Spring has sprung and every year when it does, it means that it’s time to get everyone outside. Each season brings its own kind of messes and past time activities.
Every year I wander the aisles of a few local stores looking for new ideas to keep my kids engaged outside. Wouldn’t you know it, every year it seems that it’s the same selection. I grab sidewalk chalk, bubbles and a new playground ball. The traditional toys keep their interest to start the spring off but by summer, I need a new wave of diversions. Here I share some idea’s I have tried over the years with my kids.
Toddlers are so easy to please, the world is fascinating to them!
0-3 Years Old:
1) Canning jar rings are fun to bang around, stack and jingle together.
2) Get a package of colorful Pom-poms from the dollar store and set them out with an empty egg carton. Teach your toddler how to pick up the Pom-poms with tongs or a clothespin and watch them move the pieces into each well of the egg carton.
3) If you have an empty cottage cheese tub, cut a hole in the top just a bit smaller than the Pom-poms. The Pom-poms are fun to push through the hole in the tub and when it’s full it’s quick to dump out and do it all over again.
4) A paintbrush and a cup of water can fascinate a toddler. My little ones “painted” our house, the fence and the sidewalk one summer. Their attention spans are short so they don’t seem to be alarmed that there is no actual color change and that the “paint” evaporates.
5) Ice cubes are lots of fun out on a warm sidewalk. They melt all over and give toddlers something to touch and play in at the same time.
When you get a bit further past the choking and everything going into the mouth stage your options start to open up a little more.
4-6 Years Old
1)Go back to the dollar store and get a package of pipe cleaners and some pony beads. If you want to teach patterns and colors, or just keep little hands busy, pushing the beads onto the pipe cleaner is fun.
2) Get a strong plastic jar and fill it with nuts and bolts from the hardware store. Have kids find matches and spin the sets together. This can be a challenge but also a great diversion.
3) Do a search on Pinterest for a sensory table. You will find loads of creative ideas to keep the sensory bin stocked and full of new challenges. It’s a bonus if you can keep the sensory play outside for a matter of messiness but they can be done in the house also. Just make sure you put down a tablecloth or a sheet first to catch the spillover.
4) Never underestimate the power of water. Squirt guns always seem to break but a spray bottle from the dollar store lasts a long time and does not require as many trips to fill up. I like to pull out a sheet to hang up outside and have my kids squirt it with their spray bottles until it is completely wet. When it is dry, I just fold it up and put it away. For an educational twist, see if they can write their names with the spray bottle or draw a picture on the sidewalk or the sheet.
5) When we noticed several flies and spiders in the house, I pulled out the nerf guns and put my youngest on task to hunt for them. A little boy hunting for bugs can fill the days! I don’t know why it took me until my ninth child to think of that one!
As the kids get older, you can begin including activities that require a few more responsibilities.
1)We start with gluing Popsicle sticks. It does not take long for them to move from making a stick raft to full models of whatever they dream up. They gather things from around the house and I have a box of miscellaneous supplies like Pom-poms, pipe cleaners, googly eyes and yarn.
2) I try to cook with my kids fairly regularly so that when they are looking for something to do, they have the skills required to create their masterpieces in the kitchen. Of course, cooking would not be complete without the cleaning that will most definitely be required afterward so if you aren’t prepared to handle that (or have them handle that) then setting them lose in the kitchen will become frustrating for you.
3) We do play scenes with play dough as we do with the popsicle stick buildings. It is not uncommon for a 2-3 hour playdough session to be held at my dining room table. If I only give them playdough, they become bored but when we invite the teddy bear counters to come for a visit to the playdough igloo or the playdough mountain, it’s much more fun.
4) When you feel like you are out of tricks but a friend stops over and you want to have some quiet time to visit, here is one last prize winner….. toss a handful of pennies and nickels into a few bushes and have your older kids collect them. They can keep whatever they find and use to them to buy a treat later. It’s is a pretty cheap babysitter and should buy you enough time to have a cup of coffee.
Tips & Tricks
1)The first few times that we do most activities, I need to give a little tutorial. By setting down some expectations about how to use supplies, we waste a lot less and dont have to replace things as often. I try not to tell my children how a supply must be used unless it is absolutely necessary because I want to encourage them to think outside the box. For example, I spend some time teaching how to use a hot glue gun and set up a glass of ice water on the table next to them to stick their finger in, just in case they get burned. I stay close while they are learning the process but once they have proven that they can manage the tool, I give them freedom to create.
2) Anytime I can think of an activity that carries over for a few days it’s a winner. So for instance, the Popsicle stick craft mention above. On day one of the hot glue creation, they simply create. Day two, we might get the paints out and let them decorate the structures they built the day before. When the paint is dry, out comes the “LPS, Lego mini-figs, Playmobil or plastic army men”. Depending on the structure and the play scenario centered around it, this can keep little ones busy for days. When it is finally time to retire this playset, the glue creation makes a great fire starter or can go straight into the trash.
3)Even during spring and summer months, we need some indoor time. Toys get boring when you are looking at the same ones all the time. We keep our toys in Rubbermaid totes in the attic. I rotate down the totes to keep things interesting. Dress up clothes are fun but they inevitably end up with the regular laundry and become a burden to me. If we only bring the dress up tote down for 2-3 days, it is a fun “new” toy and much more manageable for me. In the same way, to avoid dinosaurs under foot, Duplos strewn around the entire house or Playmobil getting mixed up with the Legos, we rotate them using the totes.
What are some fun idea’s you use to keep your little ones busy? Let me know in the comments!