Summer is a sensational season. The life around us is bursting. Time relaxes and expands with the bountiful daylight. And, summer is a sensory playground—a perfect classroom, filled with memory making moments. Think of all the memories you have about summer — tied to smells (e.g., freshly cut grass), sounds (e.g., cicadas, birds), the way things feel (flowers, leaves, mud, sticks, bugs) — those still remain.
For many of us, summer also means freedom, independence and the license to experience the world full force. As a parent, summer can also bring surprising challenges. Bedtimes shift, routines relax, many of us travel, and we need to up our game to make sure that all of that marvelous outside time is safe from sun and critters like ticks. That’s why we’ve crowdsourced TG fan favorites to help us all gear up for summer!
It can also be more challenging than we might expect as we transition into the flexibility and endless possibility our summer schedules provide. We all struggle with transition, and some kids and even grown ups really get unsettled as things in our lives shift. Check out two of our favorite posts to get ideas about how to set up a summer schedule that works for your family and how to set up simple play centers that keep kids playing for days and days.
Want ways to play? We've got you covered!
- Make sure you're signed up to receive our FREE monthly calendars, full of DIY activities to fill your days with outdoor play.
- Search to see if a Local Tinkergarten Teacher is offering our Camp Tinkergarten/Summer series near you!
- Sign up for Tinkergarten Anywhere and follow along with our Camp Tinkergarten/Summer curriculum on your own!
With every switch of season, there comes the need to switch up our gear. Plus, our kids get bigger each year, and gear just seems to get better and better. That's why we always ask our Tinkergarten Teacher teammates for the items that they can’t do summer without, from the perfect sun hat to the best sunscreen to tick protection and more.
Here are some suggestions for maximizing summer safety and fun. Read about each item below or check them out — all in one place — in the Summer Gear Favorites section of our Summer Tinkergarten Store.
Stay Sun Safe
Sunday Afternoons hats, $20-$29
From New Hampshire TG Teacher Gretchen Whitcomb to California TG Teacher Shelly Smith, there is coast to coast love for this hat for its UPF protection and adjustability (the flap that covers the neck is a game-changer).
Culture Caps & Bucket Sun Hats from Beautifully Warm, $20-$40
The marvelous Beautifully Warm designs hats for natural and curly hair communities. I especially love how my dry-fit, backless running hat gives my hair space so the hat still looks great. (Make sure you check out their satin-lined winter hats, too—warm and extra kind to your style!).
Coolibar’s barracuda suits have a UPF of 50+ and neck-to-ankle coverage so every inch of skin is protected.
play sun protection shirt, $19.99
A big help for blocking the sun during outdoor time, with a UPF 50 and full coverage.
This year, we've heard even more discussion about mineral vs chemical sunscreen. Even though they’ve been on the market since the 1980s, mineral sunscreens have become much more popular in recent years. But what’s the difference between chemical sunscreens like these and mineral sunscreens like these?
Chemical sunscreens contain organic compounds like avobenzone or oxybenzone that work by absorbing and dissipating UV radiation.
Mineral sunscreen uses a different mechanism that leverages two main active ingredients—zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. These naturally occurring minerals work by sitting on top of the skin, forming a barrier that reflects and scatters UV rays before they can harm the skin. And, they are able to block both UVA (cause long term damage) and UVB (cause a sunburn) rays, so they meet both big caregiver needs.
There are a few other reasons why mineral sunscreens are getting more votes:
- More Gentle: Mineral sunscreens are generally considered both gentler on the skin and gentler on nature, especially to oceans and reefs, as compared to chemical sunscreens.
- Work Faster: They also work right away, while chemical sunscreens take 20 minutes to absorb.
- Last Longer: Mineral sunscreens don’t break down when they’re exposed to sunlight, so they can maintain their effectiveness for longer periods, providing reliable sun protection even during extended sun exposure
The downsides? Mineral sunscreens may leave a slightly white or opaque appearance on the skin from all of those reflective particles, but as mineral sunscreens improve and use smaller particle sizes, that white cast look is fading, too. They also can tend to be slightly more expensive than chemical sunscreens, but some argue that they last longer and are even more effective, so the difference is not too significant.
Whichever you choose, we advocate sunscreens that are safe for the planet and, likely, safer for you as well. Here are some TG Teacher favorites:
Badger sunscreen, $13.59
Sunscreen is a must anytime kids (and you!) are outdoors, and leaders love this brand for its limited zinc-based formulation and 98% organic ingredients.
SuperGoop Sunscreen Stick, $20-25 per stick
This 100% Mineral sunscreen stick is known to be effective and long lasting, even in the water!
CeraVe has it all: broad spectrum coverage, healthy for oceans and hydrating. It does give you that white look, so it can help to give yourself time to really rub (or brush) it in before you head out.
The "Think" brand is loved for being easy to apply, lasting and super "healthy"—vegan, Leaping Bunny certified sun creams contain no PABA, parabens, phthalates, BPA, oxybenzone, avobenzone, petroleum, gluten, dairy, or toxic chemicals.
[TG Teacher Tip] If you are using mineral sunscreens, try giving kids make up application brushes like these to make it easy to apply it and spread it out!
Tick + Bug Repellent
Several teammates shared the NY Times Wirecutter article that identified the best bug repellents of 2023. In this article and beyond we're hearing more and more about picaridin, which offers long-lasting repellency for ticks and mosquitoes with none of DEET’s downsides. Picaridin is a repellent that works by interfering with the insects' sense of smell, making it harder to detect humans or animals. It has proven effective against a variety of biting insects, including mosquitoes, ticks, fleas, flies, and gnats.
People are favoring picaridin over other repellents for its mild odor, less greasy texture, and gentler impact on skin. It's worth noting, though, that while picaridin is generally considered safe for use, it’s important to follow instructions for use!
Leaders put bug spray top on their list, and this one got high scores from Consumer Reports’ tests on natural, DEET-free versions.
For protecting kids from ticks, leaders recommend spraying clothes with Permethrin. It’s important to note that it is not to be sprayed on skin (follow Consumer Reports’ guidelines for application), only on clothes, and should be re-applied throughout the summer.
[TG Teacher Tip] Keep a tick key like this handy for the times when you need to remove a tick. Remember, ticks work slowly, so don't panic. Just check often, and remove them as quickly as you can.
Poison Ivy Relief
Tecnu Poison Ivy & Oak Scrub, $12-15
If, like us, you live somewhere where poison ivy or oak are part of your outdoor adventures, stock up on this scrub. If you suspect that you’ve come into contact with either poison plant, you can wash off the oils before you get the reaction.
If you missed the chance to wash off the oils, and the itches really set in, these two products can really help soothe you or your kids!
Keen sandals, $54.95
With adjustable straps and waterproof fabrics, Keen sandals for kids are a perennial summer favorite.
Natives are perfect amphibian shoes—super cute, easy to slip on and off, and perfect for land or water.
Water can get warm fast in the hot sun, but a good stainless steel straw bottle will keep kids’ drinks frosty. This one holds in the temp for up to 14 hours.
Full Circle Spray Bottles, $12
We LOVE spray bottles for summer. Kids can use them to cool off, “paint” hot, dry surfaces with water, “wash” the car and more. You can even dd food coloring or liquid water colors and paint with them. Our favorites are the Full Circle for their durability and earth friendly materials. You can find less expensive spray bottles in many stores, too.
Tip: Steep some peppermint tea, then put the tea in your spray bottles. When you spray it on your skin, the menthol in the tea will make kids feel “cooler.”
Coleman soft cooler, $35
For a long day of outdoor play, a cooler bag keeps snacks and drinks cool and fresh. This one comes highly rated by Popular Mechanics.
Popsicle Molds $18
We love how these durable, flexible Zoku molds are compact enough to fit in even tiny freezers and give us the chance to turn juice, smoothies or even infused water into popsicles that cool kids from the inside out!
- Tip: Popsicles in a thermos?! Leader, Amanda Piasecki, packs a few popsicles in a thermos for an on-the-go treat and cool-down!
Grand Trunk Parasheet Beach Blanket, $30
For those times when you just don’t want to manage the hot sand (on your skin, in your food), this mat may save the day.
A Collapsible laundry basket or big bag (think IKEA) in the back of the car or stuffed under your stroller. And always bring a change of clothes. You never know when full-body water or mud play could happen, and you never want to have to say no!
Remember to laugh your way through messy play! Here's a few quick videos to help!
Many of our favorites are already organized into three shopping lists, each curated to help you build one of three super summer play centers:
It’s a road! It’s a hopscotch board! Sidewalk chalk can be whatever you want (or need) it to be to keep little ones creating for hours.
Mesh bags, $14.98
We love these for a trip to the grocery store but in kids’ hands, they become sand sifters and transporting vehicles for nature treasures and more.
Play sand, $27.98
For the (many, many) of us who aren’t near a beach this summer, set up the next best thing at home.
Mini kitchen utensil set, $12.99
An inexpensive set is perfect for little hands to stir and scoop in their mud kitchens.
Making your own bubble juice is easy and fun but for those times when a bubble emergency necessitates, it’s helpful to have this on hand. To make your own bubble wands, wrap pipe cleaners around a stick.