by Jena Hengstler
Summertime is the ideal time to get outdoors for days filled with adventure, picnics, sunshine, summer sports and all things vitamin D and fresh air. However, an occasional rainy day may have the family stuck indoors.
While everyone can appreciate a lazy morning and the crisp smell of a rainy day, most parents know it won’t take long before boredom sets in. These days are perfect for longer, more involved activities with endless layers that take planning, preparation and can be played for hours. Translation: let the kids take over the house for the sake of meaningful play and imagination.
Build a Rube Goldberg Machine
When I think of a Rube Goldberg, also known as a chain reaction machine, I instantly think of the opening scene of Back to the Future. It’s essentially a carefully planned out sequence of events engineered to perform a simple task. A quick YouTube search offers countless examples, specifically those designed by kids. Some are simple, such as a row of cascading dominoes, while others can last for several minutes.
The beauty of these types of machines is that the activity encompases multiple science and engineering skills disguised as creative fun, utilizing levers, pulleys, energetic force, timing, gravity and physics.
A rainy day is the ideal time to launch this idea. Spark your child’s interest with a few videos and let them take it from there. Encourage the addition of more levels to their machine or even try to make it go through more than one room of the house. This activity is perfect for all ages, teamwork, ingenuity and trial and error. Many small adjustments are usually needed to make it all work just right.
You could even play the supporting role of videographer.
Creating and Running a Town
The depth of this project can go as far as you’re willing to help with or encourage. The idea is for the kids to turn various rooms of the house into different stores.
The kitchen can be a restaurant – complete with a menu, hostess stand, cash register and the prep and service of real food items – thought up, prepared by and served by the kids. A neatly set up table for guests makes the restaurant complete.
One bedroom can be a gift shop. The child in charge of that “store” can display several unique items for sale, marked with a price and offer customers shopping baskets or bags for their purchases. When the customer has picked out their items, the “cashier”can total the cost and learn to calculate sales tax. They can practice counting back change and even make their own credit card machine to use. Perhaps even offer to gift wrap the customer’s purchases.
Turn the living room into a library. The children could organize a selection of books alphabetically by author – ready for check out. Visitors to the library can select their books and use their library card (created by the librarian). After checking out their books, library patrons receive a sticky note with a due date on them. Maybe the librarian could even suggest certain books, based on their interests, or offer “story hour” at certain times, where they dress up as a certain character and do a read aloud.
Additional rooms could become a clothing store, sports store, movie theater, post office, bank or whatever the kids can think up. Each one complete with everything to make the play seem as realistic as possible.
Who doesn’t love a good carnival? When suggesting this idea to your children, be prepared for a squealing response.
This is the perfect opportunity to let your child’s imagination run wild. They can take inspiration from standard carnival games, such as throwing a ping pong ball into cups of water or invent their own. Maybe indoor bowling, knocking down stacked blocks with a foam ball, paper airplane building, bobbing for apples, pin the tail on the donkey or even face painting.
They can make tickets, decide how much each game will cost and make signs accordingly. They can set up their stations, decorate and even find prizes to give away. Top it off with a popcorn and lemonade station, add some cheery music and you’ll have a fun event right in your own home.
Any of these ideas can turn a rainy day into lasting memories. It will be time well spent, imagination will come to life and learning opportunities are woven throughout.
Jena Hengstler is an elementary teacher. She always knew she wanted to work in education and has had a 15 year career charged with just as much learning as teaching. Her teaching journey has been filled with successes, trials, love, heartbreak, celebration and humility – all for the love of children. Jena calls the beautiful state of Wyoming her home. She loves doing life with her husband, Larry and her son, Hudson. When she isn’t at school, she enjoys reading, writing, drinking coffee that is still hot, watching sports, being outside and will always make time to watch the sunset.