Spring Break Blues

Or, Didn’t Children Used to Keep Themselves Busy?DSC_0150

This is my third time through elementary school. I went through myself as a child, then I taught for ten years, and now I’m back in first grade again, as the parent of a first grader. I’m pleased by the promotion to first grade, because it means I’ve been at this elementary-school-parenting thing for two years now, and for me the second time around at anything is always better than the first.

At least this time I knew enough to be afraid of Spring Break. See, I’m an 80% stay-at-home mom. Eighty percent of the time, I can pretty much be and do whatever my kids and family and home need from me. And eighty percent of the time, being with my kids at home is just what I need and want, too. It’s the other twenty percent we all have to watch out for. If we’re lucky, I’ve managed to time my childcare and work just right, to coincide with those days when I really shouldn’t be anywhere near children, especially not my own.

But I’m not in charge of everything, and someone clever invented this thing everyone else loves, called “Spring Break.” Just when students at school are really kicking it into high learning gear–they’ve sorted their friends and enemies, they’ve got the teacher’s number and the teacher has theirs (the good teachers always come out with the highest number), just when kids are beginning to see what they’ve learned and what they can do–someone decided to toss it all for a week. Send ’em home: send all those families on vacation at the same time so you’re shoulder-to-shoulder at Disneyland, send all those working parents into a competitive frenzy for camp sign-ups to cover their childcare for the week, send all those natural-born stay-at-home parents (suffering from premature empty-nest syndrome ever since the start of Kindergarten) to heaven, and send all the rest of the stay-at-home parents into a frenzy.

Spring Break is the week when all my careful routines, all my hedged bets against the crazy GO-TO-YOUR-ROOM-OR-I-WILL-SKIN-YOU-ALIVE mama, are blown wide open. Both kids home with me for a solid week, no preschool or first grade to save us? What to do? If I were organized, I’d have been online researching the #1 Mommy Blogs for eggy, flowery crafts involving leftover milk cartons and popsicle sticks two weeks ago. As it is, my second shot at this Spring Break thing just serves as a very sobering reminder that SUMMER break is coming soon. My kids and I have managed to keep each other alive this week, but we’re all a little nervous about the Big One coming up.

I know you’re out there–you clever, generous, savvy, wise, vibrant parents who really get how to be with your kids all the time. Or who have figured out what you need as a parent to stay balanced and sane. Please help me. I need some more tools in my box, more tricks up my sleeve, more cookies in the jar. Send me a link to your super-duper Mommy Blog, your Daddy Does It Again blog, even your Someone-Save-Us-All blog. If you’ve got anything figured out about this whole back-home-again-with-the-kids thing, please leave a comment below and let me in on the secret.

In the meantime, I’ll keep building this post with what I know, my best answers to “Mommy, I’m boooored”, and hopefully by the time the butter starts melting on the counter I’ll be ready.

I’ll get us started with what I’ve got so far, my best ideas for inside and outside independent play. Independent, because there’s dinner to be prepared and laundry to wash, but mostly because there’s also a mother to keep sane.  A lot of these games I recall playing when I was a kid, but I haven’t yet figured out how to get my kids playing them. How have you done it?


  • Rivers: I add a tiny trickle of running water from the hose to a sandbox or a dirt pile, and the kids will sometimes spend up to 23 minutes building waterways and dams. Shovels and rubber duckies optional; leaves, sticks, bark and rocks work just fine.


    Notice that our sandbox is mostly dirt.

  • Fort: When I was a kid we had these great corduroy-covered foam chairs that would fold out into beds. We laid them on their sides to form corridors and rooms, and topped them with sheets to build forts. I think the corduroy was key; whenever my kids try to build forts, the blankets they use keep sliding off of whatever furniture is underneath, toppling chairs and children in the process. They’ll figure it out, right?
  • Blocks: My Husband had the great ideas to leave the wood-ends from his latest construction project in a pile on the deck. Every child that comes to our house builds something with these blocks.DSC_0148
  • Puzzles
  • Legos
  • Tinker Toys
  • Magna Tiles

PLAY GAMES: So far, all games require my direct involvement. But I like games, and my daughter at 3 is just beginning to have a tiny interest in rules, as long as she gets to make them and break them at will.

  • Hide and Seek: or the parental variation, Fee Fi Fo Fum!
  • Tag
  • Flashlight Tag
  • Kick the Can
  • Card games
  • Board games
  • Balloons: I keep a bag of party balloons in the closet. Every once in a while I remember to blow up a bunch of balloons and we play Keep It Up. My mom’s tennis ball variation for toddlers: Keep a dishtub full of tennis balls, which a one-year old will repeatedly dump and fill. Lots of giggles.


  • School: Don’t you remember playing school? Neither of my kids seems inclined, but they do like creating stories in their journals. It’s a start.

    My son's depiction of me in my writing studio while he sleeps...

    My son’s depiction of me in my writing studio while he sleeps…

  • DSC_0002Doctor: With a boy and girl, I admit we keep a close watch on this one. But it is so sweet when they take care of each other’s “injuries.” We keep a full medical kit on hand.
  • House: This hasn’t caught on with my kids, maybe because my son is the oldest.

SPORTS–My kids ignore this category entirely. My Husband hopefully invested a college fund in assorted balls and bats and nets, but so far, nothing. Am I supposed to kick the ball back?

  • Soccer
  • Basketball
  • Baseball
  • Croquet: I do love this game! We found a set from Eddie Bauer, and we get it out for every birthday party. Of course, right now the kids have unscrewed the head of one mallet from its handle, and are using the stick plunger-style to create deep mud-holes in the lawn…


  • Sidewalk chalk: Love this after a rainy day! The chalk is like paint (especially if you’ve left it lying all over the yard in the rain), the colors so vibrant.DSC_0144
  • Easel painting
  • Fingerpaints
  • Facepainting: I use watercolors and a brush. My daughter uses markers.
  • Collage: rice, beans, buttons, ribbon, tissue, greeting cards, unused photos from scrapbooking projects, lentils…
  • Coloring: Another mommy failure. Even at age 41, the only things I know how to draw are rainbows and stars.
  • Stickers
  • Muck, Inc.: Similar to Rivers (see above), just add containers. My son started this company when he was two, and he’s been at it ever since. He collects petals, leaves and weeds from the garden, muddles them with a makeshift mortar and pestle, then adds a bit of dirt and maybe some crushed sidewalk chalk to create his “products.” He specializes in all-natural creams and conditioners. The best containers are tiny shampoo bottles leftover from hotel visits, but yogurt tubs are pictured here.DSC_0149
  • Candy Store: Set up a storefront window display for a candy shop, using homemade playdough. Recently I learned that adding powdered tempura paint to the dough will create those brilliant “store-bought” colors. But that’s too much bother. Adding peppermint oil or cinnamon is just as exciting for kids, and doesn’t require a special supply run. My daughter uses a cookie pan and a low kitchen cupboard to re-enact the story of the Gingerbread Man.DSC_0160


  • “Paint” the fence: Okay, this works for really young kids, 3 and under. Take them outside on a hot day, give them old paintbrushes and a bucket of water, so they can “paint” the deck.
  • Bubbles
  • Digging for worms


  • Tricycles, scooters, balance bikes, training bikes, bike trailers, tandem bikes, two-wheelers: We’ve tried it all. The Secret Agent is above wheels. My secret vow–this is the year he will learn to RIDE, like it or not.


  • Museums
  • Parks: Kites, bubbles, sand toys
  • Library


  • Take a bath: Equally great in the dead of winter and the heat of summer. I still have all the strange medical equipment I brought home from the hospital after giving birth–syringes, spit basins, medicine droppers, etc.–and the kids LOVE playing with these in the tub. Nesting cups and foam alphabet “bath stickers” are also favorites. Bubbles of course. The kids will stay in the tub until their fingers are in danger of dissolving if I set the faucet to a slow drip of cold water. Somehow the stream of new water invigorates their play in the tub just as it does for “Rivers” outside.
  • Cook: A great trick when I’m baking is to get out a cookie sheet for each child, and some nesting prep bowls. They can ask for tiny amounts of anything in the baking cupboard and mix it all together to create their own concoctions. And afterwards, I can usually get them to…
  • Brooms for Mama Bear and Baby BearSweep: I’ll never forget visiting schools in South Africa, where it is school children’s responsibility to keep their school tidy. Give a four-year old a broom and teach her how to use it, and cleanup becomes a fun, family effort. I have a large broom for me, a medium-sized one for my son, and a small one for my daughter. The three bears keep their cottage clean.
  • Dishes: I lay one towel along the edge of the sink and another underneath the chair, remove all sharp objects and glass, fill the sink with warm bubbles, and let my little one go at it. This is really popular with one- and two-year olds. A tiny stream from the faucet, a baster and a funnel will engage a toddler for up to an hour. Meanwhile, my dishes do incidentally get quite clean.

And if all else fails to occupy the kiddos, there’s always


But that’s another post. Well, here it is, the last Sunday of my Spring Break, and I’m heading at last for just the place I need to be, today.


What can I say? Somewhere my children have a blog post titled: “Ideas for Keeping Mom Busy During Spring Break.” Today, I’m making a deposit on my 20%.

3 thoughts on “Spring Break Blues

  1. Pingback: 30 + Summer Activities for the Kids | A Mom Next Door

  2. Similar to your Playdoh store, my kids like to pretend they are Top Chefs (or any of those cooking challenge shows) and create a Playdoh masterpiece dinner in 30 minutes. They set the timer and everything. Great use of 30 minutes for mom!

    • I’m just getting back to your idea–what a great one! Better than the tv-as-babysitter when I’m trying to cook food we can actually eat for dinner. Thanks for sharing!

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