Photo: Marisa Svalstedt

If you were a child in the 80’s you may remember the Sweet Pickles Activity Bus. It was a product spin off of the Sweet Pickles book series. This plastic green box decorated like a bus contained colorful cards with animal characters that introduced activities, games, experiments and stories for preschool age children. As a child of the 80’s I did not have things like an IPAD, Blu-ray player or fancy video game system with thirty games to fill the days it was less than ideal to play outside.

The Sweet Pickles Bus was the answer to the days of indoor boredom, and I recall looking forward to those times my mother would sit me at the kitchen table, open the card filled bus and decide on an activity or two to try that day. Though I knew we now live in the days where the internet and video gaming is easily accessible, it never hurts to try the good old fashioned activities instead of sitting with eyes glued to a screen for long periods of time. As summer is officially over, and the days of indoor play will gradually increase, there are certainly a few easy, inexpensive and fun activities according to Sweet Pickles.

1. Macaroni Jewelry (Lion Makes a Necklace)

This simple activity may keep a young one busy for a good period of time. All one needs is some funky, uncooked noodles, and string (or yarn). Kids can make bracelets, necklaces and get creative by mixing and matching shapes. To add a nice spin on this simple activity parents can help the children dye the macaroni the night before by simply mixing water, food coloring and a splash of vinegar. Soak the uncooked macaroni in the mixture overnight, drain and dry it in the morning and it’s ready for stringing.

2. Telephone Cups (Clever Camel’s Telephones)

Make a toy telephone, and enjoy teaching your child about how sound travels by taking two paper cups and punching a small hole in the bottom of each using a pencil tip. Take one length of string and thread each end through the bottom of each cup, tying a knot inside the cup so the string stays. Children will have fun speaking through the cups and discovering that they can hear what is said back to them. Make the activity more fun by allowing your child to decorate the cups beforehand in any way they wish. Empty juice cans may be used as well for this project.

3. Fizzle Fun Experiment

While this activity may not take very long it’s certain to grab a child’s attention easily. All one needs is an empty bottle, vinegar, baking soda and a balloon. Fill the bottle with one inch of vinegar and two teaspoons of baking soda. Quickly slip the balloon over the top of the bottle and watch as the balloon fills with the gas caused by the reaction between the two ingredients. Parents can help their child measure and add the ingredients which will help familiarize them with measuring spoons and rulers as well.

4. Yarn Dip Picture Fun

Instead of simply drawing a picture it is sometimes fun to try something new. All that is needed for this activity is paper, different colored yarn, and liquid starch. Parents can cut various lengths of the different colored yarn for their child to use. The children can then dip the yarn in liquid starch and enjoy making different designs, shapes and even letters with their yarn to create unique works of art.

5. Painting with Soap (Unicorn’s Soap Trick)

Instead of making a huge mess with paint that will be difficult to clean up, and chisel off the floor and table, try this fun activity instead. All one needs is one cup of soap flakes, and ¾ cup of water. Add the ingredients to a bowl and let the child whip them together until it looks like whipped cream. Parents can teach their child about how to measure with cups by allowing them to assist in measuring and adding the ingredients to the bowl. Once the mixture is ready children can use the kitchen table to mess with their new soap paint by drawing designs and letters in it. Though it’s still a messy activity, it is far cleaner than allowing children to coat their hands and the kitchen table in actual paint.

While these activities may seem to pale in comparison to the wide world of YouTube watching, cartoons, and online gaming, to young children these sorts of activities are fantastic. I watch my own daughter and see how interested she is in just a simple empty box, because to her it isn’t just a box. It’s a house for a toy, it’s something she may be able to fit inside herself, it’s anything but just a box meant for shipping a product. Children love to use their imaginations, work with their hands, and experiment with new things. Though I don’t condemn the use of the internet or handing my child a tablet here and there, I still think it’s important to find other forms of entertainment. With the cold days growing nearer, it will be great to bust open my old Sweet Pickles Bus and rediscover some the childhood magic waiting inside.