Family Time, Summer: Child Ages 4-6

One of the most effective ways to build a strong family is to spend time and do things together. This booklet provides activities designed to strengthen the family unit.
Family Time, Summer: Child Ages 4-6 - Articles


Your Child from 4 to 6

  • Asks endless questions.
  • Sees play as the big business of life.
  • Imitates grownups and role plays extensively.
  • Values playmates.
  • Accepts the principle of taking turns.
  • Likes slapstick humor.
  • Wants to be “good.”
  • Needs to be praised.
  • Likes to be near home; family is important.
  • Plays rough and tumble games all the time.
  • Shows off, giggles, and acts silly.
  • Is doggedly independent.

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.

He or She? Him or Her?

Please Note: In this and all Family Time publications, we take turns referring to children as “he” or “she.” When we use “he” or “she,” we include all children.

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 put-ting 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

Plan a Summer Celebration

Hold a family planning session to decide how to celebrate a summer holiday. Choose Father’s Day, the Fourth of July, or Labor Day weekend. (Come with some ideas for your family to choose from, but be open to suggestions.)


  • Planning a picnic
  • Visiting relatives
  • Making decorations
  • Cooking special foods
  • Watching a parade
  • Going on a trip

Include all family members in the activities!

Cutting out Footprints and Handprints


  • heavy colored or white paper
  • magic markers or crayons


Family members, both parent and child, can trace around their feet (with or without shoes) and/or their hands. Then the children and adults can cut out the prints and color them if they want. These can be labeled with each person’s name and put up on a bulletin board or piece of cardboard.

Talk about the differences in sizes of the various hands and feet. Talk about growing and how hands and feet will grow.

Look at the shape of the hands and feet. Are they similar to one another, or are they different?

A Vacation Trophy

Put together a vacation trophy—a sort of collection of all the things that were important to your family. All the family’s experiences and feelings about their vacation can be shown in a kind of nature shorthand. Perhaps you have a feather from one campground along the way, some shells from the beach, or a pebble from a walk in the park.

How you arrange these “symbols” of your vacations—in a frame, as a mobile, against a window—is your choice and your creation.

Looking at Cloud Shapes

Here’s a good activity to do some summer afternoon, on a picnic, or when the family is going on a walk. Lie down on your backs on the ground and look at the interesting shapes the clouds form in the sky. If it is an especially good day for clouds, call attention to the different varieties of clouds. Note if the wind is blowing and its effect on the clouds. Do you see any “things” in the clouds (animals, monsters, story characters)? Look for other things in the sky besides clouds (planes, birds, insects, moon, blowing leaves).

Outdoor activities usually are pretty active. Here is an activity that is quiet. Many children enjoy just watching the sky without wanting to describe what they see. Don’t be concerned if your child does not have a lot of comments to make. Lots of family communication will be taking place just from enjoying and thinking about the same things.

Family Night Fun (The Barefoot Marble Game and Nighttime Pictures)

Many families enjoy setting aside some time just to be together. Special plans are made for this time, although they need not be fancy or take a lot of preparation. Here are a few ideas to try with your family.

The Barefoot Marble Game Materials

  • 2 pie tins or flat boxes
  • marbles


Put the marbles in one container. Then let family members take turns, seeing how many marbles they can take from one container and put in the other with their bare feet!

Nighttime Pictures

Read the story While Susie Sleeps by Nina Schneider or Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown. Give everyone a piece of black or dark blue paper and white chalk to draw a nighttime picture. Provide some aluminum foil, white craft glue, and gummed stars for those who want to add a moon or stars to their picture.

Talk about how nighttime sounds, feels, etc. Be alert to fears that may be expressed.

Other Ideas

  • Do puzzles together.
  • Make up a family story.

Let’s Explore...Our Community

Learn about Your Fire Company

Plan a trip to take your child to see the fire station in your area. Telephone first to find out if you can visit and what time the engines and firefighters will be there. If they are not too busy, firefighters are usually glad to let children try on a fire hat, watch a firefighter slide down the pole (if there is one), and inspect the engines thoroughly.

Some questions your child may have for the firefighters:

  • How does the fire alarm work?
  • Where do the different firefighters stand on the truck when going to a fire?
  • What does each of them do at the fire?

Take a Walk Together

A walk around the block or your yard can be full of surprises. Here are some things to do with your child when walking in your town or area:

  • See how many shapes and colors you can find in trees and buildings. Even streets and sidewalks have patterns of light and dark, lumpy and smooth.
  • Look up for birds. Look down for animal tracks.
  • Listen for the different sounds of the city or country. Notice what makes each sound. Which ones are pleasant? Which ones hurt your ears?
  • Pay attention to pollution. Can you see where people are trying to do something about it?

Picking Strawberries

When June comes, watch the newspaper or listen to the radio for ads for farms where you can go pick your own berries. Take the whole family on a berry-picking trip.

Be sure to call and find out hours and whether you must make an appointment for a specific time. Be sure to allow time when you are there for you and your child to explore the area and really look at the plants. Show him which are the ripe berries and which are not yet ready to be picked.

If you don’t have strawberry farms nearby, see if there are places where you can pick your own blueberries, peaches, or other fruits when they are in season. Orchards are interesting places to visit at harvest time, too.

Surveying Neighborhood Symbols

Even a child who cannot read can notice signs and symbols. Look for signs and symbols in your community with your child. Have her point out signs and symbols she sees. Ask her what they stand for and talk about the ones she does not know. Some examples are gas stations, railroad crossings, churches, grocery stores, and stop signs.

You might want to make a chart on a piece of card-board with signs and symbols on it. Your child can match these to ones she sees around your neighbor-hood and check them off when she finds them. Put the chart where your child can add new ones to the list when she finds them.

Talk with your child about what she finds. Ask questions such as:

  • How many gas stations are there in your town?
  • Did you find the school or schools?
  • Are there traffic lights?
  • How many stop signs did you see?

Cleaning Up Your Street

Help keep your neighborhood clean and tidy by holding a Family Clean-Up Day.

Arm every family member with a trash bag. Walk along the edge of your street (an adult with each child) and pick up any litter left along the sides of the road. The adult needs to pick up litter that is in the street.

Your area will look nice. Your child will feel pride at helping keep his neighborhood clean.

  • Enlist friends to help.
  • Make it a neighborhood project.

Visit the Farmers’ Market

This time of year many areas have a local farmers’ market. Take your family along to see all the fresh fruits and vegetables. Admire the piles of lettuce, the fresh berries, the newly baked breads and cookies.

  • Compare the different types of corn, tomatoes, and squash.
  • Ask the farmer if your child can sample some fruit.
  • See what different smells you can find, what different colors you can see.
  • Look for some unusual fruits or vegetables that are new to your family.

Let’s Explore...The Foods We Eat

Strawberry Milk


  • 1 quart milk (nonfat milk)
  • 11/2 cups strawberries
  • 2 tablespoons sugar


Make up one quart of nonfat dry milk and refrigerate until very cold. Mash strawberries with fork or masher. Put milk, strawberries, and sugar in a large jar with a tightly fitting lid.

Shake the jar until it is all mixed up. (If a blender is available, you may want to use it instead of a jar.) Let your child do the work!

No-Cook Strawberry Jam


  • 2 cups washed, ripe berries
  • 1 box Sure-Jell
  • 4 cups sugar
  • 3/4 cup water


Thoroughly mix sugar into fruit and let stand 10 minutes. Mix 3/4 cup water and Sure-Jell in saucepan. Bring to boil and boil 1 minute, stirring constantly. Stir into fruit and continue stirring 3 minutes. Ladle quickly into containers, cover at once. Set at room temperature. Takes up to 24 hours to set. Store in freezer.

Adult supervision is needed for this activity.

Kabobs on a Stick


  • 1 package miniature hot dogs or sausage
  • 1 package dried apricots
  • 1 package dried prunes
  • 1 small can pineapple chunks— drained
  • (Other things to try are cherry tomatoes, pepper strips, mushrooms, olives, etc.)


Make a fire in your charcoal grill. Place the ingredients on a plate and help your child thread them on a stick or skewer. (You may need to make a hole in some ingredients with a sharp object before placing on the stick or skewer.)

Put the kabobs on the grill and cook until heated. Any amount of cooking time will do, as the meat is already cooked.

This activity will need close adult supervision.

Crunchy Bananas


  • banana
  • orange juice
  • 1 package dried prunes
  • wheat germ or crushed cereal (like corn flakes)


After your child has peeled a banana, he can cut it into four chunks with a blunt knife. If you have popsicle sticks, he can put each section of banana on a stick (but they are not necessary). Then put them in the freezer for one hour.

When they come out of the freezer, your child can dip the frozen banana pieces in orange juice. Then he quickly rolls them in wheat germ or crushed cereal. You can help him crush the cereal with a rolling pin. The crunchy bananas are then ready to eat.


It’s easy to guess how these got their name. The food is so good you are certain to want “some more.” Your 4- to 6-year-old will enjoy toasting the marshmallow. You might want to do this after making Kabobs on a Stick.

What you need:

  • chocolate bars
  • graham crackers
  • marshmallows
  • sticks for toasting marshmallows


Make a sandwich with some of the chocolate bar and two graham crackers. Put the marshmallow on a stick and toast it over the hot coals in the grill until it is golden brown. Put the toasted marshmallow between the chocolate and the crackers. Press gently together and eat.


  • Use peanut butter or toasted peanuts instead of chocolate (called “Robinson Crusoes”)
  • Use chocolate morsels instead of bars.
  • Use slices of apples instead of crackers.

Adult supervision is needed for this activity.

Let’s Explore...Plants and Animals

What Am I?

This is a fun guessing game for family members. Cut out pictures of different well-known animals and mount them on cards. Use safety pins to pin a picture on one another’s backs without telling what the animal is. Each person then asks questions of the others to try to find out what animal’s picture is on his back.

Pebble Animals

Play with a pile of pebbles. Look at the beautiful colors. Feel the smooth, cool shapes. Put aside the one you like best for a Pocket Stone. A Pocket Stone is just nice to feel.

Put a few pebbles together in different ways. What kinds of pebble creatures can you make?

When you discover a creature you like, glue the pebbles together. Use liquid cement that dries quickly.

You can paint and decorate your creatures if you like. They make good presents for your family and friends.


  • pebbles
  • liquid cement
  • paints and odds and ends for decorations

Take a Stream or Lake Hike

There are lots of things to see in a stream or by the lake. Bring along a towel to dry wet hands and feet.


  • kitchen strainer (makes a handy dip net)
  • plastic egg carton
  • plastic or paper cups
  • dishpan

Find a calm, shallow spot in the stream to do your exploring. If the bed of the stream is rocky, then wear old sneakers that you don’t mind getting wet. Using the strainer and cups, see what animals you can find in the water. If you are lucky, you may find crayfish, water bugs, and all sorts of creatures, even fish or frogs. Try lifting up rocks to see what creatures live under them. You can use the trays and egg cartons to take a closer look at your finds, but be sure to return them to where you found them at the end of your hike.

Remember to supervise children closely around water.

Making Raisins

You will need:

  • 1 large bunch firm Thompson seedless grapes
  • large pan of water
  • plastic coated trays or paper plates
  • pieces of clean cheesecloth, mosquito netting, or wire screen large enough to cover trays
  • glass jar with lid


Wash grapes thoroughly and blot dry with towel. Remove grapes from stem and spread on tray. Cover grapes and tray securely with cloth or screen to keep off insects and dirt. Place tray of grapes in direct sunlight, making sure air can circulate freely over and under the tray. After four days, test the grapes for dryness. Squeeze a grape in your hand. If there is no moisture, the raisins are done. If not, keep them in the sun and check every day until ready. The raisins should be pliable and leathery. If they are stored in an airtight container in a cool place, they should remain in prime condition for six months.

Measuring Plant Growth

When you plant your garden, try planting a few plants or varieties of plants that grow quickly or grow very tall. Try putting a stake next to one plant that you have marked off in inches. Check with your child every few days to see how the plant has grown. You might also want to put a stake near a slow-growing plant and compare how different plants grow.

Shell Box/Rock Box

While you are on vacation or a family picnic, gather a collection of interesting seashells or one of interesting stones and small rocks. In some parts of the state, rocks containing fossils are easily obtainable. Keep these rocks or shells in shoe boxes where your child can easily reach them.

Let your child experiment freely by touching; looking for detail in form, color, and texture; and “listening to the ocean” in the seashells. Encourage conversations about why this animal needs a shell, why this animal is in the rock.

You will want to add to your collection as you go on walks or take other trips. Besides being a source of wonder in themselves, they may become a nice reminder of happy family times together.

Let’s Explore...The World of Crafts

Cereal Necklaces

Children love to string together dry cereal to make a necklace. Any kind of cereal with a hole in it will do. When all the cereal is strung, you can tie the ends together. (Tape or stiffen one end with glue for easier stringing.)

Hammer a Rubber Band Board


  • piece of wood (any size or shape)
  • nails
  • colored rubber bands


Let your child hammer nails all over the board you have selected. Then have him stretch the rubber bands on the nails, connecting them in various patterns.

Try a large board for the whole family to explore. A smaller one will do for individuals.

You could make a board up with a circle of nails or a grid pattern, but be sure your child knows that a random pattern is just as good and may be more fun.

Supervise your child when she is hammering the nails.

Using Kitchen Supplies for Art

Foil Paper Play

Children love foil because it is so bright and stiff and stays in any shape it is pushed.

Let your child experiment with a sheet of foil. He can glue it, tear it, make little dishes with it, whatever.

Paper Plate Decorating

Let your child use those large plain paper plates for making pictures. He can draw on them, paint them, or decorate them with wrapping paper or material scraps. He may want to make some into puppets.

Then hang them on your refrigerator or on his door so all can see his artwork.



  • yarn or heavy cord
  • plastic yarn needles
  • embroidery hoop, about 6 inches
  • scissors
  • loosely woven fabric that needles will penetrate (cut about 12-inch square)


Put the fabric square in the embroidery hoop. Cut yarn into 18-inch lengths (longer lengths will tangle). Some children can cut the yarn themselves and may be able to knot the end. Thread the needle using double yarn. Your child can make his own design to embroider.

Use net, burlap, or loosely woven fabric. You can use screen wire, if the edges are taped to avoid scratches.

Your child can make stitches with the yarn to make his design. Remember, doing it is what is important, not the final result. Let your child make what he wants. Do not ask for a specific design.

Texture Rubbings

As children become interested in the concept of differences in textures (smooth, rough, etc.), they can be shown how different effects can be made by laying paper on top of the textured object and scribbling over it or by pressing aluminum foil onto it with their fingers.


  • white paper, fairly thin
  • large crayons
  • large soft pencils
  • aluminum foil

Any material that will make patterns such as screen wire, bricks, rough boards, textured pieces of tile, objects such as coins, plastic letters or numbers, or label maker letters.

Families can take paper and pencil outside and do the same thing over cracked sections of sidewalk, stone walls, or metal gratings.

Take along paper and pencil on a family outing. When visiting a cemetery, do rubbings over family grave stones or special grave stones. Try rubbings of leaves or special barks.

Let’s Explore...Other Fun Things

Try a kitchen experiment using common ingredients found in the home for some uncommon results. You do the experimenting, your child can watch and observe the result.

Grow a Crystal Garden


  • 4 tablespoons salt, no iodine
  • 4 tablespoons water
  • 1 tablespoon ammonia
  • charcoal or clean, dry sponges
  • food coloring
  • bowl
  • mixing spoon
  • flat bowl or pan


Place several pieces of charcoal or sponges in a flat bowl or aluminum pan. Mix the salt, water, and ammonia in a small bowl. Be careful to follow the directions on the ammonia bottle for safe use of ammonia. Pour the mixture over the charcoal or sponges. Sprinkle some food coloring over some of the charcoal or sponges. Put it in a safe place and leave undisturbed for several days. Crystals will grow in interesting formations and will be white where no food coloring was sprinkled. Be aware that the crystals are very fragile.

Adult supervision is needed for this activity.

Making a Styrofoam “Thing”

Children yearn to make something real with real tools like the ones their parents use. They like to work with wood because it produces something substantial.

Make a sturdy workbench for your child by nailing two wooden planks (at least 2 inches thick) to a low table or two heavy crates. Your child, learning how to saw and hammer, needs lots of elbow room. The table should be low enough for her to work comfortably
(about 2 feet from the floor).

A good first construction project is a Styro-foam “thing” made from lumber scraps, glue, pieces of colored wire, Styrofoam, and other bits of beautiful junk. Show her how to push large nails into the Styrofoam with her hand and attach pieces of wire, paperclips, etc., to the nail heads. After she is finished constructing, let her paint her creation with poster paint.

Adult supervision is needed for this activity.

Watching Television

Sit down as a family and choose a television show to watch together. It might be one of your child’s favorites or a special family show.

  • Prepare a snack to enjoy together during the program or afterward.
  • Turn off the TV set after the show and talk about what you saw.
  • Ask your child to tell you what she saw. What happened? How does she feel about it?

Washing the Car

Do this activity if you can park your car close to a supply of water and safely away from moving cars.

With buckets, sponges, rags, and water (with a small amount of liquid dishwashing soap) your child can help wash the car by scrubbing the tires, hubcaps, doors, fenders, etc. This can be a great family experience on a hot day. Boots or old sneakers are suggested if it’s too stony for bare feet. Load up the buckets with clean water for the rinse job and set aside some clean rags for drying.


  • buckets
  • sponges or rags
  • water
  • 1 tablespoon liquid dish washing soap per bucket
  • car, wagons, tricycles, and bikes to be washed

Note: Be sure that what you wash is dried, either in the hot sun or with rags, so they don’t rust.

Remember, young children need to be closely supervised around any source of water, even buckets of water.

Rock Garden Collection

If your family likes to take automobile trips, here is a project you can all enjoy. Pick out an attractive rock from each place the family visits. Use them to build or add to a rock garden. Rocks should be picked that are typical of the region or spot visited. They will be a visual reminder of the trips you have taken together as a family.

Window or Mirror Washing

Children can wash windows or mirrors. Remember, doing a really good job of window washing is difficult for adults, so if you are really concerned about the quality of results, don’t do it with your child.


  • paper towels, sponges, or cloths
  • bucket or plastic container
  • vinegar and water

Use nontoxic cleaning agents and only let your child clean glass that is sturdy. You will want to supervise so that too much water is not being used.

Your child will enjoy doing an adult chore for you.

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.