Rainy Day Fun: Tips to Keep Kids BusyMariel Swiggard
How miserable can it get? It’s raining. No shining sun to greet you. Perhaps you, like Sally and her brother in the popular Dr. Seuss book, Cat in the Hat, are assuming the day is ruined. Says Sally’s brother, “We sat there, we two. And I said, ‘How I wish we had something to do!'” Well, his wish was granted, and now so is yours (and we won’t even terrorize your pet fish or ruin your house in the process!)
Start by resisting the temptation to turn on the TV and vegetate on the couch. There is so much to do, to see, to learn, and to play; your problem isn’t going to be that you have nothing to do, but that you have too many things you want to do! Start off right with a good breakfast and plan your day. Here are just a few ideas to get your creative juices flowing.
Go Outside Anyway
Assuming there’s no lightning and it’s not a driving, cold rain, put on those galoshes and raincoats, grab an umbrella, and head out for a walk or backyard exploration. Children riding in strollers are more susceptible to getting chilled, so bring a blanket if need be and shield them from the falling water. Don’t wander too far from your home or car in case the rain picks up or you get too wet, and seek shelter immediately if there is lightning.
Make a game out of seeing who can find the biggest mud puddle to splash in. Point out the rain clouds or go on a rainbow hunting party. Be a “worm rescuer” and gently collect those confused worms who wander out onto the pavement. As you put them back in the grass, offer a little lesson about habitats and the environment. Worms are great for plants: they turn the soil and provide oxygen and food for the plants. Why not collect them in a jar with some nice dirt and take them home to your garden?
In a spring rain, everything seems so much greener. Why is that? Discuss how rain is nature’s way of giving plants and animals a drink; then bring along some bottled water and take a drink yourselves. The best learning experiences for small children don’t come from a classroom setting, but from gentle exploration of the world around them.
If you have a deep mud puddle or pond, experiment with how things float. Does a leaf float? How about this stick? This rock? Perhaps before you leave on your trek, you can make a boat to take out on the water. Craft books geared towards children offer ideas on making simple boats out of everything from milk cartons to balsa wood. One of our favorites is a simple raft made from packaging peanuts and Popsicle sticks (see the section on “Saving for a Rainy Day”).
Another great idea is to make a rain gauge; a simple plastic container with wide opening and a plastic ruler will do the trick. Place it in an open area where rain can fall unobstructed, and check it throughout the day.
Safety Tip: Please keep in mind that even in a light rain, you should avoid streams, rivers, and any large drains or run-off areas. Flash flooding is an apt name; a flood can happen literally too fast for you to react, so play it safe.
Really just too nasty to go outside? Pretend you’re outside anyway with a picnic lunch, which, let’s face it, is not much fun even in a light rain. Is that going to stop us? NEVER!
Prepare your picnic lunch as usual and pack it in a basket. Then find that perfect picnic place in the house. Is your living room suddenly a grassy meadow high atop a mountain? Or perhaps the family room has magically become a sandy beach with palm trees sheltering you from the sun? Spread your blanket and talk about all the wonderful sights and sounds around you. Do you hear the ocean? Is that an eagle flying over there? Indoor picnics are fun and ant-free (unless you invite them yourselves!)
A good camping trip is fun, too. Dining rooms chairs, sheets, blankets, and pillows artfully arranged make a dandy indoor tent. Get out a flashlight and huddle in your tent telling spooky stories or playing with hand shadows. Sing camp songs. If nap time is still part of your day, catch a snooze inside the tent!
First, you need a treasure. Small toys, stickers, and little self-contained art projects work well. Hide the treasure somewhere in the house. Your next step depends on your child’s abilities. Crawlers and toddlers can follow a string to the treasure and “dig it up” from underneath a blanket. Older kids can be given a map (drawing of the house with a big red “X” marking the treasure spot.) You can get even more elaborate and have one map lead your child to a second map, or create a series of clues eventually leading to the treasure. Older children love helping create this game almost as much as the younger ones enjoy playing it.
Need more physical activity? Throw a dance party! Clear out the middle of a room, strike up the stereo and have some fun. Alternating music choices works well, and when it’s your turn, make it a slow one so you’ll have the energy to keep up! Try not to use videos, even musical ones, if you can help it; it becomes too easy to sit and watch and forget to get up and dance.
Shake, Rattle, and Roll
Speaking of music, why not create a band? Work with instruments you already have or make a few of your own. Even the tiniest babies love to shake wrist or ankle rattles! Play along with music or just have at it.
Talk with your child about what things around your house make music. Try making your own rattle by using an empty plastic water/soda bottle, then add a handful of uncooked corn kernels, tighten the cap, and shake, shake, shake. Take another bottle and put a handful of rice in that one. Tighten the lid. Which one sounds more like rain if you slowly turn it over? Which one is louder?
Most craft books will have a section on creating different musical instruments. Look for one that has a fun “rain stick” project—a great choice for this rainy day.
Singing (You Guessed It) in the Rain
Play the “Singing in the Rain” game! The object is simple, and you can have a winner if you want to keep track of who comes up with the most songs, but it’s just as much fun to work as a team to reach your goal. (We set the goal of 25 Songs about Rain for our little one.) The rules are simple: the song must be about rain/water or have rain/water in the lyrics. To claim a song, you must sing a relevant verse; only in the cases of instrumentals or where “rain” appears only in the title are you exempt from singing.
“The Itsy Bitsy Spider;” “Rain, Rain, Go Away;” (though with all the fun you are having, you may be changing the words!), “Come Rain or Come Shine;” “I Can See Clearly Now;” “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head;” “Over the Rainbow;” and of course, the Muppet Show classic, “Rainbow Connection” are all great tunes that you can include.
Consider broadening your “weather” song theme—how about songs about sunny days? Why are there so many songs about rainbows and rain? Feeling adventurous? Make up your own song about rain, or change the words to some already familiar tunes.
Story Time and Make-Believe
Reading is an excellent indoor activity. Check your local library and bookstores for scheduled story times, or snuggle up and enjoy some great books at home. Seem too tame? Liven up your story time by having kids act out the parts of the characters in familiar stories. You can even make costumes for the characters. Keeping a dress-up box handy is a fun way to make this a truly spectacular performance. Don’t be afraid to follow along familiar storylines, especially for the toddler-preschool set, who may become upset if you deviate too far from known stories, but don’t be afraid to try improvisation either. Ask your little actor, “What would you have done if you were the wolf trying to get those little pigs?”
Make puppets and have a puppet show to tell the story. Puppets can be store-bought, or brown paper bags with crayon-drawn faces. Drawings of characters cut out and placed on Popsicle sticks work well, too. An old cardboard box for the stage and a fabric scrap for curtains can make a first-class, table-top puppet theater.
Story cubes are another excellent, easy-to-make tool for indoor play. Cut out pictures according to the following themes: People, Places, and Activities (six pictures per box). Glue the pictures onto the boxes, one picture on each side. One box is our “Who” cube, where all the pictures are of different people or characters. Our “What” box has pictures of different activities on each side, and the “Where” box shows pictures of different places.
Take turns lightly rolling each box across the floor like a giant die. When the person who is “it” has rolled them all, he or she makes a story about the person on top of the “who” box, doing the activity on the “what” box at the location of the “where” box. Little ones will simply say, “Grandmom bakes cookies at the beach,” while older children can make up much more elaborate stories about what kind of cookies, and who’s coming to eat them, etc. Add other boxes if you like, for example, “When” and “With Whom” boxes.
Children love poems. Set aside some time for a poetry reading or recitation. Think about writing your own family poems. What words rhyme with rain or puddle? How does rain make you feel? What does the rain do? What is your favorite thing about rainy days? Let your imaginations run wild.
Nothing Says Lovin’
There’s just something comforting about a warm snack on a cold day. Enlist the help of your kids when making that special afternoon treat! Have them pour in ingredients you’ve already measured, put sprinkles on the tops of sugar cookies, or let them measure and crack eggs themselves if they’re old enough. It make take longer for small hands to mix the ingredients, but the pride in your children’s eyes when they bite down into a treat they baked is worth every second of mixing time. (Obviously, normal kitchen safety precautions always apply and small children should not be near sharp knives or hot objects.)
Take In a Show
You can have a special matinee movie in your own house—cheaper than a theater and with better popcorn. DVDs are easier to control than TV and there is a definite beginning and end to the show. If you feel that you just want a quiet day at home, consider scheduling a movie, but make it special. Try popping your corn the old-fashioned way, heating up oil, and letting the kernels pop. Children are delighted by the sound of the popping corn against a metal pan. And resist the urge to pop in and out of the room yourself to finish the laundry. Relax and enjoy the film.
Museums: Not Just for Paintings
Not all museums center on art. History museums, science museums, children’s museums, and those focused on other cultures all offer you something wonderful.
History museums are less likely to be great entertainment for the very young since they have not yet developed a sense of the past; however, older kids will have great fun seeing how people just like them lived 200, 100, even 30 years ago. It’s best to spark their imaginations by relating museum displays to real life people. “Many years ago, children your age had to do their homework by candlelight. They didn’t have electricity to light lamps, they used oil.” Keep it simple and those gentle lessons will be learned because it’s just too much fun imagining the way things used to be. When you get home, organize some activities that relate to a specific time period. How about a 1960s day where you make a tie-dye and listen to the Beatles?
Cultural centers are also an excellent entertainment possibility. For example, if you have a Chinese Cultural center nearby, immerse yourself in that culture for the day: eat Chinese food, go to the center, and find some Chinese music to enjoy. All ages will have fun with this idea. Learn how to say “hello,” “I love you,” “thank you,” and “good-bye” in a different language. Learn an age-appropriate game from another culture. The possibilities are endless.
Almost all children can enjoy science and natural science museums. Little ones will be fascinated with many displays, which tend to show how things are put together, how they work. Cause and effect are fairly consistent lessons in many science museums, and they are the lessons young children just love to learn. Are your kids dino-nuts? Want to learn about the weather? Perhaps they are fascinated with cars, planes, and trains. Many science-oriented museums have discovery rooms where kids get hands-on experience.
Saving for a Rainy Day
It’s not money that’s going to save those rainy days, it’s creativity, attitude, and a few supplies. Be excited and keep your child excited about the possibilities ahead of you. Try to be prepared, too. Consider keeping a special Rainy Day box filled with arts and craft supplies and craft books. You don’t want to find yourself staring out the window at the rain; you want to know that you have a craft book filled with ideas and materials waiting in the hall closet. Explore the offerings at your public library before purchasing a book, so you can try a few ideas in each book to make sure the directions are clear and the projects age suitable.
Consider adding a supply of self-contained arts and craft projects, as well. Most craft stores sell small projects that can be completed by children in an afternoon, and the necessary parts prepackaged for you. Small games and toys from a party store work well as treasures, game prizes, and so forth. Keep your play-dough recipe and paper mache recipes available. Print out a copy of this article, and write notes to yourself about your own ideas.
Take a page from the Cat in the Hat and make your motto on rainy days:
“I know it is wet
And the sun is not sunny.
But we can have
Lots of good fun that is funny!”