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Keeping Kids Occupied

Keeping the kids occupied – games and ideas for rainy days

When the weatherman promises weekend rain, parents across the country run for cover. Confined to barracks, a platoon of restless kids will be crawling up the walls by noon on a Saturday.

But there are plenty of ways you can keep your little soldiers entertained without resorting to a route march across the local shopping mall.

“Turn off your television set…"

Surprising though it may seem, the first step for you as commanding officer is to cut down on that diet of TV. Unrestricted watching of television might sound like heaven to any child but after a while it actually becomes counterproductive for them. Children’s minds crave variety. They quickly get bored by routine, and in terms of intellectual development, television’s about as routine as it gets. There’s nothing that your child can do to change or challenge or influence the material on screen. All he can do is sit back and be a passive observer of events. And even the most “interactive” video games are in fact highly directed towards specific outcomes (the buried treasure; the final showdown), which means your child’s attention and imagination are kept confined to narrow channels.

But don’t be too Draconian. A little television still goes a long way, especially as a treat!

…and go and do something less boring instead!”

Given half a chance, children’s imaginations will take flight far beyond the box, adding new dimensions to their favourite screen or storybook characters through dressing-up, play-acting, drawing, painting, and so on. And the more they get involved in these types of activity, the more they’ll get used to independent, creative play in the future. So it’s worth encouraging them to begin with.

One sure-fire way to guarantee your children’s interest is to let them choose what to do. Write each activity on a piece of paper, seal each in an envelope and then stage a miniature awards ceremony to find out which activity has won the day!

It’s about now that you’ll hear yourself saying “when I was your age we used to make our own entertainment”. But short of upending all the furniture and turning the sofa into a secret den or a pirate ship for the day (not a bad idea in itself) it can be difficult finding inspiration, especially if you want somewhere to sit down with a nice cup of tea while the little ones raise the roof. A really rainy day requires a bit of forward thinking.

Your “rainy day” cupboard

A good “rainy day” cupboard should contain most, if not all, of the following: Coloured pencils, crayons, felt tip pens Lots of paper and card – plain, scrap and coloured, including larger sheets Cardboard tubes, old boxes (local retailers will have old boxes big enough to use as play theatres, castles or similar – be careful to check for sharp staples and remove them) Pencil rubbers, pencil sharpener Water-soluble poster paints (non-toxic), paint pots (old jam jars are good) and brushes of varying thickness Stapler, sellotape, string and thread, cotton wool, ribbon Scissors appropriate for children (supervise their use at all times) Paper glue (check that it’s non-toxic and suitable for use by children) Glitter, sticky shapes and other decorations Old magazines to cut up

Creative ideas

Equipped with the items above it’s child’s play to plan an hour or two’s artistic entertainment. Try these ideas for starters:

A themed mobile to hang above their bed; printing shapes with half-potatoes or other stencils; original board games (you can even make a set of spinning “dice” from a hexagon of paper with a cocktail stick through the centre); drums, rattles and rainmakers made from plastic tubs and rice or other dried food; clothes for cut-out dolls; portraits of all the family; starting a scrapbook; keeping a diary; Xmas, Easter or Hallowe’en decorations and cards for relatives; collages; papier-mache (try making a hat or a mask shaped around a balloon); cardboard boxes and tubes made into cars, boats or castles; and so on…

Don’t be squeamish about mess. Children love making a mess precisely because it’s not normally allowed. Smocks or aprons (part of an old sheet cut with head and arm holes will do) will keep everyone’s clothes clean, a supply of old newspapers will cover your floors and a strategically placed roll of kitchen paper or a cloth will help wipe up any accidental spillages.

If you’ve got friends or neighbours with children of a similar age, get together and turn one of your rooms or the garage over to the kids for an hour or two. Of course, if you want them to stay out of trouble it’s best to supervise, especially when it’s time to tidy up.

Putting on a show
Showing off and seeking to please are fundamental aspects to your child’s developing social skills. So give them a morning to stage a play or a magic show and then reward them by being the appreciative audience. Help them make glove puppets out of old socks, finger puppets out of card and costumes out of old clothes and scraps of material from your sewing box (be careful around pins and needles). You can improvise a small-scale theatre from a cardboard box, or a larger one in a doorway covered by a curtain.

Magic tricks don’t have to be complicated and don’t even have to work – in fact, magic that doesn’t work is often funnier than magic that does. Your local toyshop will stock basic children’s magic sets and instructions.

Cooking
Children’s cookery isn’t exactly haute cuisine, but they’ll love making simple biscuits or cheesy pastry shapes. Under careful supervision they should be able to manage weighing ingredients, mixing and cutting shapes, and they’ll feel especially proud when you take their creations out of the oven.

Play dough
For advanced squeezing and squodging sessions, it’s a good idea to whip up some simple play dough as follows:

Mix together 2 cups of flour, 1 cup of salt (yes, really!), 1 teaspoon of cream of tartar, 2 tablespoons of oil, 1 teaspoon of food colouring (whatever colour you want) and 2 cups of water in a saucepan over a medium heat. Stir constantly until the dough comes together, then stir for a further couple of minutes. Take out the dough and knead it for several minutes, then it’s ready to play with – try making 2D pictures or 3D models of people and animals with the dough. Use a rolling pin and cookie cutters to shape it just as you would with normal pastry. You can pop the dough into a zip-loc bag to keep it fresh.

NB: this dough is not for eating!

Active ideas

Scavenger hunt: write a list of ten things (some easy, some difficult) that your children have to find and bring back to you from your house and garden. Give them an hour to find everything and award prizes at the end depending on who finds the most. If you’re really canny, try and arrange for them to search out things you need but can’t quite remember where you’ve put them!

Other indoor activities: a set of watertight plastic bottles part filled with liquid makes a great impromptu skittle alley; any smooth rectangular tabletop can be converted into a shove ha’penny board or a table-tennis table; dig out that set of indoor bowls; start a dressing-up box; bubble-blowing; plant seeds to make an indoor garden; plant cress in an eggshell decorated as a face and put it in the airing cupboard; treasure hunt with cryptic clues; and so on…

Activities further afield

If bad weather looks set in for the whole weekend, don’t despair! There are lots of imaginative and inexpensive alternatives to shopping, right on your doorstep. Check your local listings for children’s open days at local museums, zoos, galleries, theme parks and farms. The internet is also a good source of inspiration: look up www.daysout.co.uk or similar sites as a starting point. Even on a nasty day, there can be enough going on under cover that your kids won’t notice if it’s a bit damp. If you prefer a wholly dry afternoon, take them to a suitable matinee at your local cinema or theatre.

For the slightly more adventurous, an hour’s swimming at the local baths is hard to beat, especially if yours has water slides, wave machines and other features. Always make sure that your child has the right kit for his swimming ability (such as waterwings and floats) and be watchful – never leave him unattended at the poolside. All good pools will offer supervised swimming lessons for beginners upwards, classes for all ages including parent and toddler groups, and fun splashabout sessions with games and inflatable toys for youngsters to let off steam.

And if you’re feeling especially adventurous, why not hit the slopes for an hour’s skiing or snowboarding? Not as fanciful or as expensive as it might seem, there are dry ski slopes dotted round the country (visit www.goodskiing.co.uk to find out more). Children from approximately the age of five upwards will be able to try it out. You’ll each need to take a waterproof jacket and good thick gloves, but the slope will provide snowboards, skis, boots and instruction as required. It’s such an unusual idea for a day out that I guarantee your kids won’t mind the rain, and better still, dry skiing works much better when the slopes are wet.

Before you know it, the sun will be shining again!

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