Photo by Ralph Clevenger/Fuse/Thinkstock
Beneath the piles of snow and ice, your Eden awaits. If you close your eyes, you can almost feel the sun’s warmth cascading over you and the cool damp earth between your fingers. You can picture your inner child being momentarily released, as your hands playfully squish through the beautiful rich soil. As you continue this journey through your mind’s eye, the soothing smell of fresh jasmine fills the air, as you sit back to marvel at the lush green landscape unfolding in front of you. Your children run barefoot through the grass, the sunlight adding a soft, almost angelic glow to their tiny silhouettes.
Unfortunately, this is also the moment reality derails this little jaunt. The truth is that the time we spend playing in the dirt is constantly interrupted by a relentless string of complaints being hurled our direction:
“My feet got wet!”
If your little tykes are anything like mine, they love those first glorious days of spring—for about 10 minutes, that is. Yes, my crew is happy and content as I gather my gardening supplies and lug them to the garden. All frolic about as I gather my seeds, bulbs and flats and meticulously lay them out. But the moment my fingers hit the dirt, the joy is gone and chaos takes its place.
While we might not always be able to prevent these little tests of our sanity, we can get ready for them. As we prepare for spring by poring over seed catalogs and planting diagrams, we also need to prepare for the long days ahead spent outside with little ones.
Most of you have probably seen, heard or even created your own busy bags. They’re “Momma needs 10 minutes” activity bags. I know many parents that use them for cabin fever days, long road trips or any time a few moments of non-SpongeBob peace are needed. While these tiny bags of quiet time can be as elaborate as you have the energy for, I like to keep them relatively straightforward—the more pieces your busy bags have, the more pieces that will be lost, tossed, buried or “accidentally” fed to the dog.
I use plastic zipper-topped bags to keep the kits together. Whenever I make a new set of outside busy bags, I try to fill them with relatively cheap (or free) trinkets that will keep the kiddos entertained for 10- to 15-minute increments. Here are some items you may wish to in your busy bags:
One of my favorite items to included are wooden shaped blocks. My husband saves me any extra pieces of lumber he has after a project, which I then cut into various shapes. A 2×4 scrap, for example, can be cut squarely across or on a diagonal for simple rectangles, squares and triangles. After a quick sanding to get rid of any pesky splinters, my little one is ready to start his own construction project. Of course, when I feel real ambitious, I paint each shape a different primary color and turn it into a mini school lesson.
Three of my four children have the attention span of a gnat! They will head off to do something and immediately get distracted by something pretty or shiny. That’s why little scavenger hunts work so well in my busy bags. Again, keeping it simple, I print out a piece of paper with six to eight graphics on it, cut them out, and glue them to index cards. (I use index cards because they hold up a little better than plain copy paper when the picture is laid on the grass because my little “hunters” get distracted by a grasshopper!)
Armed with their cards and a bag for collecting their finds, my little scouts are sent out in search of pinecones, four-leaf clovers, maple leaves and small white stones. If you have several players, rewards can even be given for the fastest collection found or, my personal favorite, “the most unique” find in each category.
The next week, turn your scouts into pirates in search of a hidden treasure. You don’t have to be an artist to make a treasure map. As long as you have a point of reference (a square representing the house for example) you can zigzag your way around fences, trees and barns until you lead your little pirates to their bootie—a few suckers, a pack of seeds or even gold doubloons made of chocolate.
While the younger explorers might not be big enough to wander the countryside in search of hidden treasures, a bottle of bubbles is my ace in the hole when a toddler meltdown is on the horizon.
If you have any fabric scraps with a busy farm or garden pattern, you have a great I-spy game. I glue or tape a few remnants to a piece of paper, and stick it in a page protector. By keeping your pages in plastic, your tiny tots can circle everything they find right on the page using a dry-erase marker. Later, you can wipe their discoveries off the protective pages and your game lives to save another day (next month when it’s new and exciting again).
Regardless of how you hope to keep little ones entertained while you are playing in the dirt this spring, now is the time to make your plans. Take advantage of this unyielding winter weather to prepare for the warm days that will eventually be here! And when you find yourself engrossed in your seeds and bulbs, don’t forget to feed and water your other little sprouts! Boxed juice and a couple of cookies fit nicely in quart-sized zipper-top bags, and help you stay one step ahead of the kiddies.