Two summers ago, my family went to Maine for a camping trip. Maine, however, was
experiencing a deluge—record-breaking rainfall every day. After the first cold, drenched
night in a tent, we moved to a motel...for 13 unforgettable one-room, four-people, dry-but-indoors days.
Here's what I learned: Life on vacation is not always a beach, or even a stormy, gray,
freezing beach. But you must forge on. You must make fun. Otherwise, your children
will make the fun for you—in the form of eating Mommy's lipstick or cutting Daddy's hair
while he sits stunned and overwhelmed in front of his sixth back-to-back episode of Ace
of Cakes on cable TV. Luckily, we've come up with 13 ways to beat the trapped-inside
blues this summer, should you need them on vacation or in the confines of your own
Binocular Scavenger Hunt
Make a list of outdoor things you can see from various windows, using—surprise—
binoculars. Be sure to vary the items from the teeny-tiny (say, a broken but beautiful bit
of green glass) to the exceptionally large (say, an oak tree in the shape of a jolly giant), as
well as from the very far to the very near. The first child who checks off every item on
the list as "spotted" gets a prize. Our favorite reward: freedom from sharing toys for 15
Paper Airplane Relays
Step 1: Make a
respectable and earth-friendly airplane
from a piece of previously drawn-on paper.
Elevate the kids by lifting them onto your shoulders, standing them on a bed or
perching them on a counter (with supervision).
A long, elaborate countdown with extended, fantastical drumrolls. The plane that
flies the farthest without breaking a lamp wins.
Plantable Greeting Cards
This craft goes way, way beyond lanyards or macaroni-shell pencil holders. Make your
with seeds mixed into it. Next, use the paper to make a card. Then send
the card to one of your children's friends who can plant it directly into the ground—provided, as a courtesy to his mother, that he does it after the rain has stopped.
Shoot Your Own Movie
There are really only three acceptable plots: robbers, ghosts or Daddy slipping on a
Family Fashion Show
Each person in the family draws the name of another out of a hat. Everybody dresses up
in the clothes and accessories of the person they picked, then saunters down the catwalk,
posing wildly, while Mom takes pictures with the camera set to flash. Added fun: Include
the family pets...unless Grandmother is involved. Grandma does not swap clothes with
the dog. Grandma does not wear a leash.
Have the kids decorate a magic paper bag. Put seven or eight books into the bag. Draw
one book out slowly, slowly, slowly and—presto!—the kids will instantly want to
read that book. You'll never understand why, and they'll never be able to tell you why.
Nevertheless, the miracle will repeat itself until all the books are read.
Make a Sock Monkey
Everybody loves sock
—even the parent who supervises making them. Why? A sock monkey
doesn't really look like a monkey. So, should you lack sewing skills and end up with a
sock monster, nobody gets frustrated, flings themselves on the ground and turns into a
All-Room Obstacle Course
Jump off the bed. Roll across the room. Crawl under the table. Run upstairs. Hide under the
armchair for 30 seconds. Stick your head in the fridge and smell the milk. Skip around the dining
room table three times. Then, the long, hard, do-or-die dash to the finish: Lie down on your
bed for 20 minutes. Without moving one muscle.
Every child loves spelling—as long as it comes with a dark, sinister underbelly. For
younger kids, print out a sheet with the gallows and the whole alphabet printed on it as
reference. Just in case anybody fogets there leters.
Break out the Christmas cookie cutters. Bake the cookies as usual but decorate the gingerbread
men and ladies with frosted bathing suits and bikinis. Add authentic sunburn marks with
cinnamon red hots.
Rip, Recycle, Reuse
Little children love to tear books. Stop hiding the evidence and feeling horrible by turning your old book covers into postcards or gift tags
Paint the Tub
Whip up some easy, inexpensive homemade bath paints
and set the kids loose on your porcelain canvas. Note: Let the kids clean up their
masterpieces with sponges. Any attempt by an adult will result in an immediate art preservation movement requiring you to save your kids' paintings "forever" and no one in the family being able to take a bath "ever again."
Count the Raindrops
Lie in bed with your kids, look up at the ceiling and try to track the plips and plops of a
summer deluge in correct numerical order. This, of course, is impossible. Everyone will
lose count after five drops. Yet, surprisingly, everyone will stay in bed—warm, snuggled
together—as if this were the point of the whole game.