11 Easy, Free, and Meaningful Activities to Do with Kids of Most Ages

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.

7. Fort-building

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

Make It Rain Experiment

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).

“Churning” Butter 🧈

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.

Follow on Instagram or subscribe for more ideas…

Categories
Bucket list Hiking

Austin’s Nature and Science Center

In our mission to spend 1000 hours outside this year, we’ve decided to revisit some of our favorite hiking spots and seek out new ones as well. We’ll be sharing our experiences often in our series titled “This Week’s Hike”.

✅ Trails for Children

❌ Swimming (seasonal)

✅ Bathrooms

✅ Playground nearby

✅ Free Admission for Science Exhibits, Play Area, and Trails

✅ Stroller-friendly Trails and Bike Trails

❌ Reservations needed

Trail leading to Austin Nature and Science Center

In the heart of Austin, among the many Zilker Park attractions and trails, lies a unique center with multiple attractions drawing adults and children alike to explore and discover the best parts of nature and the science behind it. We’re excited to share everything we love about Austin Nature and Science Center! (2389 Stratford Drive, Austin, TX)

Unique Museum and Science Center

Austin Nature and Science Center hands-on exploration

As you walk through the doors of the Nature Center, you’ll first be pleased to discover that there’s no admission fee. It’s FREE!

But then you’ll soon be mesmerized even more by the opportunities to explore bug and animal skeletons, 3D maps, furs, fossils, and other fascinating artifacts. It might be tempting to stay inside for your whole visit, experiencing the hands-on science exhibits, but make sure you leave time to explore the great outdoors as well.

The Animals!

Exhibit at Austin Nature and Science Center

There are multiple indoor and outdoor exhibits of animals native to Texas, including snakes, fish, amphibians, raccoons, bobcats, and birds of prey.

Dino Pit

Dig for fossils in the Dino Pit at Austin Nature and Science Center

If you’re with little ones, this hike will be very slow-moving because there are many stops for kids along the paths. The most popular attraction for my kids is the Dino Pit, where they can dig through a huge sand pit for fossils and random left-behind toys. (If you have a dinosaur lover, add a short trip to Bastrop to your itinerary.)

Beautiful Garden and Splashable Stream

Find tadpoles in the stream at Austin Nature and Science Center

While you might think the trail that goes around the stream is meant to prevent you from venturing into the water, you’d be wrong. I have seen many children with nets in the stream catching tadpoles and water bugs. It’s a great opportunity to enjoy the beautiful flora and fauna surrounding the water, as well as the little swimmers in it.

About that Hike We Promised…

View of Lady Bird Lake on Hike and Bike Trail

After taking it slow and exploring everything the Nature and Science Center has to offer, extend your day with a stroll or a run along the hike and bike trail around Lady Bird Lake. You could make the hike as short or as long as you want. There are maps everywhere, guiding you to a path that suits your individual staying power.

Boat rental on Lady Bird Lake

There is so much more to do in this lovely pocket of Austin than just what’s listed above. As you wander around, you can’t miss the many opportunities to learn a little history, rent a boat, roll down a hill, or just linger on the lawn. We definitely recommend packing a lot of snacks and a meal or two. Once you get there, you won’t want to leave!

Follow @dripping_with_kids on Instagram or this blog so you don’t miss out on the best places to go in the Texas Hill Country! We’d love to hear about your favorite spots too.

Categories
Bucket list

A Mom’s Survival Guide to Summer 2021

Summer can be a season of unpredictability when you have kids. You never know how each day will turn out, but that summertime spontaneity may be exactly what we all need right now.

It’s summer and time for wandering.

Kellie Elmore

As free, fun, and fabulous each long summer day can be, nothing kills that joy like being unprepared for what these hot mid-year months can throw at us. Parents have to be ready for anything, including what a change in season can bring. I recommend starting with this Mom’s Survival Guide to Summer before you launch into June.

1. Get your mind and your heart in the right place each morning.

How do you take your coffee?

If ever there is a time to get into the routine of spending the early part of your morning in God’s Word, in peaceful meditation, in a yoga squat, or in reflective journaling, summer IS IT! These long days require mental, emotional, and physical endurance. The best way to prepare is to ground yourself before tackling it all. My favorite place to do this is on my back porch with a cup of coffee.

Recommended Devotionals:

Pressing Pause by Karen Ehman and Ruth Schwenk

– The Better Mom Devotional by Ruth Schwenk

Recommended Journals:

– Getting to Good: A Guided Journal

Gratitude: A Journal

2. Make a Summer Preparedness Kit for the car

Essential Summer Kit for the Car

Keep a plastic bin, large bag, or sturdy basket full of essential summer items in the back of your car so that you can be ready for anything summer’s spontaneity throws at you.

3. Create a Favorite Places List.

Things to do with kids in Austin area

Have a list readily available of at least 5 free/cheap familiar places that you and your kids already love. When you all need to get out of the house or you’re looking for a quick stop between errands, just refer to the list. Ideas include favorite playgrounds, hiking trails, river access point, patio restaurant, splash pad, or library. (And if you’ve already packed your car with your summer essentials kit, you should be prepared for any of the options.)

4. Create a Summer Bucket List.

Summer bucket list

Your bucket list is a separate list of new-to-you places worth exploring when you have an open day and an adventurous spirit. You can access the 2020 Hill Country Summer Bucket list for ideas. Or maybe you’d like to schedule a hike each week for the summer. If so, let us know if your new favorite spot should be featured in This Week’s Hike.

5. Squeeze in adult time.

Adult time

Set specific date nights for you and your spouse on the calendar as you plan summer. Schedule a few mom’s nights out for mid-week escapes. Hold those dates sacred, and don’t let lack of a babysitter cause you to cancel. Keep a few family-friendly hot spots in your back pocket where you can enjoy time with other adults while the kids are occupied on a playground or in a sandbox nearby.

5. Have indoor play kits ready.

Scrapbooking kit for kids

Use toys or craft items you already have to create themed kits for indoor play time. Tuck them away in your closet or garage until a rainy or super hot day. A few kit ideas include:

– Dress up play with costumes and accessories

– Puppet theater with an old sheet, socks or paper sacks, random crafts, and markers

– Bring a board game to life

– Indoor scavenger hunts with prizes (use picture flashcards for littles)

– Car racing kit with some painters’ tape – and hot wheels

– Kids’ scrapbooking kit

6. Plan a trip.

Air travel with a large family

Not comfortable with flying right now? That’s ok. Road trips are all the rage this summer. Book a house on the beach or explore an historic town nearby. Be sure to choose a location that has plenty of outdoor activities.

But if you want all the fun of a vacation yet don’t want to spend extra cash on staying overnight, day trips are still a fantastic option and will feel like a great escape.

6. Put those kids in camp.

Our favorite type of camp is Vacation Bible School. They’re usually free or really cheap and offer a couple hours of good clean fun. They fill up quickly, though, so get your kids registered ASAP.

Wherever this summer may take you, I hope you feel empowered and prepared for anything with this Mom’s Guide to Summer! Don’t miss out on future posts about family fun in Texas this summer, travel tips, and the best road trip destinations… subscribe below!

Categories
Bucket list vacation

2022 Spring Break in the Texas Hill Country

Spring Break in the Texas Hill Country offers more options than almost any major vacation destination! I’m bringing this popular post back to the surface again in case you haven’t quite hit the “Book” button on your Spring Break plans.

Spring Break takes on many different roles as you go through life. As a child, it represents freedom from school and, hopefully, a memorable family vacation. In college, it’s a week of clandestine partying and naïve independence. As a young professional, it means less traffic on your commute and sunset happy hours on a lively patio. 

However, when you become a parent of school-age kids, as the end of winter approaches, the term Spring Break initiates plans to get the kids out of the house!

the planning can become overwhelming, though. There are just too many options. Do we play hometown tourists? Blow our budget and go skiing? Take a road-trip and camp in the great outdoors? Rent a house on the beach? Or do we visit family or friends? It can be pretty daunting.

BUT… the planning, pressure, and patience it takes to celebrate Spring Break is so worth it. After surviving those grueling winter months (spoken as a true Texan), Spring Break is a turning point from one season to the next. It represents the promise of less illness, sunny days, and plenty of opportunities to get outdoors. It’s a rite of passage throughout life, but it’s also the perfect pivot from too much screen time to too much sunscreen.

If you’re still stuck in a planning rut, you’re in luck because I love to plan! Read on for some amazing, last-minute options that can be perfect for day trips or short stays in the Texas Hill Country. You can even have a completely FREE staycation!

Bastrop Area

Whether your family is into history, the rustic outdoors, chilling by the water’s edge, or window-shopping, there’s something fun for all in this small town. Check it out….

Places to Stay –

Bastrop River House

Hyatt Regency Lost Pines Resort

Dinosaur Park Bastrop, Texas

Things to do –

  • The Dinosaur Park: Check out dino replicas, explore the gift shop, walk the trails, dig for fossils, and have a picnic near the playground.
  • McKinney Roughs Nature Park: discovery center, hiking trails, canopy zipline tours, UTV tours, and horseback riding.
  • McKinney Falls State Park: hiking, biking, fishing (rental equipment available), swimming, cabin and campsite rental, waterfalls, Junior Ranger program. (Book a day pass in advance.)
  • *Downtown Bastrop: nestled along the Colorado River, this historic downtown has art galleries, boutiques, restaurants, breweries, a museum and visitor center, live music, and theater performances at the old Opera House.
  • *Fisherman’s Park: riverside park with basketball court, playground, splash pad, and boat rentals – Enjoy a walk along the river trail and a yummy lunch at Neighbor’s Kitchen.

New Braunfels/Gruene 

Gruene, TX
Gruene Hall

With no shortage of family activities and so much natural beauty in this part of Texas, it has become one of my family’s favorite areas to visit. Check it out….

Places to Stay –

Guadalupe River Houses

World Mark New Braunfels

Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park

Things to Do –

  • *Landa Park: spring-fed wading pool, miniature train, mini golf, 4 playgrounds, hiking, and sand volleyball.
  • *Fischer Park: 62-acre hilltop park with amazing views, hiking and biking trails, fishing ponds, kayak rentals, outdoor amphitheater, education center, and archaeology dig.
  • Comal and Guadalupe River: check online for tube rental and river access
  • Stars & Stripes Drive-In Theatre: old-school drive in theater with kid-friendly movie options and concessions.
  • Natural Bridge Caverns: cave tours, zip lining, gem mining, maze, canopy explorer (full day of activities!).
  • Natural Bridge Wildlife Ranch: drive-thru safari park with giraffes, zebras, rhinos, lemurs, and so many more. Make reservations in advance and start early in the day.
  • McKenna Children’s Museum: indoor fun for all (limited hours, check website)
  • *Historic Gruene: Visit Gruene Hall for live music, shop the boutiques, stroll along the river, and eat at the Gristmill.

Johnson City and Fredericksburg

Nestled between Dripping Springs and Fredericksburg, Johnson City features so much of what the Texas Hill Country is known for: rolling hills, stunning views, delicious home-cooking, rich history, and local wine! There’s something for everyone in this tiny town.

Places to Stay –

The Lighthouse Hill Ranch

The Carnegie Hotel

Wild Currant Farm

Things to Do –

Hunt Area

Paddle boarding on the Rio Frio

I’ve always known Hunt as the location of my childhood friends’ favorite summer camps. As you drive into Hunt, it’s easy to see why it was chosen for their location. The wide open spaces and winding Guadalupe River take you far away from home with their beauty.

Places to Stay –

WorldMark Stablewood Springs

Waterfront Cabins

Things to Do –

  • Garner State Park: one of our fave state parks, offering challenging to easy hiking trails, tubing, paddle-boarding, overnight camping, evening activities, and mini golf.
  • *Schumaker’s Crossing: Swim, kayak, or float in the crystal clear waters just east of downtown Hunt. Paddle about 30 min to Ingram Dam to try out a natural water slide, then make your way back to relax and enjoy a picnic at the tables under the beautiful Cypress trees.
  • YO Ranch: Go on a private exotic wildlife tour. Book in advance for a spot.
  • Bridget’s Basket: Book a table in this old farmhouse and enjoy farm-to-table goodies
  • *Explore Kerrville: You can fill the day visiting meaningful tourist attractions, shopping in the historic downtown, floating the river, and playground-hopping.

Waco

Still one of our favorite places to visit as a family, we’re always finding new-to-us things to do there. This Road Trip Edition highlights our faves.

* FREE activities 

I hope Spring Break planning goes smoothly and that your family is able to enjoy the best the Texas Hill Country has to offer!

Not ready to travel? Try a few of these at-home Staycation ideas, do a tour of the best hiking spots in the Austin area, or plan a few fun day trips, then come home to your own bed!

Thank you for reading! Follow Dripping with Kids on Instagram or subscribe to this blog to get the best ideas on what to do with your family throughout the year in the Texas Hill Country.

Categories
Family Traditions Motivation

Your Socially-Distanced Staycation: 11 FUN Ways to Make the Best of It

Aren’t kids so great? I’m currently riding in a packed car for 10+ hours with 4 of them. In between dishing out massive quantities of unhealthy snacks, changing shows on kid kindles every 67 seconds, breaking up sibling disputes with my futile mom-voice, and attempting to make conversation with my husband who somehow has the superpower ability to block out any and all activity occurring behind his seat, I am on and off my phone often. And each time I pick my phone back up, I am greeted by this lovely photo:

This is me, attempting dance poses at a free class, obviously for the sole purpose of embarrassing my first-born child.

My sly pre-teen changed my phone’s lock screen from an adorable pic of her two youngest siblings sweetly staring up at me from their double stroller to this reminder of how uncoordinated and embarrassing her mother is. She laughs so hard every time I pick up my phone and sigh.

What she doesn’t realize is that I will gladly embarrass myself over and over again if it brings a smile to her face and helps us forge this developing mother/(almost-teen)daughter bond that’s new to both of us… a bond based on her discovery that she is now becoming way more cool than her mother has ever been, a bond that requires difficult, awkward conversations that are easier to get through when humor is sprinkled in, a bond in which we are both silently recognizing that she is eager yet not quite ready to be an independent teenager.

Navigating changing relationships with my “big” kids has been challenging for this mama, especially because I feel like my day consists of bouncing between cleaning up potty accidents, rescuing a toddler from death-defying stunts, re-teaching algebra lessons, and shouting out chore expectations. With kids ranging in age from 2 to 12, it can be overwhelming to satisfy each child’s need for attention and manage age-appropriate discipline, activities, and topics of conversation.

With the unfortunate spread of novel COVID-19, kids will be at home quite a bit this month and will require a lot more attention from their already-stretched parents. I’ve seen many articles and ads about activities to do with kids while we’re stuck at home with them. I empathize with the fear many parents are expressing about having children home all day every day and finding ways to entertain them without allowing countless hours of screen time. However, when I reflect on when my family is happiest, it’s definitely when we don’t have to adhere to a schedule and when we’re able to let our creativity lead us to spontaneous or new ways to have fun together. When we return home from our trip, I know my kids will not be ready to launch into full days of educational activities. To them, it will still feel like vacation if they are not in school. Therefore, I thought I’d get ahead of the game and make a list of fun “stay-cation” ideas to get through the longest spring break we’re likely to ever experience and hopefully build even closer bonds with each one of my kids, no matter what stage of coolness, sassiness, or independence they’re in.

1. Celebrate a favorite holiday out of season! Have Christmas in March with caroling, sugar cookies, re-gifting, and favorite holiday movies. Or celebrate Easter a little early with a themed egg hunt, bunny crafts, and bible stories. (Don’t have anything to fill the eggs with? Put coins or tickets inside and let the kids “buy” prizes, such as coveted snacks, forgotten stuffed animals, or a ticket for one on one time with Dad.) Or if 4th of July is a fave, decorate bikes and trikes and parade through the neighborhood, watch Independence Day, and make red, white, and blue treats.

2. Make the backyard a water park! Turn on the sprinklers, fill the baby pool, roll out the slip in slide, load up the water guns and balloons, and let the kids wash your car too.

3. Have a carnival! Set up easy carnival games like bowling, tossing a ping pong ball in buckets, pinning the nose on the clown, ring toss with cones or bottled drinks, and duck pond with rubber duckies from the bathtub.

4. Host a kids’ baking championship! They bake, you all eat, and the second/third place contestant cleans.

5. Take a hike! Follow up your hike with an indoor picnic and camp out, complete with a tent in the living room and s’mores in the fireplace! You can practice social distancing while exploring nature. Venture into another neighborhood and check out their trails. Or pull up google maps and look for any green space nearby that you’ve never explored before. Click on that green area, and you’ll be able to determine whether there are trails or an open park space there. You can also just type in “hiking” or “trails” in the search bar to find a new-to-you spot to explore.

6. Have a character day! Make costumes or get them out of your Halloween storage and dress up as favorite characters from movies or books and try to stay in character all day. Or switch characters each hour.

7. Learn about a new culture! One of the best parts of travel is learning about different cultures, and with a google of information at your fingertips, you can have your own culture fair at home. Let each person research a recipe (and cook it), a tradition, some historic facts, and additional information about a foreign culture. Then, he/she can share with everyone else in the family.

8. Explore a museum (at home)! And then create your own! A dozen famous museums, such as the Guggenheim and the Rijksmuseum, are offering virtual tours of their exhibits online for free. Explore these amazing institutions and then create your own museum at home with dinosaur toys, homemade art to mimic famous pieces from history, and/or natural specimens from a nature walk in your neighborhood. (Have older kids research their own museum contributions and write a summary of their exhibits.)

9. Create a repurposed art gallery! Search the house (or better yet, the garage) for unused, unique items that can be repurposed to make beautiful art.

Found this beauty in our dentist office, smiles of dripping springs.

10. Set up a ninja or obstacle course! And then follow that up with indoor and outdoor scavenger hunts! Challenge the kids to beat mom or dad in a course of climbing, crawling, jumping, and parkouring. Then, keep them busy and out of your hair searching for obscure items throughout the house and backyard.

And then, when you’ve had all the fun you could possibly muster…

11. Tackle spring cleaning! Bribe those kids with treats, money, screen time, an opportunity to redecorate their rooms, or a you tube dance party in the living room in exchange for decluttering, scrubbing floors, wiping baseboards, dusting shelves, and finally tossing that old 1st grade project.

In all seriousness, I pray that you and your families remain safe and healthy in the midst of this uncertain time with an uncertain pandemic. I also hope that something good can come of it as we take full advantage of this time at home with our loved ones.