Saturday, July 2, 2011

Cool Fun in the Summertime

Now that it's actually starting to look like summer, what's a stay at home parent to do? Some of us don't actually want to be out in the stinkin' hot heat of the day. Some of us have more moles than a hillside in England, and so we're hoping to stave off the melanoma monster. My sister's dermatologist says that 10 a.m. to 2 pm are the times to avoid being exposed to sun on a hot summer day.

So how do we have it "made in the shade" for a chunk of time every day? Here are some ideas.

1. Buy a canopy cover for the sandbox. Or any other play area where kiddo is going to be spending some quality time out of your hair. Last year, my dad gave us one he picked up at a garage sale. This year, it sits squat over a sandbox filled with Tonka construction equipment, glass 'gems' (left by the elves), various scoops and shovels, dimetrodon and spinasaurus and weird little bugs as its only inhabitants. I built the legs about 2' shorter and so the canopy is perfectly kid-sized to provide better shade. This will cost you less over the summer than a babysitter or mother's helper. What a bargain.

2. Search the kitchen for supplies. After bringing back a couple of bags of colorful river rock from our camping trip, I put some into a plastic bin with water and marbles, and let Kiddo play with this. Add another container, and some tongs-- we have an activity we come back to over and over again. Even after the water was emptied out and the marbles moved along to the marble run, the activity of using tongs to move the rocks has been big time fun. Strainers and plastic beads or small pebbles, those small pseudo-chopstick tongs and a plastic art palette with little wells for paints... all can provide loads of fun.

3. Be a nature parent. Old Mother Nature is a provider of many treasures, all the better when the kids find them on their own. Taking a walk in a shady park, on a forested path, can be a great way to spend time outside and collect supplies later for time inside. My sister Amanda makes "woodsies" critters with her boys, using a hot glue gun to add googly eyes to assemblages of pine cones, leaves, sticks, rocks, etc. Until Kiddo mellows out, I'm more of an Alene's Craft Glue kind of gal, but having the kids find those little bits by themselves is a fun activity all on its own. Even if you don't make anything fancy from their materials, give the kids a pie pan or paper plate and good old Elmer's glue if they like, and let'em go to town.

4. Puzzle it out. This Tuesday, I wanted something to do with Kiddo for the day. Besides making currant pancakes -- a favorite at our house and a good 'time-user'-- I also picked up a five dollar puzzle of an open-mouthed Tyrannosaurus rex, 100 pieces. Now, Kiddo is not going to be able to do a hundred-piece puzzle on his own for quite some time, but I think of it this way: $5 kills two birds with one stone--it's something engaging enough for me to want to do with him and it's less expensive than a trip to the coffee shop. I'm thinking of getting an Ocean Reef puzzle the next time. And maybe a bigger 300 piece one for myself.

5. Get artsy. Or rather, get some art supplies. Play dough comes in bags, and you can make it at home, for not too much money either way. Let them mix the colors, too. Playdough is no fun if you have a lot of rules around it, and your kitchen is full of supplies for the dough play. Check out JoAnn's, where there are plenty of assembled craft wood items kids can paint with simple watercolors, for about a buck a piece. They also have loads of bead and other niceties you might want to do something with. The Dollar Store (click to read Robyn's hilarious send-up of the place over on Dim Sum and Donuts) has craft kits galore, so even if you don't want the picture of a flying flower troll with a unicorn horn on your kids wall, you can gut the kits for cheap supplies. Garage sales, too, are a good place to find the weird odds and ends your kid might like. Who knows what they can do with half a skein of polyester yarn in Harvest Gold?

6. Chill out. Smoothie popsicles, anyone? By the time they've helped to wash and cut up the fruit (totally unnecessary, but good cutting practice on softer items and a good time-user), they'll be excited to press the buttons on the blender. I use frozen berries, eliminating all the ice work, and just add enough liquid to make sure it all blends. Fill up your popsicle mold and then give them the leftovers in a cup with a spoon. Better yet, send them outside with the cup o' smoothie and let them drip under the canopy or in the shade outside. Then you might get the added entertainment of bugs or ants, coming to the 'drip site'.

7. Keep Your Cool Too. On hot days, 'Quiet Time' is a must. Some downtime in the afternoon is going to save your sanity and is much needed. Whether it's Quiet Book Time, or just shrugging your shoulders and putting a video on for a while, kids need a rest and so do we. If you can, escape to another room with something good to read and a glass of your favorite iced beverage. I like to make two cups of tea in the morning; one to wake up with, one to save for later in the afternoon.

8. Limit the Mess. There's nothing worse than trying to enlist hot, tired and cranky kids in cleaning up their stuff, so two things: make sure you do your cleanup at least twice a day, and get the 'extra' toys out. You know which ones the 'extras' are: they come out almost daily but aren't really played with. Have your co parent/partner/babysitter get the kids out for an hour and remove those pesky multi-piece extras to the basement or another cupboard. Out of sight, out of mind. Then, when they do want those items, they have to ask and make a choice about cleaning up what's already out before moving on. Rotating toys is good, because they become magically new again and you don't have A. too many choices or B. everything out on the floor of their room. Keep it manageable for yourselves and them.

Do you have a suggestion to share? Send it to me via comment and I'll add it in. Unless you are suggesting a nice cold drink after the kids are in bed-- I'm one step ahead of you on that one!

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