting left over, or just for a special treat, let your child frost some goodies. (Different colors and flavors of frostings make the experience especially interesting.) Honey butter can be used instead of frosting. Make it by mixing 1/2 cup honey with 1/2 pound soft butter until smooth.

  • Put frosting between 2 vanilla wafers
  • Put frosting between 2 graham crackers
  • Frost plain cookies
  • Frost plain cupcakes or donuts

Do not use honey in beverages and uncooked foods for infants under the age of one year. Honey may contain botulism toxins.

Tree Trunks

Take a slice of bologna and spread with cream cheese or peanut butter and roll together.

Ham and Cheese Squares

Put one slice of ham on top of one slice of cheese. Continue to stack the ham and cheese on top of each other until there are six layers. Cut the stack into little squares.

Try your own variations with your own combinations of meats and cheeses.

Fruit Salad


  • bowl
  • table knives
  • assorted fresh fruits


Gather fresh fruits in season like peaches, strawberries, grapes, cherries, cantaloupes, blueberries, etc. It’s interesting to note with your child the different textures of skin, different colors, and the variety of seeds as you work. Your child can wash the fruits. For the softer fruits, your child can help cut them up with a table knife.

This makes a delicious snack or a tasty part of the meal to share with the family. (If you grow any of these fruits yourself, you will, of course, let your child help pick it first.)

Try adding one unusual fruit like a papaya or a coconut that you have not had at your house before. See how your family feels about it

Bologna and Cheese Rollups


  • bologna slices
  • cheese slices

Have your child top a slice of bologna with a slice of cheese and roll it up. The bologna and cheese rolls are ready to eat.

Let’s Explore...Plants and Animals

Rock or Shell Collecting

As you walk along a stream or along a beach this summer, see how many different kinds of rocks or shells you can find.

Your child will find many treasures also. Be sure to look for the tracks of birds, animals, and water creatures. Look at plants growing in the water and look for the effects of water on the beach or bed of the stream.

When you get home, wash the rocks or shells and keep them in a box your child can reach. She will enjoy playing with them. They can be sorted according to size, shape, and color.

Arranging Flowers

Let your child help you when you decorate. A walk in the woods and fields or a trip to the garden will give your child a chance to pick a handful of flowers.

When you return to the house, give him a container he can use to arrange his flowers. Then put his bouquet on the family table so that all can admire his arrangement.

Worm House


  • large glass jar
  • orange juice can
  • sand or soil
  • worms


Fill the orange juice can with soil and place it in the bottom of the jar. Fill the rest of the jar with sand or soil. (Putting the can in the center forces the worms closer to the outside of the jar, where your child will see them.) Add worms.

Sprinkle oatmeal on the soil for the worms to eat. Moisten the soil with wet cotton balls you can poke into the sand every few days.

Dinnertime for the Animals

A visit to the farm, pet store, or zoo is especially fun if you go at dinnertime. Call ahead first to find out when the majority of animals are fed, and plan to visit at that time. You will be surprised at the diets of some of our animal friends.

While you are there, be sure to tell your child the name of the animals you are looking at. Talk about each animal’s size, color, and any special feature like the gerbil’s small size, the sheep’s wooly coat, or the giraffe’s long neck.

  • Be sure to take your child’s stroller along. Pack a snack for all to enjoy.
  • Be sure not to stay longer than your child’s interest span so that you do not have a tired and cranky child on your hands.

Include everyone in the activities.

Harvesting Fruits and Vegetables

Don’t forget your “helper” when it comes time to harvest your garden fruits and vegetables. Show her the difference between the ripe foods and those not ready to be picked.

She can help carry to the kitchen cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers, zucchini, etc. She can help shell lima beans and peas and can help wash vegetables and fruits.

Feed the Birds

Do you have a duck pond or park near you? Take some stale bread or crackers and go feed the ducks. Some parks have pigeons or squirrels that like to be fed if you have no ducks near you.

See if there is a wildlife refuge nearby where there are other animals to be fed. If you go, watch that animals larger than your child do not knock him down!

Let’s Explore...The World of Crafts

Swirly Patterns on a Cookie Sheet

Give your child a pat of Vaseline or cold cream to smear on a cookie sheet and he will have a dandy time making swirly patterns. This may seem strange, but it’s easier to wash off than mud. If some goes in his mouth it won’t hurt him, and it’s great for a child who loves smearing things around. (Naturally, you will watch that he doesn’t smear the walls or furniture.)

Paper Bag Blocks

Large, lightweight paper bag blocks encourage active play and imaginative building. They are fun to play with, and every member of the family can help build them.


  • large grocery bags
  • old newspapers
  • tape (masking or package sealing tape)
  • paints, markers, etc., if you wish to decorate blocks (optional)


Lay a grocery bag flat on the table. Fold the top over a few inches, and crease the bag on the fold. Open the bag completely, and stuff it with ten to twelve doublepage sheets of crumpled newspaper. Fold the bag on the crease line and tape the top closed.

Make at least ten paper bag blocks if you have bags and storage room. Try using different-sized bags for smaller or larger blocks.

These may be used indoors or out. You can supplement block construction with old cardboard boxes to make ramps, etc.

Paper Plate Puppets


  • paper plates
  • popsicle sticks
  • glue or tape
  • crayons, markers
  • felt, trim, etc.


Draw puppet features on the plates. Add odds and ends for ears, hair, etc. Glue or tape stick to the back.

Poking Holes

Children enjoy poking things. Give your child a blunt pencil to poke holes in a piece of paper. When he is finished, you can mount it over a piece of colored paper to show the design he made.

I Want to Dress Myself

Your child will be happier and you will be too if you give him clothes he can handle himself. That means no buttons in the back, no tight sleeves, and no zippers yet. Sturdy, comfortable, washable clothes suit best. Are the fastenings located where he can reach them?

Finger and Foot Painting

Children love to fingerpaint, and it is really worth the mess. Here are some recipes you can make at home.

  1. Mix equal parts soap and water. (Add powdered tempera paints for color.)
  2. Try shaving cream on the kitchen table. (Add powdered tempera paints for color.)
  3. Use liquid starch. (Add powdered tempera paints for color.)

Remember: doing it is what your child enjoys, so don’t worry when you clean up the results of his creative activity.

Other Suggestions

  • Use shelf paper or other paper. Let your child fingerpaint outside on newspaper.
  • Let your child fingerpaint on the counter, then gently press the paper on the painted surface to make a print.
  • An older child might like to try using his fist or the side of his hand to make other patterns.
  • Foot painting can be lots of fun too. Do it outside on concrete. Then use a hose to wash off paintings and feet.

Let’s Explore...Other Fun Things

Painting with Water

Even the smallest member of the family wants to help paint. On a warm day, provide a bucket of water and brush (2 inches or wider). Your child can put water in the bucket about half full. Let your child observe evaporation in process.

Use a variety of surfaces for “painting,” such as sidewalks, walls, fences, stones, or trees.

Sand, Dirt, and Mud

A sandbox with plenty of sand that you permit your child to dampen down in the summer will provide hours of play.

In the summertime, also give your child the luxury of mud play. Let her enjoy the squishy, messy play that even finger paints don’t provide.

Just digging in the dirt offers many satisfactions. Find a place in the yard where she can do it without fear of punishment. You will discover that she builds roads, mines, mud pies, and all sorts of fun things.

Soap Bubbles

Give your child a plastic drinking straw and a cup filled with liquid dishwashing soap and water. Since the cup is bound to spill, it is best to use a tray under it.

To make bubbles tough enough to float in the air without breaking, add a tiny bit of cooking oil to the soap and water mixture.

Children two and a half years and older can learn to blow, not suck, if you show them how. The bathtub and outdoors are good places to blow soap bubbles.

Working Parts of Machines

Take apart a clock that is broken and put the parts out on a tray. Your child can watch and help. The cover of an old fishing reel can be removed to expose the working parts. An egg beater has visible gears. If a bicycle has been discarded, remove the chain along with the gears and pedals and let your child see it.

Help your child see the movable parts in machinery. Take the back and face off an old wind-up alarm clock and let your child see how the gears move the hands.

Do you have an old clock he can have? Do you have an old gearbox or machine he can work on?

Outdoor Band Concert

Look in the paper and listen to the radio for announcements of local band concerts or other performances outside this summer. Plan to take your child some nice summer evening. It is a good chance for your child to see musicians perform live and not on television.

Children love music. At an outside concert, your child does not need to sit still or perfectly quiet but can get up and dance or clap to the music. When tired, he can take a nap or run around on the grass.

Consider getting there early enough to watch the band members unload their equipment. Your child will enjoy watching the drummer set up his drums, if you can get close enough, or watching some other instruments put together.

Developed by James E. Van Horn, professor of rural sociology and certified family life educator; Ellen Y. Matten, program assistant; and Natalie Ferry, former extension coordinator of special program initiatives.