Ciska Thurman explores inexpensive ways to inspire year-end fun without turning to the nearest electronic device
When schools around the country close for December holidays, parents become increasingly burdened by the monotone mantra: ‘I’m bored. There’s nothing to do!’ Kids with never-ending time on their hands and nothing to do spell trouble – or television. So how can you minimise screen time, maximise stimulation and encourage independent play?
We asked Gaya Schatz, founder of Little Bo Babies and mother to twin girls, for her tips.
Being creative often means making a mess. Holidays are an ideal time to relax limitations around getting, and staying, dirty (but the cleaning up afterwards is a non-negotiable). ‘Toddlers will enjoy crafting with play dough, fat wax crayons, chalk and paint,’ Gaya says. Or you could make some coloured tea and mud cakes for a teddy bears’ picnic.
Children who are three years old and older will take these activities to the next level, usually inspired by a commission or competition (‘Let’s make birthday presents for everyone in our family’ or ‘Who can make the most Christmas cards?’).
Older kids will generally be more motivated by longer term projects that they can work on day by day, such as knitting, beading or papier mâché.
2. Move it
Toddlers (18 months to three years) want nothing more than floor time with mom or dad. So get down to their level and keep it simple, suggests Gaya. ‘Roll a ball back and forth, role-play with stuffed animals or build a track and race cars.’
Young children (three to six years) love to play games that encourage turn-taking and competition: hide and seek, follow the leader or hopscotch.
And school-going youngsters (six+ years) will often spend hours on the latest fad, so look for one with a physical component: a yo-yo, frisbee or scooter.
3. Solve it
Building anything is a great workout for the brain. Get your toddler thinking with towers, blocks and Lego, advises Gaya. This construction encourages logic, counting, ordering and grouping – and also promotes fine-motor skills.
‘Young children enjoy the sense of accomplishment that comes with building puzzles.’ So invest in a few different types (peg, block, jigsaw) and be a model of the perseverance required with developing this skill.
The older children may like reading out aloud or talking through brain-teasers such as number or word sums.
4. Step back
Don’t fall into the trap of becoming Chief Entertainer. Sure, toddlers will need a play-facilitator, but as your children grow older, your role should shift from participant to enabler. Make sure inspiration isn’t hard to uncover. Stock up on supplies and keep an eye on what develops – often the best holiday memories are made 10 minutes after Mom insists, ‘Go outside and play!’
5. Get outside
Whether you’re spending your holidays at home or away, getting out of the house is essential – and need not break the bank. With some clever planning and packing (never forget the snacks!), there are some gratis go-tos that will keep your kids entertained for hours: the beach, park or forest, the library (for story time), harbour, airport or the community pool. Allow each of your children to invite a friend and plan some site-specific activities or games as a back-up option.
In her book 501 TV-Free Activities for Kids, author Di Hodges draws loads of inspiration from everyday household items. She urges parents to expand their pursuits to include as many as possible of the following: indoor and outdoor activities, something from the science lab, art adventures, number fun, words and music, craft creations, cooking and gardening.
With all these tools in hand, here are some foolproof examples for you to try with the kids:
Paint the house (for ages 2+)
Add some drops of food colouring to a bucket of water (learn by mixing secondary colours too), and give your tot a real paintbrush. Demarcate the area outside to be painted and watch them go! (You can hose it down later.)
Words and music
Record a story (for ages 4+)
Select your kids’ favourite storybook and rehearse an out-loud reading of it, including selecting household objects to create sound effects. You could also include a chime to indicate when to turn the page. Use your cellphone to record, and have a laugh at the result!
Create a family tree (for ages 8+)
Uncover old family photos and jot down a basic framework of dates and events. Encourage your youngster to interview family members (either in person, via email or over the phone), and compile a family tree in a medium of their choice. Include as many details as possible: births, deaths, marriages, nicknames, pets and so on.