by Diane Wiltshire

Our children look forward to taking a break from the alarm clock during the summer months. Unstructured time feels like a luxu­ry after nine months crammed with schoolwork and extracurricular activities. But as any summertime parent will agree, too much freedom can turn kids whiny with boredom and parents grumpy from overload.

You may want to try some of these simple activities to keep the kids entertained and give parents a little downtime, too.

One of the easiest ways to keep our children happy involves food since the kids are always raiding the refrigerator in search of a cool treat. Here’s a recipe for frozen fruit pops that taste especially good on hot days. Use Popsicle sticks or wooden yakitori sticks and top them with any of the following: seedless grapes, mikan sections, strawber­ries, banana halves, peeled kiwi slices or watermelon chunks. Place the finished treats in plastic bags (several to a bag), secure with a tie and freeze for a couple of hours.

While you’re waiting for the pops to chill, collect the watermel­on seeds for a seed-spitting contest; it’s not as disgusting as it sounds. Mark off a space outdoors and give each child a bottle cap to mark her spot after each round. A tape meas­ure will help determine the winner of the long-distance spit.

If you have any popcorn ker­nels (not the microwave kind) lying around the house, you can trans­form a Ziplock bag and some pot­ting soil into a mini-hothouse. Fill a clear plastic Ziplock bag one-third full of soil, press about 15 kernels into the dirt, seal the bag and hang it in a sunny window. In less than a week, you should see tiny green stalks erupting form the kernels.

Flower seeds can also be plant­ed in Ziplocks and can usually be transferred to pots where they will continue to bloom. To make this project a bit more time-consuming for the children, give them a stack of magazines and have them search for pictures of their plants or the letters to spell out “corn,” for example. These can be cut out and pasted on masking tape. When using numerous or heavier bags, stretch a rope or string across a sunny window and attach your bags of soil and seed with clothes­pins.

Rainsticks were traditionally used by American Indians to bring on the rain, but you can have your children make their own version (and create a rain dance to limit our rainy season). Collect cardboard tubes from paper towels, gift-wrap—or even use toilet paper—and have the children dec­orate them with markers or paint. Next, puncture the tubes all the way through with toothpicks, following the seam around the cardboard.

For safety, parents should trim off the sharp ends once the tooth­picks are inserted. Tape one end of the tube closed, pour some rice grains in and seal the other end with tape. Turn your finished rain stick upside down to hear the gentle rus­tle of rain as the grains flow past the toothpicks.

To add another rhythm to your rainstick, have the children make tambourines from paper plates. Decorate the bottom sides of two plates, staple or glue the edges together, leaving a few inches open, and punch several holes along the edges that can be threaded with rib­bons, yarn or strips of brightly col­ored paper. Fill the plates with dried beans, rice or both. Then, after sealing the remaining edges, the children will have a festive tambourine to pound and twirl.

If too much togetherness threatens to dampen your spirits during the rainy season, it’s not too late to sign up for a couple of terrif­ic summer camps which are offered at the end of July and in early August. The Children’s Garden, a new pre-school in Kichijoji which I wrote about last month, is sponsor­ing their first bilingual Nature Dis­covery Camp in the beautiful mountains of Okutama. Outdoor ed specialists Brien Chartier and his experienced, enthusiastic team will direct a nature program geared for children ages 5 to 10 on July 22-23.

Activities include hiking, swim­ming, campfire skits, environmen­tal education and a visit to the Niparra limestone cave. All camp­ing equipment and transportation will be provided. For more infor­mation, contact Brien at 080-3152-8662, or at The Children’s Garden, (0424) 20-5055.

For students in grades 3 through 7, David Green is once again directing his fabulous Nanbo Discovery Camp in Tateyama near the Minami Boso Peninsula in Chiba. From July 28 till Aug. 3, David, a longtime science teacher at Nishimachi, and his highly quali­fied bilingual staff will take the chil­dren on an educational yet fun-filled odyssey.

Some of the activities include bicycling, swimming, snorkeling, exploring sea life and two nights camping out on the beach, includ­ing cooking dinner over an open fire. Every year this is a popular trip with students of all nationalities; David also offers vacations for families at his restaurant and lodge in scenic Hakkakuso where students spend part of their week during the Nanbo Discovery Camp.

For more information, contact David Green at home, 3708-4012, or e-mail [email protected].