Sometimes, a vacation is not always possible, but never fear staycation opportunities are here! Enjoy spending time with your kids by either planning a local activity or just spontaneously having a popsicle on the porch after work. For some free or low-cost ideas/activities in Fairfax County look at the list below and don’t forget to read the corresponding picture book, found at your local library, with your child.
Sandpaper Castles (Babies/Toddlers/Preschool)
For babies, cut castle silhouettes out of sandpaper and hang them on the wall. They can feel the “sand” with the help of caregivers. Toddlers can have tactile fun ripping up sheets of sandpaper. Preschoolers can tear or cut their own shapes out of sandpaper and glue them into a sandcastle
Walk the Plank (Toddlers/Preschool)
Put a blue mat or blanket on the floor, and lay a cardboard or wood “plank” (about 6’ long) over it. Caregivers cut “shark fins” from black foam board and attach them to a base to set them on the floor. Toddlers can walk over the plank. Preschoolers can try to do it with their eyes closed!
Pirate Hat (Toddlers/Preschool)
Use pre-cut pirate hat shapes out of foam or construction paper. Children can decorate with crayons/markers/glitter glue/stick-on jewels. To make it wearable, attach paper strips (for paper hats) or elastic;(for foam hats) to wrap around children's heads.
Boat Races (Babies/Toddlers/Preschool)
Set out a kiddie pool with shallow water, and add toy boats for water play. Add a string to each boat for boat races. Caregivers can also pre-make origami boats (paint the bottoms with nail polish or Mod Podge.) Preschoolers can blow the origami boats across the water with straws.
Sink or Float Discovery Station (Toddlers/Preschool)
Put a variety of waterproof items next to a bin of water. Children put the items in the water to see what floats and what sinks. Item ideas: Rubber duckies, plastic toys, corks, foam balls, seashells, spoons, popsicle sticks etc. Make sure items are large enough to be safe for small children.
Watch "Sink or Float" from Sci Kids to learn more about why objects sink or float.
Sailor Spyglass Craft (Toddlers/Preschool)
Paint (or wrap construction paper around) paper towel tubes, one for each child. During a story, they can pretend to be sailors at sea on a boat. Ask children what they see, smell, and hear. Set out stickers for; the children to decorate their spyglasses.
Mermaid Scales (Babies)
Cut mermaid scale shapes out of foam sheets (circles or rounded arches). Optionally, add glitter glue for extra texture and sparkle. Arrange them on the floor like scales. Let babies explore.
Glitter Mermaid Sensory/Calming Bottles (Babies/Toddlers)
These mesmerizing sensory bottles are great for calming for babies and toddlers. You can also use resealable plastic bags, as long as they are double bagged and reinforced with tape. You will need blue glitter glue, water, two drops of blue liquid watercolor, and flake glitter. Mix with a whisk before adding to bottles or bags. Adjust proportions as desired. More recipe ideas here: https://bit.ly/3vXcUTe
Movement Activity: Mermaid Tails (Toddlers/Preschool)
Children will need a pair of old sweatpants or leggings. Have the child place both legs in one hole. Tuck in the other leg at the waist. Use sparkly duct tape to secure the waistband to size. Children try balancing and moving around like a mermaid. Note: For younger children, put the leggings nearer to the knee to allow for easier balance and more movement.
Pet Fish Craft (Toddlers/Preschool)
Decorate the fishbowl template to create a habitat for the fish. Set out stickers, small pom-poms and glue, and/or crayons and markers to decorate the bowl. Older children can name their new pet.
Water Xylophone (Preschool)
Add different colors of food coloring and levels of water to six matching mason jars or glass bottles. Children hit the jars with wooden spoons or sticks. Talk about pitch, and ask children to predict what sounds the jars will make. Optionally, add ocean-themed silhouettes to the jars to go with the ocean theme. See video from Sidnie Srader of Dayton Public Library, Dayton, TX: https://youtu.be/WXX6DZJuStk
Weather Chart (Preschool)
After a discussion of weather and how oceans influence wind and weather patterns, give children weather charts to keep track of the weather. They glue or tape a new icon on their chart every day.
Ocean Sensory Bag (Babies/Toddlers)
Pre-make resealable plastic bags filled with blue hair gel, glitter or sequins, and foam fish/sea creatures. Double bag them and add tape for safety. Let little ones explore different textures, shapes, and colors mess free!
Paper Plate Fish (Toddlers/Preschool)
Children cut a triangle out of a paper plate and attach it to the opposite side as a tail fin (glue or staples). Decorate as desired.
Paper Plate Jellyfish/Octopus Craft (Toddlers/Preschool)
Cut paper plates in half and punch holes along the cut edges. Use a bigger circle punch for toddlers. Children string yarn or string through the holes to make their own jellyfish! Caregivers can help with tying the string once threaded through the holes. Googly eyes optional. You can also make an octopus by using a whole paper plate and attaching exactly eight streamers.
Lighthouse Building (Babies/Toddlers/Preschool)
Set out building blocks or Duplo blocks, and let babies play. Caregivers can stack them and ask babies for help knocking them down. Toddlers/ preschoolers can see who can build the tallest lighthouse out of blocks. Don’t forget the fun of knocking it down with big “waves!”
Colorful Fishies in Pockets Craft (Toddler/Preschool)
Cut out five fish of different colors. Cut out five pockets in the same colors as each of the five fish. Glue the pockets on a piece of cardstock, leaving the top open. The children match the colors and stick each fish in the matching color pocket.
Hand Fish Craft (Toddlers/Preschool)
Trace children hands to make a fish, or make hand silhouettes out of construction paper. Preschoolers can practice cutting out their own. Glue the fish to cardstock or printed paper, and let children color the backgrounds. Googly eyes optional. Alternatively, trace the hands onto the same sheet of paper that children can color.