Updated: Jun 14, 2022
Building seasonal celebrations into your family culture promotes nature connection and is just plain fun. With Summer Solstice around the corner, check out some of the ways my family will celebrate.
What is the Summer Solstice, you ask? This year, the Solstice falls on Tuesday, June 21, 2022 for the Northern hemisphere. This day will have the longest period of sunlight because the Earth's pole is at its maximum tilt toward the sun (for the Northern hemisphere). Summer Solstice celebrations date back to ancient Greece, but many cultures and individuals around the world still celebrate the Solstice with reverence. We've been living in the first whisperings of summer for a few weeks now, but Summer Solstice gives me all the summer feels and I often take time to reflect on my own childhood summers filled with camping, playing in the rain and sun with neighborhood children, staying out and catching fireflies, feeling that deep tired that only comes from a day spent outside playing in the sun. If you're a Van fan, perhaps you equate this quote with summer like I do:
"“Smell the sea, and feel the sky. Let your soul and spirit fly.”" –Van Morrison
I grew up with plenty of time outside, and that's how I want to raise E. There aren't many people younger than me who can say they grew up "staying outside until the street lights came on", but I did. I was able to freely play on my block and the neighborhood kids and I got into all sorts of fun with that freedom. Summer Solstice kicks off this time of summer fun, so why wouldn't we want to fully celebrate and embrace this special day.
I've spent years celebrating the Solstice with older children, but this year my husband and I are rooting our family culture in seasonal rhythm as we raise our sweet E. Starting these traditions and celebrations early might seem pointless, but even 8 month olds (and younger babies, too!) can be part of a Solstice celebration. Here's how:
1. Change out your at home library books for Solstice and summer titles
Reading seasonally relevant books is maybe my favorite way to build nature connection and sense of place. Here are some my favorite Solstice and summer titles, for all ages:
The Summer Solstice by Ellen Jackson
The Solstice Badger by Robin McFadden
The Honeybee by Kristen Hall
Seeds and Trees by Brandon Walden and Kristen and Kevin Howdeshell
Jump at the Sun by Alicia D. Williams
2. Explore summer with your senses
So many things bloom, fruit, and grow in June - it is the perfect time to introduce your baby to the smells and tastes of summer. Here is PA, we see lots of berries and summer herbs in our yard, at the Farmer's market, and at our local grocery stores. You don't have to have a garden to share a sensory summer experience with your baby, just pick up some of the following summer delights wherever you buy groceries:
Now, what can you do with all of these yummy summer plants? Good question!
Create a bundle of herbs to smell and touch
Have a snack of strawberries, blueberries, and mint
Use beets and blueberries to make your own paint!
Make a calming tea with lavender and chamomile (*this may not be safe or appropriate for babies of a certain age, use your discretion)
Make a sensory sachet with lavender
3. Have a family bonfire or light some candles inside
The Summer Solstice is all about celebrating the life-giving power of the sun, so we want to harness the power of the sun in any way that we can during the Solstice. If you're feeling a little witchy, you may appreciate that bonfires have historically been associated with magic and they were thought to banish evil spirits. Whether you embrace the magic of fire or not, fire is a great sensory experience for babies (when done safely).
*Keep in mind that smoke inhalation is NOT SAFE for babies. Exercise caution when brining baby around a bonfire - I recommend waiting to bring baby over until the fire is burning strongly and moving away when smoke builds up.
4. Sensory flowers
When you think summer, do you visualize fields full of colorful flowers? There are so many ways to celebrate the many blooms of summer with our senses. Here's some baby safe ideas:
Flower playdough (*recommended for 1 year+)
Flower soup: place edible flowers in sensory tub with water (*always stay close by when using materials that might be ingested)
Flower sensory bottle: place real flowers and flower cuttings in clear, plastic bottle with water and seal the top
If you have flowers growing in your garden, a nearby field, or plan to visit a flower farm, just let your baby take in the colors and smells. Talk to them about what you see and smell, and bring flowers to their nose for a sniff.
5. Explore your shadows
E started to seem to notice her shadow around 6 months. I remember standing outside on a sidewalk and she kept leaning around me and trying to grab at something on the ground. It was her shadow! Shadow play during the Solstice reminds us of the power of the sun, and it is just a bunch of fun. Here are some ideas to get you started:
For the youngest babies
Explore light and dark rather than shadows. Go into a room where you can turn the light on and off. Go outside in the morning and then again after nightfall.
Hang string lights or stick pop on/off lights to a wall and let baby explore
For 6 months+
Take a walk and notice your shadows. Whether or not your child actually notices them doesn't matter. Take the time to talk about what you notice, how your shadow moves and changes, and whether your shadow is big or small. Talk to baby about how as we move, so do our shadows.
Make shadow puppets with your hands
6. Take a nature walk at sunrise or sunset
There are so many benefits to getting outside with baby, in fact, evidence shows that babies sleep better when they spend time outdoors. I've seen the benefits of taking babies outside in person - when I worked at an early learning center I regularly supported the infant teachers in taking outdoor adventures with the babies. This included naps, teacher facilitated activities, and just direct experience with nature.
When you take walks with your infant be sure to spend some time talking about what you see, but also take some time to just quietly walk together. I'll do another blog post about nature walks for babies that gets into more details, but for now, just know that it is good for your baby in so many ways.
7. Paint using colors inspired by the sun
Check out my blog post on Eco Kids finger paints or try making your own natural paints! If you're asking me (which, if you're reading this blog technically you are), process art is the only way to go for kids. Everyone is certainly welcome to choose their own art projects, but handprint crafts and many of the other adult derived crafts you find on Pinterest are only for the adult's benefit.
So, instead, select some colors that represent the sun (red, orange, yellow, etc.) and set them loose! For babies, taste safe paint makes it even better.
8. Explore a sunflower
It is in the name with this one. Sunflowers are a quintessential summer flower, and the word 'sun' is in its name. Whether you purchase them from a local store or farmer, you can likely find some sunflowers this time of year. Older kids might want to explore the different parts of the flower (remember, let them explore and ask questions that challenge their current knowledge - don't just tell them what you want them to know). For babies, this exploration will look different depending on what stage they're in. But, here are some ideas:
Since sunflower petals are edible, give your baby petals in a sensory bin to explore (*as always, stay nearby)
Explore the different parts of a sunflower together and name the parts, touch them, smell them - get to know them very well
Cook a sunflower and enjoy it as a family!
9. Make sun inspired sensory materials
E's Montessori inspired play shelves at home are adorned with nature-based sensory bottles and seasonally relevant nature items (along with other toys and loose parts). Making sensory bottles and bags is incredibly easy, and all you need to make them nature-based is something that visually represents what you see outside. I prefer to use natural materials, but when we celebrate the Summer Solstice or other seasons I often use human-made materials.
Make a taste safe sensory foam and color it yellow, red, and orange
Make yellow, red, and orange sensory spaghetti
10. Build ritual and routine around welcoming the sun
Building ritual and routine is foundational for building nature connection as a family. This might look like getting outside by a certain time every morning, taking a sit spot, walking the same trail every week, etc. If you don't do it already, the Summer Solstice is a great time to build some ritual around welcoming the sun each day. This can be as simple as stepping outside first thing in the morning to say "hello sun!" or as involved as sharing a poem or song together.
No matter what you do, make it fun!
I will say this every time I talk or write about nature connection - make it fun! If it doesn't feel right or feels like a chore, don't do it. Nature connection is about finding your own relationship with nature, so think about how you want to build family culture around nature connection and seasonal celebrations and just go for it!