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Fun 911 - Emergency Parent-Powered Playthings

Be the parent who can make anything fun

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When the playdate goes on past your planned activities, or a party starts to poop out, or the weather keeps kids unexpectedly indoors, you need some emergency supplies to keep the good times going. Here are nine things you can pull from the pantry, the closet, and the recycling pile for a little fun on the fly. Many of them offer additional sensory or learning benefits, too, so you don't have to wait for an emergency to give them a try.

1. Shaving Cream

Simple fun: Spray a gob of the stuff on a table and let your child sink his hands in, spread it around, write her name in it, drive toy cars through it, and otherwise get it all over the place. Kids with sensory integration issues may particularly enjoy the feel of it -- it seems to lack the slipperiness or stickiness that often gets a bad reaction. Clean-up is easy -- the shaving cream rinses or towels off skin and clothes. You'll want to use it on a smooth surface, so try a glass or plastic picnic table, a kitchen table with a plastic tablecloth, or a shower wall. For something more involved: Make marbled paper with shaving cream and food coloring

2. Shower Gel, Hair Gel, Liquid Soap

Simple fun: Arrange containers of whatever bathroom goop you have that's nontoxic and thickly liquid on the kitchen table with some plastic bags that zip shut, the bigger the better. Squirt a little bit of a few of the liquids in a bag, seal it (squeezing out any air), and let kids press down and make patterns or letters in the bagged liquid, mixing colors and feeling the way it glops around. You can add a drop of food coloring, too, for extra mixing work. For something more involved: Add little objects to the mix -- glitter, metallic confetti, tiny toys that can survive being soaped and rinsed. Be careful not to use anything that can cut through the bag, though, unless you want a gloppy soapy mess. (Which, of course, can be fun too.)

3. Baking Soda and Vinegar

Simple fun: As countless school science projects have shown, baking soda plus vinegar equals big, messy foam-over. You don't need a fake volcano to do that; combine those substances in a bowl and you can have a mess all over your table in no time. Put a couple of tablespoons of baking soda in the bowl, and add vinegar until the mixture goes crazy. You can keep the disaster going by adding more of each ingredient. For something more involved: Of course, you can make a fake volcano if you want to. The About.com Chemistry site has one that uses common pantry items and an empty soda bottle.

4. Plastic Grocery Bag

Simple fun: Of course, before you do anything with a plastic bag, you'll want to be sure the children involved can use it responsibly and not put it over their heads. If your group's good with that, the book The Out-of-Sync Child Has Fun suggests tying a string to a bag for a makeshift kite, and having kids run around pulling the bag as it fills with air. You can also tie together a bunch of the bags to make balls of various sizes. For something more involved: Make up a quick list of nature items that can be found in your yard or neighborhood, hand each kid a bag, and have an impromptu scavenger hunt.

5. Paper Grocery Bag

Simple fun: Need construction paper in a hurry? If you don't have a stash of the stuff, improvise with a paper bag. Cut out the front and the back for a nice rectangular-shaped sheet. In addition to grocery bags, you can use gift bags for the same purpose. For something more involved: Cut the bag open all the way, and trim off the bottom. Use the extra-large piece of paper to make a "mural" using clippings from magazines. Kids can make their own zoo with animal pictures, or town with pictures of houses, cars, and stores.

6. Pasta

Simple fun: Make chunky bracelets with macaroni or other tubular pasta by threading the pieces on string, shoelaces, or drinking straws. For something more involved: Glue the pasta pieces to a piece of construction paper -- maybe one made from that paper bag above -- to make a mosaic. If there's time and you have paints at your disposal, you can paint the pasta picture as well.

7. Drinking Straws

Simple fun: Besides serving as the "string" for a pasta bracelet, straws can be the "sticks" for a game of cotton-ball hockey. Have kids blow the cotton back and forth across the table, with points for each cotton ball blown off the end of the table. For something more involved: Cut straws in pieces and glue them to construction paper for a mosaic or the outline of a drawing.

8. Plastic Bottles

Simple fun: Grab a few plastic bottles out of your recycling pile, fill them with pebbles or pasta or rice, and have a little concert with improvised maracas. See how different-sized bottles and different-sized rattlers make different sounds. For something more involved: Make layers of different kitchen materials -- pasta, rice, cereal, flour, whatever's around -- in a clear jar or bottle.

9. Rice

Simple fun: A rice bin is something occupational therapists might use as part of sensory integration therapy for your child. You can improvise one by dumping all the rice you can find into a container big enough for kids to thrust their hands into. Bury some small toys in the rice and have kids find them and pull them out. For something more involved: Make a game of having kids identify the toys they find in the rice by touch, before they pull them out. Guessing correctly earns a point.
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