Dear Mr. Dad: My seven-year old’s birthday is coming up and he’s been asking for all the latest tech gadgets. Can’t kids these days have fun without electricity? Got any suggestions?
A: I have to confess that I’m something of a gadget-loving techie. But I’m also tired of fancy electronic toys and games that get used once and tossed–and I think kids are too. Feeling nostalgic for “the good old days,” I put out the word that I was looking for low- and no-tech games and activities. I wasn’t expecting many suggestions, but the response was incredible. So here are a number of simple, wholesome, no-batteries-required, and sometimes-free ways you and your kids can have a ton of fun this summer and beyond.
• Get out and make a mess. There’s something about scooping sand and dirt and splashing in the water that kids love. Also pick up a copy of Pick up a copy of Richard Louv’s book, Last Child in the Woods. It’s an eloquent discussion of why kids need to spend more time outside—and the dangers of not doing so.
• Into the kitchen. You can get great tips and recipes from Playful Chef (playfulinc.com ), Antonio Frontera’s Chicken Soup for the Soul Kids in the Kitchen, or ilovepeanutbutter.com . For desert lovers, try the Baker’s Edge Brownie Pan (bakersedge.com ) or make some ice cream with the Play and Freeze Ice Cream Maker (icecreamrevolution.com )
• 1 bucket of chalk + one sidewalk = an afternoon of fun. Kids can practice their letters and numbers, draw pictures, or play hopscotch. There’s also sidewalk paint and animal-footprint stamps so you can make a trail and let your kids find little treasures you’ve hidden along the way.
• Bug hunt. The old mayonnaise jar with holes poked in the lid still works. Or you can get special kits (sometimes with favorite themes like Shrek) complete with net, tweezers, and magnifying glass. If you find a caterpillar’s cocoon, bring it home and wait for the butterfly to emerge.
• Old favorites. Remember Wham-O’s Hula-Hoop, Slip ‘n Slide, Super Ball, and Frisbee? They’re just as much fun today as they were when you were a kid. Also check out Hoopnotica(hoopnotica.com ).
• Balls and racquets. Get out the baseball glove and play some catch. If your kid isn’t quite old enough for baseball, pick up a Velcro paddles-and-ball set. It’s easier to catch for smaller kids and still helps develop hand-eye coordination. Kick a soccer ball around, play tennis, shoot baskets, or teach the kids four-square. For a super-fun, fast-paced game, try Speedminton (speedmintonusa.com ).
• Hide and seek and tag are always big hits. Or take it up a notch and play flag-football. You can get a nice kit at sklz.com .
• Learn to walk on stilts (for equipment, visit stiltwalker.com ).
• Arts and crafts. Collages, finger painting, and making hats out of newspaper are great for the little ones. For the older set, sock and stick puppets (tigercandyarts.com ) are excellent choices, along with t-shirt decorating, bead bracelets, origami, and science projects. For more paper projects, visit thetoymaker.com .
• Talk. You should be able to do this one on your own, but if you need extra help getting the kids past “fine” and “nothing,” try The Art of Conversation (taocusa.com ) or GiftTRAP (gifttrap.com ) games.
• Parent Leslie Butonow suggests:
o Bring home some bubble wrap (the kind with the giant bubbles), put it on the floor, and let her go crazy stomping on it with her feet.
o Bubbles, bubbles and more bubbles. These days, they have giant wands that make bubbles a foot in diameter and bubbles inside bubbles.
o Make your own ice pops. You can buy ice pop holders at the store, fill them with juice, freeze and enjoy one of summer’s best treats dripping down your chins.
• Carol O’Dell, a parent and author of Mothering Mother: A Daughter’s Humorous and Heartbreaking Memoir (www.mothering-mother.com ) suggests:
o Forget expensive summer camps and host your own. Do you live in a neighborhood with other kids? Let the older kids (ages 10-14) plan a summer camp for kids 4-9.
o First, pick a theme: Suggestions for kind of camps—Indiana Jones Camp(archeology) Transformer’s Camp (building) or Enchanted Camp (for girls)
o Plan things that are based on the movie:
A scavenger hunt (Jones’s hat, old spectacles, a fake whip, items you use in an archeological dig)
Make transformer’s “suits” out of boxes and paint them and have a judge pick “best of” categories
Make up your own games (build a transformer out of legos or make a prince out of toilet paper and vegetables for the girls), create a maze you have to get through in order to grab the crystal skull (made out of sugar, glue and water)
Mix sand and Quikrete together and hide plastic toys (or make fake bones out of Styrofoam or glued together packing peanuts to create a skull)) inside an area (say two feet by three feet) —then create a grid and have everyone excavate the area like a real dig site.
Themes allow kids to identify with characters they already know—and by allowing kids to come together and do their own planning, the parent can supervise and also help kids find their natural talents and abilities—team work makes it successful. The planning can take several days—and then run the camp for say, 2-3 days so no one gets burned out.
• Family Writes: Parenting with Pens, Paper and PCs, by teacher Peggy Epstein and her child psychologist son, Joel Epstein, is full of great ideas for parents and kids using writing as a way to record memorable events and promote writing skills. http://www.capital-books.com/Books/BookDetail.aspx?productID=117855