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Staying at home this spring vacation? Banish the images of bored children whining about having nothing to do: having a staycation is a perfect opportunity to get creative. And you don’t have to spend a ton of money and energy traipsing around town to museums or other activities or buying a lot of supplies. We have come up with ideas that you can almost completely accomplish from home (which is especially helpful if you are a work-from-home parent) from starting a garden from seed to planning a camp-in. Try one of these ideas or combine several of them for a week that everyone will enjoy. Even if you aren't having a staycation anytime soon, give some of these activities a try on an available weekend. Busy, overscheduled kids often relish the chance to just hang out and play in and around the house. Read on for 7 easy ways to keep kids happy, involved, and creative over spring break -- even if you don't have an out of town adventure on the books.
1. Make a photo album or art installation.
In this age of smartphones and digital cameras, it’s not uncommon for us to take thousands of pictures… and never print out a single one of them. Staycations are great catch up times, and your kids will enjoy making their own photo albums and collages of the school year, their friends, or of the longest winter most of us have EVER experienced. Most of us end up putting off album-making until we have forgotten some of the details of the events we photographed. Having your child comment on the photos will produce memorable soundbites as well as jog both of your memories. Staycations are also a good time to go through and weed out your child’s art creations. Take time to go through the pile of “stuff” that comes home from your child’s school and pick out your favorites to file away or to put up in a child-curated art installation on the fridge or in their room. You can even combine the two projects and put some of their artwork next to photographs from their year.
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2. Start a family garden.
Now is the time to start garden-planning. If you have saved seeds from last year, bring them out. Otherwise, make a trip to a local garden store and find seeds that germinate quickly such as marigold, mustard seeds, or sunflowers. To get kids thinking forward, make a plan or map of whatever outdoor gardening space your family has. Have your kids plan their “dream” garden by drawing pictures of the flowers and plants they would like and where they would like to put them. Even young kids can learn basic gardening concepts such as plants that need sun or shade-loving plants, and older children can learn about companion gardening and spacing. Have kids create a watering chart and even make a journal of their gardening activity.
3. Put on a production.
We’ve written before about the wonderful experience of taking your kids to see a play, ballet, or concert, but encouraging them to actually create their own show is an even more interactive and enjoyable activity. My kids are allowed a certain amount of screen time every day, and they definitely look forward to the downtime (especially on certain days this winter when it was too cold to even go outside for more than five minutes). What I look forward to is seeing how what they watch inspires them to create. For example, after watching the children’s movie Robin Hood, we made costumes, masks, and a set for the kids to act out their favorite scenes from the film. They both practiced their drumming until they could exactly replicate the sounds of the band marching, and they spent hours reenacting the different character interactions. If you aren’t cool with screen time, use a book as inspiration. Throw together an Oompa Loompa costume, draw pictures of what your child imagines Willy Wonka’s golden ticket winners to look like and have a tasting of “fizzy lifting drinks” (sparkling or still water infused with fruit juices). You don’t even need to have a specific movie or book in mind. We have had a blast creating a band out of household items such as using a popcorn tin for a drum and making a guitar from a cardboard box and some rubber bands. We like to think of it as the next level of the pots-and-pans band that our kids loved playing in as tiny tots.
4. Treasure or scavenger hunt.
Kids love the thrill of treasure hunts, and who could resist the thrill of finding pirate treasure? They don’t have to know that this is also one of my favorite methods for getting them to organize and clean up their digs. Hide something cool and then leave hints or a map. Give activities to do at each stop. For example, spell out an order by taping letters to puzzle pieces. Or hide a clue underneath a pile of their toys with directions that they have to put the toys away in order to find the clue. You can expand the hunt to the neighborhood as well. Another idea: hide ingredients for a favorite dish (such as cookies with frosting) with clues to find them. Once kids have assembled all of the ingredients, they can make and decorate the treats. Here’s a simple version to get you started on a basic hunt:
“Clean up this big toy pile. Underneath it is something to help your smile.” Hide a toothbrush under the pile and attach a note says, “This is where you go to brush and also to flush. Make your way, but don’t rush.” In the bathroom, put a container of crayons and a piece of paper. “Color a puppy or kitty or two. Then go to where we keep the glue.” In the art cabinet or wherever you keep the glue, take letters cut out from a magazine and include a note that says, “Now it’s your job to put together another clue. Match them all up and it will tell you what next to do.” Continue until kids have found their “treasure.”
5. Make a new game.
We love playing board and card games at our house. We seem to get in a groove and play the same one or two over and over and over again. To keep games interesting for everyone (parents included), create your own game along with your child built around your child’s interest at the time. Follow a basic board game format; ie. you have to throw dice or spin a spinner or flip color-coded cards to move a certain number of spaces. For example, you could make a gardening game where the beginning is planting seeds and the end is a beautiful and vibrant garden. You and your child(ren) can make your own board on cardboard or poster board. Next, create obstacles. For the gardening game, these could include common issues such as “too much rain,” “too much sun,” or “arrival of garden pests like beetles.” If you don’t want to create your own game from scratch, combine two or even three games and make up your own rules.
6. Have a very merry unbirthday.
When we go on vacation, we admittedly loosen up the reigns a bit with regards to treats. So having a “for the fun of it” party at home is a festive event for kids to look forward to. Few kids will turn down the opportunity for a party, and they will love getting involved in the whole process. Kids can hand-draw invitations, pick a menu from foods that may be on the more decadent side, help with the cooking and baking and decorating and perhaps be coaxed into doing some pre-party clean up. Being young and out of school is reason enough to celebrate, isn’t it?
If there are other staycationers around, invite them to get in on the fun. The party will be way less stressful than going out for a fancy dinner, and kids will love getting to be such active participants.
7. Have a camp-in.
One of the things that my kids love the most when we go on vacation is sleeping in the same room as us. While we haven’t ventured to actually go camping in the great outdoors with them, I think a camp-in is a great alternative for some family bonding. Clear out your living room and set up a tent or simply lay down sleeping bags. Have a media-free night that includes making s’mores if you have a fireplace or snacking on homemade trail mix, telling age-appropriate spooky stories, and playing flashlight tag or flashlight charades. You can even sneak outside for part of the evening and point out stars.