“The sun did not shine. It was too wet to play. So we sat in the house all that cold, cold wet day.”
Few people under the age of about 10 like to spend all day at home, but sometimes one has no choice and is forced indoors by the weather, or by a parent’s feeling under the weather. Here are a few ideas to help make such days more bearable for all with a dose of just what the Doctor (Seuss, that is) ordered: “Lots of good fun that is funny.”
1. DIY Obstacle Course
Wriggle under a chair, then climb over a table, jump across three stepping stones (aka cushions), circle a bucket of Lego blocks and crawl through a cardboard box tunnel and you will have completed your very own home obstacle course. Adjust the hurdles as you go to either challenge your child further or maintain variety. Children from kindergarten-age and up will probably quickly take over the assembly, as well as the execution, of course.
The best place for your obstacle course may be in your bedroom. Pillows and folded or balled-up blankets and bedding can become great obstacles and, with no hard corners, they suit crawlers and toddlers.
2. Make Your Own Cubby House
Although this is one of the simplest ideas ever, it usually keeps my daughters occupied for at least an hour. Place the backs of two chairs so that they face each other, then cover them with a sheet or blanket. Voila! One cubby house. My daughters immediately get busy furnishing their new pads and then go visiting each other.
Things get a little tricky when they want to build on. We’ve had towels pegged to desk corners, cardboard-box walls and ropes strung from curtain rods—an impromptu elaborate obstacle course!
3. Bathroom Bubbles
We are blessed here in Japan with a Japanese bathroom. As a fully waterproof room, it is perfect for water play. Although we need to wait for summer to get some splash action happening, any time is bubble time. It will make your bathroom soapy, of course, and possibly slippery underfoot, so take care and shower off the walls and floor when you’ve finished bubbling.
If you don’t have any bubble liquid on your hands, you can use dishwashing detergent or liquid hand soap and a straw can be a stand-in blower.
4. The Element of Surprise
The main reason being at home is boring is that we’ve already done it so many times before. The remedy for this is to offer your child something unexpected. Thankfully, this doesn’t mean you have to juggle two armfuls of household objects or fly a kite inside like the Cat in the Hat. Little kids have great fun playing with kitchen objects—your pots and pans, sieves, strainers, the big wooden spoon and plastic storage containers—interesting items that they don’t usually get to have access to. Of course, avoid anything sharp or breakable.
This strategy will elevate pretend kitchen play to new levels of reality and please kindergarteners greatly. Throw in blocks or even crumpled newspapers to stand in for vegetables.
For bigger kids, consider setting up a rainy-day play kit of various toys and activities that you can stash out of sight during good weather to preserve “freshness.” Things that could be included are origami paper, puzzle books, paints, Play-Doh and craft goods. Keep an eye out for cool stuff at 100 yen stores. This may also be a good destination for the freebies that come with bottled drinks and other products. Playing cards and dominoes could also go in. (Remember to pull out your board games on rainy days, too.)
Craft goods deserve a further mention, and maybe even a kit of their own. As well as scissors, tape (including the heavy-duty kind), glue, paper, stickers, toilet roll cylinders, and small boxes and containers should be included. Pipe cleaners are fun for making animals or people, and if you can find (or make) eye stickers, then you can transform anything into an animated object.
When the weather’s looking bad, consider before you bin anything.
5. Let Them “Help” You
Children’s help is often not very helpful at all, but if offered as play and tolerated with grace and patience it can be enjoyable for all involved, as well as a great confidence boost for the helper.
Help with cleaning can be successful. Little kids like pushing the vacuum cleaner around and wiping windows and tatami and such, and washing stuff is fun for them too because it’s basically amounts to water play.
Cooking also offers a variety of activities over a wide age range. Preschoolers can start learning to cut using a butter knife on tofu or some mushrooms. Lettuce and cabbage can be ripped by hand. If you ask your child to do this for you, decide in advance that you don’t mind how big or small the pieces turn out—just be grateful for what they came up with. To help your child produce something close to your preferred result, tell him or her what vegetable dish will be going into.
Get older kids cooking with easy dishes like pancakes, egg recipes and non-cook or microwave dishes, but allow them twice as much time as it would take you to get the food on the table.