Parents, did you see that sunshine? I mean the 45 minutes of inspiration to take your children outside to stretch legs, have some fresh air and family fun. The 45 minutes that dissolved into more rain while you grabbed their attention, transitioned from inactivity, debated where to go and what to do, got ready, brushed teeth, made snacks and did the endless other things that kept you captive from actually reaching the sunlight. It reminds me of Ray Bradbury’s short story, “All Summer in a Day,” in which people on Venus only witness the sun for an hour every seven years and one poor girl misses it.

thurston solid wasteMy hearty friends go out anyway, as I should more often. For solid reasons, our children need some time outdoors daily. If you need convincing, there are plenty of articles on the subject. However, although we have many local parks and trails, we can’t always take advantage of them due to time or other constraints. Even a 10 minute walk up the street and back can revive our spirits, invigorate our senses and create some family time.

fort building kids
Free and easy, everyone loves a fort.

Of course there are times when we just can’t go out. It’s too wet, cold, dark, late or we’re busy. We are house bound with our children in the doldrums. Google defines doldrums as “a state or period of inactivity, stagnation, or depression.” The second description also fits children in winter months: “a [region of the ocean] with calms, sudden storms, and light unpredictable winds.” During Pacific Northwest doldrums, we need plenty of options and the flexibility for kids to change activities as needed.

Betsy Faro is a retired educational professional with heaps of success stories, plus eight grandkids who benefit from her expertise. She teaches how children need “stations,” different activities to rotate through while stuck indoors. I’ve never known a child who didn’t love time at her house.

Grandma Betsy knows how to engage kids in creative play.
Grandma Betsy knows how to engage kids in creative play.

At Grandma’s we see water play. This doesn’t have to mean running water, which drains the pocketbook and environment. It can be a calming bath with toys or a sink full with bubbles and interesting kitchen gadgets. The next station may be artsy-craftsy. Special requests often prompt ideas, such as, “Could you paint me a rock paperweight to keep the mail all in one place?” or, “I’d love some new art for the fridge!” Let them sort through recycling and choose pieces, then see what they create with some glue, tape and other bits of stuff.

Creative stations can lead to a string of needs much like the storyline in Laura Numeroff’s book, “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie” and its sequels. Numeroff’s books are a great way for you and your child to acknowledge the need for shifting activities on doldrum-ish days and discuss how to work together in those situations.

art kids crayons
Simple art projects can foster healthy, creative times.

Reading, of course, is another play station. We all know that taking at least 20 minutes a day for literacy’s sake is crucial to children’s academic development. Read with your child. Read to them, or listen to, anything that holds their interest. A forced read is not a fun read, and our kids thrive on positive attention and involvement, so make it something you are into as well. I can hardly bear listening to the book on Minecraft, but as long as he’s reading I will listen (or at least feign to).

The references to PlayStation and Minecraft will have many thinking about contemporary dependence on screens. All I can say is, “guilty.” I try to limit the time, and yes I often fail. I do dangle screen time sporadically as a reward after other activities, like chores.

kid indoor play
Siblings work together to finish a good puzzle.

Believe it or not, chores can be fun. Add safe dishes to water play time. Make room tidying a scavenger hunt while speed sorting. Play mini-figure or Barbie hide and seek while putting laundry away. Competition can also add stimulation. Shoot hoops with recycling (no, not glass!). Offer points for awesome bed making. Race at folding towels. Create Household Olympics. Make another fun activity the reward. You can put on your bed sheet cape and hero up a bit.

Another expert is Merry Trejo, brilliant teacher and parent. I envy her ability to prompt kids into action. She proves the success of creative messes. Asking her advice, she offers old-school stuff like puzzles, dolls, board games, Legos, cardboard and duct tape creations, and forts. Her four busy children, aged 5 to 12, are evidence that it all works.

paint art project kids
Three dimensions objects are fun to paint.

The key seems to be attitude, which is free. Let fickle winds and occasional storms pass through the cozy calm of winter doldrums. Empower yourself by relaxing about messes, and your children with choices and creativity. Motivate with involvement, and then encourage independent play. We’ll manage. Spring will return.

Thrifty Thurston highlights inexpensive family fun in Thurston County. The weekly series focuses on family-friendly activities throughout our community. If you have a suggestion for a post, send us a note at submit@thurstontalk.com. For more events and to learn what’s happening in Olympia and the surrounding area, visit our complete event calendar.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email