by Diane Wiltshire

When it’s too hot or too rainy even to visit the park with the kids, a stash of arts and crafts supplies and a few treats extraordinaire may very well save your sanity. Nothing delights children more than doing what’s normally not allowed; therefore many of the following ideas fall into that cat­egory.

I have been known to let my children play outside in their underwear when it was raining, as long as there were no thun­derstorms of course. Swimsuits would perhaps be more appropriate and might keep the neighborhood gossip about your parenting style to a minimum. It’s too late for me. I blew my reputation early on with the shaving cream incident.

It actually started out as one of my more brilliant artsy-craftsy inventions, born during an extra long rainy season. I filled the children’s miniature squirt guns with water, took a can of shaving cream, and drew targets all over the side of our cement garage. The kids took delight in perfecting their aim and blast­ing off the gooey cream. They begged me for more shaving cream so they could paint pic­tures and wash them off too. I complied, relieved to see the children so happily occupied and out of my hair.

Alas, it wasn’t long before I heard my Japanese neighbor sputtering with indignation. Running outside, I found the elegant wooden wall of her tra­ditional Japanese home covered with white shaving cream cre­ations; the children had run out of space on our garage and had expanded their canvas to our neighbor’s wall. Note to readers: confine your children to your own property for this activity!

Even if you don’t have much extra space in your home, a giant-sized empty cardboard box plunked down in the mid­dle of the floor equals hours of fun for the kids. Our local appli­ance store was always a good source for oversized containers; each summer the children and I would go searching for the per­fect box and drag it home. They would proceed to make houses, supermarkets, forts or space­ships, creating games to go with each structure. I would help in cutting windows and doors but the kids could design the rest by themselves. Other supplies that they found useful were bed sheets, yarn or rope, and crayons or markers for decorat­ing.

Painting pebbles is an activity that will easily occupy part of a summer day. First you’ll need to scout around for some rocks in various shapes with fairly smooth surfaces. If these are hard to find, you can supplement your collection with rock garden-type stones purchased at the local gardening center. Using acrylic paints and a small paint­brush, your child can turn a pile of rocks into ornamental art­works to spruce up a ‘garden bed, poke around potted plants or place on a windowsill. One year we spelled out all the chil­dren’s names, using one stone for each letter, and painted tiny bugs on the bottoms.

Blowing bubbles was always a favorite pastime during the summertime. You can buy all sorts of bubble mix in the stores, or make your own using the following recipe: in a jar gently stir together 2 1/2 cups of water, 1 cup of dishwashing liq­uid, and 1 Tablespoon of glyc­erin, sold at most pharmacies. The bubble solution can be poured into a large, round pot where you can experiment with different kinds of bubble mak­ers, from plastic six-pack rings to slotted spoons to wands made of twisted pipe cleaners.

Summer wouldn’t be com­plete without an ice cream treat. “Hands-On Ice Cream” is our family’s gross-out version of what is supposed to be a fancy dessert. The actual recipe calls for peeling away the box from a carton of ice cream, setting the ice cream on its side on waxed paper, and slicing the slab into three layers. Using a cookie cut­ter, you then make a dozen or so ice cream stars or whatever shape you desire.

The recipe calls for freezing the little shapes between more waxed paper for an hour and then spooning a tasty berry mix­ture over the ice cream. But in our family, we just cut out the shapes and proceed to eat the ice cream with our hands. It makes a pretty big mess so you may want to serve this treat in the bathtub!