April showers may bring May flowers, but they can seem a dreary waiting time for preschoolers (and parents!) eager to be outdoors in the warmer weather. Here are some games and special activities to brighten those rainy days without spending a lot of money.
Scavenger hunt. Make a list of five or six items that can be easily found in different locations in your home. Then send the child to find and return with one item at a time.
The list can be short and simple for younger hunters, longer and more complex for older ones. A sample list might include such items as a block, a big shoe, a rubber band, a toy, and a book. Check each item off as the child brings it.
You might want to reinforce new concepts your child is learning by specializing your list. For instance, the concept of shape might be emphasized by requesting something round, something long, something flat, and so on.
In the same way, the list could focus on colors, textures, numbers (specifying 3 books, 5 pennies, 1 shoe, 10 crayons), or even letters of the alphabet (requesting something that begins with the letter B, something that begins with the letter I, and so on).
Keep track of the time it takes for the child to complete the scavenger hunt, and then have him ''race the clock'' to return each of the items to its proper place. Reading a story could be the prize.
Robots (see drawing). Smaller cardboard boxes can make wonderful robot headdresses. Cut a round hole in the box bottom, just large enough to allow the top of the child's head to protrude.
If the box is too deep, cut away arches on the sides to prevent it from riding up on the child's shoulders. Cut a horizontal strip from the front side of the box for seeing through.
Crayons or glue and aluminum foil ''buttons'' can be applied. Games in this costume may vary, but in our home we have found young robots to be enthusiastic in performing a variety of tasks and chores.
Clown day. An adult's T-shirt and a touch of lipstick and eyebrow pencil (removable with cold cream) can transform any toddler into a very convincing clown. On sunny days our children have enjoyed putting on parades for a few of our indulgent neighbors, but indoor parades can be entertaining too.
Push toys and pull toys, oatmeal box drums, whistles, and music on the record player (marching music or any tune with a lively beat) can all help to increase the activity and raise the decibels to meet a preschooler's parade standard.
Following the parade a show might be in order, possibly dancing, clowning, or even an animal act using stuffed animals or stray sock puppets. Of course, the key element to the show's success is parental applause.
Puddle walk. Rainy days don't have to be spent indoors. Boots and umbrellas can turn even an everyday walk into an adventure. You might choose to go puddle wading or (if you don't mind a complete change of clothes afterward) puddle stomping.
Children enjoy experimenting, too. Do things float or sink in a puddle? Test a leaf, a twig, a stone, or bring some small things from home. A small stick or a piece of bark can become a very satisfying little ship.
Be sure to carry a plastic bag to take back the wet items you've brought from home and any other treasures you may have discovered along the way.
Chef play. One smart grandmother we know gave us this tip. Keep a special collection of clean, empty food packages set aside for young chefs to play with when cooking.
Most practical are those containers made of durable plastic, cardboard, or metal with no rough edges. Egg cartons, spice cans, small plastic juice containers, and metal cocoa powder boxes are all good additions to the collection. Margarine tubs, plastic spoons, and a few small yard-sale items can be employed as pans and utensils.
If you want to create a portable play kitchen, three cardboard boxes can easily be transformed into refrigerator, counter, and stove.
To make the stove more realistic, glue large foil circles on top as burners, and cut three sides of an oven door in the front to be folded open and closed. When not in use, these cardboard appliances can be inverted to store the cooking collection.
Preschoolers are naturally inventive and eager for novelty. Try sitting down with your child after breakfast some morning and ask him to think of a special activity for the day.
It is fun, but be prepared for a fresh new view of the world!