All kids love free, unstructured play -- until they run out of ideas and complain, “There’s nothing to do!” But there’s no reason for you (or them) to sing the “I’m bored” blues when you’ve got hours of amusement at your fingertips. Try these ideas to help your kids get crafty, use their imagination, move their body, get in touch with nature, expand their horizons and have good old-fashioned fun. The best part? Once you set up the activity, the kids can take it from there.
1. Make a “me” collage Have kids draw or cut out pictures from magazines that tell the world what makes them who they are. They might clip images of favorite hobbies, pets, colors and things that remind them of their family, best friends, funniest experiences. Paste the images onto a big piece of poster board and hang it in their room.
2. Feed the birds Create a homemade “bird feeder” and then watch the feast from your window. Start with a cardboard roll of toilet paper, slice of bread or slice of apple. Have kids spread peanut butter, honey or marshmallow fluff on it. Roll it in birdseed and hang it from a tree with string.
3. Act up Kids love to dress up -- as dancers, astronauts, aliens -- and try on new identities. Encourage them to stage their own play. They’ll have to devise costumes, design a set, make tickets, posters and programs, set up chairs and prepare snacks. (Characters and plot are optional.)
4. Pack a picnic Have the kids help with the prep work and then head to the park, your yard or even the living-room floor. Set out lots of finger foods, including grapes, strawberries, cucumbers, carrots, cheese cubes and crackers. Kids will linger much longer on their special picnic blanket than they would at the kitchen table.
5. Prepare for a garage sale Ask kids to fill shopping bags with toys, clothes, books and videos they’d like to sell (not necessarily today). Alternatively, you can donate the goods to a homeless shelter or program that serves local children. Sometimes, thinking of kids who have no toys can inspire great generosity in your own children.
6. Go on a nature hunt Here’s a scavenger hunt that doesn’t require hiding anything in advance. Give kids a list of natural wonders to uncover in your yard or the park. They can look for tree bark, a caterpillar, a pinecone, an acorn, a dead leaf or leaves of different shapes, a twig, a clover, a rock and a ladybug. For kids 7 years and up, it can be a timed competition.
7. Dig up some dirt Kids love the idea of planting a garden, so let them help you with your gardening chores by turning over the soil for planting. Find a sunny plot in your yard, give them trowels (or even just sturdy forks) and set them to work. Use watering cans to wet the soil, and let them squish their hands and toes in it (mud bath!).
8. Boogie down Turn your living room into a disco. Move the furniture aside, turn on upbeat tunes and let the kids hit the dance floor. They can take turns using a flashlight as a strobe light and make up their own dances to perform for the family later.
9. Paint the town red … or at least your driveway or sidewalk. Colored chalk is always fun, but you can kick it up a creative notch by mixing up your own temporary paint with water and a little paint powder, food coloring or drink mix such as Kool-Aid. Give kids large paintbrushes or clean spray bottles to create their alfresco masterpiece.
10. Get old-fashioned Don’t underestimate the fun factor of time-honored childhood toys: cards, jacks, marbles, slinkies, hula-hoops and jump ropes. There’s a reason these toys have been around so long!
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Aviva Patz has written for many national publications, such as Parents, Parenting, Health, Self, Redbook and Marie Claire.