Friday, September 21, 2012

Surviving the rain

This week, we had a rainy day with severe thunderstorm warnings and tornado watches and generally unpleasant weather.

I'm usually a "sure, you can play outside in the rain" kind of parent, but this weather was a little too icky for my almost-4-year-old, never mind the babies. So we were stuck inside.

What to do for nine hours until dinner time?

I try to make screen activities (computer, iPad, movies) my very last resort. That way, I know I have them as a backup if everything falls apart. Also, we're not dependent on them if the electricity goes out.

Here are some of our favorite "unplugged" ideas to make the day fly by.

1. Declare a holiday. Make up your own, or look here for a calendar of fun holidays. Just saying, 'Today's a holiday! It's _____ (insert your holiday of choice)!" makes the day seem brighter and more festive. We declared it Rainbow Day and made our own colors and sunshine. Our snacks and activities were (loosely) connected to this theme. (And whenever things got grumpy, I just said, "Hey, it's Rainbow Day!" It actually made a big difference.)

2. Play with water. I know, it sounds messy...but it isn't, really. It's just wet. It doesn't stain, and it wipes up with towels. You've got towels, right? Great! You can definitely handle it.

Here are some ideas to try:
  • Have your child stand on a stool at the sink and help wash dishes.
  • Put water in a large plastic storage bin with some simple toys (measuring cups, bath toys, spoons, etc.), set it on the floor, and make your own water sensory area. The Boy likes to make various toys (Happy Meal guys or Little People) swim in "the pool" and pretend it's the Olympics. Sometimes, he just splashes. Resist the temptation to guide them too much - just see what they come up with.
  • Use a little dish soap and the sink sprayer in the kitchen to have a car wash with toy cars.
  • Set up some glass jars with different levels of water and tap the jars with a spoon to make music. You can even tint the water with food coloring.
We used the last idea this week, but The Boy took it a step further. (If you have been following, you know he is curious about water changing color and will go to great lengths to find out how that happens...resulting in Episode 2 of Terrorize the Tropical Fish.)

He did all the filling, pouring and mixing himself. I helped a bit with the food coloring. (It's hard to get just a drop or two to come out.) It helps to have a kid-sized pitcher that's easy for small hands to maneuver.

3. Build a fort. Use whatever you have. The quick version at our house involves opening the kitchen table to widen it, turning the chairs around and putting a quilt or two over the top of it all. It's not fancy, but it feels more exciting to do ordinary things inside a tent. Try reading, coloring, play-doh, Legos, games, or just snuggling and being silly.

4. Have an awesome snack. Do something unusual. Make the snack into an activity.
Try using snack ingredients to tell a story, or eat something related to a book you read earlier.

Let your child pick a bunch of ingredients to combine and see what you come up with.
Try eating snack in a different place, like inside a closet or in the bathtub. Pretend you're eating in a submarine or a space ship.

We made color-changing instant Jell-O pudding and used our little plastic rainbow bowls from IKEA to sort fruit into rainbow colors. 

5. Have a picnic inside. Put a blanket down and eat your lunch on the floor somewhere. We ate in the fort under the table after packing our lunch in our picnic basket.

Best thing about a picnic under your kitchen table: When you realize you forgot the sippy cups, you can go grab them from the counter.

Try the Picnic Game: "I'm going on a picnic, and I'm taking _____" (using something that starts with the letter A). When it's the next person's turn, he says the thing beginning with A and adds something that starts with B. Continue on through the alphabet. 

6. Have a "Rainy Day Kit"with toys, books, and other items that you only bring out on rainy days.
Our kit includes:
  • Window markers (because drawing on the windows is just more fun than using paper)
  • Sticker books with removable stickers (they work on windows, too)
  • Silly Putty
  • Glass stones (like you can find in the craft section of many stores) and containers to sort them (little nesting boxes with lids)
  • Special craft materials (like sparkly pipe cleaners and stamp pads)
  • A few special board games
  • Partial decks of cards (useful this week for playing Post Office, sorting by color and number, lining up end to end in the cracks of the hardwood floor, dropping through the open leaf of the kitchen table onto the people below inside the fort, and throwing by handfuls into the air while yelling, "Rainbow Day Party!" Really, the possibilities are endless.)

7. Build an obstacle course from chairs, couch cushions, boxes, the laundry drying rack, whatever you have on hand...and use a stopwatch to time each other as you go through it. Or, just take turns assigning movements ("now hop on one foot to the end of the hall and back") and time each other to see how long it takes. See if you can beat your own record.

8. Show your child how to go through the house with a mirror pointed up at the ceiling. If you look down into the mirror as you walk around with it pointing up, it feels like you are walking on the ceiling. If you never did this as a kid, you should try it, too. It's fun, and it's always good to get a different perspective.

9. Put on a play or a concert. This could be with puppets, toys, Lego guys or live actors. If you need a script, use a favorite book. Read it aloud and let your child make the action happen. Sometimes we draw the characters on popsicle sticks and hold them up from behind a sheet. It doesn't have to be fancy. You can kill half an hour this way, easy.

10. Skate on the kitchen floor in your socks. Try it. It's still as fun as you thought it was when you were little. Put on music and go for it.

11. Play balloon tennis. Bat the balloon back and forth. See how long you can keep it going. Try balloon basketball, too...dribbling a balloon is one of life's unsung pleasures.

12. Make a rain gauge and put it outside. Use a plastic cup, a jar, whatever you have. See how much rain you can collect. Check it throughout the day. Feel free to add food coloring.

13. Try some Rain Art. Put a piece of heavy paper on a baking sheet or jelly roll pan. Put powdered tempera paint on the paper in any design you like. Then put it outside in the rain, preferably in a location where you can watch it. The rain will splatter on the paint and create art.

14. Play hide and seek. It's a classic for a reason. Your kids will think it's fun. You might, too!

15. Give your kids rides around the house in a laundry basket. Let them make car noises. Stop and put more gas in the car. Follow traffic laws...or don't. Do donuts in the living room. Pretend to go through the drive-thru and order food. Tie multiple baskets together to make a train.

16. Build a structure with jumbo marshmallows and toothpicks. 

17. Use painter's tape to make roads on the floor. Give your child one piece at a time - have her go place it on the floor and come back for another piece. Try making the road go up over a pillow or under a chair. Pull out toy cars or trains and let them drive all over the road. Try adding pictures from magazines (or draw your own pictures) to make a whole city. If they get into it, it can take all afternoon.

18. Blow bubbles inside. (Why is this more fun than blowing them outside? Who knows. Try turning on a fan if you want to get really crazy.)

19. Make human sandwiches by putting each other between pillows. Try stacking lots of pillows up to make club sandwiches. It's silly. That's okay. Bonus points if you pretend to eat each other.

20. If all else fails...put them in the bathtub. All at once, if you can manage it. This, at our house, is like magic. If you're brave, let them finger paint in there before you put the water in. Or add bubbles.

Remember, simple is good. Sometimes all you need to do is change the usual location of something normal (like eating snack) to make it seem like a totally amazing, new experience.

Watch out...if you have too much fun on the next rainy day, you and your kids might start wishing for bad weather more often!