When the ease of summer fun fades away and the chill of winter sets in, parents may find themselves scratching their heads wondering how to keep little ones entertained on those long days. If it is warm enough, outdoor activities abound – tobogganing, skiing, skating and building snowmen – but on days when it’s too cold to play outside, it takes creativity to pass the time.
While boredom isn’t always a bad thing, play is an important part of early childhood development as it helps kids understand their world. An abundance of research has linked play with learning; it develops creativity, imagination and social skills, along with dexterity and physical, cognitive and emotional strength.
For parents, play has more immediate benefits – a well-timed activity can ward off tantrums, whining and other frustrations that come with spending the day indoors with a young child. Sometimes, something as simple as a colouring book and crayons can be the difference between a meltdown and an enjoyable afternoon. Other times, you’ll need to think outside the box.
Tape it up
One low-cost, big fun play idea comes in the form of a roll of masking or painter’s tape. It can be used to create elaborate cities, art projects, games, exercise; you name it. A simple search online or on Pinterest makes it easy to see why tape is a go-to play item in many homes.
Looking back on your childhood, you’ll likely recall there was no better way to spend an afternoon than pretending the floor was flowing lava to be avoided. If the idea of your child jumping on the furniture sets your teeth on edge, grab some masking tape and mark islands of safety with a simple X.
From a simple circular racetrack to a full city, tape can be used to create roadways for smaller cars like Hot Wheels or larger ride-on toys (assuming you have the room for a large enough track).
Epic obstacle courses can be created, allowing kids to run, crawl, hop, roll and weave their way through the different tape zone. The possibilities are endless but here are a few ideas to get you started:
- Place two pieces of tape several feet apart from each other to create a walk-like-a-crab, roll-like-a-log, hop-on-one-foot or summersault zone.
- Create a laser-grid-like obstacle by taping strips from the floor to the wall and varying the heights. The child must step over, bend down or crawl on their tummy to avoid the tape.
- Place a long strip of tape in a straight line and pretend it is a balance beam.
- Make a hopscotch board.
Celebrate the holiday season by using tape to make a Hanukkah menorah or Christmas tree on the wall or floor. Use construction paper to add the flame of the candles or the ornaments to the tree.
Make a game out of cleaning by creating a good-sized box on the ground with the tape. Hand your little one a broom, and tell them the object of the game is to sweep everything on the floor into the box.
Create a target on the floor and see if you can hit the bullseye. Start by taping a large square (you can make a circle, but it’s more difficult), then tape a smaller square inside the first square, leaving a few inches between the two. Repeat until you have three or four levels to your target. Label the largest level as one point, the next as two and so on. Use craft pompoms, paper airplanes, bunched up balls of tape or paper, whatever is handy and won’t roll too much, and toss at the target.
Get kids moving by setting up several lines of tape an equal distance apart in a straight line. Kids can start at line one and see how far they can jump, or switch it up and have them jump backwards or on one foot. See how far they can stretch while still keeping their feet on the first line or test how far they can step by keeping one foot on line one and stepping as far away as they can.
For the artistic crowd, tape can be used to write words or create patterns on paper, canvases, etc. Once you have the tape blocking off the parts you don’t want to be coloured, let your child paint, use crayons or add glue and (if you can handle the mess) glitter over the tape. Once dry, remove the tape and enjoy your one-of-a-kind masterpiece.
The joy of science
Something about watching vinegar and baking soda erupt is thrilling, but this classic reaction has much more potential than we realized.
Make a bubbly potion by adding a bit of dish soap to the mix, or watch a balloon expand on its own. To do this, put vinegar in a bottle and use a funnel to spoon the baking soda into the balloon. Stretch the balloon opening over the bottle’s opening and lift the main part of the balloon to let the baking soda fall into the vinegar - extra points for drawing a silly face on the balloon first.
Find out what happens when you cut a gummy worm lengthwise into four pieces, soak them in a mixture of three tablespoons (Tbsp) baking soda and one cup of water for 15 minutes, then add the worms to the vinegar.
Explore gravity with your own raincloud. Put about 3/4 cup of water in a glass or other clear container and top with a hefty dollop of shaving cream. Squeeze about 15 drops of food colouring onto the cream and watch as gravity pulls the “raindrops” down.
While we likely all remember playing with homemade playdough as a child – which remains a sure bet to entertain – slime is all the rage now. It is simple enough to make with white glue, saline eye solution, baking soda and food colouring (see recipe below).
Dress-up clothes aren’t the be-all-and-end-all of make-believe, though their appeal is undeniable. While there are numerous pretend-play toys on the market, things you have around your home can be just as exciting. Let your child take the lead and offer items that speak to their interests.
Utilize kitchen utensils and bowls to pretend you're making a meal. Have your child measure out "ingredients" by letting them scoop out a small cup of rice or craft beads. Or help them follow a "recipe" and use silly ingredients – "It says to add in the three purple dinosaurs, the big green pompom and two large spoonfuls of LEGO. Mix thoroughly.”
Transform the tube from a roll of paper towel into a telescope and hunt around the house for The Isle of Stuffies or Mount Laundry Pile. For the buccaneer, grab an empty laundry basket or box and call it a boat. To extend the fun, make it an arts-and-crafts project and decorate the telescope.
If your child is musically inclined, a badminton racket makes an excellent guitar and a wooden spoon can easily become a microphone. Pop on some a favourite song and rock out.
Whether playing keep off the ground, pass or simply tossing them in the air and watching them float to the ground, most children love balloons. Classic balloon play that you grew up with is still a hoot, but you can up the ante by grabbing a pack of glow-in-the-dark balloons or ones that light up, drawing the blinds, shutting off the lights and imagining an alien invasion. Alternatively, make a “net” by placing a piece of masking tape on the ground and play a match of balloon tennis with either your hands or rackets.
Whatever speaks to your child, play doesn’t have to be extravagant and is limited only by you and your child's imagination. Allow yourself to be silly, and remember, no one is going to judge you for letting loose and acting like a child, yourself.
- 3/4 cup of white glue
- 1/2 tsp baking soda
- 1 1/2 Tbsp saline eye solution (usually found with eye- or contact-lens-care products)
- Food colouring
- Water (optional slime with more stretch)
Step 1: Pour the white glue into a mixing bowl.
Step 2: Add a few drops of food colouring. (Optional: mix in glitter or foam, as well).
Step 3: Add baking soda and mix well. (Optional: Add water for stretchier slime. Start with by adding two Tbsp and continue to add up to 1/4 cup or until it reaches the stretchiness desired.)
Step 4: While mixing, add in the saline eye solution a few teaspoons at a time until the mixture forms a “ball.” Knead with hands until the slime consistency is reached. If the slime is too sticky, add a bit of lotion or baby oil to your hands.
(Note: Adults should make the slime and handle all chemicals. Wash hands before and after playing with slime and discontinue play if skin irritation occurs).