Ten tips If you have young kids, chances are your home is the parking garage for an entire fleet of toy vehicles ranging from small Hot Wheels to large dump trucks. While just driving them around can provide hours of fun, here are a few ideas to spark kids’ imaginations and get parents and siblings involved, too. It’s a chance for you to sneak in lessons on numbers, colors and categorization as well.
1 Design the world’s worst picnic. Spread out a blanket as the site of an imaginary picnic filled with the worst guests and food in the world. Drive a single vehicle to the site, park on the blanket and announce who the guest is and what he brought. Maybe it’s Cruella De Vil bringing rotten puppy chow or Captain Hook carrying slug soup. Continue taking turns driving vehicles to the picnic until the blanket is covered. Each vehicle must contain a different driver and dish.
2 Create a safari. Pretend your house is a jungle. Hide stuffed or plastic animals in various rooms. Send your child on an expedition to find the creatures and bring them to a designated point in a large truck (several trips may be needed). A variation of this game is a treasure hunt. Cut diamond shapes out of construction paper or aluminum foil. Hide them all over and send your young explorer out to find riches.
3 Host a car show. Have your child group together similar vehicles in separate rooms, such as trucks in the living room, cars in the dining room and rescue vehicles in the kitchen. Tell the child to arrange the cars in a design, such as in rows or in a circle. Give the young showman a baby wipe to polish the vehicles for the show. When all vehicles are looking their best, the child can escort you into each room for viewing. Award a small piece of ribbon to the best in each category.
4 Play car dealer. Pretend you are shopping for a new vehicle. Your child can be the dealer and create a lot filled with items for sale. Each car needs a small piece of paper listing its price. When you arrive, ask the dealer to tell you about the cars. Take a few for a test drive. Haggle over the price. Pay the dealer for your purchase with play money or a trading card “credit card.” Switch roles.
5 Do inventory. Children like to keep track of their items. Write down a list of colors (or draw boxes in various colors for younger children). Have the child separate vehicles by colors into groups and count the number of vehicles in each group. Write that number next to the appropriate color on the list.
6 Set up an obstacle course. Use blocks, stuffed animals, or other objects to create an obstacle course. The child can drive a vehicle through the course while you count or hold a stopwatch. Wild driving won’t work—a five-second penalty gets added to the score for each item knocked down. Record the result. Repeat with vehicles of different shapes and sizes. Compare the times at the end and talk about which vehicles were the easiest or hardest to maneuver and why.
7 Organize a parade. Invent a holiday such as Mommy Appreciation Day or Only 30 More Days Until Summer. Hold a parade to celebrate. Line up vehicles from smallest to largest, letting the line run from room to room if necessary. Make banners for some cars. Decorate others with bows and ribbons. Action figures and plastic animals can join as riders. Stuffed animals can line the route as spectators. Choose a grand marshal and build a platform of blocks where he can stand.
8 Play garbage collector. This activity can both entertain your child and help you get some sorting done. Let your child follow you from room to room with a truck. In each place, find some unneeded paper to throw away, such as junk mail, old receipts, expired coupons and newspaper ads. Crinkle and toss each item onto the floor for the young garbage collector to pick up. If the paper is too big, have the child rip it up until it fits. For easy clean-up, place a spaghetti pot in one spot to act as the “dump” where the garbage must be delivered.
9 Play mailman. Talk about what sorts of things come in the mail: advertisements, cards, letters, bills, invitations, etc. Make some of each. Be sure each piece contains an address, a return address and a sticker “stamp.” The young postal worker then puts the mail in a truck and delivers it to the appropriate recipient, such as a sibling, puppet or pet.
10 Turn your kitchen into a drive-through. Take a large piece of paper and together create a restaurant menu that includes a price next to each item. Draw a picture along with the word for pre-readers. Grab a calculator for the cashier and some paper for making receipts. Have cars come through the drive-through to place orders. Add up the items and write the total on a receipt. The driver should pay for the purchase using play money.
Beth B. Hering is a writer and mom living in South Elgin.