Good Clean Fun!

If there’s one thing I’ve learned after years of admiring Waldorf education, it’s that sometimes the simplest tasks are the most fulfilling for young kids, especially ones that emulate their parents’ daily routines.  Good clean fun.

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So when we were on the tail end of the sickness that never seemed to end and still weren’t leaving the house, I busted out our awesome washing aprons and let the girls go crazy “washing” dishes (spoons, servingware, measuring cups).  The teamwork was really adorable to see–taking turns rinsing things, holding the washcloth, placing them in the stainer–and it kept them busy for quite a while!

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In fact, we did it again the next day, and Jax and Em washed all of their toy animals that night!  All in all, we literally had hours of fun thanks to the simple joy of everyday things.

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And sisters.  The joy of doing anything with sisters is always immeasurable!

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10 Quiet Activities To Help You Survive The Winter

A friend of mine recently asked me why my kids play so well without me.  How did I do it? she wanted to know, meaning, How did I train them to play independently?  What is the secret to getting my kids to leave me alone for five minutes?  Why don’t they go take one of their millions of toys that I’ve spent so much money on and GO PLAY?

Well, I’m no expert on this, but I do have two big kids who play really well alone and together, with just the slightest bit of prompting from me.  Without question, that little boost from mom is the key.  Every time I look up from my laptop to the sound of whiny little voices complaining they are so bored, I try to remember that it is not always their fault that they don’t know how to play independently.  It’s a skill that needs to be honed.  That’s why we still enforce quiet time where they play alone (not together) for at least 45 minutes every non-school day, why they must read independently every day, and why we really do have limits on screen time (I shoot for an hour on school days and no more than 2 hours on non-school days, trying to keep it at around 10 hours/week).  After all, how can they learn to use their imaginations if I never ask them to, and never show them how?

Of course, as I type this, Little H is next to me watching Super Why on JDubbs’s Kindle because she woke up early from her nap and I need to get this blog post finished.  So, of course I am a fan of screens and there is always an exception to every rule.  But paying attention to how often and how much your kid interacts with screens may help you in your quest to get your kids to play better on their own.

Well, enough of the lecture portion of this post.  What about practical help?  What do I do with my kids to get them to play nicely alone?  The thing is, although they end up on their own, they don’t start off that way.  In my experience, most kids need a little help getting started with prolonged independent play, and the longest activities tend to need a little parent guidance.  For example, instead of saying to your son, why don’t you play with your zillions of toy cars, help him create a race track on the floor of his bedroom to bring the fun to life.  With 5-10 minutes of prep time from you, you will receive huge returns on your investment while your kids play nicely that day and many days thereafter.  The key is helping them get started.

With that in mind, here are 10 great ideas that need just a little help from an adult on the front end, but can be put away for lots of independent play day after day thereafter. I promise they’ll be so excited to have you by their side at first, they will be all the more invested in the experience once you quietly sneak away.

10 QUIET ACTIVITIES TO HELP YOUR KIDS PLAY INDEPENDENTLY

10 Quiet Activities @ Rub Some Dirt On It

Starting in the left column and going down, then the second and third column, the blog posts are as follows:

1.  Rainbow Scavenger Hunt

2.  Puzzle Treasure Hunt

3.  Play with Popsicles & Play Dough

4.  Pom-Pom Race Through Duplo Maze

5.  Button & Pipe Cleaner Caterpillar

6.  Letters In Salt & Snipping Straws

7.  Pipe Cleaner & Pom Pom Fine Motor Fun

8.  Clothespin Literacy Fun

9.  Butcher Paper Town

10.  Pebble Art

 All of these activities need just a little help from an adult to gather materials or get the fun started, but once you do, the fun will continue on long after you excuse yourself to go get some work done, clean the house, or check your email!  And when your kids realize and are confident that they can have tons of imaginative play without you, they’ll stop coming to you with every problem or question–they’ll start solving them on their own.

 So by taking five minutes to begin the fun, you actually buy yourself much longer than that.  Just remember that imaginations need nurturing, too, and you’ll be amazed at how quickly your kids grow.

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Button & Pipe Cleaner Caterpillars

button & pipe cleaner caterpillar @ Rub Some Dirt On It

This was one of those activities for when Em chooses the absolutely worst moment–when I’m changing a poopy diaper, in the midst of a mountain of laundry, trying to work some culinary magic out of leftovers–to ask me to do a craft.  I always feel badly when I tell her I’m too busy, especially since she’s four and with very little preparation can do the rest herself.  So I set her down a bowl of buttons and a pipe cleaner and asked her to string them.  I turned one end up at a right angle so she wouldn’t keep pushing them all the way off.

Button Caterpillar @ Rub Some Dirt On It

If I had been helping her with this, I would have discussed things like color, size, and pattern with her.  That wasn’t in the cards for this day, so the only adjustment I made was asking her to put a larger button on the end for a face.

So before you get to your very last button, cut a small piece of pipe cleaner off and twist it into a V shape for antennae.

Button Caterpillar @ Rub Some Dirt On It Button Caterpillar @ Rub Some Dirt On It

When you add the final button, loop the pipe cleaner back through for a nose, if you will.

Button Caterpillar @ Rub Some Dirt On It

Then add some googly eyes and you have a pocket-sized pet!

Button Caterpillar @ Rub Some Dirt On It

Button Caterpillar @ Rub Some Dirt On It

And if you can, don’t forget to do one of my awesome butterfly crafts next!  Such a fun way for your little to keep busy and do some crafts on their own!

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Q-Tip Art For Everyone

Having all three kids at home has put a bit of a cramp on my arts and crafts style; I assumed Little H was too young to do anything but eat the paint or stuff crayons up her nose, and the big kids are way more interested in playing outside than sitting quietly at the kitchen table.  But after a few rainy days I knew that the kids were tired of doing the same old thing, and I decided to risk getting Little H involved in the name of creativity.  So I pulled out an old standby–painting with Q-tips!

I shouldn’t have worried about Little H, although she did give the paint a taste or two.  She was psyched to be included in the fun!

Q-Tip Art @ Rub Some Dirt On It Q-Tip Art @ Rub Some Dirt On It

The big kids were happy to have some quiet play; they even asked me to trace a design in pencil so they could express the picture they had in mind.  Jax got frustrated quickly because the Q-tips were taking too long to fill in his Tranformers symbol, so he switched to a regular paintbrush, but Em thought a spotted elephant was just the way to go.

Q-Tip Art @ Rub Some Dirt On It

Q-Tip Art @ Rub Some Dirt On It

My littlest Picasso made her first-ever painting (and you’ve got to love her little toes on the table!).  Sometimes a little work to prepare a craft is worth every contemplative and creative moment thereafter.

Q-Tip Art @ Rub Some Dirt On It

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Keeping Busy (And Having Fun)

Little H isn’t as content to just sit and play with a box of toys or books anymore as she used to be; suddenly I have to really engage her in something if I mean to go elsewhere in the house and accomplish a task, like laundry or unloading the dishwasher.  Her new mobility makes her a bit more attached to me, rather than encouraging her to be more independent as it was with the other two.  I don’t mind, generally, except for when I actually need to get something done.  So I gave an old simply busy standby a try: pom poms, pipe cleaners, and various kitchenware to keep her and Em contentedly occupied for a half hour or so.

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simply busy and fun @ Rub Some Dirt On It

They made dragon egg soup and sorted the pom poms into an egg carton.  They wove pipe cleaners through the colander and pulled them out.  They stirred and pinched with chopsticks, tossed and counted.

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simply busy fun @ Rub Some Dirt On It

Em told her sister about colors and sizes, and Little H did a fairly decent job keeping everything out of her mouth.  Em pretended to be from outer space with an astronaut’s helmet, and made a flower from a potato masher. simply busy and fun @ Rub Some Dirt On It

I kept all the materials on the floor for half the day, with the girls (and eventually Jax when he got home) coming over to it for various uses throughout the day.  Open-ended play is one of the greatest gifts a stay-at-home parent can give his or her kids.  How have you been setting the stage for simply busy fun at home?

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Rainbow Scavenger Hunt

Pulled out an old favorite last week–looking for rainbows inside before it was warm enough to go looking for them ourselves outside!

Hunting Rainbows @ Rub Some Dirt On It

Here’s how you do it.  You write the names of all colors across a sheet of paper, and then give the kids a time limit to find as many colorful objects that they can.  You know I love a touch of literacy as an added bonus.

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Anything with a timer makes even the simplest game more fun!

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Little H happened to have a lot of rainbow-colored blocks and toys handy so it wasn’t exactly challenging, but they liked it all the same.

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Colors, shapes, counting (which pile has most? which pile has least? why do we have so many purple and red things?) and reading all rolled into one activity.  With three kids at home while Jax has vacation this week, we may have to try this again very soon!

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Friends In Colorful Places

Sometimes I’ll admit, I’m a bit more crafty disaster than crafty connoisseur.  But these wooden peg dolls that I made three years ago are still holding up and are still a family favorite!  For a baby girl whose new favorite pastime is sorting, colorful people (even colorful people who have lost half of their hair due to baby slobber) with colorful cups for homes are fantastic friends to have when waiting for dinner.

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She’s getting so big and communicating so well; I can ask Little H a question and she will (usually) shake her head “no” vigorously, because of course she knows what she wants.  Most of the time it’s food, but a lot of the time it’s these guys.

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 I’m proud of the effort it took to make them, proud of the fact that all three of my kids have had a great time playing with these wooden peg dolls, proud of the fact I created something she loves and will keep her quiet for the three and a half minutes it takes to microwave Easy-Mac.

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With vegetables!  I swear!  Okay, I microwave the frozen vegetables, but it still counts.

Thank goodness we have friends in colorful places.

To make your own wooden peg dolls, the step-by-step instructions can be found here.

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