When the Weather Doesn’t Cooperate

There’s just something about yucky weather that makes the day feel different. So what do you do when the weather doesn’t cooperate?

Whether it’s too hot, too cold, too rainy, too windy – when the weather stinks, boredom somehow becomes magnified. Knowing that you won’t want to go outside can make even previously enjoyable activities just not enough. Here are some suggestions to keep inside play interesting.

AT HOME

You always have the option of crafts, and games, and so many other things. However for particularly active kids, especially, these may not be enough. To kick things up a notch, try these ideas:

  • Create an indoor obstacle course. From rope mazes to scurrying under tables to completing tasks before moving on, the possibilities are endless when it comes to obstacle courses. Challenge your child(ren) using some of the suggestions in these articles:
  • Build a crazy fort. Pick a room and add boxes, blankets, and more to create cozy nooks and secret hideouts. Let the kids use their imaginations to design and build the fort of their dreams.
  • Turn it into a competition. Whether it’s a dance off, a cooking contest, or a LEGO building competition, adding that extra element can make even humdrum activities more fun.
  • Bring outdoor activities inside. What do your children like to do outside? Is there a way you can bring it inside? Whether it’s playing soccer in the hallway (with, perhaps a lighter, softer ball), playing basketball with a laundry basket hoop, or creating a hopscotch board using masking tape, bringing some typically outdoor activities inside can make them even more fun that usual.
  • Play “the floor is lava.” My kids love this game, and there are many variations you can try out to add to the fun. Start with the simple concept that they have to move across the room and not touch the floor. Then mix things up by changing what they can and cannot touch – perhaps the lava is now spreading over the books or blankets they were using as stepping stones, or the floor is now the only safe thing. Ask your kids for suggestions on what to try next, and the game can keep going.
  • Break out the boxes. How many empty cardboard boxes do you have in your home? Give them to your kids! There are so many amazing things you can make with cardboard boxes, and sometimes the boxes themselves can be fun for kids. Boxes can become rockets, houses, forts, or cars. They can turn into maze tunnels, mailboxes, or pretend kitchens. The possibilities are endless! Here are some sites for inspiration:
  • Check out these articles for more great ideas:

OUT AND ABOUT

Unless it’s unsafe to leave your home, bad weather doesn’t mean you can’t go somewhere.

  • Museums. Connecticut has a wide variety of museums available to suit all interests, and several offer free days to help you take advantage of what they have to offer. A few are even free all the time – USS Nautilus Submarine, National Helicopter Museum, Yale Art Gallery. This summer, the state is also offering Summer at the Museum, to get Connecticut children 18 and under and one accompanying adult free admission to many museums within Connecticut. Your local library may also offer museums passes that can get you free admission to museums in the area. Most libraries that offer museums passes don’t limit their use to just that town’s residents, so if your library doesn’t offer one that you’re interested in, check other libraries in the area for availability.
  • Libraries. Most libraries are now open at least part time, and, while toys and games are likely still safely tucked away, just getting out of the house can help against cabin fever! While you’re there, snag some books for a story time or DIY book club, DVDs for a movie marathon, or CDs for a dance competition.
  • Play outside anyway. Even if you can’t do the activities you normally would, working with the weather instead of complaining about it can make a typically dreary day an extra fun one.
    • Too hot? Put the sprinkler on or have a water balloon fight (or try these other activity ideas from Namco Pool).
    • Raining? Splash in puddles, make mud pies, and hunt for worms (or try these other rainy day activities from Very Well Family).
    • Windy? Make and fly a kite (or try other suggestions from Creative STAR Learning).
    • Too cold? Bundle up and explore anyway (and check out these ideas from Happy Grey Lucky).

Possibilities are truly endless! What does your family enjoy during less-than-ideal weather?

Learn Something New

Beat summer slide and have fun as a family by learning something new!

EXPLORE A TOPIC

Tap into a passion by taking an online course or exploring on your own. Whether your child is into dinosaurs or art, math or magic, you’ll find something to enjoy. Here are some great sources for free educational content:

LEARN A NEW SKILL

With the World Wide Web, information on any topic is easily accessible. That means learning a new skill is right at your fingertips. Check out the sites below for some ideas.

What is your child interested in learning? Let me know, and I’ll find some great resources!

VISIT A MUSEUM

The Connecticut Summer at the Museum program has opened the doors for many families to explore new and interesting places this summer. Children 18 and under, plus one accompanying adult, can get free admission to a wide variety of museums and educational sites around the state. To learn more about the program, visit their website.

You can also take a tour without leaving your couch! Check out this list of virtual tours and field trips.

Never stop learning, and never stop having fun! Stimulate your brain, and you’ll always find something new to discover.

Explore and Investigate

Kids love to explore the world around them. Encourage this exploration with activities and suggestions, or by taking them to new places to discover.

IN YOUR OWN BACKYARD

You don’t have to go far to find an amazing, exciting world. Check out these interesting activities (and websites that can help you get started) that can be done right around your home. Don’t worry about buying any equipment if you don’t have it already on hand. Encourage children to use their senses, and perhaps any items they find around your home.

Don’t be afraid to let your children take the lead. What is captivating their attention? What do they want to explore or learn more about? The library can be a great resource for investigating a new subject. You can also search the web for more information on any topic that strikes their fancy.

GO SOMEWHERE NEW

The “Summer at the Museum” program that was introduced this month is a great opportunity to check out local (and not-so-local) museums around the state. Heading to a new location can offer new ways to explore – and new topics that you and your children may have never otherwise discovered. Museums that cover animals, science, art, history, and more are included in the program. Try something new and see what sparks an interest in your child!

Parks, trails, and other natural areas can offer opportunities to explore and investigate, as well. Even a visit to the local splash pad can be educational, as children learn what happens when water comes shooting out of the ground! Bring a bucket or ball for the water to interact with, and see what your children discover.

KEEP IT OPEN-ENDED

Sometimes the biggest discoveries happen by accident, or simply by asking yourself “I wonder what would happen if…” Rather than preparing “lessons” or structured activities, encourage your children to be scientists and see what happens. Give them supplies and ask questions, or just suggest that they find new ways of doing things, or new purposes for items. Ask open-ended questions to get them thinking, such as:

  • How many uses can you find for a spoon, other than scooping up soup or ice cream?
  • What items would float in water? What items would dissolve?
  • What shape would make the best paper airplane?
  • Can you combine two things to make something new?

While many of these activities are more science-themed in nature, they can also lead to artistic creations. However your child chooses to explore the world around them, encourage them to keep thinking outside the box to investigate and discover. And don’t underestimate the power of lying on your back, staring at the sky, and making shapes with clouds. Looking at things in a new way can be a great way of opening your mind to new possibilities. Have fun exploring!

Turn the Page

Most kids love stories, whether they’re in book format, recited, or acted out. Take advantage of this love to create some fun activities for your family.

TELL A STORY

If you are creatively inclined (or even if you’re not!), make up a story. It can be simple or complicated, short or long, serious or silly. Ask your child for prompts on what should happen next, or what the characters would say or do. Take turns adding a scene. Stuck for ideas? Try using story cards or cubes to get the creative juices flowing. With cards and cubes, you let luck and the pictures inspire you to create or add to your story. Here are some sources for free printable cards and cubes:

If you create a story you’re particularly fond of, write it down and illustrate it with your child(ren)!

CREATE YOUR OWN STORY WALK

You may have seen or heard of story walks in parks nearby. Story walks are a way to encourage families and individuals to enjoy reading a story while also enjoying a walk through nature. Pages from a story book are encased in plastic, mounted, and spread out along a path. As families walk down the path, they can stop and read the next page of the story.

You can create your own story walk in your yard or nearby space. While organizations who create story walks seek for something durable and semi-permanent to mount their pages on, you don’t need to worry about that part. Instead, you can simply spread out the pages and hold them down with rocks or stakes.

While you can certainly take apart a book that you own, you may have better luck with one of these printable stories:

  • DLTK Mini-Books – a variety of short stories, perfect for preschoolers
  • Fun-a-Day – more mini books for preschoolers and kindergarteners
  • Love to Know – printable books for toddlers through eighth grade

You can also use the stories you wrote using the story cards and cubes and share them with friends and family!

MAKE A READING NOOK

Small or large, having a space in your home that’s designated for reading can encourage a love of books. Turn a closet or corner into a reading nook with some pillows, blankets, and stacks of books! If you don’t have books of your own, visit your local library periodically to borrow a selection, or print out some of the books linked to above.

Make a Summer Bucket List

Summer is here! Take advantage of the warm weather and school-free days to have some extra fun!

Whether your kids will be hanging around the house or spending their days and weeks at camp, summer can be a magical time. No school can mean laid-back days or evenings, extra family time, and an added dose of fun. But how does your family want to spend the summer?

One way to maximize your time together is to create a summer bucket list. A bucket list is just a list of things you want to do – and anything goes! To start, gather your family together and explain how you want to have as much fun as possible this summer. Then ask what they would like to do. Keep a list of all their suggestions, even if they won’t make it onto the final bucket list. Be sure to get everyone’s opinions. It’s important that all family members get a say, so they can enjoy their summer, too!

To ensure you don’t break the bank, challenge your family to come up with as many things as possible that are free or close to it. Use the website for ideas or inspiration, or let your imagination run wild. Throw out some free ideas as suggestions – watch a sunset, catch fireflies, dance in the rain, etc. Items can take place outside or inside, alone or as a family, at home or away. Maybe there’s a local event that you always attend, such as a fireworks show or concert series. Perhaps there’s a lake nearby that you like to visit as a family, or something new you’ve always wanted to try. Or maybe you just want to try playing as many board games as possible.

Once all of the suggestions have been compiled, discuss them as a family. Which ones really sound like fun? Which ones could actually happen? Review your options and decide which ones should be on your final summer bucket list. Once you have your final list, write everything on a large piece of paper and post the paper where everyone can see it. Use it as motivation to take advantage of free time (and as inspiration for those “I’m bored!” moments!). Check items off as you’ve completed them.

I’ve included a sample summer bucket list below. I do not know where this graphic originally came from, but you can use it to get ideas or as an example of what I’m referring to. Personalize it to suit your family’s personalities. There is no “right” or “wrong” list of activities. Just have fun and enjoy your time together!

Throw an Impromptu Party

You may be asking yourself how a party could possibly be free. Well, if it’s the kind of party that’s thrown together using things you already have on hand, and the celebration is just an excuse to have fun, it totally can be!

AN EXCUSE TO CELEBRATE

It doesn’t need to be someone’s birthday to have a party. Make up a reason to celebrate. It’s Tuesday! It’s sunny! It’s raining! Your favorite team won a game! It’s all of your un-birthdays!

Once you’ve decided on a theme, roll with it. Celebrating Tuesday? See how many ways you can incorporate the number “2” in your planning (so you can celebrate Twos-day, get it? Yes, total dad joke! lol). Celebrating the weather? Incorporate suns or raindrops. For winning a game, add sports paraphernalia. For un-birthdays, use any leftover “Happy Birthday” supplies you may have hanging around.

Look around your home and see what you have that can be easily used for the party. Then it’s time to get creative and move on to the next step.

THE DECORATIONS

Decide which room(s) you’ll be using for the party, then go to town making it festive. Unless you’re hoping for the party to be a surprise, get the kids involved in making or finding items to use as decorations. These can be as simple as large pictures that get hung up, banners spelling out the reason for the party (a few sheets of paper taped together to make a long chain), coordinating toys that can be placed strategically around the room, etc. Don’t overthink it – just have fun! (Hint: this step can be helpful in keeping the kids busy while you work on other preparations, such as food!)

Feel free to use up any odds and ends you may have floating around from previous birthdays, etc. You can also make things as simple as cutting up paper into little pieces to make confetti! Keep it colorful and fun, and the kids (and you!) will enjoy themselves.

THE GAMES

What’s a party without activities? You can utilize any family favorite board games or other activities, or more traditional party games, such as musical chairs. Want some inspiration? Here are a few sites with lists to get you started:

Interested in a pinata but worried about the cost? There are ways to make your own! Then you can fill it with goodies you already have at home – put to use those little toys that end up everywhere or small treats you have floating around your kitchen. Or you can even incorporate 2 activities into one, and hide clues for a scavenger hunt inside the pinata instead of treats! Here are some homemade pinata ideas:

THE FOOD

Party food can be simple or elaborate, and the choice is really up to you. The party can be an excuse to make someone’s favorite meal, or it can be an easy way to use up leftovers! A favorite in my family is to set up a buffet with simple appetizer-style foods, so everyone can try a little of everything, and everyone will find something they enjoy (and you don’t have to worry about preparing a full meal). Evaluate what you have on hand and see how you can make it fun. Remember, this is impromptu and free, so don’t plan on going grocery shopping!

Even if the food isn’t exciting, the presentation can be. Mix and match plates, add pops of color to the table, or serve things in an interesting way (maybe serve spaghetti out of mugs? arrange food into shapes on the plate?). If possible, incorporate the theme to make it fun. Celebrating Twos-day? Give everyone 2 of everything on plates. Celebrating a sunny day? Only serve yellow food!

THE GUESTS

Your impromptu party can be just for your family, or you can invite a few friends over to add to the festivities. If you invite guests, just make sure they understand the purpose of the party – no gifts, no over-the-top activities. Just enjoy each other’s company and have fun!

What will your family celebrate?

Create a Challenge

Does your family enjoy games and puzzles? Put together your own using the ideas below!

SCAVENGER HUNTS

The simplest games can often be the most fun, and scavenger hunts certainly fall into this category. You can have your children search for just about anything, and you can make it as easy or challenging as you want. Last month I shared some nature scavenger hunt ideas that can make nature walks and hikes more fun. You can take those same ideas and apply them to inside spaces, as well. Can your child find certain colors? Textures? Shapes?

You can take things one step further by hiding items for your child to find. Depending on your child’s age, you can leave them only partially hidden, or you can make them ridiculously difficult to find, kind of like an Easter egg hunt. For an added game, you can give your child clues they have to solve to determine an item’s location. To make it more challenging, have these clues written in a secret code. Here are some ideas to help with creating coded messages:

MAKE YOUR OWN ESCAPE ROOM

Escape rooms have been really popular, and you can create your very own escape room in your home. Yes, you can buy kits or purchase a bunch of fancy locks and spy gear, but you can also just use items you already have. Pick a room, determine an objective, then design clues and challenges that the participants have to solve to meet the objective! It can take a bit of time and effort, but it’s worth it for the fun factor. Here are some websites that can give you ideas, tips, and inspiration for creating your own escape room:

SOLVE A MYSTERY

A simpler option to escape rooms, without sacrificing fun, is to create a mystery game. You can use the secret code sites above to design clues, modify some of the escape room ideas, or use some of the other ideas below. Tweens, teens, and adults would enjoy the murder mystery ideas, but they do usually require a larger group of people (6+).

DESIGN YOUR OWN BOARD GAME OR PUZZLE

While the ideas above mostly require the activities to be set up beforehand, for the kids to participate, these ideas can get the kids involved. Have them create their own board game or puzzle!

Creating a puzzle is quite simple. You just need a picture that you can cut up and put back together. For best results, glue the picture onto a piece of light cardboard (like a cereal box) and let dry before cutting. Puzzles can be simple, with the picture cut into strips to be reassembled, or complicated with intricate pieces to fit together.

For a board game the sky’s the limit! Here are some sites to get you started:

What challenges would your family enjoy?

Do More With Less

Studies and experience have shown that having less options when it comes to toys, etc. actually makes kids happier. So have more fun with less!

To learn more about this concept, check out the following articles:

In a nutshell, having too many items can distract and overwhelm kids, so they actually spend less time playing. You can counteract this effect by giving them less options. But that can be easier said than done! The “6 Tips” article above gives you some suggestions on ways to minimize clutter to benefit your kids (and your sanity!). Toy rotations, getting rid of things, and avoiding new purchases are just a few ways to cut back. Here are more ways to have fun with less stuff.

FOCUS ON EXPERIENCES

Instead of relying on stuff to entertain your child, look for ways to encourage more doing. Some suggestions, which I’ve discussed in previous posts, include enjoying nature, playing pretend, and creating. You can also explore the Events calendar and tabs on the website for more ideas. Interacting with others, especially parents and other loved ones, can make positive memories that will last much longer than toys. You can also take the experiences concept one step further, and encourage kids to do things with other people in mind – through volunteering, helping others, and looking for ways to make other people happy.

Get your child involved in coming up with experience ideas. Ask them what they would enjoy doing, if they didn’t have any toys to play with or screens to stare at. Encourage them to think back to happy times. Which memories stand out? Can you incorporate those ideas into new activities and experiences? Have each family member come up with things they would love to try, then take turns implementing them. You may be surprised at what is really meaningful for your child!

ENCOURAGE CREATIVITY

A cluttered space can lead to a cluttered mind – which can inhibit creativity. Instead, clear a space and set out a few things that can encourage creativity. Last time I mentioned creating supply trays. This not only keeps a space neat and tidy but can also help spark ideas, as everything your child needs is at hand. Take things one step further by creating with your child. Suggest a theme or style, and see how each of you interprets the idea. Challenge each other to step out of your comfort zone with something you haven’t tried before, or to make something extremely simple or overly complicated. This can be with arts and crafts supplies, building bricks, or even recipe ingredients! Some ideas:

  • Have a “mystery bag” with supplies that must be used in your creation.
  • Write random words on scraps of paper, then draw one to see the topic.
  • Grab a handful of random items and see what you can create with them.
  • Set a timer and see what you can make in the time limit – the shorter the time, the wackier the creations! (But, also, the more creative and interesting)

CREATE EVENTS

Make the items you have more exciting, and encourage kids to look at them in a different way, by creating “events.” Maybe you implement a weekly game night to use those board games that have been collecting dust. Or challenge your children to create a “party” using as few items as possible – with games, decorations, and projects. Make a backwards day, where everything has to be used in a different way than it was originally intended. (Maybe that dinosaur figure is now a princess? Or that doll’s chair is now a hat?)

Doing more with less is not a new concept, but you can take it to new heights with a little imagination and encouragement. How much fun can you have using as few items as possible?

Use Your Imagination

Thinking creatively comes naturally to many children, whether it’s through making up new play scenarios or seeing things from a different point of view. Encourage this creative thinking through fun, imaginative play and exploration.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is pretend-play.jpg

JUST PLAY PRETEND

Playing pretend can take on many forms. Ordinary objects can become magical, children can become anything from doctors to firefighters to puppies, and a room can be transformed into just about anywhere. Gather some random objects and turn them into something else. You can ask your child what he thinks they are, or make suggestions yourself. Then turn those new objects into a scenario for pretend play. Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • A paper towel tube can be turned into a sword – now the brave knight must find and slay the dragon!
  • A piece of paper can be rolled into a cone, taped, then placed on your head to become a hat – are you a princess in need of rescuing? Maybe it’s a birthday hat?
  • A towel can be wrapped around an arm and then tied behind a neck to become a sling – now your child must become a doctor and give you a checkup to make sure it’s ok.
  • That same towel can be turned into a cape – superhero to the rescue! Who needs saving?
  • A pencil can become a magic wand – perhaps your child is now a fairy flitting through the forest? Or a magician performing on stage?

See what else your child can gather and turn into extraordinary objects. To encourage ongoing or repeat pretend play, consider putting together boxes or setting aside areas in your home for different scenarios. For example, my daughter wants to be a vet, so I gathered band-aids, bandage wraps, cotton swabs, etc. so she could be a doctor to her stuffed animals. Another favorite is to take empty food packages, such as boxes of cereal or pasta, taping them closed, and setting them up to create a “store.”

MAKE SUPPLY SETS

For impromptu creativity any time, put together some supply sets using items around the house or items you’ve accumulated through your collecting. You can store each set in a shoebox or other container to make it easy to grab and go. Anything can be used, so don’t worry if you don’t have a specific item or supply. Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Art supplies – gather paper, scissors, crayons, glue, glitter, pipe cleaners, etc. to encourage creating.
  • Tinker supplies – gather rubber bands, paper clips, corks, clothespins, cotton swabs, craft sticks, etc. Add some scissors and glue or tape.
  • Building supplies – gather whatever building materials you have, whether that’s LEGOs, tinker toys, wooden blocks, or recycled items.
  • Dress-up supplies – gather assorted clothing items, scarves, hats, costume jewelry, etc. Be sure to add any masks, wands, etc. that your child may have made in school or during pretend play.
  • Book-making supplies – blank or lined paper, writing utensils (pens, pencils, markers, etc.), writing prompts, stapler for putting pages together

Just having the items together and easily accessible can encourage children to be creative.

MAKE UP STORIES

Look around and pick an object, then make up a story with your child. That teddy bear is sad because his best friend moved away. But he doesn’t know that a new friend is coming to play with him! Who can be his new friend? What are they going to do together? This activity can be great when enjoying nature, too. Fallen logs, animal burrows, and streams can be great sources of inspiration. Or do some old-fashioned creativity by lying on your backs and looking for shapes in the clouds.



How else can you encourage your child to use her imagination?

Become a Collector

No one wants random items cluttering up their home, but collecting the right items can actually bring joy – during the collecting and whenever the collection is viewed.

CREATIVE COLLECTING

Toys and art supplies don’t need to be expensive. In fact, you can collect items that would normally be thrown away and turn them into all kinds of amazing creations. Websites abound that invite you to turn trash into treasure, or you can just put a pile in front of your child and see what they do! Some favorite items to hold onto are:

  • Cardboard tubes (toilet paper, paper towel, gift wrap, aluminum foil, etc.)
  • Egg cartons
  • Plastic bottles (soda, water, seltzer, ketchup, pancake syrup, etc.)
  • Jars or containers (especially if the labels come off! pasta sauce, jelly, frosting, etc.)
  • Clamshell containers (from fruit, baked goods, etc.)
  • Empty cardboard food packages (if clean – great for closing up for a pretend “store”)

Make sure they’re clean, then just throw it all in a large box or container and tuck it out of sight when not in use. These items can be used in art projects or pretend play, and the only limit is your child’s imagination!

THEMED MEMENTOS

As you travel the state in search of fun activities, pick up a memento of each place. These can be natural items, such as a small stone or shell, or simple man-made items such as business cards or pens. Find a way to display your collection as a reminder of places you’ve been (a simple, clear vase works well). Memories will come flooding back every time you see it. You can even turn your collected items into a craft project, such as a picture frame or collage, or you can put them together in a shadowbox or scrapbook.

THEMED PICTURES

While you’re travelling around, you can also challenge your family to add to the fun! Then be sure to take pictures to commemorate the experiences. Some challenge examples:

  • Take your picture in front of every natural waterfall in the state.
  • See how many different playgrounds your child can swing at – and take a picture at each one.
  • Have your family match their outfits (by color or a particular article of clothing).
  • Bring a favorite toy or stuffed animal with you, and take pictures of that toy in new situations (an old friend does this, and his stuffed basketball has met some pretty famous people!)
  • Look for a particular something at each place. Maybe an interesting shadow, or a unique leaf. Make it the same something at each place for an enchanting collection.
  • Find interesting backgrounds and add your family. For extra fun (depending on your family’s personalities), you can opt to challenge them to be as silly as possible, as serious as possible (no smiling!), or see how much they can “ruin” the shot.

Once you’ve collected several pictures, start an album on Facebook, put them into a digital photo frame that rotates the pictures, or print them out and hang them on your wall. You’ll smile when you see them – and they may motivate you to go even further!

Sky’s the limit! What will you collect?