I should also specify that these are 25 inexpensive, indoor kids’ activities that I can handle with one leg. In our family of 6, we tend to use a lot of sports metaphors, quote famous athletes, and reference historic sporting events when teaching life lessons. We are a team and when your star player gets sidelined (no offense Ever-patient – you’re a role player – no need to be ashamed…every team needs a Scottie Pippen), everyone must step up, compensating for the weakened team member. With that being said, I am now the supportive coach, dictating plays to the kids (and my Scottie) instead of getting down and dirty in the daily trenches. As #1 is in school all day, the adjustments to this second half of the season are focused on #2, #3, and #4 who are home during the day. I am proud of how they’ve all performed in crunch time…especially #4 who is up for 6th-man of the year.
Here is a list of activities I’ve been able to initiate and facilitate from our living room sofa:
- Balloon Olympics. This is the current favourite activity in our household where each child chooses a country to represent and we have a series of events involving balloons including: 1) “The Great Balloon Race” – inflate the balloon, don’t tie them, and let deflate and fly…whoever lands the farthest wins. 2) “Balloon Basketball” – need a laundry basket for this one. 3) “Balloon Stair Race” – participants sit at the top of the stairs and toss their balloon down…whoever lands at the bottom first wins. 4) “Balance the Balloon” – keep balloon in the air as you travel from point A to point B. 5) “Balloon Baby Race” – run to point B where balloons are located, stuff a balloon in shirt and run back…expect lots of giggles with this one. 6) “Balloon Find.” – hide one balloon per person, whoever finds their balloon first wins…separate colours per team work well. 7) “Balloon Volleyball” – use crutch or other long stick-like object as a net and have the kids bat the balloon back and forth. At the end of the events, tally up the points and award the winning country medals in a official medal ceremony…anthems optional. At our most recent Balloon Olympics, #2’s Domincan Republic won by 2 points over #3’s Italy: “Mama, where do they make pasta again?”… “Italy.”…”I choose Italy!”
- Dress-Up. A perennial favourite in our house. The kids have a specific box full of my old dresses that a) no longer fit me and b) are inappropriate for a 30 yr old to wear (let alone a mother of 4). They are free to use my heels and all plastic or wooden jewelry (anything that sparkles is off-limits). They dress themselves adding their own tutus and tiaras and have a runway show for mama in the end.
- Re-enactments/Dramatizations. Fabulous’ favourite. She really shines during her “Clang, clang…” solo in “Mortimer” by Robert Munsch. Fairytale dramatizations with different endings are also popular.
- Laundry Basket Train Ride. If you have one child, one laundry basket is fine, but more than one, I suggest 2-3 baskets. Connect multiple baskets using scarves. If you have two working legs, pull kids around. If only one, tell them to use their imagination and use your story-telling prowess to give them an exciting train adventure. Warning: the smaller the child, the harder it is to make them leave the train afterward..I suggest adding pillows and letting them nap there.
- Cheerio Fun. My personal favourite is having fun with a handful of cheerios. Each child grabs a handful of cheerios and places them on a place mat. Encourage them to make pictures, patterns, structures, whatever they can imagine. Here’s your opportunity to sneak in some math. In the most casual fashion (casual being the operative word!), ask the following: How many cheerios do you have? If I added one more, how many would you have? If you have 5 and I ate 2, how many do you have now? etc… You can get more complex using arrays, groups of ten… #4 usually just sits quietly in her high chair eating her pile.
- Water Play. Fill a large bowl halfway with water. Now the possibilities are endless. My kids like to wash things, soak things, splash, etc. But, a great little science lesson is “sink or float.” Have them collect small objects from the recycling bin or around the house that can get wet. Then each person guesses whether the object will sink or float before dropping it in.
- Not a… This game was inspired by Antoinette Portis’ fun book called “Not a box.” In this book, a bunny uses his/her imagination to transform a plain box into a variety of things. The kids have played “not a box,” “not a blankie,” not a ball”…but their current favourite is “not a crutch.” They have turned my crutch into a limbo stick, a tent pole, a pair of gigantic chopsticks, flag pole…
- Read books. Nice activity to do to unwind after a strenuous morning of Balloon Olympics. We don’t limit reading time to bed time but read several times a day when I think the kids need a good cuddle. If you are a fan of Robert Munsch, you can listen to his stories online here. You can set this up for the kids with their favourite book. Mind you, the average story lasts 4 minutes long so that’s enough time to make yourself a coffee, go to the washroom, prep lunch…
- Story-telling through drawing. An old Mr.Dress-up fave. For example, draw a simple house. Then ask the kids, where should the window go, who lives there, does it have a garden…so on and so on. Before you know it, you’ve drawn a whole community with a large scary pumpkin in the middle (#3’s idea).
- Price is Right. One of my favourite shows as a child, the Price is Right has many fast-paced games that can be adapted to kids…I’ve always wanted my very own Plinko contraption. Do you remember that game where a few items had the wrong price in front of them and the contestants had to re-arrange the prices so they corresponded to the correct item? The kids version: my 5 year old rearranges words she can read into a sentence on the wall and my 3 year old rearranges numbers from 1 to 10 in the correct order on the wall…whoever finishes first and hits the button (my head) wins.
- Simon says. An oldie but goodie. Even the 1 yr old plays along.
- Hot/Cold. Hide an object and direct the kids to it using temperature terms…the closer they are to it, the hotter they get. But get creative, use phrases like, “It feels like Africa” or “It’s a blizzard” or just throw them for a loop and say, “It’s windy.”
- Mother May I? Another one from the schoolyard of my childhood…other variations include: red light/green light, what time is it mr. wolf?
- Restaurant. In a nutshell, the kids serve me snacks and beverages but we call it a restaurant with menus and everything just so I don’t feel too guilty about them waiting on me.
- Measuring and pouring. What child does not love to pour? Pour cheerios, pour uncooked rice, pour lentils..anything dried and easy to clean up. They just love to measure, pour, and mix. Only one child loves to sort them out after, can you guess which one?
- Art Journal. Each child has their own little art journal which they use for doodling, practicing writing, collaging magazine images, and apart from the winter season, the kids collect leaves and flowers and add them to their journal.
- Homemade Musical Instruments. They use the extra large water bottle as a drum, an unused computer keyboard as a piano, paper plates with rice as a tambourine and a tissue box with rubber bands for the guitar. Then they make up their own songs. Not recommended if you suffer from migraines.
- You-Tube Karaoke. Get some play microphones and some G-rated music videos. The kids sing along with their favourite musicians from Jason Mraz to Alicia Keys. There’s no need for them to actually read the lyrics because really, how many different lines are there in “Single Ladies” by Beyonce?
- Art Exercises. We try to only do these when #1 comes home from school because she loves participating in this one. All the kids grab a blank piece of paper, some crayons, and find a spot alone somewhere in the room where they can’t see what the others are doing. I give ambiguous instructions like “Draw a large circle,” “Draw what happy looks like,” “Scribble until I say stop.” The possibilities are endless. Then in the end, the kids compare their interpretations of my directions. When parents and grandparents participate, it’s a family event!
- Dance. Some variations: freeze dance, change tempo, dressing up formally, chicken dance, macarena…
- Charades. I whisper an easy character or object and they act it out. This is a challenge for #2 but #3 has a dead-on Tom Cruise impersonation.
- Hairdresser. A bag of 80’s style barrettes and dollar-store clips, a cape worn backwards, and the latest gossip and you have the ingredients for a salon.
- Space Exploration. Bike helmets, backpacks and snow boots transform into space helmets, jet packs, and moon boots. Tell them they have to walk slowly due to the lack of gravity. I asked them to go to the moon and bring back some moon rocks. Translation: Please go upstairs and grab two pillows for my foot.
- Imagination Island. A while back we purchased one set of inexpensive foam floor tiles (primary colours on one side, black on the reverse) to use for the baby before she learned to crawl. This is now our imagination island that the kids border with pillows and then cover with blankets. A “fort” seemed too combative to me and the kids prefer their own private island.
- Pasta Jewelry. Easiest craft in the world…just need some dried pasta like penne and some string or ribbon…markers and glitter are optional. The kids have access to jars of pasta and jars of ribbon. They grab their pasta, their ribbon of choice, decorate their pasta with markers and string them on creating strands of starchy jewels.
This is just a handful of activities but the possibilities are endless. Incorporating letter and number recognition, reading, writing, practical skills such as cooperation and teamwork are easy to do when the activity is inherently creative in nature. Each time you repeat an activity, because kids love repetition, add an extra element to test their capacity to learn new information. You’d be surprised how quick they catch on.
Let the kids lead. Some days they feel like competing as world-class athletes in the Olympic games while other days, they just want to pour some rice. But whatever you do, the memory that will stay with them is the one of you being with them and your voice encouraging them…even if it is from the couch for 6 weeks.
Go Team Lopez.