I’m lucky to have a part-time job which allows me to be home when my kids are out of school. I know I should plan lots of warm weather adventures, but I’m a lazy summer mom, so this year we joined the local pool. It was the easiest way to get my kids outside and keep them active.
I’m a lazy summer mom, so this year we joined the local pool.
They love to swim and play in the water, so they entertain themselves. All I have to do is wade in up to my waist, and stay close enough so they don’t drown. Easy-peasy for me, fun for them, and we all got our necessary daily dose of sunny vitamin D!
The weather is cooler, the days are shorter, and the pool is closed!
But what now? The weather is cooler, the days are shorter, and the pool is closed! Every day after school when homework is done, the kids are on the couch glued to their iPads.
Winter is long here in the Midwest, our neighborhood is full of empty-nesters, and my kids don’t have any interest in organized sports. How do I keep them moving and inhaling fresh air now that summer is over?
Turns out, I’m a lazy autumn mom, too! So much like I do at the pool, I throw them outside and let them entertain themselves. It takes a little more planning on my part, but trust me, I keep it simple.
Turns out, I’m a lazy autumn mom, too! So much like I do at the pool, I throw them outside and let them entertain themselves.
Here are three easy alternatives to the usual basketball-shooting, bike-riding, trampoline-bouncing, outdoor activities (we do those, too) that don’t require (too much) parental prep or supervision AND get kids active and outside for 30 or more minutes a day.
Letters, Leaves, and Lawn Work
If you’re like me, come fall, you’ve got a yard full of rocks, sticks, and fallen leaves. No need to hire a yard crew when you have kids!
Grab yourself a cool beverage, break out your camp chair, and set the timer on your phone for five minutes. Challenge the kids to find as many rocks or leaves as they can before the alarm goes off.
Challenge the kids to find as many rocks or leaves as they can before the alarm goes off.
Then, using what they’ve found, ask each child to create letters or words—the specifics will vary based on age. My ten-year-old can knock out a five-letter word easily, while a younger child may need a little guidance to get a couple of letters down.
As your children’s yard-cleaning skills improve, have them work on laying out jumbo sized letters spelling hi or hello for passing airplanes (no, leaf letters probably can’t be seen from thirty-thousand feet, but they won’t know that).
Better yet—and this really is better because it will keep the kids occupied for a solid hour at least—have them craft a message to their dad or grandparent. Once the message is spelled out across the lawn, take a photo on your phone and text it over.
Once the message is spelled out across the lawn, take a photo on your phone and text it over.
The kids will love incorporating a little tech into their play, you’ll get kudos from Nana for thinking about her, and the yardwork will be done for you!
Pantry Patio Play
This play-with-your-food idea is an introductory STEM class staple, but I’ve added a little twist to bring in some fun, outdoor action!
The classic STEM marshmallow-spaghetti structure calls for about 20 mini-marshmallows, 20 pieces of spaghetti, some masking tape, and a pencil and paper for design planning. Throw in a sturdy piece of corrugated cardboard about eighteen inches square and you have the makings for what my boys like to call the Pasta Relays!
The object of the game is two-fold: craft the tallest marshmallow and spaghetti tower AND successfully transport it from the starting line to the finish line in the shortest time.
Hint: as opposed to the traditional STEM marshmallow-spaghetti structure building contest, towering tall isn’t as important as crafting a tall-enough tower that is structurally sound AND well-secured to the corrugated base.
Each child gets a set amount of time to plan and build their tower. Twenty minutes is a good place to start but you can add or subtract time based on age and experience level. After they’ve tackled this task a time or two, they won’t need your input, but it’s good to offer guidance the first couple of times if they need it.
HINT: If the marshmallow-spaghetti structure is too advanced for your toddler, try substituting mostaccioli noodles and jumbo marshmallows for added stability.
Once the kids have finished their structures, it’s race time. Racing, in this case, can consist of walking, race-walking, trotting, jumping, or running. The challenge is up to you!
Kids are born to out-smart you, and after a time or two will realize that they can race faster and are more likely to get to the finish line with an intact tower if they build a shorter structure.
One word of caution: Establish a minimum height! Kids are born to out-smart you, and after a time or two will realize that they can race faster and are more likely to get to the finish line with an intact tower if they build a shorter structure. My ten-year-old once crafted a wicked vermicelli ranch compound before we established our height requirements!
If you really want to get crazy, and you happen to have a field behind your house like we do, you can lay out a baseball diamond and have the kids run the bases with their spaghetti towers in tow. That always garners interesting glances from the adjacent dog walkers!
Find a hill. Roll down it. Well, not you. Find a hill and have the kids roll down it. Then have them roll up it. And across it. They can take it from there.
Find a hill. Roll down it. Well, not you. Find a hill and have the kids roll down it.
Remember how long you spent rolling down hills as a kid? This should entertain them for hours. Sure, they’ll be covered in grass clippings and maybe a good bit of dirt, but you get to lie back on that same hill and stare up at the clouds for a while. Maybe even get in a nap. How’s that for lazy?
These easy activities can be boredom breakers for kids and sanity savers for parents. Now get out there and play! Well, at least, get the kids out there to play. You do whatever you need to do to stay sane. ★
Kathleen Buckley is a writer and designer living outside Chicago with her husband and two sons. Her work has appeared in The Rumpus, Paper Darts, and Superstition Review, and her stories have been selected for inclusion in the Chicago Listen to Your Mother and Expressing Motherhood Shows. She is the Book Reviews Editor for Literarymama.com and holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Roosevelt University. She is currently working on her collection of essays about (dis)belief, motherhood, and the troublesome intersection of the two.