In Minibury’s “Our Favorite Things” column, Faith Gong – Addison County resident, mother of four daughters, wife of one assistant professor, wrangler of 11 chickens, 6 ducks, and a dog, writer of the “Faith in Vermont” column in The Addison Independent and The Pickle Patch blog – shares some of her family’s favorite things. The goal is to highlight items or activities that are simple, inexpensive, local, and promote creativity. Faith receives no kickbacks, compensation, or thanks for any items mentioned here!
I’m going to try very hard not to write about the rain.
This is the second installment of the “Our Favorite Things” three part mini-series on “Surviving Summer,” although I considered renaming it, “Where the Heck Is Summer?” I’m not going to write about the rain, though! Let’s just say that, of the five camps we enrolled various children in this summer – all but one of them outdoor nature-y camps – four of them were held during the excessively damp first three weeks of summer. This was unfortunate. One camp even went so far as to cancel a day due to inclement weather. (Bonus tip: Stuffing rain boots with newspaper renders them wear-able by the next day — or, wearable enough so that my daughters don’t complain!)
But I digress. This introduction is an attempt to explain why, in this “Surviving Summer” post, I’m focusing on an indoor summer activity: games.
This is not to say that summer rain must necessarily drive us indoors. When too much wet weather strikes at my house, the garden is not happy, the chickens are mad (as wet hens, of course), the dog is sleepy (as usual), and I get cranky. The ducks and the children, though? Couldn’t be happier. During one 24-hour period filled with flash flood warnings, I saw children body-surf through mud puddles in our front yard and attempt to float whatever they could get their hands on (toy boats, rafts, sleds, the ducks and themselves) in the insta-lake that sprung up in the side yard. Any excuse to use an umbrella is cause for celebration among the small people in our home.
Which is fantastic; I’m a firm believer in the adage that “There’s no such thing as bad weather, just the wrong clothing.” The problem is that we only have so many of the right clothes. When all those clothes are soaked and muddy and hanging on the drying rack in the mudroom, and when all the boots are stuffed with newspaper and still too soggy to wear without whining, I surrender and attempt to move my wet, wiggly children indoors.
This is where games come in handy: they help to channel all that energy into something living-room-friendly.
In last month’s “Surviving Summer,” I discussed the challenge of finding books that appeal to the 4- to 9-year-old age range in my house. The same challenge applies to games. Here is a list of some of our family’s current favorites, which have amused four children of varied ages on numerous wet afternoons:
- Spot It
A brilliantly simple and fast-paced card game, in which players try to be the first to match pictures. It’s straightforward and visual enough for our preschooler, but competitive enough for our 9-year-old. Warning: “Spot It” gets intense – in a good way when there’s plenty of happy shrieking, but in a bad way when disputes arise over who found a match first!
The good ol’ classic card game. Like “Spot It,” it’s a simple matching game that appeals to all ages; unlike “Spot It,” “Uno” requires a knowledge of numbers and colors, which makes it a little more challenging for younger children (but provides excellent reinforcement and strategic thinking practice for elementary students.) We usually play on teams to support the preschoolers.
- Gobblet Gobblers
Imagine 3-D tic-tac-toe, and you’ll get the gist of “Gobblet Gobblers.” Players attempt to make three-in-a-row using wooden dome-shaped figures of varying sizes. The fun, nasty challenge is that you can swallow your opponent’s pieces with your larger ones. This appeals to many ages, and can be simple or complex depending on skill level. The downside is that it’s a two-player game.
- Let’s Go Fishin’/Jumpin’ Monkeys
I’ve grouped these two games together, not because they’ve both dropped final Gs for cutesy apostrophes, but because my children almost always end up combining them (and not in the ways for which they were intended!)
“Let’s Go Fishin’” is the only game on this list that requires batteries (which usually means I look for subversive ways to get rid of it, but this one has stood the test of time!) It’s a plastic “pond” of fish that open and close their jaws; players with little rods try and catch the fish at just the right moment.
“Jumpin’ Monkeys” involves a plastic, two-tiered tree filled with cardboard bananas, into which players attempt to catapult plastic monkeys so that their arms catch on the branches.
Both games require more small motor skill than brainpower, but my daughters love them because they lend themselves to all kinds of pretend play. My girls set up the tree, the pond, and the monkeys, and all of a sudden there’s a rainforest drama happening. Add some Playmobil or Legos, and the baskets of miniature fruit from “Hi-Ho! Cherry-o” (NOT on this list, because I can’t stand all those tiny berries!), and my kids are set for the afternoon.
I keep thinking that my children have outgrown puzzles, and they keep proving me wrong. My older daughters are moving towards the1000-piece puzzle stage, but even the old wooden Melissa & Doug puzzles that we’ve had for nearly a decade – and especially the huge cardboard floor puzzles – continue to amuse them. My advice: Hang on to those puzzles for longer than you might think appropriate! Especially if you keep them out of sight and then bring them out on rainy afternoons, they’ll keep children entertained for many years.
Local business plug: Tinker & Smithy, a great game store that originally opened on Creek Road, is now installed in a new location right on Main Street in Middlebury. They have many of the games listed above – and other wonderful games that I couldn’t mention for lack of space. (They’ll even let you test out the games before you buy!)
Stay dry, and happy playing!