Exercise Your Mind—Read! 5 book-based outdoor activities to build social/emotional skills
That is the theme for 2016’s National Summer Reading Program: Exercise Your Mind…READ! If you’ve never participated in a summer reading program, I would encourage you to do so (many libraries have programs for adults, as well as children!). Typically, patrons are awarded prizes, or the chance to win prizes, according to the number of books they read. Depending on the library, themed games, speakers, and activities are included, as well, all with the goal of encouraging people to continue the important activity of reading over the summer months.
And it is IMPORTANT activity. Did you know, studies show that reading is one of the greatest activities you can do for both your mental health AND your physical health. Reading can increase intelligence, improve memory, lower heart rate and stress, enhance communication skills, increase empathy, and even improve sleep. Spring-boarding off of this knowledge, many libraries have begun incorporating physical challenges, such as hiking a park trail after reading a book on nature, recognizing the importance of total body health and the need to get kids moving in an increasingly screen-driven world.
There are number of fun activities children can do throughout the summer to exercise their minds and build vital social/emotional skills that will prepare them for the upcoming school year. In light of this, and in keeping with this year’s summer reading theme, we’ve created 5 fun, outdoor activities designed to exercise your body as well as your mind! Each activity is based on a book that discusses important topics such as bullying and kindness so you can reach your reading goal while also building social/emotional skills! Each activity can be done at home or in a group. All you need is a little outdoor space and a cozy spot to read!
1. Kindness Scavenger Hunt
Based on the book What if Everybody Did That, by Ellen Javernick
In this book, a young boy commits a number of thoughtless acts, such as littering and interrupting. Each time, he is asked “what if everybody did that?” Illustrations work with the narrative to show the reader what such a world would be like. The story goes on to ask “what if everyone chose to make the world better?” This story helps children learn the power that their actions can have on others.
Once each team has finished their list, ask the children how they felt completing their acts of kindness. Did it change the way the viewed the world and the people around them? What do they think the world would look like if everyone did just one item on the list every single day?
2. Giant Dominoes
Based on the book Because Amelia Smiled, by David Stein
This book beautifully demonstrates the power of something as simple as a smile. A fun way to provide a visual of this ripple effect is to build a domino chain! If you want to add a fun summer touch, try using these giant yard dominos.
With your children, imagine a scenario such as “A girl trips in the middle of soccer practice”. Have the kids think of a mean response to the incident and a kind response. These become the two domino branches. On a sticky note, write how the reaction would make the girl feel. From here, continue to imagine scenarios that are connected to one another, like in the book, occasionally branching off to portray opposite reactions. Then comes the fun part—knocking the dominos down! At the end, read the very first scenario and the very last outcome for each path and discuss how small, seemingly isolated actions can have powerful and far reaching reactions—for good or bad.
3. Slime Search
Based on This is A. Blob, by L.A. Kefalos
This activity is a fun, outdoor twist on the This is A. Blob Slime Craft we have posted about in the past. In This is A. Blob, by L.A. Kefalos, readers are introduced to a unique character named A. Blob that wreaks havoc on the playground with its bullying ways. As the story progresses, however, we learn that there may be more to A. Blob than meets the eye.
To begin the activity, mix up two tubs of slime (Depending on how large your group is, I would recommend making 3-5 times more that this recipe suggests since this activity is a little different than the one for which the original recipe was created). I would also recommend using hot water and slightly less borax to help make the slime softer and slimier.
Next, ask the children if the slime made it easier or more difficult to find out about the character. Explain that the slime represents all the assumptions, insecurities, and hardships that people carry around. These things can often hide who we truly are. That’s why it’s so important to take the time to look past our assumptions and take the time to really get to know people, just like we got to know A. Blob in the story.
4. Walk In My Shoes
Based on the book Stand in My Shoes, by Bob Sornson
In Stand In My Shoes, readers follow Emily as she learns the importance of empathy and seeing life through the eyes of others. In this activity, children have the opportunity to practice empathy through silly role play.
Gather several pairs of shoes that will be big enough for everyone to put on. Assign a character to each pair of shoes. The characters can be made up, people in the group, or even favorite characters from T.V. or a movie. Write these names on pieces of paper and then put the papers in a hat or some other container. Next, create several scenarios that the children might experience in real life, such as getting ready for school, going to a new place with new people, or going shopping. Write these scenarios down and put them in a separate container. Now comes the fun part!
Each person will now choose a character to play. Next, choose a scenario from the second container. Now, everyone puts on the shoes of their character and acts out the scenario as their character. Play out the scene for about 5 minutes, then have everyone switch roles, making sure that they stay true to the character the first person created. After everyone has had the opportunity to play several characters, take some time to discuss what happened. How did changing shoes change the way they reacted to the situation? Did it change how they reacted to the first character they played? Did this activity make them think about situations in their own life any differently? What will they do the next time they are having a difficult interaction with someone, or see someone having a difficult time?
5. Fill Your Bucket Race
Based on the book Have You Filled a Bucket Today?, by Carol McCloud
Have You Filled a Bucket Today? has inspired countless games and activities to help children learn the powerful impact our words and actions have on others. This activity takes it up a notch by adding a fun water element! In this game, children are divided into two groups. Each group has a bucket of water, Dixie cups, a chair, and a second, smaller bucket. One child on each team is chosen to sit in the chair. Next, the child’s team mates must say something kind about the child in the chair. Encourage them to choose specific compliments and encouragements that go deeper than “you have nice shoes”. With each compliment, they are allowed to put one cupful of water into the smaller bucket. The goal is to see which team can fill their bucket the fastest. Whichever team wins gets to dump the buckets of water on the other team. Do this several times so that every child has the opportunity to “get their bucket filled”.
After the activity, talk about how the compliments made each child feel, as well as how they felt giving the compliments. How can they fill the buckets of others each day in the future?
What books and activities will keep you busy this summer? Let us know in the comments!
This is A. Blob is a masterfully illustrated picture book suitable for children ages 4-8. Written by Lori Kefalos, author of several animated shorts, including “Who’s that Knocking,” “Chug,” and “Croc, Pots and Wildebeests,” which was nominated for Best Independent Short Short, Ages 5-8, at the 2009 Kid’s First Film Festival and for best short at The Los Angeles Women’s International Film Festival, This is A. Blob is the first of a series following this bully.
This first installment follows the antics of A. Blob, a slimy, purple, blob-like creature who wreaks havoc on the elementary school playground with its bullying ways. As the story progresses, however, readers learn that A. Blob may have more than meets the eye.
Along with its powerful illustrations and rhymed verse for early readers, this story invites children to put themselves in the shoes of another. The book encourages readers to consider why bullies behave the way they do – and start to consider what can be done to help.
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This is A. Blob by L. A Kefalos. $14.95
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