1. Most children’s movies have a French and Spanish soundtracks. If you play the movie in a foreign language and turn on the same language’s subtitles, you will learn a lot of new vocabulary and expressions, and so will your kids.
2. A Monster in Paris is a movie the whole family will like. Not as famous as The Incredibles or Shrek, this charming movie is a lot of fun and not too scary for the younger set.
3. Goodwill is a great place to take your younger children to shop for holiday presents for their siblings and relatives. They can pick out whatever they want, it’s inexpensive, you are doing a good deed by shopping there, and, by not participating in the first world economy, you’re making the world a better place.
4. You and your kids can then wrap those presents, or any others, in old maps. No need to buy wrapping paper. (If you have no maps because you only use a GPS, a decorated brown paper bag makes great wrapping paper, as do used calendars and even newspaper in a pinch.) Here are 15 other ways to save a tree.
5. Wondering what your child is thinking about? Play interview. Set up two chairs and a table. Put on a suit jacket or a silly hat. You are the interviewer, your child is the client. “Right this way, please, Mr. Smith,” you say after your child knocks on the pretend door. “You’re here for your interview, I presume?” Then you ask them questions and write down the answers. Sample questions: 1) What’s your favorite color and why? 2) If you could spend the day doing anything you want, what would you do? 3) What do you like best about school? 4) What are your three favorite candies? 5) What do you not like about school? (See, you slip in the burning questions in between the lighter ones.)
6. Toys get really boring really quickly. Two ways to fix this: 1) Swap a box of toys with a friend your child’s age (have them put their name on the bottom of anything they want back.) 2) Put toys on vacation (your child can help) for a couple of months in the closet. Pull them out later and they are suddenly fascinating again.
7. Let them climb trees. As high as they want. Don’t hover and don’t help them. In Scandinavia where children are given a lot more freedom to climb trees and explore nature, kids also have fewer accidents! Read more about this in Christine Gross-Loh’s wonderful book Parenting Without Borders.
8. It’s OK if your kids don’t want to share. You wouldn’t share your car or bicycle with someone you just met. You probably wouldn’t share
your jewelry, a brand new book, your pajamas, or something else special, either. We shouldn’t expect more from our children than we do from ourselves. (And it also doesn’t work to shout “STOP SHOUTING!” when you want your kids to stop shouting. We all do it anyway. But it doesn’t work.) Read more in Heather Shumaker’s wonderful book.
9. The best way to make a baby laugh is to throw a piece of spaghetti against the wall.
10. Kids can and should use knives. Even little kids. (See #7, details in the book. Or read this essay by Christine in the Huffington Post)
11. An activity for a rainy day, ages 2 – 8 (44-year-olds have fun with this too): Sit on a sheet on the floor in the kitchen and play sandbox. Use flour, corn starch, and dried beans for sand. Jars of different sizes, a small bucket, and a shovel or trowel make good sand toys.
12. An activity for a nice day: intersection. Walk out of your house or apartment. At each intersection a different member of the family gets to decide which way to go. Take turns. See where you end up.
13. Use cookie cutters to make shapes out of tofu! This idea came to me last week. It was so much fun and my kids ate a ton of tofu and veggies (we fried the shapes in soy sauce, garlic, and broccoli.) I’m sure other parents have had this idea but I can’t believe I never thought of it before!
Jennifer Margulis is the author/editor of four books about parenting: Toddler: Real-Life Stories of Those Fickle, Urgent, Irrational People We Love; The Baby Bonding Book For Dads; and The Business of Baby: What Doctors Don’t Tell You, What Corporations Try to Sell You, and How to Put Your Pregnancy, Childbirth, and Baby BEFORE Their Bottom Line (Scribner, 2013).