There are generally 6 weeks of summer holidays, that’s 42 days to fill with something to do, including the weekends. The summer is a great time to get outdoors and give your body a chance to make some vital vitamin D, a nutrient that is essential to the body as it helps maintain healthy bones and teeth; supports the immune, cardiovascular and nervous systems; and may also protect against a range of conditions such as cancer, Type 1 diabetes, and multiple sclerosis(1).
Vitamins are nutrients that cannot be created by the body and therefore must be taken in through our diet, but despite its name, vitamin D is actually considered a pro-hormone because it can be synthesised by the body in response to sun exposure.
It is estimated that sensible sun exposure on bare skin for 5-10 minutes 2-3 times per week allows most people to produce sufficient vitamin D, but vitamin D breaks down quite quickly, meaning that stores can run low, especially in winter. Recent data also suggests that many people are actually vitamin D deficient and could benefit from vitamin D supplements.
So correct sun exposure is important, but obviously, sun exposure has to be safe, especially for younger children as it can cause sunburn, heat exhaustion and in the longer term, over-exposure to UV rays has been linked to skin cancer, eye problems and premature ageing.
The NHS have issued the following advice regarding sun exposure and young children(2):
"Children aged under six months should be kept out of direct strong sunlight.
From March to October in the UK, children should:
- cover up with suitable clothing
- spend time in the shade (particularly from 11am to 3pm)
- wear at least SPF15 sunscreen
To ensure they get enough vitamin D, children aged under five are advised to take vitamin D supplements even if they do get out in the sun.“
In Australia, where levels of sun exposure are generally higher than in the UK due to the weather, the government created a ‘Slip, Slop, Slap” campaign in the 1980s that is still very popular today, and they have recently added “Seek and Slide” to the advice. It stands for:
- Slip on a shirt
- Slip on a shirt
- Slop on some suntan lotion
- Slap on a hat
- Seek some shade, and
- Slide on some ‘shades’ (sunglasses to you and me).
The campaign is fronted by a friendly seagull named Sid, and has a very catchy little song and video that you can use with your children to advise them of the 5 ways to stay safe in the sun. You can find the updated video on the SunSmart website3 and the original video can be found on YouTube too.
So, once you know how to stay safe in the sun, there’s no excuse not to get out there and really make the most of the warm weather. And to make sure you don’t run out of ideas, we’ve listed 42 different things you can do outdoors with pre-schoolers this summer:
- Go on a nature walk and see how many different trees, plants and animals you can see
- Create a pavement chalk picture
- Paddle in a stream – but remember your water safety code though
- Take a trip to a beach and bury each other in the sand
- Collect leaves and make a scrapbook of different trees or a forest picture
- Learn to skip forwards and backwards
- Visit a local play area and have a picnic
- Learn a country dance
- Make some rose-petal perfume
- Roll down a large hill (avoiding the nettles!)
- Learn to ride a balance bike or normal bike
- Make a dandelion or daisy chain
- Create an outdoor show jumping course and ride over it on a hobby horse or tree branch
- Visit a children’s farm
- Make a den or a tent
- Visit a steam railway and ride on a steam train – miniature or full size
- Go on a boat trip
- Give an outdoor drama/dance performance
- Make some mud pies
- Feed the ducks at a local pond or park (bird seed, not bread though)
- Lie down and look up at the clouds – what shapes and stories can you tell?
22. Learn to do a forward roll
23. Visit a local wildlife or animal centre
24. Play football using your jumpers for goal posts
25. Fill a matchbox with something beginning with every letter of the alphabet – this one might take a bit of thought and more than a day!
26. Watch the sun set
27. Sit under a tree and write a story or poem
28. Go for a ride on an open-top bus
29. Make a wildlife or bug hotel
30. Set up an outdoor treasure hunt
31. Learn to skim stones on water – or at least see how far you can throw them
32. Go to an open-air swimming pool or start learning to swim
33. Chalk out a pattern and play hopscotch
34. Make giant bubbles with some rope and washing up liquid
35. Hunt for fossils at the beach
36. See how many stones you can balance on top of each other
37. Set up an outdoor assault course
38. Send yourself or your friends a postcard from at least 6 different locations – one for each week of the holidays
39. Find some unusually-shaped stones, clean and paint them – you can paint them to look like animals, cars, houses or anything else you can think of
40. Learn to catch a ball and throw a frisbee
41. Create a miniature fairy garden
42. Toast marshmallows on a campfire – with adult supervision and help of course!
Lyrics for the ‘Slip, Slop, Slap’ song were written by the founder of Bonkers Beat Music & Wellbeing programs, Galina Zenin. The song is widely used in Australia. Take a look at Galina’s article here!