Tidewater winters are known for stretches of wet, chilly weather that keep us cooped up indoors. After a day or two, children (and parents!) can get a little restless. Maybe your oldest child wants to go to the movies to see superheroes, and child number two wants to make super warriors out of Playdough. Meanwhile, child number three is simply super cute, cooing and babbling all over the place.
All of you are stuck indoors—with little hope of sunshine or a mudless yard. So how do you find “Super Entertainment of Epic Proportions” for children of various ages without leaving home? It’s easy: teach them how to entertain themselves and play together as a family.
Imaginative games appeal to all ages. By age three, most of a child’s imaginative play is based on previous experience. Shape that experience by joining in yourself and inviting siblings to play, too. Your older child can don the superhero suit and help her younger brother shape a superhero model of each family member out of Playdough.
When dough play is done, create stories about your super-family. Even if your younger children aren’t writing yet, they can offer ideas for a collaborative screenplay for everyone to act out using a tension rod in a doorway and old sheet as a curtain. Child number three’s coos and giggles will reward the “actors” for their efforts.
The ability to imagine does more than just help your children pass the time inside. It also helps build “print motivation,” an important building block for reading readiness. Print motivation means your child is motivated to explore and enjoy books, even if he can’t yet read the words.
Super families need their own theme songs. The market for children’s music is enormous, which can make it difficult to find albums that everyone likes. Instead of refereeing a dispute over which album to play, find some musical components or melodies that all your children enjoy and make up some silly “piggyback” songs.
You can create song lyrics and put them to the tune of anything from “Here We go Round the Mulberry Bush” to the latest One Direction hit. Everyone can pull out pots, pans, and wooden spoons to drum-beat a family rap. And put your family rules to music: singing the rules together means that even children who aren’t yet reading can remember how to behave like a little superhero.
Playing with music and singing exposes younger children to new vocabulary words in a slow, melodic form that makes it easier to hear each part of each word. It also creates a contextual memory for the words, which helps with vocabulary retention. Hearing and playing with the variety of individual speech sounds is crucial for kindergarten readiness.
When your Superheroes are tired of rocking out and imagining, have them land at the table for crafts. Make sure to let them know that their creations don’t need to look the same, as younger siblings may judge themselves on not “crafting” as neatly as their older siblings. The importance is not in the final product that gets hung on the refrigerator, but in the lessons they all learn from the process.
While older children reap the benefits of following directions from a kit, younger children get practice in essential fine motor skills. Peeling and placing stickers on a sheet can be a tedious task for three and four year olds, but it gets those finger muscles ready for writing.
So, take heart if you find yourself cooped up this winter. Learning to play together as a family is more than just a way to pass the time. It also strengthens family bonds and makes for good practice in social skills outside of daily “remember your manners” reminders. Engaging in these activities not only helps develop early literacy skills, but also strengthens the imaginative process and supports the concept of teamwork.
And teamwork is what super-families are all about.
Heather Simpson Russell is the youth and family services librarian at the TCC/Virginia Beach Joint-Use Library. A native of Staunton, Heather spends her time rediscovering Virginia with her daughters.