Saturday Simple Playtime: Low-tech Activities for Your Family

With the holiday season upon us, we might find ourselves doing more that’s outside of our usual routine. We’ll be taking road trips, visiting family, and our kids will be home from school. All this can lead to some very antsy little ones, and it can be tempting to pull out that iPad (which does have its place, especially on long car trips) or pop in a DVD. However, when you’re not in the car, why not treat the little ones to some low-tech playtime?

Here are some ideas, from previous Saturday Simple Playtime posts, to get you started:

–Get up and dance! Here are some great songs, to help you find your groove.

–Use your time off to put together some book bags. These could provide great in-the-car or away-from-home entertainment.

–Do a family activity that you will all enjoy.

–Be sure to make dinner fun, and involve your little one!

–Household items can become fun, engaging toys as well. These were Beanie’s favorites, on Moonraker.

This is the the one electronic toy that has gotten years of usage in our house.

–If you get desperate, a guilty trip to this place might be in order…

–If it’s cold where you live, bring your little one’s ball inside for some fun activities!

–It may be time for a rousing game of cotton ball toss.

–Celebrate the season by making a cookie house!

–Perhaps playing a board game will keep everyone from being bored.

Animal Musical Chairs is another favorite of Beanie’s.

–“Button, Button, Where’s the Button?” is an easy, portable game for preschoolers.

–You’ll most likely be doing a lot of cooking. Here are some ways to involve your little one in the process.

–Since you’ve brought the ball inside, why not try some Bottle Bowling?

–At the end of the day, have some fun in the bath.

–This may be the time to start a weekly Family Fun Day.

–Take lots of pictures at all the parties, and put together a Family Scrapbook Page.

–When the kids go to sleep, Santa and his elves can make their gift this year. How about a play house or restored vintage pedal car?

–Don’t forget to sing in the car!

–Go to the library and check out some new books! Here are some of our favorites.

Bubble Mountain is a great, no-fail calming game.

–Take a family outing, into the community.

–Enjoy some educational playtime together here are a lot of ideas.

Here are some ideas, to keep your kid occupied on their own, while you prepare for the holiday festivities.

This time of the year is a great time to bond with our little pals. Make it a holiday season they will always remember!

Saturday Simple Playtime: 5 Family Activities That You’ll Enjoy Too

Sometimes you don’t have to choose between doing an activity that your little one will like, or choosing an activity that you will enjoy. Here are 5 activities that will make everyone happy!

1. Go on a hike. The kids will love exploring the woods and having a chance to run around, and the adults can take in the scenery and get some exercise in the process. Be sure to bring a picnic lunch!

2. Grab the Burley trailer (if you don’t have one, you really need one) and head to a bike trail. The kids will have fun playing in the trailer and enjoying the ride, and, again you get some exercise and scenery.

3. Play miniature golf. The adults can have a little friendly competition, and the kids can just have fun.

4. After playing golf, head to the go-carts (if the kids are tall enough). Who wouldn’t have fun with that?

5. It’s fall, so find yourselves a corn maze. You’ll all have fun getting lost together.

What activities do you enjoy doing as a family?

Saturday Simple Playtime: If You MUST Get an Electronic Toy

I remember Beanie’s second Christmas, when my 18 month old daughter opened a rather large box. There it was…

Surpressing an eye-roll, I told her to say “Thank You,” which she did not. But she eagerly opened the box and got to work mashing buttons.

It came with an owners’ manual, which I thought was ridiculous, for a baby toy. We threw that out. We figured that this rather annoying toy would be something she would tire of in a couple of weeks.

At home, she carried it around, grinning. This blinky device held her attention like nothing else. She used the different voices to play music (either programmed songs or her own creations). She sang into the microphone. She had it read the story book to her. We actually had to limit her time on it, so she would use her other toys.

After its success on a camping trip that summer, we relegated the toy to the camper. Beanie would eagerly look for it whenever she went into the camper. It kept her entertained on many-a-trip.

On our Tennessee trip, we had no batteries, so we had to hide it. However, she must have caught us stashing it, because this weekend, our almost 5-year-old Bean used all her strength to open the seat in the camper.

“Toy,” she said.

“You have toys on your bed,” I told her.

“No. New toy!” She insisted.

She opened the seat and gestured toward the toy. I got it out and showed her that it didn’t have batteries.

“Batteries, on!” Beanie demanded.

After a trip to 7-11, the Bean got reacquainted with her piano-book. Even as I write, she’s creating her own animal-voice rendition of “Oh Where, Oh Where Has my Little Dog Gone?”.

“I Want iPad!”

IPads are wonderful. They take up less space than net books, they double as ebook readers, and they have touch screens that render the mouse obsolete.

They are to go-to high tech accessory for children with special needs as well. I have two for classroom use. Math drill apps are more engaging than worksheets, Angry Birds makes a great reward, and typing programs are excellent for my students with fine motor disabilities. The Bean loves using the iPad in speech therapy and OT. In fact, the iPad got her past a standstill in OT. Last summer, she was refusing to trace lines, shapes, and letters. Her therapist showed her a letter tracing iPad app, which she loved. After she built up her confidence, she was able to start tracing on paper.

So what about using the iPad at home, as part of your child’s play? We definitely have found some advantages to this, and the Bean loves it. She will announce,”I want iPad!”. However, this excellent minimalistic device will not replace hands-on playtime, as wonderful as it would be to get rid of toy clutter. Here are some of the pros and cons we have found, with using the iPad for playtime.

–Apps are infinitely patient. The Bean can get the wrong answer over and over and the little monkey will still celebrate and declare it “super cool” when she finally gets it right.
–It’s a more engaging way to teach basic reading, writing, and math skills.
–There are lots of free ebooks for little kids, and the apps will read them as well.

–It does not teach higher-level thinking skills and problem-solving. It is not a substitute for experiementing with the world around them.
–It does not provide opportunities for complex pretend play.
–It does not meet sensory needs like actual hands-on play does. It also does not provide the opportunity for active play.

So, we let the Bean use the iPad, in moderation. This is not a problem, because she seeks other play opportunities anyway. We have found the iPad to be especially helpful in the car and at restaurants. Tomorrow I will share some of our favorite apps for preschoolers.

Saturday Simple Playtime: A Confession

If you don’t know me in real life, I’m about to become a human being to you.

I have a confession to make.

We have a lot of do, indoors, in the winter. Beanie has her games, and we have plenty of activities such as “Bubble Mountain,” </a>”Animal Musical Chairs,“Can Bowling,” and “Cotton Ball Toss.” These keep us occupied 95% of the time.

But sometimes we get stir crazy.

And there is now where to go, to play indoors. So, like most families, we start to eyeball those two certain poison-serving establishments, with the indoor “kid hamster tracks.”

Sometimes, we behave and order coffees and milk (non-organic and loaded with rBST…but still enjoyable and the price of admission). Every preschooler in town is already there, waiting for Beanie to join right in. She is assimilated into their collective, and Rob and I enjoy for high-speed Internet.

This is all fine and good, and it gets us out of the house. It gets the Bean some much-needed social time, with kids her own age. And, really, there is very little harm done by the coffee and milk.

But sometimes we happen to be there at supper time.

And sometimes we’re feeling cheap and lazy, and one of the places has that $10 meal that feeds a family of three.

In my defense, I know we’re not the only crunchy family that strays in this manner! I have yet to visit a crunchy household that doesn’t have, somewhere in that toy box, at least one Kids’ Meal toy. And some people even have the telltale crown, right out in their living room!

It’s Michigan. It’s winter. So maybe we’re all hypocrites. Or maybe we’re all just human.

Saturday Simple Playtime: 10 Uses for a Ball (inside)

It’s winter.

Most of the fun community activities, as well as the outdoor speech, PT, and OT activities, are not available. But take heart! There is fun to be had, right in your house. All you need is that playground ball you used in the summer. Here are 10 ways to have some indoor fun, with the ball:

1. Throw it into the bathtub. Your little one with love the splash, then they will throw it back! Since they are confined to the tub, it won’t go as far or cause as much damage.

2. Set up some household objects and do a little bowling.

3. Roll it down the stairs!

4. Play some basketball, using a laundry basket or empty garbage can.

5. Sit on the floor and roll it back and forth.

6. Set up some toys or blocks and roll it to knock them down!

7. Hide it somewhere in the room and have your little one search for it, Easter-egg style.

8. Draw faces on it with washable marker. Wilson!

9. Take turns trying to balance it on your hand.

10. Gather some other people and play “Wander Ball.” Pass it around in a circle and chant, “The wander ball goes round and round. So pass it quickly, you are bound. For if you have it when we shout: 1 2 3, you’re out!” It’s a hot-potato style elimination game.

Saturday Simple Playtime: Dancing the Night Away!

The Bean’s favorite activity is dancing.

We will put on her favorite MP3’s, or crank up the Victrola, and all three of us will dance in the living room. (It helps if you don’t have a lot of furniture!). She will spend hours doing this each day.

Dancing is great exercise (for you and your little one!), it helps develop large muscle endurance and coordination, and it helps develop a sense of rhythm. It’s also a great way to bond and to expose your kid to different types of music. Here are some tips, to get you dancing:

1. Close the blinds and let loose. Don’t worry about how you look. Beanie will only dance if we’re not self-conscious or trying to mimic her moves.

2. Branch out! Don’t stick to modern, pop music. Your kid will love some, and not like some others. Beanie loves Franco-swing, electroswing (also French), J-pop, Serbo-punk, and Russian folk music, if it has a good beat. She does some ballet-like moves to slower songs, but sad songs make her cry.

3. If your little one doesn’t start dancing right away, pick them up and dance with them. The Bean still loves this from time to time.

4. This is great to do with babies too! The Bean used to tap her bottle to the rhythm of the music, when Rob danced with her.

5. If it doesn’t work at first, don’t force it. This is supposed to be a fun activity.

Now go out, and start dancing!

Saturday Simple Playtime: Bath Time Fun!

Bath time is an excellent time for you to bond with your little one. Here are some of our favorite activities:

1. Blow bubbles at them during the bath. If you want to step it up, use a bubble gun!

2. Sing songs while they are in the tub.

3. Find old shampoo containers to use as squirt bottles.

4. Spray some shaving cream on the wall and draw letters and pictures in it.

5. Soap crayons are a fun classic!

6. Use regular or home made finger paints on the sides of the tub.

Any time of the day can be fun, and be sure not to waste this opportunity for good, clean fun!

Saturday Simple Playtime: A Play Corner

When we’re on Moonraker, the Bean often gets restless. We’ve set up the quarter berth as a play area for her. The quarter berth is a bed large enough for a short adult; however, it has about 2 feet of space in which the Bean can sit. We filled it with a few toys for independent play. We filled a small suitcase (from a rummage sale!) with dollhouse-sized dolls and sewing cards. We stacked up her books next to it, and included her nesting boxes. Sometimes, Beanie also brings over her stuffed Shaun the Sheep and Wonderpets toys as well. I like to tidy up this space periodically, but not when Beanie is around! She has really taken ownership of it and prefers to set it up her way.

If your little one prefers to play where you are, you might want to set up a small play area there. My recommendation is to limit it to independent-play toys. We stash Beanie’s puzzles and other “messy” toys next to the charts in the nav station. We’ve found that letting her play with those freely just results in more mess!

Saturday Simple Playtime: Community Resources

Sorry, I’m a day late on this. We’re currently in the middle of ANOTHER snowstorm–on my last day of spring break. Wow!

Anyway, you could fill a house with beneficial toys. But what if your house isn’t so big? Well, a community is filled with opportunities, and most are free or cheap.

Some of the Bean’s picks, for when we don’t stay at home (other than Early Childhood special ed–which you NEED to ask about, if you suspect a delay with your kid–it’s wonderful! Or Headstart and the like, which you should ask about if you are low income–there are a TON of wonderful, free programs for you!):


The beach! We have no air conditioning–in our house or boat! There are lots of beaches near our boat, but we live near Budd Lake and Sanford Lake (which has an AWESOME park!). The Bean will play in the water and interact with all the other kids, which is what we are looking for. And her PT recommended water for muscle strength and sensory play.


Children’s museums are wonderful! We asked for a membership to the local Children’s museum for Christmas, and we haven’t been disappointed. This is especially helpful on rainy days on the boat.

Will petting zoo

Like museums, zoos are wonderful Christmas gifts. Especially if the zoo has a petting zoo. The Bean loves to say “sheep,” then pet one. Great experience!


The library also has some great resource. Our library has a wooden dollhouse, as well as great books to borrow! A great place to stop, if your toy and book collections are getting out of control!


The woods! There is certainly a trail somewhere near your house. The Bean and I went to the store and saw a palliated woodpecker less that 5 feet away from us! Let your kid see the trees and experience nature–for free!

Hope this helps you find free toys and activities in your area!