Normally, this column is all about theatre, but it’s a little hard to do that when all the schools and local theatre groups have had to cancel or postpone their productions. I could write about the heartache and logistical issues that come with postponing a show. However, between all the fires, and PSPSs, and now sheltering in place, I think we’ve had enough bad news and negativity to last us a while. So, this month’s column will focus on ways to keep ourselves and our families engaged and entertained. After all, isn’t that what theatre is all about?
It can be tricky to come up with activities that aren’t costly (many of us are not collecting a paycheck right now), or that don’t require adult involvement (for those working from home), or that don’t necessitate internet access (for those who don’t have internet). Some of you may be stretched too thin and just don’t have the time to be creative. But, I’ve always been good at rainy day activities, so I thought I would give it a go and try to come up with some activities to keep us all entertained. Some of these ideas I stole from my friends, some I stole from all the ideas going around Facebook right now, and some I regularly employ here at my own house when I sense my child has had enough electronics.
I’ll give you a few suggestions (70 to be exact) and you can decide which ones are age appropriate for your child. Keep in mind, somethings have no age limit, like, (#1) Play Doh! We love Play Doh and kinesthetic sand (#2) at my house. My son, Jimmy, is 10 ½ and though we don’t play with that stuff nearly as much as we did when he was little, whenever the internet is down or he’s bored, it works every time. Home made slime (#3) is always a hit if you have the ingredients on hand or can pick them up when you are out getting groceries. Lego’s (#4), bubbles (#5), and crayons (#6) also fit the bill for simple and you probably already have them on hand.
Another thing I like to do is to make old things new again by rearranging the toys in his room (#7). I did this recently and Jimmy was happily playing away with things he hadn’t given a second glance in a long while. He was completely unaware that I had orchestrated the whole thing simply by rotating the toys and moving things into his line of vision.
We also love puzzles (#8) and board games (#9) at our house and have a ton of them. You can always teach your kids poker (#10) or rummy (#11) so you have someone to play with. Nothing like a new game to hold their interest. Do you have anything you only bring out for certain situations? Say when you go camping? We always like to play ladder golf (#12) when we go camping. We also have a croquette set (#13) and lawn jarts (#14) in the garage that we haven’t used in a while. I think I’m going to go find those now that it’s Spring Break.
If you’ve exhausted those activities or if they don’t seem like anything very special, how about painting? After one of the fires a few years ago we spent a lot of quality together time painting rocks. I still have a bucket of rocks that we collected from our yard and washed. We painted pictures and one word of inspiration on each of them and then left them around the neighborhood for people to find (#15). We spent spent the whole time we were out placing them wondering about who might find them and whether or not it would make a difference in their day. If you want to paint on paper (#16), canvas (#17), flower pots (#18), or frames (#19) you can get those supplies while you are out grocery shopping, or you might even have some of them around the house. If it’s nice outside and you have little ones, a bucket of water, a paint brush and the fence or the side of your house, also work well (#20). Another idea I saw on line was to lay out a piece of paper and a toy dinosaur and let your child trace the shadow it casts (#21). Super cheap!
Something I am still fascinated by and haven’t played with in a couple of years are Shrinky Dinks (#22). Does anyone remember those? You would drawn on them and then pop them in the over and watch them shrink and get brighter in color. Well, they’ve evolved from our day. They still have the ones that you draw on and bake, but now they also have some that you can print on and bake. The ideas are endless: key chains, luggage tags, charms, just don’t forget to punch your holes before you bake them. Give your child some examples and then let them create. If you can’t find them online, how about making some salt dough Christmas Ornaments(#23)? Flour, salt, water, and either paint, food coloring or markers. Tactile AND crafty.
We also have something at our house called Story Cubes. They are basically dice with simple pictures on each side. You roll the dice and then make a story using all the pictures that land face up. There are 9 six-sided dice. You can order some if you like, or, you can have everyone in the family draw pictures on little slips of paper and stick them in a jar (#24). Then, the fun begins. When you’re all done, shake them up and have the first player pick 9. Start with “Once upon a time” and continue telling the story from there. The story is done when all 9 slips of paper have been used. Then, put the slips back, shake the jar, and pass it to the next person.
For those of you who have internet, there are some fun tutorials going on right now for free. Mo Willems of “Don’t Let the Pigeon” fame presents Lunch Doodles (#25), a guided tutorial for littles on drawing. On Facebook, the You Can Play That page live streams a half hour music theory lesson (#26) each week day at 8 a.m. The lessons are also posted under videos on the page if you prefer to start at #1 and work through them all. My son particularly enjoys these videos. Another site that we discovered only recently, though technically not a tutorial, that is good for keeping your children busy is Chrome Music Lab (#27). Just let them poke around on this site and make “music.”
When I first heard that school was going to be canceled, I immediately looked on line for work that I could assign to my son and things to keep him busy should the teachers need more time to come up with lesson plans. I found articles on beat boxing, gaming, and a really cool YouTube video titled Sergei Prokofiev: Peter and the Wolf, Vancouver Symphony Orchestra. The conductor, Prokofiev, breaks down the story and tells the audience what each instrument represents. He alternates between the music and his verbal set up of what’s about to happen. I really think kids of all ages will find it interesting. The nice thing about the internet is you can look up any subject that your kids specifically might be interested in and watch some videos together (#28). Or find a recipe for slime or learn how to make paper airplanes (#29) or watch baby animals. If my suggestions don’t appeal to you, think about what your child does like and go from there.
I have a couple of go-to rainy day activities that would be great to employ right now just as a change of pace. Indoor hide-n-seek is super fun (#30). Some times you have to call out while you’re hiding if your child is younger to make sure they don’t get frustrated. It was always so funny to watch Jimmy hide in the exact same spot we’d just hid in because he thought it was a good one. Scavenger hunts (#31) are also loads of fun indoors or out. You just have to come up with clues like, “where we bake pizza” (oven), “where we dry the clothes” (dryer), “where Dr. Seuss lives” (your book shelf). You’re gonna give them that candy bar/new DVD/back of Doritos anyway, why not make them find it? And, don’t forget about on line scavenger hunts (#32). You can require them to look up information and fill in the blanks.
The one thing kids love the most, and probably what we don’t do as often as we should, is when we get down on their level and play with them (#33). Whether it’s Barbies, tanks, or electronic games, kids love it when we do something we normally don’t do with them. Turning on some music and dancing (#34) or having a little Karaoke session with them (#35) can be lots of fun. If you have an Alexa Show, or a karaoke machine you can play music and the words at the same time. If not, YouTube also has karaoke versions of songs.
Kids aren’t the only ones trying to figure out what to do with themselves, some adults are getting restless, too. I was just talking to my mom today and I mentioned that we should do some of our Shutterfly digital scrap booking now so that we can take advantage of the sales when they come up. Do you scrapbook (#36)? Do you need to organize or scan some family photos (#37)? Maybe you need to pull those photos off of your cell phone and get them printed (#38). How about going through the old photograph albums with the kids (#39). My son loves to watch family movies and hear stories and about when he was little and about when my husband and I were little (#40).
Now is also a good time to call up your parents and reminisce with them about the old times (#41). And while you’ve got them on the phone, why not get some family recipes from them (#42) or jot down some family history (#43) or start a family tree (#44)? The great thing about calling them is that you will occupy some of their downtime, too. We’ve had to cancel the last two trips to Oregon to visit my parents. Once at Thanksgiving when the roads were closed due to snow, and, now we just can’t leave the house. Set aside some time to Face Time, Skype, or call the grandparents (#45). Have your children write them letters and send them drawings (#46). Just make sure you seal the envelope with water. And, if you don’t want to actually send those items for fear of germs, you can always scan them or snap some photos and send them virtually. And, don’t forget about those funny Snap Chat photos (#47). I bet Grandma would love some of those, too.
Family spa time is another fun activity to try. If you have girls you can do hair and paint nails (#48). I can also tell you that boys and husbands, while they may not want their nails painted, do enjoy having their nails trimmed and filed. Especially if you pair that with a foot massage (unless they happen to be ticklish). Get those kids to learn how to give a firm shoulder and foot massage and you may find an activity you want to do even when you’re not sheltering in place. I’ve even seen some of my friends with kids posting photos of their dress up play as a family (#49). The point is, try something you normally wouldn’t do with a particular gender (#50). You just never know what the kids will enjoy.
One particular activity that I am saving and really looking forward to this year is Easter. I’ve already gotten my eggs and my dying kit for the hard boiled eggs that will be hidden at home. And, I’m going to make decorating the eggs a family event (#51). Sometimes the husband doesn’t participate, but this year, he’s gonna. I also have some egg and bunny shaped molds. I like to make bath bombs (#52), but if you are so inclined, you could make chocolates (#53). For the less adventurous, baking chocolate chip cookies (#54) is always a treat. No need to wait for a holiday. We made whole wheat zucchini bread with chocolate chips the other day and everyone perked up. Hey, it’s also a lesson in fractions if you double the recipe. Now is the perfect time to teach your kids how to bake or cook (#55).
Especially, if you are going to start experimenting in the kitchen, don’t forget to schedule at least 30 minutes outdoors taking a walk (#56) or riding bikes (#57), scooters (#58), or skating (#59). Getting outdoors and moving is a great way to ward off depression. We took some chalk on our walk the other day and drew pictures and left messages for our neighbors in their drive ways (#60). My child who wanted only to play on his Xbox was motivated to walk even farther after the first drawing. I also got him to use our elliptical machine by letting him watch YouTube while he walked (#61). He’s even asked to walk longer so he could watch more videos. Hey, a mom’s gotta do, what a mom’s gotta do to keep her kid moving.
Speaking of Xbox, PS4, or whatever gaming system you have at your house, go ahead and let your kids play (#62). Seriously. Right now, it’s one of the only ways kids are staying in touch with their friends while they are out of school. You can limit the time, if you like, but they miss their friends, too. The game gives them a way to interact.
Surprisingly, the person that’s been acting the most like a cat in a roomful of rocking chairs has been my husband. He constantly has to be doing something. I personally am planning to use this to my advantage. There are a few honey-dos (#63) I’ve been hoping he’d get to and surprisingly, he brought up the biggest one all on his own. Looks like that laundry room is finally going to get painted!
I have an elderly neighbor that golfs about 3 times a week. I suggested to his wife that now might be the time to drop some putting holes into their back yard, but I also saw a simple project on line to keep the kids busy and maybe my neighbor, too. It involved tuning a box upside down and cutting different sized holes in the box. Voila, instant indoor putting (#64)!
There are also a number of companies that are allowing free or reduced price access right now for audio books (#65), movies (#66), and websites (#67). I’m not going to list them, I’m sure your friends and family have already done that on Facebook. There are also some free theatrical and operatic performances (#68) being released weekly. And, don’t forget about zoo and aquarium cameras that are being live streamed (#69).
My last suggestion is something that I will be doing myself. Every year I’ve wanted to put an entry into the Lake County Fair. Why not check out the various contests (#70). Last year there was baking, cookie decorating, flower arranging, photography, and lots more. Browse through the 2019 list and then keep an eye out for the link to the actual contests for 2020.
I hope some of my suggestions sparked ideas for you to try with your family. If you do try any of the activities, let me know how you fared. Maybe send me a photo of you and your family testing them out. Stay safe, stay strong, and stay one step ahead of the kids.