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Arm Yourself for Moment When Your Child Announces, ‘I’m Bored’

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It’s a time when school bells are silent--a time when, as Ray Bradbury once wrote, children can cross a whole summer off the calendar, day by day. Kids can read books and not have to write reports on them, spend long days with friends, devour icy treats endlessly.

However, there comes the day when the hours hang as heavy as humidity in Philadelphia and your child announces, “I’m bored. There’s nothing to do.”

Here are 10 ideas to prepare you for that moment. Some of these require adult supervision; some are child-directed. Some need preparation; some can be done on the spot. Some are for a solitary child; some for groups.

Bev Bos’ Bubbles--An activity that can be shared by children and adults. The recipe for bubbles comes from Bev Bos, director of a Northern California preschool, lecturer, author, mother and grandmother.

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To a half cup of Dawn dish detergent (Dawn, she says, works best), add two tablespoons of glycerin, available in pharmacies. Then add this to one gallon of water. (If the water is chemically hard, you might have to add more detergent.) The mix works best if it is made the day before you use it.

Now comes the fun. Small children can make bubbles using their fingers--by touching the index finger to the thumb they can create their own wand to blow through or to wave around. Plastic strawberry baskets make bubbles that look like clusters of grapes. Old tennis or badminton racquets and plastic holders for soft drink and beer cans make bubbles in volume.

Older children can make giant single bubbles using a piece of string and a straw. Cut the straw in half. Thread a length of string through the two pieces of straw, and knot the string to form a loop. Position the straw halves on each side of the loop, and use them as handles to dip the string in the bubble mix. Step back slowly and bring the hands together. With luck the child will create a bubble as big as a dinosaur egg.

Phil Willon’s Beach Ball Castle--A ball castle is a large pile of sand with a path formed around it for a ball to travel on. Phil Willon, who says he first created the castles 60 years ago at a beach in New Jersey, is still making them with his grandsons in California.

You need a sandy beach, a small rubber ball, a bucket and some shovels. Begin by scooping sand into a large cone-shaped pile. Compact it with your hands and pour several buckets of water over it. Starting at the top and working down, trace a path around the cone using the ball.

It’s fun to have a tunnel as part of the path. To form a tunnel, about halfway down dig through the cone of sand, making sure that the path continues to slope.

Make sure that the castle’s entire path has retaining walls so the ball will stay on course.

Finish by sinking a pail to the level of the beach at the end of the path. Fill it with water.

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Now . . . for a trial run. Place the ball at the top of the cone and give it a push. Gravity takes the ball on its winding way down the castle. The journey ends with a plop in the bucket, to the cheers of spectators.

Paper Bag Tether Ball--This low-budget tether ball was invented by inner-city children. Stuff a small lunch bag with newspaper. Twist the top of the bag and tie a piece of string five to six feet long to it. Tie the other end to any convenient pole. The ball should hang at a child’s knee.

To play, one child stands on one side of the pole and another stands diagonally opposite, facing him or her. The object is to hit the ball with the hands so it winds around until it touches the pole. The opponents bat the ball in opposite directions as it whirls around.

Squirt Gun Shoot-Out--This comes from “The Incredible Year-Round Playbook” (Random House) by Elin McCoy. The challenge for children is to shoot Ping-Pong balls off bottles using a squirt gun. The challenge for the adult in charge is to find enough empty bottles to put the balls on. (Plastic soda bottles work the best.)

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Place three bottles for each child on a table outside. On the open neck of each bottle, place a Ping-Pong ball. Draw a line several feet from the table, and have the children stand behind it. Give each child a squirt gun.

At the signal, each youngster tries to squirt the balls off his or her three bottles.

Art Under the Sprinkler--This is a way for a child to be creative and to cool off at the same time. It’s from “Sandcastles and Snowflakes” (M.A.D. Publishing), a book by Pat Katz. You need several colors of dry tempera paint (available in art-supply stores), heavy white construction paper and a sprinkler or squirt bottle.

Sprinkle the dry tempera on the construction paper. This can be done either by putting the tempera in empty spice bottles that have shaker tops or in a teaspoon and then gently tapping it. Place the paper under a sprinkler for a few seconds or mist it with a squirt bottle. Shake off the excess paint either before or after the picture dries for different effects.

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Water Spinners and Go-Boats--Mary and Dewey Blocksma combine balloons and water for some out-of-the-ordinary toys and boats. From their book “Easy-to-Make Water Toys That Really Work” (Prentice-Hall) comes the Water Spinner, a top that spins on water or under it. You need a round balloon, a flexible plastic straw (the kind with a corrugated, bendable section) and tape. Cut the rolled lip off the balloon. Cut the straw in half. The half with the flexible section is poked into the balloon’s opening and is sealed to the balloon with tape so there are no air leaks. Blow up the balloon through the straw, pinch the straw and let it go under water in a bathtub or outdoor pool.

To make the Water Spinner perform on the surface, blow up the balloon, bend the flexible straw so it angles to one side, set the balloon on the water and turn it loose.

To make a Go-Boat, follow the steps for a Water Spinner but don’t cut the flexible straw. Take a plastic-foam dinner plate, poke a hole in the center with a pencil and push the straw through it. Blow up the balloon through the straw, pinch the end of the straw and, making sure the straw is under water, let it go.

Beach Kites--A plain brown paper bag can become a colorful kite for the beach in the hands of a creative child. You need markers, crayons, stickers, rubber stamps and stamp pads, glue, tape, a stapler and a hole puncher. Invite your child to decorate either a large brown supermarket bag or a small lunch bag. When the artwork is finished, staple or tape crepe paper streamers to the bottom of the bag. Next put a piece of tape on each side of the bag at the open end to reinforce the points where the strings will be attached. Punch a hole through each of the two taped areas, thread a long piece of string or yarn through each hole and tie the loose ends together. Now turn your young kite fliers loose on a breezy beach. This idea is from “Parent Tricks-of-the-Trade” (Colortone Press’ Acropolis Books) by Kathleen Touw.

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Cool-Down Water Fight--A water fight is a good way for children to cool off on a sweltering afternoon. For a first-rate water fight, Elin McCoy in her “The Incredible Year-Round Playbook” suggests squirt guns, spray bottles, turkey basters, saturated sponges and water balloons. Set up a small pool or bucket of water in the yard as a refueling station. Designate a “safe place” for the kids who want to rest.

To make one, stick a swizzle stick or coffee stirrer into a seedless grape and freeze. They go fast, so make a lot. This idea is from “Lollipop Grapes and Clothespin Critters” (Addison-Wesley Publishing) by Robyn Freedman Spizman.

Pea-and-Toothpick Structure--You need pea seeds and round toothpicks. Pea seeds are the kind that are planted in gardens and are sold in packages at nurseries. The peas must be soaked for about eight hours; at that point they are soft enough to pierce with the toothpicks. Children can create structures that resemble three-dimensional dot-to-dots by taking a pea, sticking it with a toothpick, adding a pea to the other end of the toothpick, sticking it with another toothpick and so on.

The structures become permanent when the peas dry and shrink. It is featured in both Steven Caney’s “Toy Book” (Workman Publishing) and Dian Thomas’ “Today’s Tips for Easy Living” (Knight-Ridder’s HP Books).

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Water Slide--This idea is perfect for the day when it’s hot but the children still have too much energy. Ask the kids to get into their bathing suits. Fix yourself some iced tea and pull up a lounge chair close to the hose.

Spread out a large drop cloth or an old shower curtain on the lawn, making sure that there are no rocks or sharp objects under it. Anchor the edges with smooth rocks or plastic bottles filled with sand. From your lounge chair, spray the drop cloth with the hose.

Watch the kids run, dive, slide and laugh the afternoon away. The water slide is from Caney’s “Play Book,” which like his “Toy Book” is put out by Workman Publishing.


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