By Christina VanGinkel
With the older kids off to school, keeping the younger kids left at home occupied can be a challenge, especially if you are a stay at home parent who is not off to work and dropping the youngest ones off at daycare or a baby sitters. Over the summer, you may have relied on your school age children to watch the younger set for a few minutes here and there, or they just naturally spent a lot of time together playing. Now that you are once again their center of attention, it is up to you to make sure they have fun, learning, active, filled days.
If they are at an age where they are captivated by the thought of going to school, yet are too young to go, set up school at home. Visit your local dollar store and purchase pencils, crayons, a small blackboard with chalk, and several age appropriate workbooks. Give them simple assignments in the workbooks, create some easy science experiments for them to do, such as mixing food color, one drop at a time into a measuring cup of water, start with yellow, then have them add a few drops of blue. Ask them what color they have now, and when they announce green, have them create, (with your help of course!) a log of the experiment and the results. If they are old enough to hold a pair of safety scissors, have them cut out simple shapes. For more classroom related ideas, do a search online for 'free preschool curriculum' or 'free preschool activities'.
For children that are a bit too young for activities such as these, check out the local shopping boards and penny savers for advertisements related to play groups forming. Libraries often offer fall programs geared for the toddler and preschool aged child. Story time, crafts, learning the alphabet, and simple finger plays are usually activities of choice.
Head to the park and check out what other local activities may be available in your area. If you have a community pool or gym, find out if they have a toddler time or family time during the day. Organizations such as these often set aside times for parents with young children to use the facilities at a more relaxed pace than when it is open to the general public. One center I know has a two-hour time slot, every day that school is in, when you must either be a senior or have a toddler in tow to enter. Rates are reduced during this two-hour slot, and it is a much more relaxed time to swim or use the gym than during typical family time, when a lot of older kids and teenagers are running about.
Consider creating a routine for reading together, snack times, nap times, etc., also, as before you know it, your littlest ones will be in school with the older ones. Starting them on a relaxed schedule now will make the transition to a more fixed routine typical at most schools easier. Most importantly, cherish these days when they are little and just enjoy them!