I know the feeling: The week is winding down and you know that this day or that is your child’s last day before a long break from school. Panic starts to well up inside you as the realization that you will be solely responsible for keeping your little one occupied for ENTIRE DAYS sinks in. Your mind careens over every possible tantrum and fight-filled scenario that could happen over the next 2 or so weeks…What on Earth will you do with them???
Ok, actually, I have little idea of what this feels like because I have mostly been at the other end of this scenario, as the glee-filled teacher passing my student off to you, the parent, and trying hard not to literally frolic away. NOTE: This is not because we teachers don’t love and care for and miss your child. We do. It is because we have usually been working way more than 40 hours a week for the past several weeks and just cant wait to spend time with our own families. And to sleep for a few days…or weeks.
As excited as I am for breaks these days, I am also tasked with keeping my child engaged during our days off, and so my teacher mode is never quite turned off. I find my Generalized Anxiety Disorder also kicks up a bit during breaks if I don’t keep a routine or have enough to do during the day. Here is a list of some activities I’ve discovered or researched to try and keep us busy this winter break:
1• Sensory Activities: Small children learn by using multiple senses to explore their environments. Engaging in sensory play helps organize their little nervous systems, resulting in a calmer, more agreeable babe. Plus, it’s the easiest type of play: You set it up and let them go!
There are tons of good sensory materials at the dollar store that you can just fill a big tub with: tinsel, rice, beans, hair gel with goodies in it, shaving cream with goodies in it, finger paint, bubbles, cornmeal with water, or just plain old water! For very small children, I like to use edibles: jello, whipped cream, pudding, and wet pasta.
If you’re worried about mess, put the sensory tub on a patio if it’s not too cold, or in the bathtub! Some other good sensory ideas can be found here.+
3• Chores: My daughter is only 18 months, so she is in a huge “helping” phase. Her version of “help” often results in bigger messes occurring and me trying not to trip on her, so I’ve taken to assigning her tasks she can actually complete while I do chores. For example, while wrapping gifts, I threw some wrapping paper on the ground, gave her a plastic bag, and asked her to pick it all up and then throw it away. While baking cookies, I let her pour some ingredients in the mixing bowl and then sat her in her high chair with a small ball of dough to play with. These tasks take an extra moment or two to set up, but they make it possible for me to complete a chore, engage my child, and find teachable moments in the mundane.
4• Get outside: Listen, y’all, I know I live in one of the most temperate climates of the world in Southern California, so maybe this is easier said than done for many others. But it really helps both ground and invigorate my daughter and me to get outside each day, if only for a short walk. I’ve also found a lot of joy in finding more local outdoor spaces to explore with her, like parks and lakes. Which leads me to my next point…
5• “Tour” your town!: in a place as big as San Diego, there are so, so many little nooks and crannies to explore. Many of the attractions here are pricey, but many also offer deals for residents, such as Residents Free Tuesday at Balboa Park, where some of the museums are free for residents, or the reduced-priced entry to our New Children’s Museum every second Sunday of the month. If you look around your town, you may be able to find similar discounted pricing!
Like I mentioned above, my favorite, and usually free, places to explore with Lu are parks or other outdoor spaces. There are a ton of gardens in San Diego that are wonderful for a picnic (and make great photo backdrops). We’ve particularly liked The Water Conservation Garden and look forward to visiting the Botanical Gardens during this vacation. As a toddler who is still developing all of her gross motor skills, Lu is also just happy walking around neighborhoods in town, taking in the scenery and sharing a sorbet :).
6• Check out your local library: The San Diego County Library system often has free activities, like toddler story or music hour. Attending these at your neighborhood library also provides opportunities to meet nearby parents! PS: I just discovered you can get certain museum passes through the SDCL, too! Find them here!
I’m sure seasoned moms have already discovered many of these activities to try and keep kids busy at home. It’s been fun discovering what interests my daughter the most as she grows, and also discovering our town together!
What do you like to do with your children when they’re/you’re off?