By Emma Chow
The aim of the game is to set up your children with a fun, extremely distracting activity that will cool them off on a hot day. A further aim, is to ensure that this activity will not require your constant assistance, such as re-filling water pistols, turning on switches and monitoring for danger and accidents. Also, unlike the running of the sprinkler, the wielding of the hose and the filling of the paddling pool, these use a limited amount of water (while some use none at all), are cheap, easy to make at home and are very easy to clean up. Having these ready to go before a hot day or heat wave starts is the best way to be prepared.
This can be done indoors or outdoors. If doing indoors, it helps to set this activity in a large tub, like a baby bathtub. Place this on top of a couple of towels to soak up any eventual splashes and drips. In large plastic containers or old ice cream containers, place plastic dinosaurs and various other toys that it would be fun to “excavate”. Top with water and freeze. Put these large ice blocks in the tub and arm your children with salt, and little excavation tools like plastic hammers. Explain to them that it’s hard work discovering dinosaurs like real explorers and they have to break through the ice find the specimens. They’ll be damp and cool.
If doing this inside, cover your table with a waterproof table cloth, tarp or similar. Otherwise find a shady flat spot to do this outside. They can still do it over a tarp if you would rather they not be on the pavers or the grass. Take an ice cube tray and fill it with different colours of food dye. Mix some additional colours for added fun. Top with water. Take a piece of tin foil and secure it tightly over the top of the tray. Poke icy pole sticks or toothpicks through the foil and into each unfrozen ice cube. The foil helps the stick stay upright. Place in the freezer. When ready to use, provide children with large sheets of paper and let them go crazy! They could do this sans unnecessary clothing.
Take small yogurt containers, plastic containers, cups as well as the usual ice cube tray and fill with water that has been dyed with different colours of food dye. Freeze these before the arrival of hot weather. Remove coloured ice blocks from their mould and using a large plastic serving tray or a large baking tray, allow children to use the coloured ice shapes to stack and arrange into their own ice sculptures.
Ice ball bowling
Like the above activities this involves food dyed ice. Take some balloons and drip some food dye inside. Then top with water, securely knot the end and place in the freezer. Once frozen, remove the balloon skin. This is really one that’s good for outside, unless you again employ a large tub or tray. Using other plastic toys, Lego duplo or actual plastic pins, find a flattish spot to push/roll the ice balls towards the toys and try to knock them over. You could probably do a miniature version of this for the small tub, with lots of smaller ice balls knocking about.
Toy animals or dinosaurs in miniature indoor garden
These days, simple toys like this are really undervalued. In child counselling, miniature animal figures are often used to help children communicate situations that they are experiencing but have trouble putting into words. Given toys which allow free imaginative expression, rather than toys which heavily proscribe particular actions – such as Barbie dolls, action figures, superhero toys and licensed character toys whose appearance and original context dictate what the toy “should” be doing (which can be hard for some children to overcome) – little people are able to act out virtually unlimited scenarios that are completely absorbing. Animal families of same or different species can go on journeys or perform everyday “home” activities. Older children can create dramas and conflicts between animals that would clash in nature. To make this more fun and to give the animals a place to be, I fill large old baking dishes with soil and plant succulents and non-spikey cacti in it. Top with gravel and fine rocks as well as larger rocks to be used for cliffs, mountains at the like. Now the animals have an environment in which to enact their dramas. These gardens are just like big shallow uncovered terrariums. Give them a little dribble of water now and again and they’ll last for ages. Don’t over water. Also, don’t buy succulents. You see any growing anywhere, just snap off a piece and stick it in your dirt. They easily form roots.
Home-made play dough
There are hundreds of play dough recipes out there, from all natural wonders to the quickest no-cook play dough made from 1 cup of conditioner and 2 cups of corn-starch (not for small children who still eat weird things). One recipe that does require cooking but not food dye, combines 1 cup of flour, 2 tablespoons of salt, 2 tablespoons of cream of tartar, 2 tablespoons of oil, 1 cup of warm water and the magical ingredient: 1 packet of jelly crystals. The jelly crystals add both scent and colour, making this extra deliciously fun. Combine all the ingredients in a saucepan. Whisk together. Stir over medium heat until well combined and the ingredients have formed into a smooth cohesive lump of dough. Remove from pot and allow to cool. Keep in an airtight container in the fridge for a few weeks.
This fun mould-able stuff can be made with several recipes. The common recipe calls for 4 cups of flour to ½ cup of baby oil, but 4 cups of corn-starch to 1 cup coconut oil also works if you are allergic to gluten. Make a big batch of this in a huge plastic tub and have the kids play with it in the tub rather than out. It may be stickier than actual sand, but it can still be messy. The benefit of the corn-starch coconut oil recipe is that younger children prone to tasting things or putting fingers in their mouth won’t be harmed by it. Colour moon sand with food dye in a variety of colours and add toys like spades, little dump trucks and moulds for more fun. Choose a lidded tub so that when they’re done you can just chuck the lid on and it’ll be ready for them next play day.