Bright, cheery sunflowers symbolize summertime -- and couldn't we all use a little more summer in our lives? Capture that "running through a field of flowers" feeling throughout the year with kid-friendly sunflower crafts and activities. Bonus: These projects offer ample bonding time with your little toddler or preschooler.
Kids love finding hiding spots and making them their own. Instead of spending a fortune on ready-made tunnels or forts, construct a hideout using live sunflowers. Not only are sunflowers a beautiful building material, but your child will feel more connected to nature if she has a hideout that's not sewn together from nylon. You will need to plant two rows of large sunflowers about 3 feet apart. Once the sunflowers are nearly fully grown, tie the stalks together with gardening twine to form the roof of the hideout and create a cozy space underneath for your child to play. It takes a while to grow a sunflower hideout, so make sure to plan ahead. Depending on climate, it can take more than three months for them to reach maturity, according to Purdue University's Center for New Crops and Plant Products. Sunflowers also need at least six hours of sunlight per day, so make sure to plan your sunflower hideout in a sunny location.
On a rainy day when your kids are driving you up the wall, brighten the mood by creating sunflower crafts out of household materials. Give your little ones yellow tempera paint to paint a paper plate. Then show them how to tape construction-paper petals around the edge. Glue real sunflower seeds in the center of the plate for some added authenticity. To create tissue-paper sunflowers, give your little ones sheets of yellow, orange and brown tissue paper. Help them stack the paper together in a staggered pile. Have your children twist the middle together and fluff out the edges in different ways. Attach the tissue sunflower to a giant green chenille stick to make a full, billowy sunflower. Make a few sunflowers to create a full bouquet.
Children will participate in just about anything if it involves food, so ramp up their appetite for sunflowers. Decorate the top of a yellow cake with your children to turn it into a sunflower. Give your toddler or preschooler yellow and brown frosting, and show her how to squeeze the frosting so that the center of the cake is covered with brown frosting sunflower seeds, and the edges of the cake are covered with yellow frosting petals. If you don't want to pump your tot full of sugar, you can also bake whole grain muffins or handmade bread with hulled sunflower seeds. While stirring the muffin mixture or kneading bread, allow your little one to sprinkle in handfuls of hulled sunflower seeds.
Sunflowers aren't just pretty to look at -- they're an important part of the ecosystem that feed a lot of different animals and birds. You can teach your little ones about sunflowers during a sunflower-themed story time. Sunflower picture books include "Katie and the Sunflowers" by James Mayhew or "The Sunflower Sword" by Mark Sperring. Go the extra mile and put a few puppets to work, like a bee, a gardener or a farmer. Use the puppets as whimsical narrators -- or better yet, let them act out parts of the books.