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Quick and Easy Activities
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- Elliston Lutz
6 Ideas for Rainy-Day Fun
Go ahead—get wet. See who can make the biggest splash, jump across the widest puddle and be the first to fill up her boots.
Create a "tie-dye" craft.
Do the first part indoors: Grab some coffee filters and have the kids color them with markers (not washable ones), and lay them on a cookie sheet. Then put them outside in the rain and watch the colors run. Bring them inside, and after they dry, the kids can make flowers: Pinch each filter in the middle and twist, then wrap a green pipe cleaner around to make a stem.
Take your kids on a "rescue the worms" walk.
(You don't have to touch 'em!) Stroll around the neighborhood and let your kids pick them up off the sidewalk and toss them back into the grass. When you're home, go to Yucky.discovery.com and search for cool info on earthworms.
Do a rainy-day Monet.
Head outside with some sidewalk chalk. When it's wet, it works almost like paint!
Have a splash.
Take a bunch of bath toys outdoors—boats, buckets, cups—and play in a puddle or find a "stream" at the edge of the street (if you live on a safe one) and race a boat against a lightweight ball.
Make a rain catcher.
If you just want to stay inside, have your child decorate a two-liter soda bottle, and measure and mark half-inches with a Sharpie. Then you cut off the top and put it outside a window where you can see it from inside. Set some fun goals: "When it gets to half an inch, we'll play a board game. When it gets to an inch, we'll make cookies..." etc.!
- Raphaël Büchler
6 Games to Play With a Ball
Grab a big plastic ball, and have everyone lie down on the floor with their feet up. Hold the ball with your feet, and try to work together to throw and catch it.
Clean It Up
To keep your older toddler or preschooler busy while you're doing stuff nearby, give her a beach ball and washable markers. Let her decorate it and then "give it a bath" and wash the marker off.
Try this twist on classic kickball: After the pitcher rolls the ball, he yells either "Hop!" "Skip!" or "Jump!" The kicker then has to follow his direction as she makes her way to first base. But before the pitcher can run after the ball, he has to quack like a duck three times.
Pair up, with each pair holding a bath towel between them. Try to toss and catch a lightweight ball from towel to towel. (If you're indoors, use a beach ball to avoid breaking lamps!) Count how many times you can toss it before it hits the ground.
You can find lots of cool ball-related games on Miniclip.com, a free site. Click on the "Kid Games" section. Three faves: Monkey Kick Off (very simple—an older toddler can play), Table Tennis and Bunch (you might just get addicted to that one!).
Teach your child this trick to impress her friends and family: Tell everyone you've got magical powers in your fingertips. Put a Ping-Pong ball in front of you on a table or counter, and make a big show of wiggling your fingers over it. Without touching it, it will magically start rolling away from you. The secret? While everyone's distracted by your wildly wiggling fingers, quietly and gently blow on the ball, without moving your lips.
Play pasta peekaboo.
Turn a colander upside down and show her how to slide spaghetti into the holes. Lift up to see where they went!
Take an empty water bottle, put in some coins, close very tightly and voilà—a brand-new rattle. (Just don't leave her alone with it!)
Create instant bathtime fun
Hand over your turkey baster as a squirt toy; add plastic funnels for scoop-and-pour games.
Shake, rattle and roll
Fill a few small plastic bottles half full of water and put the caps on tightly. While you check e-mail, let your child shake 'em up—she'll love all the splashing.
Go for color
Give your child a medicine dropper and an ice-cube tray filled with water. Add food coloring. Let him squeeze, squirt and mix!
A good high-chair activity while you're cooking
Take an empty tissue box, throw in a few small objects—a washcloth, a leaf, a toy car—and let your child reach in and feel them. Then dump them out and put in a few different things.
Rub one until it has a static charge. Supply your child with pieces of tissue or string to put on it, and let him see what else sticks. (Just be sure to watch him.)
Punch holes in an egg carton with a pen, tape on a string of yarn and let your child thread it through the openings.
Stay cool with ice hockey.
Tip over a small wastebasket in your driveway, toss some ice cubes on the ground and use broomsticks to see who can score the most before the cubes melt!
Play Dough Activities
Grab cookie cutters
- Use them for stencils
- Turn melon into stars
- Cut play dough into cool shapes.
Give your child things from around the house—blocks, a wire strainer, doll's feet—to make impressions on play dough.
A quick hide-and-seek game
Stick rows of Post-it notes on a piece of paper, put a sticker under one and let your child guess where the sticker is. Then hide another!
Declare your floors "hot lava"
Your child can move around the house only by hopping on "islands" (paper taped to the floor).
Liven up a springtime walk.
Give your child a colorful lightweight scarf to hold out of the stroller and fly like a streamer in the wind.
Make pizza cookies.
Give your child lumps of cold pizza dough so she can flatten them with a potato masher. Sprinkle cinnamon and sugar on top, bake and serve.
Play mix and match.
Give him a few empty plastic bottles or jars and their caps, and let him figure out which go together (just keep an eye on him).
- David Quinn
Have a race.
Use chalk to draw a curvy course on your sidewalk for an instant trike path.
Play laundry basketball.
While you sort, hand your kids rolled-up socks and an empty trash can and promise a kiss for every "point" they make.
More Fun Activities
Launch far-out fun.
Let your child play Shuttle Tac Toe, Space Bounce and other games at NASA Kids' Club
Keep car trips fun.
- How high can your kids count before the next traffic light?
- Decide who'll listen for the words "new" and "old" on the radio. Whoever counts ten of her word first wins!
Test her memory.
While you do laundry, log your child on to Playkidsgames.com—she'll have a blast clicking on lights on the turtle's shell as they come up.
Get in the St. Paddy's Day spirit.
Cover a piece of shamrock-shaped cardboard with double-sided tape. Have your child stick on green paper, leaves, and other stuff.
Print out a Dr. Seuss game from Seussville.com
Kick off a buggy summer!
Your child can design a cool virtual insect with wings and antennae at Build-a-Bug
Engage in fowl play.
Turn an orange into a turkey: Use toothpicks to attach a cherry tomato head, raisin eyes, a baby-carrot beak and lettuce feathers.
- Stephanie Rausser
6 Nature-Loving Activities
Take the family for a walk at a nearby park or go exploring in your backyard. Bring a bag or pail to collect interesting leaves, flowers, seeds and stones that you find. You can play "Twenty Questions" as you walk. (One person picks something she sees and the other players have to ask questions until someone guesses what it is.)
Try Tree Spotting
Older kids can take a stab at identifying trees using a guide like Gina Ingoglia's The Tree Book for Kids and Their Grown Ups. If you've got 'em, binoculars can interest aspiring bird- and other creature-watchers.
Be A Spy
Find an animal or bug and see how long you can (quietly!) watch it without being noticed.
To create a terrarium, layer small rocks (for drainage) in a widemouthed plastic or glass container. Spread a few inches of dirt or potting soil and then add dandelions, little plants and bits of grass from outside, all with the roots still attached. Water lightly and cover with the jar lid or plastic wrap and a rubber band. Place in a sunny spot and mist weekly.
Let the Sun Shine
Try making easy shadow prints from Let's Go Outside!, by Jennifer Ward: Place a piece of dark-colored construction paper on a sunny windowsill. Cover it with items from your walk. After several hours, the sun will fade the paper, leaving silhouettes of your finds.
Make a collage using leaves, flowers or seeds. For inspiration, check out the work of artist-naturalists like Georgia O'Keeffe and Andy Goldsworthy at Morning-earth.org. For more nature-themed games and activities that you can sort by the age of your kids and the amount of time you have, click on the "Find Activities" tool at Naturerocks.org
- Raphaël Büchler
6 Summer Safari Games
Go on a bear hunt
Make a list of animals that need to be found around the house. Anything's fair game: the puppy on the toilet paper package, the hippo drawing in your baby's board book, the barnyard set. Older kids can get creative searching for a llama; you can help steer toddlers toward the stuffies in the toy box.
Make a leopard mask
Cut two eye holes in a paper plate, then have your child paint it yellow. When it dries, he can outline the eyes with black crayon or marker, then dip a pencil eraser in black paint and use it as a stamp to make the leopard's spots.
Hop like a bunny
The next time you're faced with kid inertia and you need to get out the door, tell everyone to move like an animal: Flap your wings like a bird, waddle like a duck, leap like a gazelle, wag your tail like a dog!
With an older kid, play this twist on Geography: Name an animal, then the next person names one that starts with the last letter, and so on. For example: Leopard...Donkey...Yak...Killer whale...Egret...Tiger...Red-headed woodpecker. When someone hits a roadblock, everyone lets loose with a loud beastly call, then the person who was stumped gets to kick off a new game.
Mix it up
At the Switcheroo Zoo (Switchzoo.com), kids can create their own wacky wildlife (head of a kookaburra, body of an elephant, tail of a giant anteater). There's also lots of fun facts about creatures, geography, and habitats. For real animal fun, check out the San Diego Zoo's live webcams (Sandiegozoo.org) and watch the pandas have breakfast or see the polar bears go for a swim.
Break out in song
Kids of all ages love animal tunes. Find critter-themed lyrics at Bussongs.com.
- Brooke Slezak
7 Cheap Ways to Have Fun
Throw a salon party.
Start bathtime a little early and get everyone in the bathroom for hairdo makeovers. Use shampoo to style your children's hair into crazy looks—then it's into the tub for a scrubdown!
Have a crafty St. Patrick's day.
1) Design thumbprint shamrocks: Dip your child's thumb in green paint, and make three prints close together on white paper. Create a whole field of 'em! 2) Cut a paper plate in half and have kids finger-paint a rainbow on it. Then shape a pot of gold out of construction paper, and tape it to the end of the rainbow.
Free field trip: The Home Depot.
This is a toddlers' paradise: There are light switches to flip, doorknobs to lock and unlock and other gadgets they can play with under your watch.
Check out gigglepoetry.com.
Choose from hundreds of silly poems and read some out loud to each other (then rate them with the "giggle meter"). Also cool: fill-in-the-blanks poetry and tongue-twister races.
Cook up some laughs.
Want a few minutes on the phone without a kid saying "Mommmmy"? Hand your toddler a pot and a ladle, and tell him to make you some different kinds of "soup": alphabet-block soup, toy-car soup, stuffed-animal soup...
Build a marble roller coaster.
Take strips of cardboard (cut the edges off boxes), and fold them in half into "V" shapes. Tape them together, then prop them around the living room. Release a marble and see where it goes. (Best for kids over 4.)
Play frisbee golf.
Got a warmish day? Pick a few targets in the backyard (bush, tree, lawn chair), and keep track of how many tries it takes for each person to hit the objects with the disc. The player who completes the course with the fewest tries wins.
More Fun Activities
Create a love map.
Draw a big heart on paper, and ask your child what's in her heart. Jot down what she says for a great Father's Day gift.
Toss a ball in running water
Water can be from the hose, in a shallow stream, in the ocean. Show your child how to use a small net or strainer to catch it, then throw it back and start again!
Make a perfect valentine stamp.
Slice an apple in half, then cut a "V" shape at the bottom of one of the pieces. Have your child paint the flat surface red and stamp it onto cards.
- Cyndy Sims Parr (CC Licensed)
The Secret Easter Bunny
Why should Christmas have the monopoly on secret gift-giving? Kids can make a small present for a friend or family member, hide it inside the shell and secretly swap eggs.
On a windy day, have everyone try to catch leaves as they fall, calling out the color of the leaf before grabbing it. The person who can score five leaves first wins the game. (If it's not windy, have a grown-up throw leaves in the air; little ones will love helping with this job, too.)
Leaf through it
Before heading inside, collect a pile of colorful, newly fallen leaves (dry ones will crumble) for these classic crafts: Make a place mat by arranging leaves between two sheets of clear contact paper; use scissors to trim the edges. Create stamp art by applying water-based paint to the veined (back) side of a leaf and pressing it onto construction paper. Or place double-sided tape on the back of your finds and let toddlers stick them onto a window.
Try a scary snack
Sustain hungry goblins with creepy centipedes, made by sticking crunchy chow mein noodles on both sides of a string-cheese stick. For a sweet spider, insert four two-inch "legs" of thin licorice pieces into the sides of a cupcake. Add Red Hots or M&M's to the frosting for eyes.
Liven up meals
Food that stares back at you shouldn't be a once-a-year occasion. Sliced black olives can turn a mini-pizza into a jack-o'-lantern; smiley-face peas can perk up mashed potatoes.
Have a ball
Create festive bowling pins by painting ten empty one-liter soda or water bottles with orange poster paint. When they're dry, use black paint to add jack-o'-lantern faces. Then line them up, grab a ball and let the game begin.
Feed the birds
Tie a long string or ribbon around a pinecone and then slather it with peanut butter. Roll it in seeds (sesame, sunflower, pumpkin) and hang it up from a tree branch or clothesline. Watch the birds dig in!
More Leaf Activities
Leaf-peep from home.
Gather fall leaves from your yard, put a piece of double-sided tape on each and let your kid stick them on the windows.
Start a nature scrapbook.
Grab a small photo album or notebook where your child can store finds like leaves and feathers.
Catch the Spirit: Holiday Play!
String up a snowflake garland
This is a great way for little kids to practice their scissors skills and for big ones to show them off. Have them fold squares of paper in half diagonally, then in half one or two more times so they end up with small triangles. Then draw shapes around the edges and cut out. Unfold the papers and press flat. Once you've got a bunch, string them up to hang on the tree, the mantel or over a doorway. Have a toddler? Let him "decorate" the paper with crayons, markers or stamps before you make the cuts.
Unleash their inner Van Gogh
Fill up a few spray bottles with water and various shades of food coloring, then send the kids out to create their masterpieces in the snow.
Celebrate the festival of lights
Have your little one make a handprint menorah: Dip each hand in paint; ask your child to overlap his thumbs (this will create the center candle) and then press his hands, with fingers spread, onto paper. Wash hands, then have him dip a finger in yellow paint and dab the top of each candle to create flames.
Toss a bunch of pillows on the floor. Each player must jump from "glacier" to "glacier" without falling in the "water." If she does, she's out. With each round, move the pillows farther apart until everyone is sunk.
Make a snow globe
You'll need: a glass jar with a tight-fitting lid; a plastic figurine; waterproof glue; distilled water (you can also use boiled and cooled tap water); liquid glycerin (available at crafts stores); glitter. Let your child pick out the figure, then glue it inside the lid and let the glue dry. Fill the jar with water, a squirt of glycerin (it helps the glitter swirl) and the glitter. Screw on the lid tightly, then flip!