Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Boredom Busters

We've had a few long weekends due to holidays lately and I keep running across this question from working parents on Facebook: "Can anyone give me suggestions on what to do with my kids when there's no school?" Most of the people I've seen posting this question have young children either in preschool or early elementary school and are looking for fun, creative ways to entertain their kids without spending a lot of money. Since I stay home with my boys, I find myself in that same situation every day! Here are some inexpensive but fun boredom busters that have been life-savers for me:

-Libraries always have story time, arts and crafts, open play, or special events for children. I have found that a lot of the activities are grouped according to age and are typically last about an hour. Parents usually have to accompany small children but older children can attend by themselves. Either stop by a by your local library to pick up a schedule of events or go online to see what they have posted.

-Barnes and Noble and other bookstores often have story time as well. The Barnes and Noble near me has live performances once a month as well; singers, dancers, magicians, guitar players, and people doing show and tell. These events usually require advanced registration.

-My kids are fascinated by animals and when the weather is not zoo-appropriate, we head to Pet Smart. We get to see all kinds of fish, birds, hamsters, lizards, guinea pigs, gerbils, frogs, cats, dogs, rabbits, and snakes at no cost! I have even gone so far as to ask for the dog training schedule and bring my kids when I know there will be a few dogs being trained in the middle of the store. Always a good time!

-Mall play areas are free, fun, and a great way to socialize with other kids/parents. The mall near us even has a carousel that my son loves to ride. Make sure you wash your kids' hands well after leaving, though. I am not sure how often these areas are cleaned.

-Certain fast-food restaurants like McDonalds, Burger King, and Chick Fil-A have indoor playgrounds and you don't have to eat there to play. I have found that once a child is about 3, he/she can pretty much play on the equipment without much assistance. Younger children tend to not be able to reach necessary steps or can become scared and start crying for mom or dad to come get them down. Again, remember the hand-washing.

-If the weather permits, I love to take my kids to the park or to a lake and feed the ducks. We pack a nice picnic lunch and spend a few hours outdoors in nature. When I had only one child, I used to put him in a seat on my bike and go for hour long bike rides. I'd talk to him the whole time about who we saw and what was happening at each place we passed. How I miss those days! This coming summer I plan to put my baby on my bike and my toddler will ride his Big Wheel alongside us. We won't be riding for hours, I'm sure, but it will be fun nonetheless. :)

-If you happen to live near a boardwalk and the weather is nice, it's so much fun to take the kids and just stroll up and down the boardwalk. Sometimes there is live entertainment but if not, people-watching can be just as exciting. There are a few boardwalks near us that have playgrounds and aquariums for the kids. There are also carnival rides, mini golf courses, train rides, and of course, swimming!

-Home Depot has a workshop once a month for kids 10 and under. Each month the staff members teach the kids how to make something useful for the home. We've seen kids making bird feeders, shelves, race cars, dog bowls, mailboxes, and trash cans. My boys are too young to participate right now but in a few years, I am sure they'll be thrilled to build!

-Places like Gymboree and The Little Gym give you the opportunity to bring your child to a free class to see what the program is like before you commit to signing up. And there is absolutely no obligation to sign up. I have taken my kids to a free class knowing I was not going to sign up that day, but to keep it in mind for the future. The teachers are great and the kids have a ball. Plus, they can put you on their mailing list for coupons and special events that might come in handy down the road.

-Near Christmas time and birthdays, I always take my kids to Toys R Us, Walmart, Target, etc. and spend some time helping them make wish lists. We spend hours looking at all the toys, playing with them, and figuring out which to put on our lists. My kids know that we are not there to buy anything so they do not hound me. I like to do this to get an idea of what new toys are available and to see how my kids respond to them. Plus, it gives me an idea of what to tell family members when they ask what my sons might like for their birthdays. It can turn into an all-afternoon fun family outing!

-Some movie theaters have matinees designed for stay-at-home parents and their kids. They are offered at a reduced price and during a time that is convenient for little ones. A lot of times they will leave the lights on and turn the volume down so that kids will not become frightened. It is definitely worth calling your local theaters to see if they participate.

-When all else fails, I call up a friend with kids and invite them over for an in-house playdate. It can become a little chaotic with a bunch of children in a relatively small area but all the smiles and giggles are worth it. Plus, I know my friend will return the favor next time. ;)

Good luck and happy boredom busting!

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