The Skills of Summer

by Barbara Rowley

The Skills of Summer

Babies are lovely summer companions. They’re happy to be pushed or carried, and simply patting their hands in an inch or two of water will send them into paroxysms of pleasure. But by the time their second summer rolls around, it’s likely you both will be ready to indulge in slightly more advanced seasonal pursuits.

And while most major summer skills  — like catching a ball, jumping rope, even pumping yourself on a swing  — won’t be perfected until your child is at least 5 years old, the groundwork can be laid long before then. So enjoy. No matter what your age!

Pumping a swing

Sorry, it’ll be a while before you’re not solely responsible for pushing your child higher and higher. In order to pump himself, he’ll need to combine balance, strength, and a sense of timing that are somewhat rare in preschoolers.

Double-team. Two adults working together can give your child the idea of pumping (and the motivation to use strength to do so):
One of you should position yourself in front of him as he swings while the other stands behind.

Tell him to reach out with his toes to touch the person in front, and back with his heels to touch the person in back-the basic pumping action.

Describe the action simply: “Lean back going forward, lean forward going back.” “Reach with your toes while pulling on the chains” (or whatever’s holding the swing up).

Sing. As a rhythmic activity, swinging lends itself to singing.

Age you can expect him to…

Pump a swing independently: 4 to 6

Contributing editor Barbara Rowley designed and oversees the program at a day camp in Big Sky, Montana.

Jumping rope

If you have fond memories of the rhymes you repeated while jumping rope as a kid, teach them to your child as early as you like. Just don’t expect her to jump rope while she sings them until she’s in grade school.


Focus on the joy of jumping. Summer days spent jumping in place, jumping to music, jumping from one place to another, are the best preparation for finally adding a rope to the mix.

You can play jumping games  — jump over cracks in the sidewalk, or into a puddle, and while swinging scarves in your arms (mimicking the jump-rope motion).

As kids get older, you can put the rope on the ground and have them jump over it. You can then raise it a very small amount if they’re really good jumpers, but you don’t want to trip them.

Age you can expect her to…

• Jump up and down with two feet: 2 1/2

• Jump from one place to another: 3

• Jump rope: 5 or 6

Blowing soap bubbles

It’s hard to believe, but forcing air out of your mouth and through a soap-film-filled ring is quite complex. Even when your child figures out the pursed lips and gentle airflow required, the simple act of aiming a puff of air is likely to elude him for some time. Most kids aren’t able to do it until at least age 3.


Don’t just put dish soap in water. Most store-bought bubble liquid is reasonably good, or go ahead and make your own (you can find a great recipe, and tips, at

Try alternative wands. Those tiny little wands that come with bubble liquid get slippery, fall into the jar, and are hard for little hands to handle. An empty plastic strawberry or cherry-tomato basket is a great bubble maker for little kids  — they can dip it in a bowl of bubble solution and wave it through the air.

Age you can expect him to…

• Make bubbles by waving a wand: 1 and up

• Blow bubbles with a wand: 3 and up

Turning a somersault

Mastering one  — something most easily accomplished outside, on soft grass  — is the very stuff of childhood.


Start out with just simple rolling, like a log. Demonstrate yourself. You can even lie down head to head, with your hands linked, and roll together. Start on level ground and progress to slight hills.

If your child’s game and you think she’s ready, you can help her move to the next level:

Have her crouch down and hold a beanbag or a small, soft ball under her chin (to keep her head tucked down).

Tell her to squat down and pretend to be a ball by holding her knees up to her chest.

Then place one of your hands on her head and one on her back to help her gently execute a roll.

Age you can expect her to do…

• Log rolls: 1

• Front rolls (with a parent there to help): 3 to 4

Catching a ball

Most kids under 5 aren’t particularly good at catching and throwing, so don’t worry if your child flails and flounders until he gains the needed hand-eye coordination.


Start close. Two or three feet apart is plenty. As he improves, increase the distance.

Don’t use any old ball. A small beach ball deflated just to the point where it doesn’t bounce is perfect. Bounciness is one more impediment to catching, and not even a sensitive child will be undone by a bonk from a beach ball.

Don’t even use a ball. A small stuffed animal or scarf also makes a great throw toy for beginners because it’s easy to grab and grip, and won’t threaten small noses or noggins.

Say to watch the ball. We’ve heard it a million times  — “Keep your eye on the ball”  — but your child hasn’t, and it’s key to catching. Try saying it in different ways, like “Look at the ball and watch it go into your hands.”

Age you can expect him to…

• Throw: 1

• Catch: 2 1/2

• Catch proficiently: 5 or 6 1/2