Indoor Activities for Kids of All Ages

In November we moved from San Diego to Virginia Beach. While Virginia does not have the weather extremes of say, upstate New York {where we spent three very snowy winters} it is most definitely not southern California. 

Suddenly we face colder temperatures {brrr} and more rain in a month than we saw in the previous two-plus years. 

Needless to say we have spent a lot more time indoors, and truthfully we are still getting used to the whole idea of “outside time” not being a realistic daily goal.

So what keeps us busy during all that inside togetherness? Well, homeschooling, of course. But in reality that only takes about three hours a day, tops.

Following are some things the Agents do to keep themselves entertained on days when being outdoors is just not an option. They are currently 13, 11, and 9—but honestly this list has not changed much since they were littles {although some things probably required more supervision/assistance back then}. 

Colored pencils in a circle formation with all sharpened points facing inward

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I don’t care how old you are, a new pack of colored pencils, markers, crayons, or gel pens will make your day. All of mine have finally reached the stage where they want “adult” coloring books with more complicated designs or more specific characters/interests, but coloring is still a favorite activity.

Make a Collage

We always recycle paper and cards and magazines around here, but before some of it makes it to the bin we re-use instead. All you need is construction paper or cardboard for the base and some scissors and glue. 

Build a Fort

Who doesn’t love the idea of hiding in or under a large box or blanket pulled over some chairs and hibernating for a bit?

Throw a Book Party

This is so much more fun than just suggesting your kids have some quiet reading time. Gather up some books {include old favorites that are a bit “young” for them to add nostalgia} and plop them down next to some pillows/blankets/bean bags. Snacks/fireplace/other ambiance optional.

Use a Magnifying Glass

We bought this inexpensive magnifying glass years ago to look at rocks one of the kids collected on a camping trip. Since then we have pulled it out many times to examine things around the house more closely.

Make Homemade Play Doh 

Spoiler alert: Play doh is still fun for tweens and teens. Try our well-loved recipe {using old crayons}.

Author a Book 

Next time you are at the Target dollar spot {which, come on, will be soon} grab a pack of blank books. They are the perfect size for a short story with pictures.

Start a Puzzle

The more pieces and more complicated the better. When finished use puzzle glue and a simple backing to create unique homeschool room decor. 

Write a Letter

Years ago the girls decided to write to David Attenborough telling him how much they enjoyed his documentaries. He replied and that letter is one of their most prized possessions. 

Get Crafty

I only have one kid who likes to sew, but everyone can enjoy some craft time with random material bits and tulle and buttons and fabric glue.

Snap Circuits

Okay, you know you bought one of these sets at some point. It is probably in a closet somewhere. Dig it out; they will love it. 

For more great ideas check out these posts: 

The Magic Gravity Escape: A Surprising Game for Kids
Indoor Fun That Never Gets Old-Learn & Play with Cranium Games
Winter Sensory Activities That Will Warm Your Little One
A Super Simple Kids’ Craft Activity for Bad Weather Days

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It’s Okay If You Don’t Enjoy Moms’ Night Out

When my first child was born, I joined a local moms’ support group. One of the big things everyone kept going on and on about was moms’ night out and its importance for keeping mom sane, having fun, enjoying “me” time, saving the planet, and promoting world peace.

Okay, maybe not those last two. But, they certainly made a huge deal about it.

So, when Agent E was three months old, I gave it a try. And I absolutely hated it.

Darkened shadow outline of a mountain at sunset.

I came home {early} to a hysterical baby who wouldn’t take a bottle and simply missed her mommy. I tried attending moms’ night out again two more times over the course of the next couple of years. While the second attempt turned out okay—toddler Agent E did fine with Dad and Momma didn’t have a panic attack—I came home {early, again} from the third attempt to nurse baby Agent J. 

To sum: I did not have fun, I missed my baby as if a part of my own body were cut off, and I spent the entire evening uneasy. This was early in my mothering and a lot of my parenting philosophy hadn’t really come together yet. I assumed the problem was me.

Why Did I Feel This Way?

I felt guilty for having gone, and more guilty for coming back. Every message I had received insisted I had to leave my baby, I had to teach her to get along without me, I had to do this for myself. This was great for moms and I needed it! Right? Why didn’t this work for me? Why wasn’t I looking forward to this? What was wrong with me?

Turns out, nothing. It’s just how I’m wired: I am an attachment parenting introvert, and I erroneously let other people define that as a character flaw.

I always assumed that being an introvert meant you didn’t like to be with people, and being an extrovert meant you did. It made perfect sense that I wasn’t that into mom’s night out as an introvert, but there was more to it. I don’t dislike being with people. I enjoy family gatherings, small group discussions, meeting other moms at the park, and joining friends for coffee. However, that’s not how I energize myself when I’m feeling low.

Being an introvert versus an extrovert is more about how you refuel when you need to recharge your batteries. Somehow I had managed to find myself in a group of extroverts who thrived on being able to go out once a month {or more} for moms’ night out and let loose, have a few glasses of wine, and be part of a big group in a festive atmosphere. 

However, I much prefer to schedule get-togethers with one person {or just a few people} during the day. I am not a night person. I don’t drink. Crowds make me shudder. This wasn’t fun for me; it was something I endured due to outside pressure. 

Combine this disdain for the partying atmosphere with an attachment style of parenting, and you have a basic recipe for a moms’ night disaster.

I absolutely hated leaving my babies at night. It did not make me feel energized or like I finally had a break. It made me feel worse, and ignored my own self-care needs. 

What Do I Do Instead?

Even now—with my “babies” currently 13, 11, and almost 9—I still  prefer to be home in the evenings. When I do go out later than usual, I don’t feel recharged—I feel on edge and restless. I need “reset” time, just like every mom does, but in a different way. 

When the Agents were little, I would arrange breaks that didn’t involve me leaving them completely, such as having a mother’s helper come to the house so I could feel productive in some other room while the kids played. I did occasionally enlist the help of close friends with children of similar ages, leaving to run an errand for just a short bit while they were distracted. I never made it a goal to “make” them stay without me for any arbitrary reason.

Now that the kids are older and I have the benefit of hindsight, I no longer worry about what I “should” be doing, and that includes declining invites for moms’ night out. I do the things that help me {not any other mom} to refocus and enjoy parenting with a clear, relaxed mind. 

My self-care methods have changed now that I am not longer in the thick of babies and toddlers and the Agents are more independent. I get up early to have some quiet time for reading, writing, and thinking. When I meet with friends it is during the day, not in the evening, and certainly not near the time I’d be normally going to sleep. I arrange mom/kid meet ups with one or two other families at a time, and avoid big, organized events.

Of course, I make exceptions. I go out. Sometimes even at night and to places that I know will be filled with people. I stay awake {and out} too late on vacation. It’s not that I never socialize after dark. I just choose to minimize these times, and honor my limitations.

Self-care will look different for every parent, and that’s okay.

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Homeschooling Update {Week 6}

You might have noticed some changes around here. Earlier this week I moved my blog to a different platform. I am enjoying the fresh, new, sparkly-ness of it all.

It is still a work in progress, but I am hoping to remove any wonkiness soon. I enjoy the design aspects of blogging, and sometimes I need to remind myself to let go of perfection with how everything looks and return to the business of writing and publishing new posts.

Sharpened colored pencils in order from light to dark form a semi-circle.

Our week seemed to fly by, as they all have so far this school year. Actually, I feel like time in general is moving a little quicker these days. Every time we go to re-set the kitchen calendar, I marvel at how the previous month seemed to speed right by. 

I think a lot of it has to do with the Agents’ ages. Older kids, tweens, and teens simply do not need me to be hands on all the time the way they did when they were younger. I have breathing space and can do my own thing without worrying so much about their every move. Parenting is less physically intensive now, and so the day-to-day seems to move more swiftly.

Do you intentionally teach “life skills” in your homeschool? Or do you simply address issues as they come up organically? I posted earlier this week about some essential life skills everyone should learn, but truthfully we don’t really have a specific plan of any sort to work on them. And—to be honest—I’m a little wishy washy on a few of them myself. 

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40 Essential Life Skills Everyone Should Learn

What would you consider to be essential life skills for your child to learn? What basic competencies do you believe everyone should have before reaching adulthood?

I organized the list into four main categories: self-care and emotional intelligence; personal and community safety; communication skills and critical thinking; and household and financial management. I realize there will be folks for whom these “essential” life skills do not apply. Also, many could easily overlap, but I tried to put them where they made the most sense to me. 

Blank list with checkboxes being checked off with a pink highlighter.

Self-Care and Emotional Intelligence

  • Setting personal boundaries and respecting the personal boundaries of others
  • Taking charge of your own health {including preventative care}
  • Comprehensive sexual education {including consent}
  • Managing emotions and appropriate ways to de-stress
  • How to prioritize responsibilities and goals
  • How to win {and lose} gracefully
  • Basic understanding of human psychology and child development
  • How to read body language and social cues

Personal and Community Safety

  • How to stand up for oneself
  • How to de-escalate conflicts
  • Recognizing signs of abuse, gaslighting, and bullying
  • Maintaining situational awareness {in public and at home}
  • Water safety {not necessarily swimming skills}
  • Transportation navigation and safety {walking, biking, driving, public}
  • Maintaining privacy {online and in real life}
  • What to do in an emergency
  • Basic first aid knowledge

Communication Skills and Critical Thinking

  • Basic social manners and etiquette
  • Speaking clearly {in person and over the phone}
  • Listening to understand {and with empathy}
  • Basic negotiation and mediation skills
  • How to apply and interview for a job
  • Appropriate use of social media 
  • Effective writing skills {formal and informal}
  • Basic knowledge of civics and good citizenship {including when, where, and how to vote}
  • Scientific literacy {including recognizing pseudoscience}
  • How to evaluate information sources 
  • How to spot a scam
  • How to read legal documents {including contracts and leases}
  • Making a realistic assessment of one’s abilities and limitations

Household and Financial Management

  • How to move in/out of a home {including signing/breaking a lease}
  • How to buy and maintain a vehicle {not necessarily doing the maintenance yourself}
  • Setting up utilities {including evaluating providers and rates}
  • Home and lawn maintenance and safety {including how to find outside resources}
  • Updating personal documents {will, power of attorney, insurance, license, passport}
  • Daily maintenance skills: Cooking, grocery shopping, cleaning, laundry, minor clothing repairs
  • Creating a realistic budget {that includes both future planning and present enjoyment}
  • Understanding the basics of interest, credit, loans, and long-term investing
  • Paying bills on time {including setting up automatic payments}
  • Taxes {how to file your own or how to find resources}

What essential life skills would you add to this list? Anything that you would eliminate?

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How To Make Your Own Oil Pastels

This is the second time in a week the Agents and I have gone crafty. I fear it may become a trend.

If you have broken crayons lying around—which I know you do—you can easily turn them into a slightly different art medium using just two ingredients. Oil pastels can be a fun change for your little artists. 

Dark blue oil pastels hardening in a plastic mold

An oil pastel is simply a softer crayon that blends very easily. Basically, it’s a crayon with more oil {duh}, which makes it smoother. This, of course, also makes them pretty easy to break—but it doesn’t particularly matter, because you can use your finger to spread it around the paper as well.

All you need to make them yourself is a handful of regular wax crayon pieces and a tablespoon of vegetable oil. 

Dark blue crayons pieces in a white tea cup

You will also need some type of container to shape them. We used a plastic container with small rectangular dividers that originally held chalk. A cylinder style ice cube tray would work as well. 

Microwave in 30-second intervals until completely melted, then pour into a mold. Let it sit for about 30 minutes {or pop in the fridge to speed it up} then carefully pop them out. 

Melted dark blue liquid in a white tea cup
Dark blue oil pastels out of the mold and separated into individual pieces

And that’s it! New art supplies from old art supplies so nothing goes to waste. {They are not particularly pretty, but they work.}

For another art idea using melted crayons, check out Homemade Play Doh Using Melted Crayons.

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Homemade Play Doh Using Melted Crayons

The Agents and I went all crafty and made homemade play doh using melted crayon pieces for color. 

Yellow play doh formed into a ball sits inside a clear plastic container

The basic recipe {in addition to the crayons} is 1 cup flour, 1 cup water, 1/4 cup salt, 1 tablespoon oil. We doubled the recipe, and it made a sufficient amount for all three Agents. {Yes, play doh is not just for littles. My teen and tween are playing as I type. I could not stop messing with it myself earlier.}

We melted the crayons in the oil first, then added the other ingredients all at once, and stirred a few times over the course of about 30 minutes. Once the mixture started to cool, we removed it and mixed with a bit more flour and just gently rolled it until reaching the correct consistency. 

While this time we used the crock pot to melt the crayons, honestly we have used the microwave in the past and it worked just the same. {And went much more quickly.} I suppose you could also use an old pot or skillet on the stovetop as well. 

As far as how many crayons to include, we just guessed—maybe the equivalent of 15 crayons {?}. You can tell from the first picture below they were not even all exactly the same color {some were more orange or green than yellow} and we also tossed all the white ones in as well. They had been combined with a bunch of other broken crayons in a plastic container, and most of the labels were off, so they were also kind of dirty. None of this mattered. 

Crayon pieces in various shades of yellow, white, and chartreuse sit inside a crockpot
Mostly melted crayons create a yellow liquid inside a crockpot
Slightly stiffened mixture of melted yellow crayons and flour sits inside a crockpot
Yellow play doh formed into a ball sits on a flour covered counter next to a stirring stick
Yellow play doh formed into balls and placed in the shape of Mickey Mouse sit on a table

All in all, a simple art time project that was easy, fun, and used up some materials that otherwise would have gone to waste.

For another art idea using melted crayons, check out How To Make Your Own Oil Pastels.

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Homeschooling Update {Week 3}

Remember that person who said she craved more structure this school year, the one who insisted she needed more detailed lesson plans, the one who did not just want to read a bunch of books and wing it?

Yeah, forget her—she doesn’t know what she’s talking about. 

Sharpened colored pencils in order from light to dark form a semi-circle.

Back to our usual this week, which means we do some grade-appropriate written work each day, Read All The Books, and just put one foot in front of the other without getting too wrapped up in the specifics.

What can I say; it’s what we know. And it has worked so far, so I do not know why I wanted to mess with a perfectly functional system. Sigh.

We also decided to ditch another text this week—a book of creation stories that had come highly recommended but turned out to be poorly written—and replace it with what the Agents refer to as “the book of creepy fairy tales.” It’s an older Reader’s Digest compilation we found at a used book sale years ago, and it includes about two dozen “original” versions of familiar stories like The Little Mermaid, Chicken Little, and The Snow Queen. It is awesomely disturbing, and we are very much looking forward to adding it to the rotation.

In non-school related stuff . . .

I had to go to the doctor yesterday and I brought all three Agents with me {although the girls sat in the waiting room and I just took Agent A back with me}. It was a quick appointment—maybe an hour and a half total, including the 15-20 minutes travel time each way. This is just the way we have always done it; we all just go together when anyone has an appointment. But it got me thinking about something.

At what point did you just leave your kids at home alone when you take care of things like that, and how did you decide the time was right? 

Agent E is 13 going on 30, and she would definitely be fine by herself for a bit. She has her own phone, could contact me immediately, and is very responsible. We have neighbors that are typically home during the day. {We don’t know them super well, but they are there.} She even has the cell number of a mom friend of mine who lives reasonably close and is okay with being a backup in a pinch.

But . . . I’m just not sure if I want her to be responsible for two other younger humans as well {her brother and sister}. Like, is that expecting too much? 

I should add that I have zero point of reference here, because I grew up as the youngest in a house with seven people, and so I never even had this come up. I am almost 47 years old, and I can count on one hand the number of times I have been alone in my parents’ house ever

Do you consider this a “skill” to be learned, or more of a “well, I had to go out once and you survived so next time we’ll do it again and hope for the best”? At what age{s} did you leave your kids home alone regularly, and did they have siblings with them?

In other news this week, our favorite dentist left the practice we go to, and we are seriously bummed. I mean, the rest of the office and the other primary dentist are great, too, but . . . you know what it is like to find a dentist you actually trust and like and do not even mind going to see. With both Senior Agents in braces, we were there at least twice a month for the past two years. Poor Agent A has logged many, many hours in that waiting room.

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Yesterday my oldest turned 13, so I guess I am now officially a member of the “parents of teens” camp. Honestly neither of us feels much different; just another step on the path, really.

It seems like an apt time for reflection, however, on the journey so far. In five short years my first baby will be an adult. My second is a tween {recently 11} and my youngest is firmly out of the little kid stage {8.5}. We have entered a new era of parenting and family dynamics.

So if I could go back—knowing what I now know—what would I change, especially about the early years? What would I do differently? What would I put more effort into? What would I worry about less? 

The truth is, not much. 

Hands forming the shape of a heart against a sunrise.

A lot of “warnings” new parents become inundated with turn out to be bunk in practice. Sadly too few people have the energy to set the record straight once they’ve emerged from the baby/toddler fog themselves and so bad advice perpetuates. The reality is, though, unless you’re doing something truly evil or abusive, you’re likely better at this parenting gig than you give yourself credit for.

If I had to start over, I would still spend most of my waking hours holding babies. I would still breastfeed toddlers. I would still share sleep space for as long as they needed. I would still be available at night. I would still be one of “those” people who considers their kids to be friends. 

The only thing I might not do is send the girls to preschool so early. I was ready, but they weren’t. Looking back, I could have tried harder to find a better alternative for me to get a break from early childhood antics a few times a week. Like many, I saw school as a panacea and didn’t bother searching for options.

Sometimes parents of teens/tweens can come across as condescending to new parents. I have been on the receiving end of that scoffing, and I have no desire to sustain it. No matter where you are in this wild parenting expedition, you are welcome here. I cast no stones.

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