Spring is here, bringing the promise of warmer weather and outdoor fun. But the pandemic is not yet over, so we are entering another spring where some organized events that we depend on to mark the season, like Easter egg hunts and organized camps and sorts, might not happen. So, what CAN we do with our kids?
First, let’s talk about being realistic. I am a mother of two. Both of my kids are now pre-teens and I still find myself falling prey to the romanticized mental images of activities with children. You know them— the bike ride down a path, sun shining, birds singing—you and your children all smiles, taking in the beauty of the present. While in reality, when I went bike riding with my kids, there were tears a quarter mile in, a temper tantrum another half mile later, a minor bike crash, and an eventual abandonment of the bikes and a call to Uber to take us back home! So, my list aims to be easy, realistic and adaptable.
I’m sharing some gems I’ve personally done or started with my kids over the past year or so. These are safe activities, keeping in mind the pandemic is still a factor in our plans. However, they can be enjoyed well after we get on the other side of things. Here you go, mamas!
1. Set up a fort.
This is great for inside, as well as outside. When spring first arrives, there are still cold and often a lot of rainy days, making this a great choice. I pride myself on being a master fort builder. However, I am also a clean freak and forts are messy. So I suggest structuring some boundaries on the fort construction to keep it contained to one area of a room, and decide together how long it will remain erect. I find if I say the fort will only be around for a day, the kids play in it much more!
2. Plant a container garden.
I love the idea of growing all my own vegetables during the summer. But again, this is a romanticized idea. In reality, I do not have the time to take on the chore of going outside daily to water and feed and de-bug, so I suggest container gardening. Use either pots you can keep inside, or larger pots that can go close by or on a porch. I have even learned recently that you can plant in cardboard boxes! The care is much more accessible when it’s smaller and closer, making it much easier to include the kids in the planting, growing, and picking! It is always great to give some real-world application to those science lessons.
(yes we also grew dinosaurs)
3. Build box houses/forts for dolls/toys.
If you are like me, the pandemic brought a lot more boxes to my house. Well, Amazon did...because I was buying stuff. This idea was developed by my own children (both girls). They started snatching the boxes from me and when I went to their playroom to see what they were up to, they were using them to build their own dollhouse! Color me impressed. They used packing tape to hold the construction together and markers and felt sheets to decorate the rooms. AND they started recycling boxes from their snacks to build furniture. Not only is this good for the environment, and they are using critical thinking and creativity, but they spent HOURS entertained by this. You’re welcome!
4. Spa night.
Now that my daughters are getting older, I want to start sharing self-care wisdom and tips, and I thought a fun way to teach them good skincare routines was to have occasional spa nights. We put on relaxing music, light candles, put on our robes and enjoy sheet face masks, hair treatments, lotion, and sometimes do our nails. The night is inevitably filled with laughter. It’s great bonding time and they are learning that taking time for themselves is important.
5. Dinner Party.
This started while I was dealing with the burning dumpster fire that was homeschooling. I figured cooking incorporated reading, math, and science and was a much more engaging way to get the kids to do some “school work,” so I had them read recipes and cook/bake things! But to really showcase their efforts, we created a night where they could present their dishes like they were chefs at a restaurant...well... they ate it up (pun intended)! The only negative here is clean up, so I learned to act as the chef’s assistant and clean up as they cook, so we could all relax and enjoy the meal together.
6. Front-Yard Picnics.
Last spring I spent $45 on a “real” picnic basket and blanket. This investment went a LONG way. Each week, one to two dinners were picnic dinners. With the longer days, I could cook dinner, pack it up in our basket, and still have time to eat out in the evening sun. Where did we go? Our front yard. We packed up the basket and blanket like we were heading out to find a secret spot miles away, but we simply walked to our front yard, laid everything out, and ate outside waving at our neighbors as they walked by! The time commitment was greatly reduced and the kids loved it so much they’ve been asking if we can do it again all winter. On rainy days, we do a picnic on our porch or in the living room!
7. Craft Home Décor.
I enjoy when the house reflects the season outside, and I also enjoy being frugal. So, the kids and I often use craft paper to cut out hearts that we hang around the house for Valentine’s Day, or flowers for springtime. This year, they’ve gotten into origami, so they are creating tons of butterflies and little creatures that we will hang around.
8. Make Your Own Pizza Night.
I love this one! My job on pizza night is to create the pizza station. I buy premade crust, pizza sauce, and a variety of shredded cheeses and toppings. Everyone makes their dream pizza, sometimes with faces. On these nights, my cooking time is cut down and my kids don’t act like little food critics for a night. Plus, I don’t care how old you get, making your own pizza is fun!
9. Hiking (with kids).
I’m a big outdoor person, and I like to run, hike and trail run. In the past, hiking with kids was about as successful as riding bikes with my kids. But you can successfully hike with kids if you keep it short and have a grounding activity for the hike.
You may not even go a mile, but choose a section of a trail to focus on and ground the hike with activities like looking for rocks, or catching butterflies, or spotting squirrels.
Kids aren’t ready to appreciate the joy adults find in just being out in the woods, and they don’t want to go participate in an extreme sport. This is just for fun. Keep your expectations low.
10. Send Inside Snail Mail.
This is another nugget from the early days of homeschooling. Craft stores sell little wooden mailboxes for surprisingly cheap! I grabbed a couple, had the kids decorate them however they wanted (bonus craft project), and then I started sending them “mail”. I addressed an envelope to them and sacrificed a stamp. Then I reused the envelope over and over to send them letters, little puzzles (e.g., mazes, word searches, etc.), pictures to color, or a note letting them know we were going to go have an adventure. So simple. So much joy!
11. Go For A Ride.
This comes from my own childhood. My father loved Jeeps, and I grew up in Louisiana where aside from rain, it was always hot enough to keep the top off a Jeep. We used to load up in the Jeep, stop at a gas station for snacks, and then hit the roads to simply ride around. We’d talk, listen to music, or just enjoy the warm air. I do this with my daughters now. We load up in the car, put the windows down, grab some snacks, and just ride around looking at stuff or listening to music. We are blessed in our area to have the magic of the Blue Ridge Parkway, but even riding around town is fun when you’re not trying to get anywhere and don’t care how long it takes.
12. Movie Night.
An oldie, but goodie. Yes, we’ve all finished Netflix by now. But there is still something special about not just sitting in front of the TV together. On these nights turn off all the lights, pop popcorn, and create the environment of the movie theater. It feels different than simply watching TV. You can be in your PJs and cuddle better than the movie theater. You can fall asleep and not worry about being in public. You can ugly cry. The kids and I always look forward to doing all the above.
I hope you find these activities simple and enjoyable! The key to them all is keeping it real. What fun activities have you come up with?
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Written by Kimberly Whiter
Mother of two, Director of Education and Support for Huddle Up Moms, CEO for Elder Care Solutions, and Doctoral student.
Kimberly is very aware of the balancing act us mamas have as we accomplish all the things!
You can learn more about Kimberly here.