A Day at Home with School-Age Kids: A Survival Guide
This winter posed some challenges for parents, even here in normally temperate Austin, Texas. We had more bad weather school delays and closings than I can remember. I know many of us were driven close to, if not certifiably insane from being stuck inside with our kids all..day…long. The kids got up at their normal time even though they didn't have to, because they were so excited about snow. They went out and played in said, "snow," (Here it was half an inch of sleet, really.) for an hour and a half. My husband went to work, kids got cold and came inside. I looked at the clock and with horror realized it was only nine o'clock. By ten thirty they were fighting and by two o'clock I was pouring my second glass of wine.
After the third time school was cancelled this winter, I began to wonder, "why is this so hard?" I used to stay at home all day with them before they were in school. Here's why:
- Bad weather days are unplanned. I cope much better with more than two hours notice.
- During bad weather days, playing outside and driving around in the car is limited/non-existent, which cuts down on activity ideas.
- When I was staying home with both of them, at least one of them was still napping, which was a built-in break.
- My oldest is afraid to watch movies. (I know it's weird and probably only applies to one other six-year-old on the planet, but we all have our unique challenges.)
Not too long after we were out of the woods with snow days, my oldest got sick and was home from school three days in a row. Since the youngest only goes to school two days a week, this situation was the spitting image of a school cancellation, with the twist that the oldest wanted to lie on the couch and have me constantly next to him, and the youngest wanted to go outside and have me constantly next to him.
All of this lead me to think, as often as these surprise days at home pop up, there had to be a better way to cope than tearing my hair out and day drinking. AND, considering we're headed for a whole summer of them, with kids out of school for three months, I better figure it out. After all, 103-degree afternoons are no more suitable for outdoor play than snow days are. Here are some tips and ideas I came up with concerning what to do with your little darlings should you find yourself afflicted with a surprise snow day, sick day, summer day or similar.
Snow Day Parenting at it's Funniest
…Be very afraid. Know that this is a scary, scary day, and don't expect too much of yourself. More than being afraid, really, what I mean is mentally steel yourself. Yes, you should plan some activities and try to be patient, but realize there may be some crankiness and even a few melt downs. This does not equate to failure on your part, but if you are prepared for the very real possibility of finding your oldest with your youngest in a head-lock and both kids screaming in a kitchen with cabinets dripping syrup and waffle pieces, you might just be able to keep your cool and handle it calmly and firmly. In other words, hope for the best, but expect the worst.
- Eat breakfast.
- Check Facebook while the kids watch cartoons.
- Play legos with the kids.
- Work out while kids do some other activity and don't bother you.
- Play board game with the kids.
- Take a shower while kids play with trains and fight some.
- Make fruit shapes for a snack, which will prompt the younger one to eat a lot of fruit and the older one, who is not fooled by mango in star shapes, to eat none.
- Go outside. Scoop poop while kids play in sandbox.
- Hunt for lizards outside and field 1,000 questions about lizards and their habits.
- Have lunch.
- Quiet time
- Mask cleaning kids rooms as a fun sorting activity.
- Let kids choose ingredients and make their own smoothies for snack.
- Throw away gross smoothies.
- Go outside…do something. It's four o'clock now. Hang in there.
- Make dinner while kids watch tv.
- Eat dinner.
- Let kids play in the bathtub for close to an hour while you lie on your bed.
- Put kids to bed.
- Yea! You did it! Pour yourself some wine.
If You Fail to Plan...
…Plan to fail. (I always hated the poster in my teachers' classrooms that said this, but it really applies here.) You've got to plan activities, and give the day some sort of structure. It doesn't have to be rigid, in fact it's better if it's not, but at least have an idea of things you might do all day long. Here are some types of activities you might build into your loose schedule:
- One-on-one (or one-on-three) time with the kids - time when you focus your attention on them. Build with legos with them, play a board game, whatever.
- Free play time - The kids play by themselves while you do something else, like clean up the kitchen or check email, but you are available to help or put out fires.
- You time - small pockets of time when the kids are not to bother you, unless someone's leg is broken. I make my kids leave me alone for my morning workout. It's just thirty minutes and not too much to ask.
- Quiet time - Every one goes to their respective spaces and spends some quiet time alone, playing, napping, reading. You may be tempted to use this time to clean the kitchen, but don't. You need the down time too. Do something relaxing.
- Outside time - This one is weather and health permitting of course, but even fifteen minutes outside can turn around a collective crabbiness.
- Snack/meal time - I like doing simple food prep activities we don't have time to do on normal days. See below for some ideas.
- TV time - self explanatory
- Active time - Do something to get everyone moving - build an obstacle course out of living room furniture, dance, chase each other, but exercise of any kind will boost everyone's moods and tire them out for a little tv or quiet time.
Obviously some of these activity types overlap. Active time can be one-on-one time and so forth. One of the keys is to try to alternate active time with calmer time, and periods when you're giving your kids your full attention with times when you expect them to be more self-directed. You have to go with the flow some, too. If your kids get really into building a block parking garage in the playroom and are getting along, you don't have to interrupt them because your mental schedule says it's dance party time. But, don't let them go too far down the road of squabbling before you direct them to a new activity. If they get too irritated and worked up, it's harder to bring them back to the family happy place, no matter what new activity you suggest.
Do not plan to get anything done. Let me say that again with more emphasis: DO NOT PLAN TO GET ANYTHING DONE. You may think, as I used to, this is the perfect day to get all the laundry done, finally get those baby books updated, or organize the scary closet in the game room. It is okay to have these things in your head as possibilities should you (ha ha) get bored and have the time, but do not get attached to the idea of even taking five minutes to dust the living room. That way, you won't get frustrated and mad at everyone when it doesn't happen (cause, I'm telling you, it's probably not gonna.)
Fun Food Ideas
- Fruit shapes - Slice fruit like pineapple, apple, or watermelon into 1-inch pieces. Use cookie cutters to make fun shapes that will hopefully be eaten.
- Rainbow toast - Add food coloring to milk to make several different colors. Paint bread with milk. Toast in oven, which makes the colors really bright.
- Pop popcorn - If you have an old-fashioned air popper, all the better. Kids love to watch them.
- Ants on a log - Put peanut butter on celery sticks and let kids stick raisins (or m&m's or whatever) in the peanut butter for the ants.
- Smoothies - grab a blender and let your kids make their own smoothies, choosing a combination of berries, yogurt, peanut butter, milk, juice, etc. FYI: You can sneak a handful of spinach into any smoothie and no one can taste it.. if you can convince them to drink a bright green smoothie.
Tips and Tricks
- Do not tell your children what your mental schedule is. That way, you maintain the exciting element of surprise when you announce with either fake or real enthusiasm, "Let's build a fort in the living room!" And you can throw out any idea at a moment's notice, because you're too tired or you're out of pipe cleaners without enduring disappointment and whining.
- Do not wait for your children to melt down before you suggest a new activity. I know you want to finish that email to your sister or complete the task of emptying the dish washer, but if you catch them before they're at DEFCON 2, you've a better chance at turning it around.
- Plan activities that are labor/patience intensive for you for the morning when you're fresher. Embarking on baking bread with your kids for the first time at five PM is a recipe for not only carbs but disaster.
- Use chores as fun activities. This mostly works for younger kids, as in, "Hey, I know! Let's clean the bathroom! You can spray the Windex!" Yes, my kids actually fall for this.
- Don't feel guilty for plunking your kids in front of the tv or computer for longer than you'd normally allow, because hey, drastic times call for drastic measures.
Recipe for Play Dough
- 2 1/2 cups flour
- 1/2 cup salt
- 3 Tbsp cooking oil
- 1 Tbsp alum*
- 1 3/4 cup boiling water
- food coloring
Mix dry ingredients. Boil water, and add color of choice. Slowly add water to mix and stir thoroughly.
*You can leave out the alum, and it will still work.
Actual Activity Ideas
Okay, so this is probably why you read this article in the first place. You wanted actual rainy day-type activity ideas. Here are a few easy ones with low overhead and little prep:
- Make play dough. Every time we do this, my kids enjoy making it more than playing with it. See recipe at right.
- Indoor obstacle course - Use couch cushions, bar stools, and tupperware containers to climb, jump on, and run around.
- Golf ball art. Take a shoe box, put a piece of paper inside, dip a golf ball or marble in paint and roll it around. Voila! Art!
- Follow the leader. Take turns being the leader and take each other up and down the stairs, to jump on the bed, skipping every other tile in the kitchen, etc.
- Partake in a good old fashion game of hide and seek.
- Tape bubble wrap to the floor and let the kiddos go to town. It's loud, but it'll buy you some time to mess around on Pinterest.
- Put beans, pasta, or anything small and dry in a big container and let kids drive toy trucks or scoop with spoons and bowls. Don't forget to instruct them to keep the beans in the tub. I forgot this one time. I will never forget again.
- Play "I Spy."
- Set out a container of some sort - trash cans work well - and play indoor basketball.
- Take a bath. Who said baths are just for the end of the day? Put those kids in the bath and give them whatever they love - bubbles, bath crayons, boats. Kids love something out of routine and sometimes a bath in the middle of the day is just the thing.
What do you do with your kids on a snow day?
You're Gonna Make It
Whether you've got a sick kid, school has been cancelled, or you're just having a really horrible Saturday, know you will make it. When it gets really bad and everyone's either crying, yelling, or sitting with their head in their hands, know the end is in sight. Know that, eventually, they will go to sleep and you will get to sit on the couch, watch whatever your guilty pleasure is, and drink…well, whatever your guilty pleasure is. We've all been there. We do the best we can to cope and not freak out or yell too much, but on this most difficult of days, cut yourself some slack if you flipped out at four PM when your three-year-old spilled an entire bottle of olive oil on the kitchen floor. You are not perfect, and what you're telling your children by freaking out occasionally is you are not perfect, and it's okay if they're not perfect either. What a great lesson.