Entertaining kids isn’t the hardest thing to do, but it certainly isn’t the easiest either. You can’t just plop them in front of the television every time they’re bored without risking a woefully contagious mental atrophy that can plague them for the rest of their natural life. At the same time, it can be draining and, frankly, intimidating to satisfy the curiosities, the logical probing, the constant “why? Why? Why?” that can accompany every game and lesson. So, how do you maintain your child’s curiosities and your sanity at the same time without planting them like a vegetable on the couch? With creative entertainment.
My friends in education have a term, “Teachable Moments” for those everyday events and situations that can somehow be adapted into learning opportunities. What shape is that ball you just drew? Round. How many crayons did you use to draw it? Ninety. Where did you get so many crayons? The toy store. Why did daddy buy you ninety crayons at the toy store? Because I have discovered a direct correlation between my volume in a public place and the amount of things I leave the place in possession of.
Of course, results may vary with your own child, but I believe that with only a minor adjustment this same method can be applied to entertainment as well as education. Here are two games you may find keep your little one entertained, your bank statement free of extraordinary crayon purchases, and your own sanity well in check. You need little more than a pen, some paper, and a little planning to play either.
The Scavenger Walk
This game has the added benefit of getting both you and your child out for a little exercise which, if you’re like me, you need more than most toddlers anyway. It’s likely that you already have a route you like to follow out on walks, but if you don’t there are lots of options. Consider a path around a nearby park, safe streets winding through your own neighborhood, or even a power-walk around the mall. Before you go, make a list of some landmarks recognizable to someone your child’s age and put general descriptions of them in a short list. The game then becomes for your child to find something while on the walk that matches each description on the list.
Something orange and soft? Maybe it’s those flowers or the cat hiding in them!
Something red with white letters? A Stop sign! Bonus points: what does the sign say?
Something gray and square? The neighbor’s mailbox! Or their car! Or the cinder blocks it’s resting on in their front yard that the neighborhood association won’t do anything about!
Thrifty Shopper Math
This game probably seems a little more like learning, so it might be best to disguise it as a chance to act like an adult, which kids love. Just say, “Hey sweetie, will you help mommy go buy groceries? I need you to hold this list for me.” This list is a near-duplicate of your own shopping list, simplified a little for the sake of your eager helper. As you grab the items ask your child to mark the cost of each item beside the name (both of which, again, are probably best to simplify). In this manner your young assistant will have the opportunity to associate a word with an item as well as add up the total amount of the list. This is a great exercise to eat up time as you are waiting in the checkout queue behind that dude with sixty cans of cat food in the ten items or less lane.
How much was the soup? One dollar. How many cans did we get? Four. So all the soup cost how much? Four dollars! And how much were daddy’s new socks? One dollar. And how much was your ice cream bar for helping with the shopping? One dollar.
For an added challenge, consider shopping somewhere other than the Dollar Store, budget permitting. Regardless of where you shop (or walk for that matter), these games are both easy to prepare and full of great benefits. Education aside, it’s time spend bonding, exercising, and subtly teaching responsibility. And if you’re lucky, your kid will get something out of it as well.
John Abernathy has a lifetime of artistic involvement which led to a degree in film & television production. He owned his own commercial production company and worked on several independent feature-length films before he co-authored the novel “A Question of Character” with his father, which led to book signing tours, speaking engagements, and radio appearances. Most recently he has combined his artistic and literary skills and is producing illustrated children’s books through Starbound Storybooks.