As important as outside play is, there are times when it just isn’t practical. While there’s nothing wrong with putting on a raincoat and rubber boots to stomp in the water puddles, no one should be outside when there is thunder and lightening. Strong winds, dangerous wind chills, and other severe weather conditions are all good reasons to keep your child indoors. So what can you do with that bundle of energy that won’t completely destroy the house and won’t give you the migraine to end all migrains?
Maintain Your Normal Daily Routine
First, try to stick to your daily routine as much as possible. Young children (and autistic children) find comfort in their routines. There should be fewer problems if your child knows when to expect snack, lunch, free play, table activities – basically the only difference on a rainy day is that they will not be going outside.
Do not try to substitute a video for outdoor time. In outdoor activities, the child will run, jump, climb, yell, use large muscles and a large voice. If you try to have him play something quiet inside, there will be problems. He will find the noisiest way possible to play that quiet game. He must expend some of that energy! Here are some suggested indoor games to do during your regular “outside” time. Use this as a springboard to come up with more activities on your own.
Wad up a sheet or two of newspaper and stuff into small sandwich size plastic bags. Tape the bag shut. Use this as a “ball” to play various tossing games. Set up a bookshelf or jumprope as the boundary and toss these pretend snowballs or cannonballs over to the “enemy”. Set up a laundry basket for paper “basketball”. Play touch tag, if you get hit with a bag, you have to “freeze” until another child comes to set you free.
Cut out dozens of kid shoe prints from sturdy oil cloth or flannel backed vinyl. Set them out on the carpet in a squiggly treasure hunt – through the hallway, in and around furniture, in and out of the bathroom – sort of like the cartoon “Family Circus”. Have a small surprize at the end of the line, perhaps hidden under a shoe box. Child must walk on the footprints to get there, no short cuts! You could have child pick up each footprint as he crosses it. An alternate of this game is to use string. Child must wind up all the string as he unwinds his way through the treasure hunt. Could place afternoon snack at the end of the line.
Learn to skip
Use the oil cloth shoe prints from above. Set out eight shoe prints: left, right, left, right, etc. Child walks along them. Now set out a jump rope, and alternate feet on either side of the rope. Left, right, left, right, etc. Next set out two rights, two lefts, two rights, two lefts, etc. As the child jumps and steps, he is skipping in slow motion. He can practice to get better. You can create more foot patterns for him to follow. Perhaps put a right on the right side of the rope and on the left, so he has to jump across. Could add some hand cut outs, and create a whole new batch of movements for him to follow. (I did this as a senior activity in one of my education classes years ago.)
Cover the kitchen table with a couple of quilts. Toss one on the floor under the table, with some throw pillows. Let the child’s imagination take over. He may decide it is a cave for a lion, or a pack of dogs. Or a house for the baby dolls. Or even a spaceship. Just go with it, and see where it takes him. If he’s a “doggy” you could offer his snack on a paper plate on the floor. If he’s a space ship, perhaps fill a zippy bag with tuna and mayonnaise that he has to squirt into his mouth like toothpaste.
Depending on your space, there’s nothing wrong with keeping a tricycle or peddle car in the house. If it’s an outside toy, can you wipe off the wheels enough to bring it in for the day? Discuss a “speed limit” and that crashing into the walls is not allowed. If you live in an upstairs apartment, you might want to find out if anyone will be downstairs today. Trikes and baby walkers really sound awful to the folks downstairs.
Get a couple of sturdy saw horses, some straight 2x4s of varying lengths. Save them under a bed or in a storage closet for rainy days. Build a balance beam by setting a longer 2×4 on top of some shorter blocks, or just lay it on the floor for younger children. Have child practice walking on the balance beam. Pretend it is a pirates plank, and there are sharks in the “water” below. Don’t fall in! Create an obsticle course. If you stretch boards or closet rods between the saw horses, bungie them in tight, and remain close by as a spotter. This is not an activity you should turn your back on. Add kitchen chairs to the trail. Have child crawl over a chair, under a low rod, over the saw horse, around a vacuum cleaner, through a tunnel, next to a jump rope, etc. Every time you play this, the coarse changes.
These are good if you have more than one child. There are hundreds of variations of the relay race. Some require partners, some each child does alone. If you have a wide age spread, you can require an older child to do the track twice. Try crawling while coaxing a ping pong ball by blowing air through a straw. Get the ping pong ball to the other end across a jump rope. Or, try carrying a teaspoon of water at a time across the room and dropping the water into a jar. Return for another teaspoon of water. The first one to fill the jar past a certain line wins. Or, try batting a balloon across the room. Or, crab-walk backwards. Or slither on your belly like a snake. What seasonal variations can you invent?
If all else fails, fill the tub with bubbles and plastic toys and let your youngster have some good clean fun. Stay close by – children can drown in less than two inches of water. Don’t allow your child to stand in the tub, either.
Act out some Mother Goose Rhymes or Favorite Stories
Jack be nimble, Jack be quick!
Jack jumped over the candlestick!
He jumped and he jumped and he jumped so high,
He didn’t come back ’til the fourth of July!
Jump over a pop can or an oatmeal box for a candle. Say the rhyme as you take turns jumping.
Here we go round the mulberry bush, the mulberry bush, the mulberry bush,
here we go round the mulberry bush on a cold and frosty morning!
This is the way we wash our hands, wash our hands, wash our hands,
This is the way we wash our hands, on a cold and frosty morning!
This is the way we wash our clothes, wash our clothes, wash our clothes
This is the way we wash our clothes on a cold and frosty morning!
You can make up more verses to this song to suit your situation. For the first verse, join hands and walk or skip around a circle. Pretend to scrub your hands for the second verse. Does your child know how to wash clothes in a water tub with a scrub board? That is the traditional motion for this song.
Little Betty Blue Lost her holiday shoe.
What will poor Betty do?
Why, give her another to match the other,
And then she will walk in two.
Have a pair of shoes, and hide one. Child must look for the shoe that matches. If you have several children, you could hide one shoe of several different pairs. They can each look for their match at the same time.
There are many more possibilities. Get out a volumn of Mother Goose rhymes, and try the Three Little Kittens, or Georgy Porgy. What about watering Mistress Mary’s silverbells? And don’t forget the old woman who lived in a shoe! I’m sure that before the sun comes out to dry up all the rain you may feel a bit like her. In newer versions of Mother Goose she doesn’t spank her children any more, but she reads to them and puts them to bed.