The Children's Busy Book: 365 Creative Learning Games and Activities to Keep Your 6- to 10-Year-Old Busy


Fun Outdoors

The best inheritance a parent can give his children is a few minutes of his time each day.

—O. A. Battista

Parents of young children know that toddlers and preschoolers need to be outdoors every day to use up some of their seemingly endless energy, to help them develop their large motor skills, and to pass the long hours of difficult days. As children grow and enter school, they still need to play outdoors, but their daily free time is drastically reduced. For some children, free time virtually disappears when they start first grade: Lessons, practices, and other activities fill after-school hours, and at night, homework and chores leave little or no time for playing outside.

Adults, too, often need to be pushed outdoors. A hectic lifestyle can make simple pleasures like taking a walk and playing in the yard seem frivolous. As a busy home-schooling mom with a writing schedule to keep, I often feel I don’t have the time to go outside. How can I justify a leisurely walk with my toddler when my fourth-grader needs help with his math, the bills haven’t been paid, and I haven’t a clue what we’ll eat for dinner?

If you see your child or yourself or your whole family in this routine, perhaps it’s time to reevaluate the pace of your lives. Make downtime a priority. Write it on your to-do list. Set aside a little time each day or at least several times a week for some outdoor fun—whether it’s a family walk in the rain or a game of hopscotch or marbles with the neighborhood kids. The best memories aren’t made by folding laundry; they’re made by spending time with your children. Go out-side with your kids and have fun!


The following activities are perfect to do with your child(ren) in your own neighborhood or yard.

Left or Right

Quarter or other coin

The next time you and your child embark on a walk in your neighborhood, take a quarter with you. When you reach the sidewalk or road in front of your home, flip the quarter. If it comes up “heads,” turn left. If it comes up “tails,” turn right. Walk until you get to the next intersection, then flip your quarter again to see which way you should turn.

Fly a Kite


On a fine, breezy day, head out to an area that’s free of trees and telephone poles. Bring along a store-bought or homemade kite. Gently launch your kite in the air, give it plenty of string, and run! If two or more children are flying kites, have a contest to see who can keep his kite in the air the longest, whose kite flies the highest, and so on.

Nature Hunt

One paper bag per player

One list of natural objects to collect per player

Give each player a paper bag and a list of natural objects (a bird’s feather, a leaf, a smooth rock, a pine cone, a wildflower, and so on) to collect. You can give the same list to all the players or have each player look for a different group of objects. Challenge the players to find all the objects on their lists. Set a time limit: perhaps twenty minutes to find ten objects. The first player to find all the items on his list is the winner.

A child may play this game alone or with others. For a group of children, pair up nonreaders with readers.



Dirt or wet sand

Small shovel or spoon

Two teaspoons baking soda

White vinegar

Build a mound of dirt ten inches high. Dig a deep hole in the middle of the mound with a small shovel. Put two teaspoons of baking soda in the hole. Then slowly pour in vinegar and watch your volcano erupt!



Astronomy book (optional)

Flashlight (optional)

Snack (optional)

Let your kids stay up later than usual on a clear summer evening. When it’s really dark, go outside and look at the stars. If you live in a city, the city lights may make it hard to see the starlight, so drive to the country if you can. Bring a blanket, lie on your backs, and look at the constellations. If you like, bring an astronomy book, a flashlight, and a snack as well.

Water Fun


Garden hose with spray nozzle

• If you have a swing set, set up a fan-style sprinkler close to it so your children can swing into the spray.

• Have children stand in a circle around a rotating sprinkler and jump over the stream of water as it comes around. The children can compete to see who’ll be the last to miss a jump and get wet. A child playing alone can see how many jumps he can make before getting wet.

• Play limbo with a garden hose. Have one player hold the hose so that the water sprays horizontally. Begin with the stream of water at chin level and have each child walk under the stream. Lower the stream a bit and have the children walk under it again. Continue lowering the stream so that players have to crouch, crawl, and perhaps even slither to get under it to avoid getting wet. Players are out once they get wet. The player who stays dry the longest is the winner.

• Play tag with a garden hose. The player who’s it chases the other players and tries to tag them with the stream of water. Define a safe zone to which players can run to avoid being tagged. The first player to be tagged is it for the next game.

Penny Toss

Dishpan, baby bathtub, or kiddie pool


Open plastic container


Fill a dishpan, baby bathtub, or kiddie pool halfway with water. Place an open plastic container carefully on top of the water so that it floats. Have each player stand three feet from the dishpan, tub, or pool. Give each player the same number of pennies. Have the players take turns tossing pennies at the floating container. Award a point for each penny that lands in the container. The player with the most points after all the pennies have been tossed is the winner. A child playing alone can keep track of how many pennies land in the container in a row.


Breakfast in the Park

Our family often has picnic lunches and dinners at the beach, but I hadn’t thought of having breakfast in the park until a friend suggested it. What a great idea for early risers—and you’ll definitely beat the crowds!

Breakfast foods

Blanket or tablecloth


Hot cocoa

The night before your outing, pack up everything you’ll need. Your meal may be as simple as cereal, milk, and juice or may include pancakes or bacon and eggs. Bring a plastic tablecloth if you plan to sit at a picnic table or a blanket if you’ll be sitting on the ground. Mornings are often cool, so don’t forget to bring sweatshirts and hot cocoa, too.

If planning a breakfast at the park requires more energy than you’ve got, how about inviting another family to your place for breakfast?


Children of all ages enjoy bubbles. Babies like to watch other people blow bubbles, and toddlers and preschoolers can learn to blow bubbles. Older children enjoy making homemade bubble solution and trying bubble tricks. And parents can tolerate the mess by remembering that blowing bubbles is a scientific activity—honest!

Bubble Solution

The following three recipes come from Science World in Vancouver, British Columbia. According to Science World, glycerin helps soap bubbles hold water, which helps keep the bubbles from popping. Try a tablespoon or two of glycerin for a small batch of solution. Glycerin can be purchased at most pharmacies.

All-Purpose Bubble Solution

This solution works for most bubble tricks, experiments, and activities.

7–10 parts water

1 part dish detergent



Mix the water, detergent, and glycerin in a bowl.

Thick Bubble Solution

This is a very thick, goopy solution that forms bubbles strong enough to withstand a small puff of air. This solution is great for blowing bubbles inside of bubbles.

21/2–3 parts water

1 part dish detergent



Combine the water, detergent, and glycerin in a bowl.

Bouncy Bubble Solution

This fun solution makes bubbles you can bounce off your clothes.

2 packages unflavored gelatin

4 cups hot water (just boiled)

3–5 tablespoons glycerin

3 tablespoons dish detergent

Dissolve the gelatin in the hot water. Add the glycerin and detergent. This solution will jell, so you’ll need to reheat it whenever you use it.

Giant Bubble


Two drinking straws

Bubble solution

Large, flat baking pan

Thread a length of string through two straws. Tie the ends together to make a loop. Leave as much slack string between the straws as you like, depending on the size of bubble you want.

Pour bubble solution into a large, shallow baking pan. Hold one straw in each hand, leaving the string hanging slack between them. Dip the straw-and-string loop into the bubble solution, then lift it out slowly, taking care not to break the film of bubble solution. Pull the straws apart until the string is taut, then hold the bubble film in front of a fan or the wind and watch a giant bubble take shape!


Bubble Fun

Try these ideas for blowing some neat bubbles.

Drinking straws

Bubble solution




Tea strainer

Set of plastic rings from beverage six-pack

• Dip one end of a straw into bubble solution. Blow through the other end of the straw to make bubbles.

• Cut each of two straws in half. Tape the four short straws together in a bunch. Dip one end of the bunch into bubble solution and blow through the other end.

• Wet part of a tabletop with bubble solution. Dip a drinking straw into the solution. Blow a large dome-shaped bubble on the tabletop. Release the bubble, then insert your straw in it and blow into the straw to form a smaller bubble inside the big one.

• Dip the wide end of a funnel into bubble solution. Blow through the narrow end to form interesting bubble shapes.

• Dip a set of plastic rings from a beverage six-pack in bubble solution and wave it through the air.

Bubble Contest

Nothing to do on a summer afternoon? Organize a bubble-blowing contest! Mix up some bubble solution, assemble some tools for blowing, and you’re set. These contest ideas come from the book Science Wizardry for Kids by Margaret Kenda and Phyllis S. Williams.

Bubble solution

Bubble-blowing tools: drinking straws, funnels, wire loops, and so on

Marble or other small toy

Give each contestant a supply of bubble solution and some bubble-blowing tools. Wet the tabletop with bubble solution and have the kids get blowing.

• Who can blow the biggest bubble?

• Who can create the biggest pile of bubbles in thirty seconds?

• Whose bubble lasts the longest?

• Whose bubble is the prettiest?

• Who can blow a bubble within a bubble?

• Who can get a marble or other small toy inside a bubble?

Bubble Doughnut

Length of wire (large paper clip, thin-wire coat hanger)

Bubble solution

Length of thread shorter than wire

Shape the wire into a circle about two inches in diameter. Dip the wire loop into the bubble solution and blow bubbles through it.

Dip the thread in the bubble solution and roll the ends together between your fingers to form a loop. Dip the wire loop into the bubble solution again, but don’t blow bubbles this time. Instead, place the thread loop gently on top of the film inside the wire loop.

Break the film inside the thread loop. This should give you a doughnut-shaped film between the thread loop and the wire loop. Tilt the wire loop from side to side and watch the doughnut change shape.



The following games are fun for children to play on their own or in groups. If your child is playing alone, he can race against a clock. Many of these games can be adapted for indoor play on rainy or cold days.

Three-Legged Race

Scarves or fabric strips long enough for tying legs together (one for each pair of children)

Two ropes

Divide children into pairs, matching children of similar height and build. Have each player stand next to his partner and put his arm around his partner’s waist. The partners’ inside legs (the right leg of the partner on the left and the left leg of the partner on the right) should be touching. Tie the partners’ inside legs together so each pair of children has three legs rather than four.

Use two ropes to mark a starting line and a finish line. Have the players line up at the starting line. At your signal, have players walk or run as fast as they can to the finish line. It sounds easy, but it takes practice to make two legs work as one! The winners are the pair of children who cross the finish line first.

Catch the Rings

Construction paper


Glue or stapler

One basket or bucket per player

Make at least thirty construction paper rings. Cut strips of construction paper about two inches wide and nine inches long. Glue or staple the ends of each strip together to make a ring.

Give each player a basket or bucket. Choose one child (or an adult) to be the leader. As the leader throws the rings into the air one at a time, the other players try to catch the rings in their baskets or buckets. The player who catches the most rings is the winner.

If there are only two players, they can take turns throwing the rings and catching them. The players can compete against each other, or each player can simply try to better his own score with each turn.

Hit the Ball

Hammer or large bucket of sand

Broomstick with a flat end

Chalk, a stick, or a rope

Ping-Pong ball

Five beanbags or sponges

Hammer one end of a broomstick into the ground or set the broomstick upright in a large bucket of sand. Make sure the flat end of the broomstick is pointing up. If you’re playing on pavement, use chalk to draw a circle three feet in diameter around the broomstick. If you’re playing on dirt, use a stick to draw the circle; if you’re playing on grass, mark the circle with a rope.

Balance a Ping-Pong ball on the end of the broomstick. One at a time, each child stands five feet from the broomstick and tries to knock the Ping-Pong ball off the broomstick by throwing the beanbags or sponges at it.

If the ball falls within the circle, the player scores one point. If the ball falls outside the circle, the player scores two points. The child with the highest score after five throws wins.

If one child is playing alone, he can test his skill by trying to attain a perfect score of ten points after five throws.

Sack Race

Two ropes

One burlap sack or old pillowcase per player

Use two ropes to mark a starting line and a finish line. Give each player a sack or pillowcase. Have the children line up at the starting line and stand in their sacks or pillowcases while holding up the ends with their hands. At your signal, have the players hop to the finish line. The first child to cross the finish line is the winner.




Empty, clean tin can

Paint in as many colors as there are players

Four 2-inch metal washers per player

Paper and pencil

Dig a hole in the ground and place the can in it so the top of the can is flush with the ground. Using spray paint (or acrylic or tempera paints finished with clear acrylic spray), paint four washers (horseshoes) with each color.

Give four horseshoes to each player. One player stands about six feet away from the can and tries to throw his horseshoes into the can. Each player takes a turn. When all the horseshoes have been thrown, retrieve them from the can and record each player’s score. A horseshoe that lands in the can scores two points, and each player’s horseshoe nearest the can scores one point. (This way, every player always scores at least one point.) Set a time limit. The player with the most points when time runs out is the winner.

A child playing alone can try to accumulate a certain number of points within a given time period.



Empty, clean tin can

Golf putter (or child’s golf club, narrow length of wood, or heavy cardboard rolled and taped into a “club”)

Several golf balls

Paper and pencil

Dig a hole in the ground and place the can in it so the top of the can is flush with the ground. Mark a spot about ten feet away from the can. This will be the point from which players will putt.

Give the balls to the first player and challenge him to putt them into the can. When he has putted all the balls, retrieve them from the can and record his score. A ball that lands in the can scores two points, and the ball nearest the can scores one point. (This way, every player always scores at least one point.) Each player takes a turn. Set a time limit. The player with the most points when time runs out is the winner.

A child playing alone can try to accumulate a certain number of points within a given time period.

Jug Catch

Utility knife

One gallon-size plastic jug per player

Duct tape (optional)

One tennis ball or beanbag per player

Use a utility knife to cut a one-gallon plastic jug in half horizontally. Recycle the bottom half of the jug, but save the top half (the half with the handle). If you like, cover the cut edge of the jug with duct tape.

Two or more children playing together can use the jugs to toss a tennis ball or beanbag back and forth without touching it with their hands. A child playing alone can toss a ball or beanbag in the air and catch it in his jug, seeing how many successful catches he can make in a row.



Hopscotch is a traditional game that has been played by children around the world for hundreds of years. As a child, I played hopscotch for hours on end by myself and with my sisters and friends.

Hopscotch is usually played outdoors on a court drawn with chalk on a sidewalk or other flat, paved surface. Many school playgrounds have painted courts, making them great places to play on evenings, weekends, or during the summer. For indoor fun on a rainy day, draw a hopscotch court with a permanent marker on an old sheet. To play, lay the sheet flat on a carpet or other nonslip surface.

There are many different kinds of hopscotch courts. A basic court is made up of ten numbered rectangles in a column with a semicircle at the end labeled out. A snail court has spaces arranged in a spiral. Another traditional court is the airplane, with eight numbered squares plus “home” and “out” arranged in an airplane shape.

Some hopscotch games require markers. When I was a child, my favorite markers were small chains. They’re easy to toss, don’t roll, and don’t hurt if they hit someone.

There are hundreds of different hopscotch games. The following games are fairly common and provide a good introduction to hopscotch for beginners. Once you and your child are familiar with these games, you’ll enjoy learning others and making up your own. If you want to learn more hopscotch games, read Hopscotch around the World by Mary Lankford.

Basic Hopscotch


Use chalk to draw any kind of hopscotch court.

The first player hops up the court and back again, hopping in each space both up and back. On the first trip, he hops on his right foot. On the second trip, he hops on his left foot. On his third trip, he hops on alternating feet. On the fourth trip, he hops with his feet together. The player hops in this sequence until he makes a mistake like hopping on a line, putting both feet down when he’s supposed to be hopping on one foot, or hopping on the wrong foot, at which point he fouls out. The other players take turns hopping in the same way.

When it’s the first player’s turn again, he starts hopping from where he fouled out on his last turn. The winner is the first player to finish the entire sequence of hops.





Ten and Out


One marker (small chain, coin, or stone) per player


Ten and Out

Use chalk to draw the hopscotch court shown at right.

The first player stands in front of space one. He tosses his marker into that space, then hops on one foot into the space, bends over and picks up his marker, and hops up the court and back again on one foot, hopping in each space both up and back. He then tosses his marker into the next space, hops to that space, picks up his marker, and hops up the court and back again. He continues hopping in this way until he fouls out (hops on a line, puts both feet down, or misses his target when tossing his marker).

The players take turns tossing and hopping in the same way. When it’s the first player’s turn again, he starts hopping from where he fouled out on his last turn. The winner is the first player to finish the entire sequence of tosses and hops, including the space labeled out.

Ten Spaces


One marker (small chain, coin, or stone) per player

Play Ten and Out, but when a player fouls out, he leaves his marker in the last space he played successfully. Players must hop over other players’ markers and skip tossing their markers into spaces where others’ markers rest.

Names Hopscotch


Use chalk to draw any kind of hopscotch court. The first player hops up the court and back again on one foot, hopping in each space both up and back. If he does this without fouling out (hopping on a line or putting both feet down), he can claim any one space by writing his name on it with chalk. If he fouls out, his turn ends.

The players take turns hopping and claiming spaces in the same way. A player must hop over spaces claimed by others, but he may hop with both feet in his own space. Play continues when all the spaces have been claimed, but at this point anyone who fouls out is out of the game. The game ends when only one player—the winner—remains.

Eight and Back


One marker (small chain, coin, or stone) per player



Use chalk to draw an airplane hopscotch court. One player stands in the home space. He tosses his marker into space one, hops on one foot over space one and into space two, hops in spaces three and four at the same time, hops on one foot in space five, hops in spaces six and seven at the same time, and hops on one foot into space eight. He turns around and hops back in the same way to space two, where he picks up his marker. Then he hops into space one and the home space. He turns around and tosses his marker into space two and hops in the same way until he fouls out (hops on a line, puts both feet down when he’s supposed to be hopping on one foot, or misses his target when tossing his marker).

The players take turns tossing and hopping in the same way. When a player takes a new turn, he starts hopping from where he fouled out on his last turn. The first player to finish the entire sequence of tosses and hops through space eight is the winner.


Marbles and marble games have been around for ages. Glass marbles have been used for about six hundred years, and clay marbles were found in the tombs of Egyptian Pharaohs buried more than six thousand years ago.

Today’s marbles are made from a variety of materials. The most common marbles are glass, but marbles are also made of agate (a hard stone), alabaster (a soft stone related to marble), clay, and metal. Although most marbles are made by machine, some are works of art handmade by glass blowers.

The standard method of shooting a marble is called knuckling down. The shooter kneels and places the knuckles of his shooting hand on the ground. He sets a marble in the curve of his index finger, resting the marble on his thumb, which is behind the marble. He shoots the marble toward the target by flicking his thumb forward.

If your child finds knuckling down difficult, he can shoot marbles by bowling or flicking them. To bowl a marble, he holds it in the palm of his hand and rolls it toward the target. To flick a marble, he places it on the shooting surface with the tip of his thumb behind it, curls his index finger or middle finger to the first joint of his thumb, then flicks his finger to shoot the marble toward the target.

Marble games often require drawing circles and lines on the ground. Drawing straight lines is fairly easy, but drawing circles freehand is tough. Here’s an easy way to draw a perfect circle on the ground: First, cut a length of string a little over half as long as the diameter of the circle you want to draw. For example, if you need a circle ten feet in diameter, your string should be slightly longer than five feet. Tie one end of the string to a pencil and the other end to a piece of chalk, measuring carefully so that the distance between the chalk and the pencil is exactly five feet. Have someone hold one end of the pencil tightly against the ground while someone else pulls the string taut—and keeps it taut—while drawing a perfect circle around the pencil with the chalk.

A traditional aspect of playing marbles is keeping your opponents’ marbles when you win a game. Be sure players agree on whether they are playing for keeps before they begin a game. This will help prevent arguments and hurt feelings.

If you like the following games and want to know more about marbles and marble games, try the book Marble Mania by Stanley Block. It provides information on marble makers, games, and clubs.


Metal cake pan


Set out a small metal cake pan as a target. The first player crouches ten feet from the pan and tries to flick his marbles one at a time into the pan. If he hits the target, he continues to shoot. If he misses, his turn ends. Players take turns shooting in this way. The winner is the first player to land five marbles in the pan.

If children have difficulty flicking their marbles, you can draw a target with chalk and have the kids roll their marbles toward the target. The winner is the first player to land five marbles inside the target.

A child playing alone can try to land five marbles in the target within a certain amount of time or count how many marbles he must shoot before he lands five in the target.



Chalk or string


This game requires two players. Use chalk or string to mark a line behind which players must stand when they shoot their marbles.

The first player stands behind the line and shoots a marble any distance. This marble becomes the target marble, which the second player tries to hit by shooting a marble toward it. If the second player’s marble lands within a hand span of the target marble, he wins the target marble. If the second player’s marble doesn’t land within a hand span of the target marble, the first player wins the second player’s marble.

Have the players take turns shooting the target marble and trying to hit it.



This game requires two players. The first player shoots a marble any distance. This marble becomes the target marble. The second player stands over the target marble. Holding a marble at eye level, he tries to drop his marble onto the target marble. If he hits it, he wins the target marble. If he misses it, the first player wins the second player’s marble. Have the players take turns shooting the target marble and tryingto hit it.



This game requires two or more players and a flat surface near a smooth wall. Each player throws one marble against the wall so that it bounces off and lands on the flat surface. These marbles become the target marbles. Players take turns shooting marbles one at a time against the wall, trying to rebound each marble to hit a target marble. A marble that doesn’t hit a target marble becomes another target marble. The first player to hit any target marble wins all the target marbles.

Marble Arcade

This game can be played indoors or outdoors.




Heavy object, such as large book or shoe


Cut five or six holes of different sizes and shapes (semicircle, triangle, rectangle, and so on) in one long side of a shoebox. Each hole should be wide enough for a marble to pass through.

Write a number between one and ten above each hole. Give easier (bigger) holes lower numbers and harder (smaller) holes higher numbers. Set the box upside down on a flat surface and put a heavy object on the box to hold it in place.

Have the players take turns shooting their marbles one at a time through the holes from a designated spot. If a marble misses the holes, it stays where it lands. If a marble goes through a hole, its owner retrieves it and collects the designated number of marbles from the playing area. For example, if a marble goes through a hole marked with the number five, its owner collects five marbles from the playing area. If there aren’t enough marbles in the playing area, have each player put one or two marbles into a kitty, from which the shooter is paid.

Bounce Eye



This game requires two or more players. Draw a circle about one foot in diameter. Have each player scatter an equal number of marbles inside the circle.

The first player stands outside the circle. Holding a marble with an outstretched arm at eye level, he drops it into the circle. If his marble knocks any marbles out of the circle, his marble plus the marbles he knocked out belong to him. If he fails to knock any marbles out of the circle, his marble stays with the other marbles inside the circle.

Players take turns trying to knock marbles out of the circle until there are no marbles left in the circle. At that point, the player with the most marbles is the winner.



Jump rope is a classic children’s activity. Over the past hundred years or so, jump rope changed from a competitive individual sport for boys to a cooperative game for girls. Girls began the practice of jumping in groups, and girls were also responsible for adding rhymes that help jumpers keep their rhythm.

Jump rope was a favorite pastime for children of my generation, but its popularity has declined in recent years. In our community, several mothers have banded together to revive the lost art of jump rope by volunteering to teach it to students at their local school at lunch time.

Jump rope combines exercise with mild competition. Children with their own ropes enjoy seeing who can jump the fastest or the most times without tripping. A child jumping alone can see how many jumps he can do in a minute or before tripping. And a group of children can share one long rope as they take turns twirling the rope and jumping. Group jump rope helps children learn to cooperate with others while having fun.

You may enjoy teaching traditional jump rope rhymes and routines to your children and their friends. The rhymes on the following pages are ones to which many generations of North American children have jumped rope. For more rhymes, chants, songs, and techniques, check out Joanna Cole’s book Anna Banana.

Straight Jumping

These rhymes can be used by individual jumpers and by children jumping in groups.

I love coffee.

I love tea.

I love the boys (girls),

And the boys (girls) love me.

Postman, postman,

Do your duty.

Send this letter

To an American beauty.

Don’t you stop and don’t delay.

Get it to her right away.

Mother, mother, I am ill.

Call for the doctor over the hill.

In came the doctor.

In came the nurse.

In came the lady

With the alligator purse.

“Measles,” said the doctor.

“Mumps,” said the nurse.

“Nothing,” said the lady

With the alligator purse.

To get the jumping started for group jump rope, say the following rhyme while swinging the rope back-and-forth along the ground as shown. Make a full turn of the rope on the word over, then begin a new rhyme.




(forward and over)


cockle shells,

eevy, ivy,


Counting Jumps

These rhymes can be used by individual jumpers and by children jumping in groups to see how many times a jumper can jump without tripping.

Candy, candy in the dish.

How many pieces do you wish?

One, two, three, four, five . . .

Mother made a chocolate cake.

How many eggs did it take?

One, two, three, four, five . . .

Cinderella, dressed in yellow,

Went downstairs to kiss her fellow.

How many kisses did she give?

One, two, three, four, five . . .

Speed Jumping

These rhymes can be used by individual jumpers and by children jumping in groups. Twirl the rope very fast after saying the word pepper and count to see how many fast jumps the jumper can make before he trips.

Mabel, Mabel, set the table

Just as fast as you are able.

Don’t forget the salt, sugar,

Vinegar, mustard, red hot pepper!

One, two, three, four, five . . .

Mother sent me to the store.

This is what she sent me for:

Coffee, tea, and red hot pepper!

One, two, three, four, five . . .

Question-Answer Jumping

These rhymes can be used by individual jumpers and by children jumping in groups. Each rhyme asks a question that’s followed by a series of possible answers. The answer is determined by the word on which the jumper trips.

If the punching in this rhyme bothers you, say, “My ma stepped on your ma’s toes” instead.

My ma and your ma were hanging out clothes.

My ma gave your ma a punch in the nose.

Did it hurt her?

Yes, no, maybe so, yes, no, maybe so . . .

For the next rhyme, the jumper names something that starts with the letter on which he trips.

ABCs and vegetable goop.

What will I find in the alphabet soup?

A, B, C, D, E, F, G . . .

In this last rhyme, the letter on which the jumper trips predicts the name of the jumper’s future sweetheart.

Strawberry shortcake, cream on top.

Tell me the name of my sweetheart.

A, B, C, D, E, F, G . . .

Action Jumping

Each of these rhymes is meant for group jump rope. As everyone chants the rhyme, the jumper jumps while dramatizing the actions.

I’m a little Dutch girl dressed in blue.

Here are the things I like to do:

Salute to the captain, bow to the queen,

Turn my back on the submarine.

I can do the tap dance, I can do the splits.

I can do the hokey pokey just like this.

Spanish dancer, do the splits.

Spanish dancer, give a kick.

Spanish dancer, turn around.

Spanish dancer, get out of town. (Jumper runs out.)

Benjamin Franklin went to France

To teach the ladies how to dance.

First the heel and then the toe;

Spin around, and out you go.



Most kids are drawn to working with earth—observe any child making mud pies! What begins as play can develop into a lifelong love of gardening.

Gardening is a valuable activity for kids. It not only teaches them about science and nature, it also requires planning and patience, encourages experimentation and observation, provides fresh air and exercise, and produces tangible results. You can grow fruits, vegetables, herbs, or flowers, and you can eat your harvest fresh-picked, freeze it, dry it, cook or bake with it, use it to decorate your home, give it away, sell it for profit, or make crafts with it.

Don’t worry if you haven’t much space. You can grow a garden in pots on a balcony or windowsill, in hanging baskets or window boxes, or in any small strip of land. Your neighborhood may even have a community garden.

A kids’ gardening book plus a pair of gloves, a small set of tools, and a few seed packets make great gifts for a beginning gardener. Two books we like are Karyn Morris’s The Kids Can Press Jumbo Book of Gardening and L. Patricia Kite’s Gardening Wizardry for Kids.

Use the following activities to introduce your child to gardening. You’ll learn as you grow, so don’t get frustrated. Gardening takes patience, flexibility, and a willingness to learn from mistakes. Always use good soil and choose plants that you like and that match your garden’s growing conditions. Be creative, take your time, and have fun!

Homemade Composter

The key to a healthy garden is good soil, and good soil is full of nutrients and organic matter. The best way to improve your soil is to add compost. You can buy compost or make it yourself in a store-bought or homemade composter.

Large plastic garbage can with lid

Utility knife



Cut the bottom out of the garbage can with a utility knife. Help your child use a hammer and nail to punch holes about eight inches apart in three parallel circles around the top, middle, and bottom of the can.




Fresh kitchen scraps (vegetable matter only) and/or grass clippings

Dry material like sawdust, dead leaves, and dry grass clippings


Place your composter in a sunny spot with at least twelve inches of space around it so air can circulate.

Have your child put a four-inch layer of soil in the bottom of the composter. Add a four-inch layer of fresh kitchen scraps and/or grass clippings. Add a four-inch layer of dry material. Keep alternating layers of fresh and dry materials.

When you’re done, place the lid on your composter. When the compost is dark brown and smells like earth, it’s ready to use in your garden.

Compost Tea


Cheesecloth or burlap bag





Have your child place about one cup of compost on a piece of cheesecloth or burlap. Tie the cheesecloth or burlap shut with string. Fill a pail with water and hang the compost bag inside the pail. Cover the pail and let it sit for a week or so. Water your plants with compost tea every few weeks to help them thrive.


Pumpkins need about four months to grow, so plant the seeds three to four weeks after the last spring frost.

Soil and compost

Pumpkin seeds

Compost tea

Leaves or grass clippings

Newspapers or straw mulch

Choose a sunny area for your pumpkin patch. Help your child use soil and compost to make a hill. If you have a large garden, make three or four hills spaced about three feet apart. Plant three or four pumpkin seeds in each hill.

Water the hill(s) each week and watch for seedlings to appear. When they do, pull out the weaker looking ones to leave one strong seedling growing in each hill. When blossoms appear, remove all but three from each plant. Each blossom will become a pumpkin.

Water your plant(s) with warm water every week and with compost tea every few weeks. Spread compost, leaves, or grass clippings on top of the soil around the growing pumpkins. Make sure the grass clippings don’t touch the stem(s) of your plant(s). To ensure that the pumpkins won’t rot on the moist soil, place newspapers or straw mulch under the pumpkins as they grow. Turn them frequently so they ripen on all sides.



Cut each potato into four pieces with at least two eyes per piece. Have your child plant each piece eyes-up about four inches deep. Water the plants regularly. As the potatoes grow, mound soil around them to keep them covered. Dig up your potatoes in the fall after the stems and leaves die.


Sunflower seeds

Compost tea


Stakes (optional)

Have your child plant sunflower seeds early in the growing season, after all danger of frost has passed, about one inch deep and three feet apart. If you’re planting sunflowers in a garden, plant them where they won’t shade shorter plants. Water the plants regularly with water and every three weeks with compost tea. When seedlings appear, put compost around the base of each plant, making sure the compost doesn’t touch the stem. Taller plants may need stakes for support.


Strawberries are easy to grow and delicious to eat. Best of all, the plants bear fruit year after year.

Strawberry seedlings


Straw mulch

Help your child plant strawberry seedlings about one foot apart in a sunny area with well-drained soil. Plant multiple rows about two feet apart.

Water the plants regularly. For the first three months after you plant them, remove the blossoms from each plant. During the first two growing seasons, remove all the runners from the plants. These techniques help the plants grow sturdy.

You won’t get any berries in the first growing season, but you will get berries in the second growing season. When cold weather arrives and the ground freezes, cover your plants with straw. Remove the straw the following spring.

Starting in the third growing season, let the runners grow. These will form new rows of strawberry plants. Remove the older plants in the fall.


Plant tomatoes early in the growing season, about two or three weeks after the last frost. Some varieties produce only one crop of tomatoes (a good choice for containers), while others keep producing until the first frost.

Tomato seedlings

Tomato cages


Compost tea

Help your child plant tomato seedlings about two feet apart in a sunny area, with their bottom leaves at soil level. Place a cage around each plant. Spread compost around the plants, making sure it doesn’t touch the stems. Water the plants regularly with water and with compost tea every three weeks. Wind the stems through the cages as they grow.



I’ve lived most of my life in an area that doesn’t get much snow. Any snow that falls usually melts in a day or two, giving us barely enough time to make a few snow angels and a snowman. But if you live in a place that gets lots of snow during the winter, snow angels and snowmen probably just aren’t enough. Here are a few games and activities to add some fun and variety to your snow play.

Fox and Geese

This game requires four or more players and a large, open area of unspoiled snow. Stomp a big circle in the snow and two intersecting paths through the middle of the circle. Where the paths meet, stomp out a small safe zone. The figure should look like this: images. Choose one person to be the fox; all other players are geese. The fox chases the geese and tries to tag one of them. All players must run only on the paths, and geese can’t be tagged when they’re standing in the safe zone. As soon as the fox catches a goose, that goose becomes the new fox.

Snow Bricks

Loaf pan

Pack snow into a loaf pan. (If the snow is powdery, sprinkle a little water on it before packing it into the pan.) Turn the pan upside down and tap the bottom lightly to release the brick. Use snow bricks to build a fort. Bricks laid with their long sides together will make a sturdy structure. Pack snow in the gaps between the bricks as you lay them.

Target Practice


Old sheet or blanket


Clothesline or rope


Needle and thread (optional)

Cut three or four holes, each about twelve inches in diameter, in an old sheet or blanket. Fasten this target with lots of clothespins to a clothesline or a rope strung between two trees or posts. Have each child stand about ten feet away and throw snowballs at the holes. Score one point for each snowball that goes through a hole. The first person to score a certain number of points is the winner. A child playing alone can see how many snowballs it takes to score a certain number of points.

To make a sturdy target that won’t flap in the wind, sew casings along its long sides. (Fold each long side over an inch or two and sew it down to create a tube.) Thread one rope through the top casing and another through the bottom one, then tie the ropes to two trees or posts.

You can also play this game in the summertime, using balls instead of snowballs.

Ice Sculptures

Molds (buckets, ice cube trays, plastic containers, milk cartons, and so on)

Bucket of warm water

Mittens or gloves

Spray bottle full of water

Fill the molds with water and set them outdoors overnight to freeze. Dip each mold in warm water for a few seconds to loosen the ice. Turn the mold upside down to slide the ice out. (Be sure to wear mittens or gloves.) Let your child build an ice sculpture. To stick two shapes together, spray water on the surfaces you want to join and hold them together for about ten seconds.

Snow Painting

Spray bottle full of water

Food coloring or liquid tempera paint


Small containers

Add a few drops of food coloring or a spoonful or two of tempera paint to a spray bottle full of water. Let your child paint the snow by spraying it or brushing on undiluted tempera paint poured into small containers.

Button, Button



Colored button

This game requires four or more players. Make a number of snowballs one fewer than number of players you have. Hide a brightly colored button inside one of the snowballs.

Choose one player to be it. The other players stand in a circle around him and pass the snowballs quickly around the circle until he tells them to stop. He must then guess which player has the snowball with the button inside. The players break open their snowballs to see if he has guessed correctly. If not, he’s it again for the next round; if so, the player holding the button becomes it. Make some more snowballs and play again.