Book Recommendations, Kids, Motherhood, What the Kids Have Been Loving Lately

What the Kids Have Been Loving Lately // Social Distancing Edition

I was overdue for a second post on what the kids have been into lately anyway, but now these things that we’re loving at the moment might be even more helpful than ever since we’re all basically stuck inside + away from everyone else for the foreseeable future.

Related Post: What the Kids Have Been Loving Lately // Vol. I

One thing you have to know about me is that while I’m definitely a Type-A on many, many things (like making lists and setting goals and tracking my books), I’m not a super “hands-on,” let’s-schedule-everything parent when it comes to kids’ play and activities. In other words, I’m much more of the “Here, let me get out these things for you, and you can go to town with it” rather than the “Here, let me sit down and show you 15 different ways to play with this thing” kind of mom.

(I AM more involved in things like reading books, teaching skills, and playing actual games with rules, but when it comes to imaginative/exploratory play, I let the kids do what they do best, and I go make another batch of cookies or read my book. Or, you know, clean sometimes.)

Also, we don’t do hardly any screen time at our house other than the occasional Disney movie (maybe one every week or two) and Raven’s time spent on her online preschool program. Since we don’t own smartphones, they have no concept that phones are even a fun thing, and since my daughter knows I’ll pretty much always say no if she asks to watch a movie, she usually just doesn’t ask and then gets reeeeally excited when I tell her that she can.

In other words, our screen-deprived children have a LOT of practice with entertaining themselves, which has definitely come in handy for these past several months, especially as we’ve basically been practicing social distancing since December (when we had our son Hyrum, who was born premature).

However, with the even more extreme measures we’re taking lately to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus, I’ve been having to put on my “Fun Parent” hat a lot more often than usual to keep up morale around here. And you know what? I feel like we’ve already created a lot of memories I’m going to cherish, and I feel like this has made me a much better parent in a lot of ways. (For the record, we’ve also had our fair share of sibling fights, screaming tantrums, and me-frantically-chugging-Diet-Dr.-Pepper moments, but I’ve been trying to have a good attitude about it all, since nothing will be helped if I just sit around and moan about things.)

Looking for some ideas for how to entertain your kids? Here are some that have been working for us:

Note: There are affiliate links below, which means I may get a small commission on any purchases made, at no extra cost to you.

Activities/Crafts

  • Water Town: We get out the biggest (plastic) bowl we have that will fit in our kitchen sink. We fill it with water (and lots of bubbles thanks to dish soap). We throw some stuff by it to put in it—medicine syringes, nose suckers, whisks, measuring cups (don’t worry, they’re all clean first). Boom! Almost always a guaranteed hour or more of play time. Fair warning: move away anything from within five feet of the sink that you don’t want to get wet. (And, for a bonus game, throw a bunch of beach towels at your kids and tell them that they’re drying monsters that have come to eat Water Town. Boom! Minimal clean-up for you, to boot.)
  • Book Making: Fold a bunch of computer paper in half and staple it along the “spine” (or get out a blank, unlined composition notebook or sketchpad). Tell your kid to create a book/draw a story. (Extra credit for you and them if they actually write out part of a story, or if you type out the story they tell you and then print it out for them to illustrate.) My oldest (who’s almost 5) spent about 3 hours doing this the other day.
  • Make-a-Surprise: Get out your craft box (colored pencils, colored paper, stickers, decorative tape, old magazines, stamps + ink pads, whatever you have on hand). Tell your kid to make a card/bookmark/picture for Grandma/Brother/Friend. Bonus points for you if you find an old frame lying around somewhere and frame the best one, or if you actually mail or deliver the gifts.
  • Science Experiment: Tell your kids to try and figure out what they’d need to make chocolate chip cookies. Then have them mix everything together and bake it for 10 minutes at 350 degrees (with your help on the oven, of course). Taste the creation. Laugh about it. Then show them how you REALLY make cookies. Eat several. (Tip: Don’t let them have access to the WHOLE box of flour/sugar/what-have-you. Just put a smaller amount aside. Or, if you want to keep this experiment semi-contained, you get out all the correct ingredients and have them guess on the measurements of each, rather than just having them decide on everything.)
  • Grocery Store: This takes a little bit of set-up on your part (possibly), but this will definitely earn you substantial Mom-of-the-Year points. Pull some of your unopened dried goods from your pantry (you could use plastic food if you really want, but I find that half of the fun of this is that the kids are playing with real food items). Get a couple of boxes and lay them on their sides around the room to create “shelves.” Pull out a bench or turn over a long, rectangular box for the check-out. Fill the makeshift shelves with the food. I also put out a play telephone to stand in for the cash register so the kids could “ring up” their items, put a canvas bag on the floor next to the bench so they could bag their groceries when they were done, and gave them an actual receipt from my purse. Yup, that Mom-of-the-year award is MINE.
    • Note: This was one that both my older daughter and my 21-month-old son could actually play together. Sure, Raven had to be pretty patient with Mathias sometimes as he didn’t *quite* get it all the way, but he still enjoyed putting the items in the cart and then putting them back on the shelves when they were done. The kids have played this one for 3 days straight now for HOURS.

Family Fun

  • Easy Hikes
    • We would seriously be going crazy if we weren’t leaving the house ever, so I’ve tried to work in some outside play every day through family walks, time in our backyard, etc. Since a lot of the things we’d normally be looking forward to are off the table for now (extended family gatherings, birthday parties, going out to eat, excursions to the zoo or children’s museum or whatever), it’s been important for us to create new things to look forward to, so we’ve been talking up family hikes for days before they happen so we can all get ourselves psyched up about the time out in Mother Nature and the prospect of a mini picnic on the trail. (For you locals to Cache Valley, we just did the Riverside Nature Trail up Logan Canyon this last weekend, which was pretty friendly to our preschooler (we had the younger kids in hiking backpacks) although there was still some snow in some parts of the trail.)
  • Themed Dinners
    • Often, making dinner more fun and exciting doesn’t take that much more work on your end–a few special details and a whole lot of enthusiasm (plus talking about it for a few days beforehand) will go a loooong way. Here are some ideas, some of which we’ve already done recently, or which I plan to do soon:
      • Green Feast: For St. Patrick’s Day, we had a dinner where basically everything we ate was green–green salad, cucumbers, these naturally green muffins, and then this simple alfredo sauce that I just put a couple drops of green food coloring in (it looked like frosting, but the kids loved it). Since St. Paddy’s is over, you could still adapt this—just call it a Spring Green Feast, or something similar. Bonus points if you put things out on green plates or use green cups. (If you’re looking for another green idea, I have this naturally green broccoli soup recipe I updated a few months back.)
      • Thanksgiving in March: To help us cultivate gratitude in whatever situation we find ourselves, we did a “Thanksgiving in March” yesterday. I had a small frozen turkey my mom had given us last November in our freezer, and I prepped some simple stuffing to cook inside it, some green beans to go on the side, mashed potatoes (obviously), and rolls. Yes, this took more work on my side, but it gave us a chance to talk about things we are grateful for and about the importance of not whining or complaining when things don’t go our way.
  • Fancy Dinner: I probably won’t necessarily MAKE anything super fancy for this (probably a pasta dish of some kind, since that will always win my kids over), but I plan to put out one of our best tablecloths, turn on some music, and light a few candles.
  • Chocolate Chip Cookie Quest: I often bake when I’m stressed or sleep-deprived (so I’ve been doing a lot of it lately, esp. with a newborn in the house!), and one thing I’ve started doing is unofficially looking for my favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe. Sure, I’ve just managed to find even more that I love and have narrowed it down hardly at all, but really, it’s a win-win all around. If I’m feeling particularly ambitious one day, I might try making small batches of several different kinds and then having us all try each one and take a vote on our favorite. (Note: We already know our favorite oatmeal chocolate chip cookie, which I posted here.)
  • Ethnic Cuisine Night: I do this from time to time just for fun and to mix things up a bit. Basically all you do is pick a different ethnic cuisine and make all your dishes around that. We’ve done Indian butter chicken/naan bread/curry rice, Italian pizza or pasta + bread and salad, Mexican enchiladas or make-your-own tacos and lime/cilantro rice, etc. The possibilities are endless! (Major extra credit for you if you prepare a blurb to share about the country/region where the recipes originated, or if you decorate to match.)
  • Waffle Bar: I can’t take credit for this, but our last get-together with our friends before all this pandemic stuff hit was a make-your-own waffle bar, and it was AWESOME. Our friends put out both savory and sweet options (think bacon/fried eggs/melted cheese or strawberries with a scoop of vanilla ice cream), and we all stuffed our faces. Mmmmm…
  • Picnic: Even if it’s just in your own backyard (or in a secluded area away from other people on a hike) and you eat peanut butter sandwiches–as we did–there’s just something about being outside while you eat that brings out a little magic in the experience.
  • Service Projects
    • Now is a particularly great time to look for opportunities to have some hands-on service experiences as a family. You might have to get creative, but there’s still a lot you can do while still adhering to social distancing guidelines. As long as everyone in your home as healthy, prepare a meal for another family and deliver it (place it on their doorstep and ring the doorbell and step away to maintain social distance). We also have an elderly neighbor whose health has been poor lately even before all this, so we’ve been offering to bring her dinner multiple times when we know we’ve prepared so much that we’ll have plenty of extras. If food prepping for another family makes you wary, you can always drop off groceries or produce or takeout. We just bought a huge box of oranges through the Bountiful Baskets co-op (which is a great way to avoid going to the store) this last weekend and plan to give away bags of those to several different houses.
    • Our local food pantry has been swamped lately with a shortage of volunteers and of goods. While we’re not in much of a position right now with having small children to volunteer, we’re currently prepping a donation box of extra goods we have on hand, including some unopened formula we no longer need for the baby and some too-small diapers in addition to canned goods and such.
    • Now would be a great time to send some snail mail, which would be a wonderful way to brighten someone’s day! We plan to have the kids make some cards and send out a few in the coming weeks.

Books, Books, Books

Sheltering in place or not, we are pretty much ALWAYS reading a ton in our house. Here are a few of the titles we’ve enjoyed lately (or plan to enjoy soon):

Read-Alouds

I’ve read picture books and board books to my children since they were babies, but my oldest is finally big enough now for me to have started doing longer read-alouds of children’s classics with her, which has been even more wonderful than I thought it would be. Here’s what we’ve read so far for that, and what we’re planning on reading next:

  • The first few books in the Little House series
    • We actually got these on audiobook for Raven for Christmas (which are all very well done, by the way), and we’ve really been enjoying listening to them in the car. We aren’t driving around much at the moment, so I might be bringing these inside for a listen soon, but audiobook or not, these are fun read-alouds to start with!
  • Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White
    • This was the first longer book that I personally read aloud to my daughter, and it was kind of magical. The story gave us lots of natural opportunities to talk about some Big Ideas, plus it’s just a good book. Even my husband Matt (who had never read it), was getting really into it by the end.
  • Mrs. Piggle Wiggle by Betty MacDonald
    • We just started this one this week, and Raven has been begging me to read it to her almost as soon as we get up in the morning. Mrs. Piggle Wiggle is the kind of neighbor every kid dreams of having, and all the moms start to consult her on how to fix all their parenting problems, such as how to get their kid to clean his room or how to make doing dishes fun. It’s given my daughter lots of ideas in her imaginative play, and it’s made me much more likely to turn things into a game lately, myself.
  • The Cricket in Times Square by George Selden
    • This is the next book in the line-up, as it’s one we already own but that I’ve never read. This is the story of a Connecticut cricket who finds himself in Times Square, and it’s been said to be a fun spin-off of the famous fable of the country mouse and the city mouse. No idea how this one will go over (since I’ve never read it either), but it sounds like something we’ll enjoy! (Note: This was published back in 1960, so I’m not sure if the language will be a little harder for my daughter to understand, so if it’s not going over well from the beginning, we’ll save it until later.)
  • Socks by Beverly Cleary
    • I’m eager to jump into the Ramona books with Raven, as they were some of my favorites growing up, but I might see if we can get the audiobooks of those since I’ve heard they’re quite good. In the meantime, we’ll go ahead with Socks, which is a stand-alone book about a cat who is jealous of the new baby in the house. I loved this one as a kid, and though both of my older kids have actually handled the arrival of their new baby brother amazingly well, I think the timing of this will make it even more relatable.

Picture + Board Books

We read picture and board books aloud every day to our kids, and so in order to not go crazy from too much repetition, we switch it up a LOT. (I’m also doing a challenge with my oldest to read 1,000 different books with her before she enters kindergarten—we’re currently at 820 and counting!) Below are a few of our more recent favorites. (Also, while book shopping for Raven’s birthday, I saw that Amazon is doing this 3-for-2 sale on a bunch of children’s books, so I *maybe* ordered a few extra as a shelter-at-home surprise package. Also, some of the books on this list, including Charlotte’s Web, are included in that sale!)

  • Happy Hippo, Angry Duck by Sandra Boynton
    • Sandra Boynton, where would the world be without you? I particularly like this book of hers right now, as it not only teaches kids about emotions, but also shows empathy for hard days and reminds kids that hard times won’t last forever. A good message for us all! (Plus it’s only $5 right now!)
  • Peek-a-Who? by Nina Laden
    • We got this for Mathias for Christmas, and he LOVES it. There are little peepholes that hint at the next word that will rhyme with “peek-a-boo” (think: peek-a-zoo, peek-a-choo-choo). It’s fun and quick and never gets old (at least not yet!).
  • I Spy With My Little Eye by Edward Gibbs
    • My middle child loves animals, and he especially loves books that are more interactive, especially those that have a unique format. This shows parts of an animal through a little peephole, and then says things like, “I spy something that’s yellow,” and your kids can guess what it will be.
  • When Your Monkeys Won’t Go to Bed by Susanna Leonard Hill
    • One of these days, I need to do a post that’s just solely about good picture books about going to bed, because there are a LOT. This one was a lot of fun, as it dealt with a kid trying to put all these crazy monkeys to bed who don’t want to sleep.
  • Ira Sleeps Over by Bernard Waber
    • This was one of my favorites as a kid, and I’m glad that Raven is older now and can start enjoying longer picture books. This is the story of Ira’s first sleepover, but Ira’s torn about whether or not he should bring his teddy bear with him. It’s a super cute story about growing up and childhood and friendship, and on not worrying so much about what other people will think.
  • There’s a Bear on My Chair by Ross Collins
    • This was another of our Christmas stocking stuffers, and it’s had many, many reads since! A mouse wakes up one day to find that a bear has taken over his chair and won’t get out! The illustrations are a lot of fun, and the rhyming in this one is pretty clever.

Now, pretty please share with me what YOUR kids are loving lately! I have a feeling I’m going to need a few new ideas over the next several weeks so we don’t go crazy…

P. S. If you’re looking for some more ways to keep your sanity through all this, I’m sending out my monthly newsletter for email subscribers tomorrow, which will include lots more thoughts and ideas (these ones geared towards you, not towards the kids). If you haven’t signed up to get that yet, you can do that here!