Staying Home Instead
Creative Play and Activities
From: NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 19, No. 2 March-April 2002 pp. 63
"Staying Home" is a regular feature of the magazine NEW BEGINNINGS, published bimonthly by La Leche League International. In this column, suggestions are offered by readers of NEW BEGINNINGS to help parents who choose to stay at home with their children. Various points of view are presented. Not all of the information may be pertinent to your family's life-style. This information is general in nature, and not intended to be advice, medical or otherwise.
I love being home with my three children. We have many projects and activities in our house, which are fun and educational. However, I am an activity junkie. I enroll my children in play gym, art class, swimming, and more. They thrive on all the opportunities, the new friends, and staying busy. The problem is that these activities are very expensive in the urban area we live in and signing up more than one child can be extra costly. When I started thinking about getting a part time job to pay for it all, I thought to myself, what’s wrong with this picture? What can I do to achieve a balance between what I want for my children and what I can afford?
I know what you mean! I have often thought, “I can’t afford it, but it would be really cool if my children could do such-and-such.” My son is very happy to play with his toys or our computer, watch TV, and swing in our backyard. And since I don’t have the money to do more with him, I accept this. I think of my upbringing—quite a lovely childhood. My mother didn't drive. My father worked at least two jobs at a time. We never left the house except to go to the park on occasion. We played with our limited number of toys. We helped bake sometimes. We played outside. We listened to music. And, most of all, we played with our neighborhood friends.
Neighborhoods like those of my childhood are not that easy to come by, so instead I joined La Leche League, as well as other mothers’ groups that have organized activities. I have also tried to get involved more in my church. I am finding new and interesting ways to get my children involved. I think just being around other people is enough activity for them. Also, going to other people’s houses where the toys are different is great for children.
The library is also a great asset—if your children will sit through story time and puppet shows (mine don’t). Free activities are everywhere. You just have to search a little. Newspapers often have listings of free or inexpensive activities to do with little ones. Many toy stores have classes and they get to play with the toys there too. When I work at it I can keep the children busy for days at a time, but, I realize that that is a need of mine, not theirs. They are perfectly happy for me to build a tent out of blankets and play on the couch with them all day.
There are so many great classes and activities available for children that I also find myself wanting to do many of them for my two children and getting very busy, in addition to spending a lot of money. Looking back, I feel that the best activities that my now six-year-old son and I enjoyed and got the most out of were the ones that cost the least. Specifically, a home preschool group and a weekly playgroup of like-minded mothers and their children.
When my son was three, five other mothers and I began a home preschool group one day a week. We based it on Playful Learning, An Alternate Approach to Preschool by Anne Engelhardt and Cheryl Sullivan, an excellent book from our LLL Group Library. Each mother would host and “teach” the six children once every six weeks with varying subjects based on the interests of the children, of the mother, or things that were timely. We would start with a time of story-telling and singing. Then we moved on to the other activities such as pretending to be planets rotating around the sun, playing animal charades, or going for nature walks to find leaves for solar printing. The preschool morning ended with packed lunches and playing. Both the children and the mothers developed wonderful friendships. We originally planned for only three women to stay with the children and three to have some time off on a rotating basis, but we found that all the mothers enjoyed the mornings so much that we all usually ended up staying the entire time. The cost of supplies was much less than a regular preschool class and the quality was exceptional. It was such a good experience that we continued for two years. We are now planning the home preschool for my two-year-old daughter and her friends.
You sound very creative and enthusiastic about providing opportunities for your children! One idea is for you to put your creativity and energy to work for you. Why not start a program of your own? I’ve always loved doing craft projects with my children. Two years ago, I started my own business. I started providing “craft workshops” for parents and children ages two to five. I hold the workshop at a local community hall. During the workshop, I provide directions and materials for three developmentally appropriate projects that children can do with their parents. I have a fourth table set up with play clay for children to take a break or to use when they are finished with their other projects. The mothers love this table because they get to chat with other mothers while their children are busy rolling, kneading, and shaping. The workshop allows parents and children to join together with other families, create fun projects, and develop new friendships. My enrollment grows with each session and I’m also making a little money!
Driving three children to multiple activities is exhausting! We have a rule that each child can only pick two activities. Perhaps deciding what sorts of activities your children benefit the most from would help to simplify your schedule. If there is an activity that you enjoy, but is very expensive, try finding a way to duplicate it on your own. Swimming lessons can be exchanged for a swim in a public pool or lake. Art class could just be a group of neighborhood children, painting in the backyard. You might also see if some of your classes would offer you a discount if you volunteered to help or bring a snack. Children need to have free time as well. Be careful not to fill every moment of the day with activities. Some of the most creative play comes from a child who was bored five minutes ago!
In our area we have plenty of options for children that are free or very low cost through the museums and parks. The natural science museum offers “classes” for children each day at certain times. For instance, “Meet the Animals” is at 11:30 am. It’s not as elaborate as a costly three-hour formal class session, but you can add to it. Instead of a swimming class, attend public swim sessions at a fraction of the cost and just let the children have fun playing in the water. Invite friends to join you, or make an effort to meet other children and parents while you’re there. My son took 12 group lessons of tennis through the local parks and recreation for about $40 as compared to $15 for 30 minutes at the racquet club. I recently found out about sports classes offered through the Salvation Army for far less than I was used to seeing. Our libraries offer free story time programs several times a week, which often include singing and crafts. Try looking into a co-operative preschool in your area, they have many fun activities, and you get to work one day a week with your child. It’s not for everybody, but it sure can bring the cost of activities down. Finally, in my opinion, children do just fine with less structure and more time to just be children. Instead of play gym, go hiking, picnicking, and feed the ducks.