Herald Journal Columns
Dec. 6, 2004 Herald Journal

Plenty to keep kids busy and away from TV


Last week, I shared some statistics regarding children and television viewing. Now, more than ever, it’s more convenient for our children to turn on that TV. With a remote control and dozens of shows to choose from, our children could sit mesmerized by the TV all day.

Gone are the days, when watching Saturday morning cartoons were a treat. With cable and satellite, the Saturday morning cartoons are available for the watching every day.

It’s easy for our children to say, “Just one more show, please.”

We might also hear our children’s common complaint, “I’m bored. There’s nothing to do.” We probably answer in dismay, “You’ve got a toy store in your room.”

With a little forethought and a few basic household supplies, you’d be amazed at how many alternative activities you and your children can create.

Diversion works wonders.

The following are some options I compiled from a variety of sources: Parents’ magazine, Feb. 1997; 365 Ways to Save Time with Kids, Lucy H. Hedrick, 1993; 365 TV-Free Activities, Steve and Ruth Bennett, 1996; and my own experiences.

Make cleanup fun

While you cook or clean, have your child help. Children love to help.

My husband frequently tells our children about the chores he was responsible for around the house, when he was a young boy. His father had polio and was unable to walk, so one of his jobs was to clean the bathroom regularly – including the toilet. I’m lucky; he still does this task today.

Give your child a damp sponge or paper towel and have him wipe the kitchen. I bought my children spray bottles, and I fill them with water. They love to spray things and wipe, while I do the same.

My children also love using the vacuum cleaner, the Dustbuster, dusters, and the Swiffer sweeper. Don’t expect perfection, but things do get cleaner. Children are also learning valuable habits, and the TV is off.

My daughter likes helping with the laundry. She helps me sort whites and colors, and she likes putting the clothes in the dryer and washer. She’s developing sorting skills, as well as work habits.

We’re also spending time together, as well as getting some necessary jobs done around the house.

When you are baking or preparing a meal, have your child help with some of the simple steps, such as pouring water or oil in the mixing bowl. Everything may take a little longer, but it is worth it in the long run, for everyone.

Dress-up box

Fill a box or big Tupperware container – what did we do without these before – with a variety of costume items, old scarves, junk jewelry, masks, shoes, and other accessories. Children spend lots of time inventing games, holding theatrical performances, and trying on a variety of “identities” from clown and fairy princess to lion, dinosaur and doctor.

Rotate children’s toys

Rotate your children’s toys. Put some away for a while, and bring out some others from the closet, attic, or basement. If toys are piled in a heap, it’s too much for them to deal with. Divide them up between several lightweight laundry baskets and start rotating.

Their very own books

With a few pieces of paper and a stapler, kids can create their own books. Provide some stickers to help them illustrate their story. Writing and illustrating a story can keep them busy for a long time.

Castles and forts

We all have probably discovered many times how children enjoy playing with gift boxes as much as the gifts. Using boxes, blocks, Legos, pillows, a card table, a blanket, and maybe a flashlight, too, children can build castles that they can even read books or color in.

Coloring ideas

Kids will often shrug and roll their eyes if you tell them to go and draw, but a specific suggestion can spark their imaginations. By giving them a suggestion, you give them a starting point, such as a trip to the zoo, the beach, or the circus.

Before our third child was born, I would tell my daughter to draw pictures of what she thought her new sibling would look like. We have a lot of portraits of her new baby sister.

March to the music

We have a bucket of simple instruments – triangles, a drum, maracas, whistles, kazoos, cymbals, and many homemade instruments. Children can make their own instruments, too, with some simple household items, such as a coffee can and lid, film containers, cups, beans, rice, pots and pans – if you are really brave – and stickers and markers for decorations. The possibilities are endless.

When the kids need to let off some steam, they can have a parade, marching from room to room playing their music. It may be loud, but they have a great time.

Dance to the music

We enjoy listening to music, like the Beach Boys, Elvis, and now, Christmas music. The kids dance around the living room, while it’s playing. They take turns introducing each other “on stage.” They also enjoy when we put on our “dancing shoes” and join them.

Colorful collage

Take a shoe box or a plastic container – a clear one works best – label it, and fill it with items such as fabric scraps, wrapping paper, tissue paper, ribbon, cotton balls, old greeting cards, buttons, stickers, and navy beans, and you will have a collage box for your children to make wonderful creations.

My daughter and her friends love to make collages with glue, paper and the items from the collage box. Their imaginations soar.

The other day, my children and their cousins used the collage box to make endless gifts for their aunt. They spent two hours at it.

Homemade puzzles

It’s very easy to make a jigsaw puzzle by drawing a picture, gluing it to some cardboard, and then cutting it up into irregular pieces. Kids feel very proud of themselves when they have made their own puzzle.

Visit the local library

Even though we have many children’s books, my children love to go to the library and use their very own library cards to check out books. It is always fun to read and look at new books, no matter what age you are.

Books on tape or compact discs are great, too. They love to read along with the narrator and turn the pages when told to do so. They are great to bring along in the car. I have found a lot of books on tape at garage sales and through my children’s school book orders. They make great gifts, too.

Be a sculptor

Children love to make creations out of any type of “goop,” whether it be Play-dough, clay, or homemade dough. Give them a rolling pin, cookie cutters, and if they’re old enough, some plastic utensils, and they will be creating lots of unique items.

Here’s a recipe for goop:

• one-half teaspoon Borax detergent, available at supermarkets and department stores,

• one-fourth cup water,

• one-fourth cup cornstarch,

• four ounces white craft glue,

• two teaspoons food coloring.

In a disposable plastic container, combine the Borax and water until the Borax dissolves. Set aside. Set the cornstarch into a mixing bowl. Add the glue; mix well. Add the Borax solution, stirring constantly for two minutes even after goop forms. Knead goop with your hands until it is no longer sticky.

Kids enjoy the consistency of the goop.

Here’s one more recipe for a Christmas activity. Children can create their own ornaments using three-fourths cup applesauce and one 4 1/2-ounce container ground cinnamon.

Mix applesauce with cinnamon to form a stiff dough. Show the children how to roll out the dough to one-fourth inch thickness. Let them cut the dough into various shapes with cookie cutters. Make a hole in the top of the ornament with a straw and lay on a rack to dry for one to two days, turning occasionally. Tie with ribbon.

The ornaments can be hung in a window or on a tree or given as a gift, and they smell wonderful.

In upcoming articles, I will continue to include more activity and project ideas for children, including holiday activities.

Holiday advice

“Whenever you start getting stressed out, blow some bubbles!”

Theresa Sellie

Happy Holidays to all of you.