You may not think you need this post, but you do. We all do. Because one day, it’s going to happen. You’ll be watching your kids, and your neighbor will run to the grocery store, and your other neighbor will have a gallbladder attack, and, BOOM.
Before you know it, there are seventeen (or maybe five, but it feels like seventeen) rambunctious, bored, destructive four-year-olds playing hopscotch with your Tupperware.
And no one’s mom is coming for a looooong time.
What do you do?
Here are a few ideas to tuck away in your mental repertoire and pull out in an emergency situation. Like how you’d use a steel flashlight to break a car window when you fell in a pond.
Kind of like that.
Less dramatically, you could also incorporate these into a Sunday school routine, or a group preschool. But I like to make it sound more emergency than that. Cause that’s what I do. Without further ado:
- Draw a story. Find a good, short book. Read it, with animation. Then give each child a fresh piece of paper and some art medium. Ask them which part of the story they’re going to draw. Be sure to praise them relentlessly.
- Tea time. The key here is the build up, because it’s actually lame (I know…shocking, with such an exciting name.) Get small cups (non-sippy). Fill them with a little water and call everyone to the table. Inform them that you are having grown-up tea time. Have them sit up straight, call everyone “Mr. So-and-so,” and take turns asking each other questions. Give them the questions. Make them go around asking one another what they eat for breakfast, what show do they like to watch, what gift would they give their dad, etc. They think it’s a hoot. Also, you probably will, too. Most recently, one of my students told us her favorite animal was a hot dog.
- Tell a story. Everyone wants to say, “Oh, I’m horrible at telling stories. I have no imagination.” Well, you’re in luck. It requires absolutely no talent to tell a story to a preschooler. You could literally use the least interesting thing that happened to you yesterday. Let’s say you saw someone spill their water on the floor. Or that a dog barked at you on a walk. Or you heard a loud airplane. Anything is entertaining, if you ask, “And then do you know what happened?” after every. single. detail. And if you act as thrilled as if you are telling your engagement story.
- Make dough. Give everyone a bowl and a spoon. Give each some flour, then some water. Let them “cook.” Now, look. I would put this in the category of “last resort.” Will it be a terrible mess? Yes. Will everyone’s mother be slightly to very annoyed? Yes. But will all children remain safe and engaged for at least 20 minutes. Definitely.
- Make soup. Related, but slightly cleaner. Get out a pot and large spoon for everyone. Begin to go through the house for “ingredients.” Sometimes you can get away with just a few, if they’re good. Actual real carrots and whole onions fit this category. And it doesn’t have to be real food. We’ve made golf ball and matchbox car soup for hours on end. Okay, it was probably 13 minutes. But in kid time, that’s significant.
- Science Experiment. This is just a home run. They will literally think you are a genius. Which you are, if you can entertain, and inform, a herd of preschoolers for over fifteen minutes. And, the good news is that almost ANYTHING counts as a “science experiment.” Here are a few things that have counted as experiments, and elicited a roomful of amazed squeals and giggles: raisins floating in a glass of soda, a fan moving different objects, how many beans float a boat, baking soda and vinegar making bubbles. Easy, cheesy. Home run.
- Stations. This is the most amazing one! It requires a little bit of prep work, but it pays dividends because it will occupy, and teach, a group of kids for a long time. What you need to do is scour your home for individual activities, the ones that you’ve probably been meaning to do with your child but haven’t in a while. Here are some examples:
- block puzzles
- alphabet matching game
- beads on a necklace
- stacking games
- block-type activities
- animal matching games
- any other game or activity suited for your child’s age
Give each child a project, and then have them switch after a few minutes. Two things are important. One, build it up. The first time we did this, I told the kids a story about a carnival, and how you take turns doing all the different activities. I said we were going to have our little carnival. Be sure you explain all the games before they start. Two, if the stations have lots of pieces, move the kids each time and not the stations. My mother-in-law, who is a former kindergarten teacher, suggested the “stations” routine, and I was just shocked at how well it worked!
So there are a few group activities we’ve been enjoying!