Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Keeping the Kids Entertained This Winter

I don't know about your kids, but mine are already climbing the walls this winter...and it's only the first full week of January. Yikes! When boredom sets in, things get bizarre at our house. When Max was two and half, he was so stir crazy and as a result, couldn't nap well. For schedule sake, I laid him down at the same time everyday. One day I put him in his bed (at least an hour of resting is my rule) and was met with thumps, bumps, and a knocked over dresser at nap time. Fits, tantrums, cries, running around like mad, no naps, and not listening are common behaviors by the end of winter. This year however, I hope to avoid all of that as much as I possibly can.

I've set aside activities, exercises, and new toys for the winter season. Here is a picture of our living room at the moment. You'll notice couches, a tv just to my right (that is not in the picture), and toys. Toys everywhere. There's even a playhouse against the back wall that will be there for the next several weeks until our backyard de-thaws. To make room for the new toys the kids raked in for Christmas, hubs and I re-arranged all of the toys and did a massive toy rotation. Most of our basement stores toys. This is a HUGE help in the winter when every few weeks I do a new toy rotation. That seems to keep the kids fairly interested and keeps the boredom blues away.

Here are a few tricks I've used to keep boredom at bay and one's I have up my sleeves for the coming weeks:

A Little People center (right in the middle of my living room.....is it evident that I'M going a bit stir crazy as well with all of these toys around??). We've got princesses, a dollhouse, a barn with all of the farm equipment and a pond to go with it, a zoo, lots of vehicles, and of course the Wheelies on the Wheelies mat. This is a very popular center at the moment and the kids are loving setting up different towns. They're sharing pretty well with each other too, which is always a bonus in the winter!
The other half of our living area consists of the playhouse (which the kids have been pretending to "build" and "fix" with the tools), a doll center (notice the baby bed hidden in the shadow of the playhouse. There are also strollers, a doll carrier, and highchair that are hidden by the train table in the picture), a shelf filled with lots of building toys (Legos, blocks, waffle blocks, Magformers and more), the train table which is currently the Imaginext play center (also a huge hit with the kiddos at the moment), and a 14 cube storage unit that it home to all kinds of toys, bins, and goodies. On top of the cubes I have several basic boards (one with latches and one with basic things like zippers and snaps to help kids learn to do it themselves). I like to have numerous types of toys around to suite every child's play mood. When I notice most of the kids have lost interest in a toy(s), I rotate it out for a new one(s). I also keep a few bins full of random "little" toys (think Happy Meal toys, finger puppets, Mr. Potato Head, etc.) that the kids dig through to find the "goodies." Quite often the bins go ignored because I have a lot of the other toys openly displayed. On one of their winter boredom days, I remind them of the goodie bins to go through and that easily takes up a morning or afternoon.
Dance parties. Sometimes we dance to kiddie music, other times we shake it to "Move Along" (All American Rejects) or anything that gets them groovin'. A lot of times, we break out the musical instruments along with the dancing and it becomes a very loud, energetic dance party. We have Music Monday's every week and when all of the kids are awake, we break out the instruments. Sometimes the kids make up their own songs to sing while they play the instruments, sometimes we put on the ipod and they attempt to play those songs, and other times it's a dance party/playing music/singing loud time. I find this is the perfect mid-morning or before lunch activity. It wastes a lot of energy and then lunch provides them the opportunity to calm down a bit, fill up their bellies and good naps (almost) always follow.
Games. Hot potato is a fun one that I keep back just for winter days or too hot to go outside summer days. We don't follow the exact rules for Hot Potato or any other game we play (two year olds don't completely understand the rules to most games, so we make them friendly and fun for all ages of kids). The older kids have been trying to teach the younger ones Duck, Duck, Goose but that one is proving much tougher than Hot Potato (we have the kids pass the Hot Potato around while the music on it plays. When the music stops all of the kids say "you lost" to the child holding the potato, but the child who "lost" still stays in the game. These seem to be simple enough rules for an eighteen month old to play and satisfies the five year olds). We also break out flash cards and create games with them.

These are flash cards the hubs picked up from Wal-Mart. We LOVE Leap Frog products here. We also have a Leap Frog version of Go Fish (called Go Dig) that is for 6+ and is great for the older set of kids around.
Any and all kinds of sensory activities. So far this winter we've done rice, pasta, and a flour and oil mix sensory bins (I put scoops, spoons, cars, trains, Little People figures, pinecones, foam letters for them to dig out, etc. for them to play with in the bins. See previous posts for more details). We have also done a cooked (and dyed blue) pasta (see previous post for details) and a fake snow sensory activities that were a hit with the kids. Both activities kept the kids entertained for an hour or more.
Experiments. Baking soda and vinegar anything are popular experiments here. Also anything that involves colors and/or color changes. Max got a science kit for Christmas that we're having fun making our way through the many activities.
Reading and looking at books. With Max starting to read, he enjoys coming home from school and reading many Dr. Seuss books to the kids. Since Thanksgiving time, we've been reading an hour+ every day. During December we read MANY Christmas books. January we're reading snow themed books. I started having the kids draw pictures of the books we've read and explain their picture to me. It's always cute to hear how they've interpreted a book or what they've taken away from it. At the end of the month, I will be having the kids "write" their own books. I found packs of already put together, blank books for kids to write and draw in. I will have them draw or "write" in their book everyday for a week until the book is complete. Then they will share their book with the other kids and take it home to mom and dad.
Puzzle day. These three drawers are filled with puzzles, as well as 2 boxes full of more puzzles. Notice they need put together. Every so often (more often in the winter) I declare it puzzle day when everyone helps put all of the puzzles together and organized. Helps me out a bit and the older kids help the younger kids with some of the harder puzzles. Since we don't do this all of the time, the kids consider this a "special activity" and are really good about helping each other in completing each puzzle.
Lacing cards, beads, and other fine motor activities. The lacing cards are great for a hand/eye coordination activity for 4+. I also have bags of pony beads that I have the younger kids put onto pipe cleaners (I then twist it into a bracelet) and bead rope for the older kids. I've found fine motor activities wear kids out a lot because they're concentrating so hard on the activity and concentrating for a little toddler is hard in general!
Exercises and gymnastics. On the days the kids just have too much energy or aren't getting along in any kind of free play, we do led-by-me exercises. I have them do "stretches," kick their legs, do jumping jacks (it's seriously hilarious to see 2 and 3 years old do their version of jumping jacks), jump up and down, taking turns doing somersaults, balancing on the foam balance beam (pictured), and taking turns racing one another. When there's a day that the kids are having a hard time getting along, not sharing, and tears flowing, I've found 20 minutes of jumping jacks, somersaults, kicks, and body wiggles REALLY help to push the reset button and change some attitudes. Along with getting out some of that boundless energy!

Later this month, we will have a "Summer in the middle of January" day. For this I plan on bringing in the water table in the kitchen, have a picnic lunch on the living room floor, and do one of our summertime crafts.

The middle of February is always a good time to bring in the Little Tikes slide from the backyard. I have done this for the past four years and it's always a sure way to break the winter blues.

Valentine's Day excitement seems to be a highlight for the first 14 days of February. I will be keeping the kids pretty busy with lots of Valentine's crafts, activities, and we'll be doing our first Valentine's party this year.

My last trick I plan on pulling out at the end of winter is a ball pit. I'm leaning towards buying a bunch of ball pit balls and filling up a little pool or Amazon has a giant mesh octagon that looks super fun and folds up nicely. I gladly take suggestions if anyone has any info on ball pits.

The hubs and I will also be keeping our three minis busy on the weekends. Hopefully the weather cooperates in completing our Iowa Winter To Do List (see previous post for details) so we can get the minis out of the house, busy, learning, and having fun on the weekends. That helps to make our week days more bearable.

I've met many other mom's who have tricks up their sleeves for the kids during these winter months. What are your tricks to battle the winter time craziness that occurs with kids?? If anyone has any tricks or suggestions, I (and my kids) will gladly take them and appreciate them!