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Front-yard fun

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Parker Nickolas

OUT FRONT Parker Nickolas, 3, gets to spend hot summer days splashing in her front yard with her little sister. (Photo: Erin Nickolas Photography)

Buzz Baby is a column about life with babies. Writer Annie McQueen is a mother of four children under the age of 5.

How do you keep young kids cool outside in the summer while getting their wiggles out? Buzz parents shared their strategies on kid-friendly ideas in the comfort of their own yard.

Jennifer Beitler, a teacher at The Kinkaid School and mom of two boys, Easton, 3, and Everett, 5, has been adding to her list of lawn ideas for the past few summers.

If you pass by the Beitlers’ west Memorial home, chances are you will see Jennifer, with her dirty blonde hair and Ray-Ban Wayfarer sunglasses, sitting in her bright red Adirondack chair. She and her husband, Jeff, a global sourcing manager, found an old-school slip-and-slide on Amazon for their boys. It has been a huge hit. 

The slide is nothing fancy – around $30 – by a brand called Banzai, and it hooks up to their sprinkler. The boys race through the grass, jumping onto the slide for hours. “They even send their toy cars up and down the slide,” said Jennifer. “They especially love having popsicles in it before we get out for the day. I also try to keep some water balloons on hand for a special treat.”

Jennifer bought a “Bunch O Balloons Water Slide Wipeout” device, which fills 30 water balloons simultaneously. The goal is to slide fast into the water balloons for an extra thrill. 

Other front-yard supplies Jennifer buys are sidewalk chalk, bubbles and water guns. The boys’ favorite activity is a toy car wash. Jennifer sets out buckets of water and soap for the boys to wash their toy cars and bikes. “We've set up multiple car wash stations to clean our toys and cars after running them through the dirt and mud,” said Jennifer. 

When the lawn gets old, there is the driveway. The boys race up and down on their Big Wheels. Jennifer and Jeff make a race track by drawing a starting line and finish line with chalk, and Jennifer holds up a flag to start the race.

“Everett has developed a move,” said Jennifer. “He races down, stops pedaling, swings the back end of the bike around and lifts his legs up and he comes to a smooth yet terrifying stop. Thank goodness for helmets.” 

Recently, a friend told Jennifer about a genius summertime hack: freezing washable paint in ice cube trays with popsicle sticks. You fill an ice cube tray halfway with washable paint, and then top it off with some water in each compartment. “I cover it with foil and stick popsicle sticks into each compartment and freeze overnight,” said Jennifer. Jennifer says they pop right out, and the boys can hold the frozen cubes with their popsicle sticks as a paint brush. You can bring out poster boards or paper, or even set up an easel. As the paint melts, they can start to move it around with their hands, cooling off with a sensory activity.  

For Fourth of July, the Beitlers plan to spend the day outside. In the past, they have always attended their neighborhood parade. Jennifer and Jeff will help Easton and Everett decorate their bikes with flags and streamers to ride around the neighborhood. They make Jennifer’s Aunt Martha’s famous peach cobbler with homemade strawberry or vanilla ice cream to put on top.  

Ella Nickolas

Ella Nickolas, 1, stays cool with simple and convenient water activities in her front and backyard. (Photo: Erin Nickolas Photography)

The fun ramps up when neighbors combine forces in the yard.

The Nickolas family – mom Erin, a lifestyle photographer, and her husband Matt, a dentist, and their two daughters, Parker, 3, and Ella, 1 – often join the Beitlers for front-yard playtime. 

Erin has a water table set up in their yard for the girls—and she often turns on their sprinkler too. Parker and Ella like to wander around the yard to pick flowers and make “flower soup” by mixing them with water.

As a treat, Erin makes homemade popsicles in her blender and freezes them to pull out later, for an ice-cold summer snack.

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