As of this school year, I’ve ventured into homeschooling my two younger children. People ask me daily how it’s going, and depending on the day (or even the time of day), they’ll likely get a different answer than I previously gave.
The highs are very high, and the lows can be quite low. I can go from feeling pure joy and bliss to doubting every parenting decision I’ve ever made. However, I’ve come to realize that these feelings occur no matter what schooling decision parents make for their children. We’re so hard on ourselves and tend to let the emotion du jour lead the way.
To counter this whiplash of emotions, I try to engage in meaningful activities with my kids that will fill their cups but also fill mine. I usually find a bit of free time for myself after fully participating in one of the options below because everybody walks away fulfilled.
Most of these incorporate time in nature and/or sensory experiences, which tend to be antidotes to boredom, crankiness, frustration, sibling rivalry, and screen daze for all of us.
I hope that these ideas might allow other parents to break away from the norm and reset those flip-flopping emotions. These 11 easy, free, and meaningful activities have worked well for us. Let me know if any stand out to you!
1. Nature Hike and Journaling
We kept our nature journals really simple and just made them out of cardstock and twine. Anytime we go on an adventure, I carry crayons and pencils. The kids either draw something they see and find interesting, then we research it on my phone to add notes … OR they’ve already drawn and researched something that we then go and try to find, such as certain types of trees.
2. Act Out a Favorite Storybook
We choose a favorite or recently-read story book and act it out in real life. We create costumes, find props, and make up character voices. The kids love this activity and often want to act out the same book more than once. We’re hoping to go all out after finishing the Little House on the Prairie series and throw a themed party.
3. Lego Challenge
There are a million and one ways to create Lego challenges for kids. You can just type the words and google for a plethora of ideas. I even found some printables for head-to-head Lego challenges. What I love the most about starting one of these challenges is the fact that the kids usually want to continue playing with legos independently for hours or days on end!
4. Create a Wall of Weird
Kids love to find the weirdest things! Whether out on a hike or rummaging through a thrift store, they find something so unique, but often too odd, to want to include it with the rest of the home decor. As a compromise, my kids and I agreed upon a Wall of Weird, which was an idea borrowed from someone much more clever than myself. So, when a little one wants to collect a fallen bird’s nest, an odd-shaped stick, or a dead bug, there has to be room on the Wall of Weird for it to come home with us. (Sometimes, interesting crafts make it on to the wall as well.)
5. Guided Drawing
If you haven’t tried the Art for Kids Hub videos on You Tube yet, you’re in for a fun afternoon! These easy-to-follow guided draw videos are our favorite way to spend a rainy day… and sometimes a sunny one. Some videos are easy enough for a pre-schooler, but many are challenging even for me. This activity may not fit the bill for reducing screen time, but it’s definitely worth the extra minutes (or hours) in our house.
6. Make Shaped Crayons
Any chance you have a few broken crayons in your home? Maybe a few hundred? If so, this activity can keep your kids busy for an entire day. Not kidding. All you needs are lots of crayons and a silicon candy mold. First, have the kids find all the crayons that are too broken to use or are nubby duplicates of newer ones. Have them sort by color. Then they peel off the paper of each one. After that, place the crayon bits into the candy mold shapes. Mix colors if desired. Bake in the oven at 300 degrees until they start to harden. Voila – “new” shaped crayons for the kids to use during guided drawing! They also make great gifts. We’ve printed coloring pages and attached several fun-shaped crayons to create gifts for friends.
With older kids or young kids, indoor or outdoor, soft and cozy or challenging and maze-like, forts are always a family favorite! To change things up a bit, we sometimes set up a huge tent in the house (along with other accessories) for indoor camping.
8. Sensory Obstacle Course
When I hear “obstacle course”, my brain tends to immediately picture a ninja gym or gymnastics floor. However, an obstacle course can be set up anywhere! Sometimes, it might look like my kids shooting water guns at a target (or each other), stepping into buckets full of goo, crawling from one end of the yard to another, and ending with a little shaving cream play. Sometimes, the kids just leap over toys, roll under a table, and hop around on different surfaces. Sometimes, they do somersaults, a certain number of jumps on the trampoline, and then dig in the sand to find toys. No matter the location or the props used, obstacle courses always seem to satisfy my kids‘ sensory cravings! They also tend to be prompts for initiating independent play, which allows me a chance to sit down and catch up on a book.
9. Simple Science Experiments
What kid doesn’t love science experiments?! Thankfully, there are hundreds options to copy from Pinterest or Google. The library is also a great resource to check out a book with dozens of ideas. I always look for experiments using ingredients we already have on hand and that can be done in under 15 minutes. What I‘be found is that my kids continue doing the experiment or a similar activity afterward. More independent play time for the win (and usually a bit of a mess to clean up afterward).
11. Surprise a Neighbor
It can be any type of gift, any time year, and for any reason whatsoever… my kids love to be secret elves. We just come up with something simple, like a baked good or a funny theme or sometimes an envelope of cash for a friend in need. The kids then work hard on the gift and get to be super sneaky when they deliver it. This usually leads to an over-exaggeration of spy or ninja behavior, but they love leaving a gift somewhere on the porch or in an interesting spot in the yard without that friend seeing them. Occasionally, I will have to send a text to let our friends know to look out for something because it was hidden so well.
Thank you for reading! I would love to hear which activities work best in your home to reset your kids’ emotions. Please share in the comments! Also, if you try any of the 11 listed above, please post on Instagram and tag @DrippingWithKids.
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