Need group activities for roughly 15 kids, ages 3 to 12
March 14, 2011 3:46 PM   Subscribe

I'm looking for some kind of activity that will keep a group of roughly 15 kids, ages 3 to 12, entertained and interacting. I'm helping to provide child care for a monthly 'parent's night' at my church. Basically, the parents can drop their kids off, and we'll take care of the kids for 4 or 5 hours, freeing the adults to go out and have dinner, see a movie, have an adult conversation, etc. The problem is in the wide range of ages and the restrictions the parents have put on us ...

Out of 15 kids, 12 are in the 3-7 year old range, roughly, and 3 are 9-12. The older kids are boys and all but one of the younger ones is a girl. This last week, the younger kids happily busied themselves with a fashion show, while the older kids sat around bored out of their fucking minds. Which, of course, also meant that they ended up disruptive, wrestling around, etc.

We thought about putting on a movie for them, but the parents have vetoed movies, computers, electronic devices, etc. Apparently some not-insignificant potion of them are Waldorf parents, which I think also excludes recorded music. Instead, as one of the moms expressed to me, they want the kids to interact and play together.

I'm down with that, I guess ... but this takes place at night, so no playing outside, and it's in a pre-school classroom, so all of our material resources are based around giving little kids blocks and fingerpaints, rather than giving any of the older kids anything on their level.

I've considered bringing in some card games or board games, but even that couldn't really involve the younger kids, and 'group play' seems to be what the parents have decided they want.

Gimmie a hand here folks.
posted by Myca to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (30 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
The only way I could see getting this to work without splitting it up into two groups is to make the older kids "junior counselors" and give them a leadership role with younger ones. For example, teaching them songs with movements or indoor circle games.

Still, I don't see that lasting for 4-5 hours. Frankly, I think it is unreasonable to expect the kids to interact as an entire group for the whole time. Mix some large group time with small groups where the kids have a choice of activities - one targeted to the older kids (cards are always good - many, many options and the boys I know that age are often into it) and maybe 3 activities tables for the younger ones. Present that part to the parents as "free choice" time, rather than officially segregating by age.
posted by metahawk at 3:57 PM on March 14, 2011 [2 favorites]

It's not going to happen. They're going to split up. Even if they're all doing the same thing, they aren't really doing it together.

I was coming in here to suggest bringing cards. Board games are good if you know what to bring too, but cards are a bazillion games that all fit in your pocket.
posted by theichibun at 4:07 PM on March 14, 2011

I was a Waldorf kid, and exposure to recorded music varies by parent and community. Some families are ridiculous about it, others played rock-n-roll. The main thing about Waldorf is the belief that the only thing an intelligent child can do with a complete toy is to take it apart, and creating rather than regurgitating (whence live music rather than recorded) so think construction, creativity, and abstract representation.

My sweety currently runs a program to do crafts with low-income kids, with about that age range (we have a few 15 year olds who drop in occasionally). Modeling doughs (either salt or alum + flour and prep) are always a big hit. The kids love to paint pretty much anything, so a big part of our process is to set 'em up with things that they'll be able to paint.
  • We've done papier mache, the kids are kinda so-so about that.
  • They enjoyed gingerbread houses (kinda seasonal).
  • Woodworking requires a lot more adult supervision, but they all love gluing wood scraps together to build stuff. Find a local cabinet or furniture making shop and ask if you can have the scrap bin they leave by their band saw, provide double-sticky tape and hot glue guns for the older kids. We've been doing woodworking for 3 sessions now, we generally have another project they can do, and the more advanced kids will work on one of those (stilts, periscopes, tool boxes, rubber-band powered paddlewheel boats, what-have-you), but they all gravitate back to gluing mis-shapen blocks together (some of this might be the population we serve, they're formerly homeless kids, and they build dream houses).
  • We've done some cut paper crafts, but they often required more dexterity and patience that most of the kids don't have. But you can go from X-acto knives with the older kids, to safety cutters, all the way down to kid scissors, gauging which you feel reasonable to let the kids loose with.
If you show up with enough blue plastic tarps or 6 mil drop cloths to protect the room, make the kids garbage bag ponchos, and whatever you do ends in washable tempera paints, you pretty much can't go wrong. Even with the older kids.

4-5 hours is a looong freakin' time. Half our kids generally lose interest and focus by two hours in, although if they get into something, they'll just keep going and we have to kick 'em out (we start at 6:30, have kicked the kids out at 10 once or twice, usually we're wrapping up around 9).

The nice thing about Waldorf kids is that they don't have video games, so they'll have the attention span to actually play board games.

Hope some of this rambling helps.
posted by straw at 4:12 PM on March 14, 2011

Myca: "Instead, as one of the mom's expressed to me, they want the kids to interact and play together."

And I want a unicorn, but that's not happening either. This is not the Waltons, and the 13 year old is not going to hold hands with the 5 year olds and sing Kumbaya. It just isn't going to work, and it isn't a reasonable expectation.

You can give them parallel activites, though, like two different sets of board games or card games. Do you have access to a kitchen? You can cook all together, and even if you only have a fridge you can do no-cook desserts (you will need to survey for food allergies). You could also look at a longer term project like writing a puppet show that also required you to build a Punch & Judy type set and make sock puppets; then you could put it on and video tape it.

Can you use technology? You can do stop-motion animation with a digital camera and a laptop very easily these days; that is actually really fun from 6 - 26.
posted by DarlingBri at 4:21 PM on March 14, 2011 [6 favorites]

Yeah, that's a long time, and really, there's no way to do it without splitting them up by age, and there's really nothing wrong with that. If they're all still in the same area there'll be interaction.

Break up the time into segments. Arrival, hangout/free play, and oh man, yeah, you need snacks, too. Which can help eat up time, maybe do something that needs some preparation that the kids can be involved in. Have the older kids work on something (skits, puppets? ) in the first half of the night that they can perform during the last half for the younger kids?

Crafts are good too, do something for whatever holiday is happening that month, something they can take home that night. Making silly putty is something that all ages would enjoy, I'd bet. Or salt dough and cookie cutters, the older kids would make more complicated stuff than the little ones.

See if anyone has a birthday in the group in that month and do a mini birthday celebration for them?
posted by lemniskate at 4:23 PM on March 14, 2011

you might choose a country each month, listen to music, learn about their food, culture, might be interesting and engage the kids.
posted by jennstra at 4:27 PM on March 14, 2011

Can you use technology? You can do stop-motion animation with a digital camera and a laptop very easily these days; that is actually really fun from 6 - 26. -DarlingBri

This is a great idea, if you can use a laptop and a webcam. Pretty fun for anyone of about any age.
posted by mekily at 4:46 PM on March 14, 2011

These are great ideas, folks! Thank you so much!

I like the stop-motion animation idea, but the information I have right now is that the parents want this to be an electronics-free zone, so that's probably not going to work.

Of course, there's a difference between using my laptop to make movies and plunking the kids down with a video game, and hopefully the parents would understand that, but I can't count on it.
posted by Myca at 4:50 PM on March 14, 2011

I don't see how all of the kids playing together for four or five hours is going to work (and from the minimal stuff on Waldorf I just read, even they seem to separate kids seven and under into a different group than older kids), but for an hour or two, you could work on a giant group project, like building a fancy Lego Town. Of course, this would require Legos. But it's something that could work for both age groups, as long as there was an "all inclusive" policy to the buildings. The few block houses the three year old puts together stands along with any amazing towers the older ones build. And you could have themes - like one month you could do spaceport on Mars and then another month do old-fashioned castles.

Another thing that comes to mind for a group project is a play of some sort...but with three year olds I hesitate to suggest it. I think 7-12 year olds could work well together with making "costumes," state make-up, fake blood, "props," etc, out of random crap, and doing that sort of thing together usually engenders a sense of camaraderie. Either that, or outright hatred for the stupid people intruding on your vision.

And, again, I'm not sure how long this would work, but you could play "camping." (Maybe pitch it to the boys with undertones of "zombie apocalypse.") There would be blanket-fort building, provision stockpiling, guarding the camp, discussing what real-life things to do while camping (locking up food from bears), snack time, silly/gross song time, and fairly fast circle games like "telephone."

But there's a reason you rarely see 12 year old boys playing for hours with their 3 year old sisters, in a room devoid of electronics, music, or books. There just is not that much they have in common.
posted by wending my way at 4:53 PM on March 14, 2011

I think you should require the parents to take a turn helping you. Maybe then their expectations would be a bit more realistic.

But as for suggestions, I really would suggest you get the older ones to make puppets and design a puppet show for the younger ones, maybe with some of the "older" young ones making suggestions/ helping with this.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 4:53 PM on March 14, 2011

I just realized that sounded sexist...I meant pitch it to the older ones (who happen to be boys) with hints of zombie apocalypse, not boys in general. I didn't want to be suggesting apocalypse scenarios of any kind for toddlers.
posted by wending my way at 4:57 PM on March 14, 2011

I know this won't cover the entire age range, but I was just at a family gathering with a whole seething mass of kids aged 7-18 who had a ball playing this card game for a good long while. Everyone moves one seat over to avoid any advantage to a certain position around the table. You need a bunch of decks that you can tell apart, though.
posted by foxy_hedgehog at 4:59 PM on March 14, 2011

Board games! With that kind of time frame, you could play an entire game of Life, Monopoly, Risk, etc. The older kids might be agreeable to being partners with the younger ones, or you could bring games more geared toward younger kids.

I, too, think it's unrealistic to have all the kids play together, particularly for 4-5 hours. Twelve-year-olds and three-year-olds aren't interested in the same things, and their attention spans are radically different. Perhaps the parents would be happy if you provided a few choices of activities and the kids split up by interest, rather than splitting purely by age? I can imagine Legos would be a hit, as would a marble-run-building kit and puzzles.

I saw that you can't go outside because it's evening (though in the summer it might be an option for at least part of the time); do you have access to any kind of gym space? Good luck!!
posted by epj at 5:10 PM on March 14, 2011

Thinking a little further:
  • The tech may be out, but puppetry isn't! Nor are zoetropes!
  • The stilts seem to have spawned levels of cooperation amongst our kids that we didn't know where possible
  • Teaching 'em to juggle?!
  • We thought recycled paper making was a hell of a lot more fun than the kids did, but your mileage may vary, and you can build a lot of screens and deckles for fairly cheap
  • another thing for them to paint: macaroni jewelry
  • Before they moved, the boy of the Waldorf family across the way got hours of enjoyment from disassembling fax machines and similar mechanical devices and recombining the gears and such into new creations (and despite his mom being a Waldorf teacher, she was still okay with him playing with my remote control car, if only because he shortly got bored with driving it and we started fabricating body modifications for it, so it was a leaping off point for more creativity).
Also, just raiding my partner's desk, may I suggest: We've got more (I'm looking forward to bringing the 11 year olds into the pre-WW I era with The Boy Mechanic), but those are the ones we're drawing from right now.

And if there are Waldorf kids there (and, yes, Waldorf kids are more than just tossed with mayonnaise, apples and raisins), there are surely Waldorf parents who will have some similar suggestions for reading materials.
posted by straw at 5:16 PM on March 14, 2011

posted by BlahLaLa at 5:17 PM on March 14, 2011

Urgh: "were possible", not "where possible". I'll see your grocer's apostrophe and raise you a ... whatever that is.
posted by straw at 5:32 PM on March 14, 2011

Okay, so I recommend being over-prepared and ready to improvise.

-Board games and card games are great, bring a whole bunch and see what appeals to the kids.
-Group games like "human knot" might work with a wide age range.
-Bring a snack that requires assembly by the kids, like cookies to decorate or tortillas to roll up with various fillings.
-Crafts that are easy and fun - flip books, cutout snowflakes, pattern block mosaics, silhouettes.
-Bring a book to read to them. I know this sounds like it won't be a hit with the older kids but the right book can engage them too. Maybe Diary of a Wimpy Kid?

The key to avoiding crazy wildness is to structure the time. Start with game time for maybe an hour, then snack time for 20-30 minutes, then a group game for 20 minutes, then more game time for another 30 minutes, then a craft for an hour, then free time, then a story if they get too wound up.
posted by mai at 6:01 PM on March 14, 2011

re: stop motion & electronics ban: What about flip books? Lots of similar pictures drawn on the corners of a pad, then you flip the pad's pages & watch the picture move. You can do them on post-it pads, which are pretty cheap.
posted by Ys at 6:02 PM on March 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

If you want a good book for that age range, I'd suggest Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder. I started reading it out loud to my daughter at age two, and I recommend it to 9 and 10 year olds to read as well. It has little girls and family life, paired up with scary woods stories (but not too scary for a little one), and very detailed descriptions of how to make bullets, load guns, churn butter, make maple sugar, and more interesting things. (I think the guns and panthers may help grab the interest of some older boys.) It has sparked a lot of neat play for my daughter and she's asked to do a lot of things from it too. (So, if they got interested, you could have a week of churning butter, for instance.)
posted by Margalo Epps at 6:28 PM on March 14, 2011

i'm a face painter and that stuff keeps kids entertained FOREVER. maybe you could get some face paints and the older kids can paint the younger ones? (i use snazaroo paint because it works well and also washes out of stuff.) plus you can probably find all sorts of great ideas for designs in books and on the internet.
posted by GastrocNemesis at 6:43 PM on March 14, 2011

Oh and another good one is friendship bracelets. Teach the older kids how to make them, and they can teach the younger kids. Or they can all learn out of a book. Plus, it's fun because embroidery floss is super cheap and comes in a zillion colors, so half the fun is just picking out all the colors you're going to use. I know my friends and I spent hours on end doing this when we were elementary-school age.
posted by GastrocNemesis at 6:48 PM on March 14, 2011

Pit is a fun even when players are of widely different ages -- easily understandable (and winnable) for kids 4+, loud/intense in fun and exciting sort of way, competitive but not unpleasantly so. There's a reason people have been playing it for 100+ years!

Older kids can be taught to knit (as Waldorf kids they might already know how?) -- this is an excellent way to spend a few hours a week, and is such a deep and rich pastime that once they're hooked you won't need to come up with something new every week; they can continue working on projects. If you want to get really churchy about it, you can teach them how to make preemie or other hats for charity. Also: crochet, macrame, weaving, friendship bracelets.

Check out Ian's Shoelace Site and teach them how to tie their shoes all sorts of weird ways.

We've had success with paper airplanes across a wide age of ages, too. Get a book like the Klutz Book of Paper Airplanes, and have everyone fold for a while, then devise a sort of Olympics or obstacle course to run the planes through.
posted by apparently at 6:53 PM on March 14, 2011

Oops, here's the correct link for Ian's Shoelace Site.
posted by apparently at 7:01 PM on March 14, 2011

We have that range of ages, plus adults, and we love the dice game left right center. You can buy a version or play with dice. Each person gets three markers (we use pennies or quarters but three of something). You roll the number of dice you have markers. If you rikk a 1,2 or 3, you keep the markers. Of you roll a 4, you pass one forward, a five, one goes to the pot, a six, backwards. No one is ever out. Person with the last marker wins the pot if they roll a 1,2, or a 3.

Not sure that makes sense, but it's a hoot!
posted by dpx.mfx at 7:03 PM on March 14, 2011

You folks are awesome. Thank so much for this. I'm going to be taking a number of these ideas to our youth minister, and he and I will figure out how to make this work.

...and yes, some portion of that may include presenting the problem to the parents and saying, "Okay, how would you do it?"
posted by Myca at 7:49 PM on March 14, 2011

How about ballon "animals"?

The older kids could make stuff for the younger kids, and the older boys can swordfight against each other.

I really like the previous suggestion of recycling paper; maybe expand that to creating paper from raw materials... see which kind of plant makes the best paper. There's a bunch of papers made from cellulose-rich animal waste, but that's probably not the best idea for this venue. This (paper making, not dung) could also segue into papier mache; make masks, bowls, sculptures, and paint them.

Swashbuckler mask + balloon sword = awesome (12 yo me and current 32 yo me).
posted by porpoise at 8:20 PM on March 14, 2011

Some games that appeal to a range of ages (some of these are expensive, maybe you can borrow copies)

1. Tumblin' Dice
2. Pitchcar
3. Crokinole
4. Liar's Dice (you can probably make your own set)

You could have groups rotate between games and have a mini-olympics, perhaps.

I also like a lot of the games in New Games, especially Zombie Tag.
posted by mecran01 at 9:46 PM on March 14, 2011

In terms of games, a few possibilities:

You could keep some commercial games around as a side activity for the older kids if they want to take a break from the younger kids' activity.

Settlers of Catan - great game, needs 3 or 4 players - will be better for older kids
Carcassonne - also great game, can be played by 2-5 players - will be better for older kids
Bohnanza - fun card game, works with a big group - will be better for older kids

Set will be great for certain kids and it's easy for kids to enter and leave a game if they want to without disrupting the other players' fun
Uno - quick, with simple rules.
Pit is great for a big group if they are old enough to follow it; BGG says ages 8 and up.

Waterworks or similar tile-laying games - you could easily make your own version of this sort of game by making tiles out of index cards and using a stencil to draw appropriate pipe sections on them. This could turn into an open-ended creative project for the kids too, maybe you can give them some landmarks and let them build a "pipe system" connecting the landmarks while following some rules (every building has to have an "in" and "out" pipe, red pipes can't cross blue pipes, etc).

Jigsaw puzzle

For the older kids, the game "1000 Blank White Cards" is great. Get a couple of packs of index cards and let the kids go nuts designing their own cards with funny themes and pictures that give them various abilities within the game.

"Dexterity games" - Jenga is a well-known example, but things like relay races carrying an egg on a spoon also count. Search any game website for dexterity games to find suggestions.

Pictionary (will you have a chalkboard or whiteboard or big pad of paper?), charades, twenty questions, etc - search for terms like "parlor games" and "party games".

children's games has some good suggestions too.

A couple of thoughts that would require set-up and planning, but I've seen them work for eg birthday parties:
-a big string spider-web to unwind, all around the room, with pieces of paper at intervals that have clues on them for a treasure hunt.
-a "log" course they have to solve as a team. "Logs" being sections of cardboard boxes, they only get so many and you design a series of tasks for them to do, bringing everyone in the team across safely in groups of two, say.
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:55 PM on March 14, 2011

A problem I came across when doing childcare for evening events at church is that the kids will be tired. The little ones presumably normally go to bed by about 7 or 8pm, so after that time they will be getting cranky and tearful and whiny.
posted by alicegoldie at 5:27 AM on March 15, 2011

I think you should require the parents to take a turn helping you. Maybe then their expectations would be a bit more realistic
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 7:53 PM on March 14
This. Various things like MOPS and mom's morning out etc require the mom/parent to volunteer one day over the semester, for this very reason. (well, it also helps keep costs down).

(I'd second a number of other suggestions, but if you're running with unusual expectations that aren't entirely clear, laid out and explained, subject to change, which is what I'm hearing you say. So you drag the parents in as forced volunteers. Once they experience it, then they can offer suggestions. You're providing them with the adult time by watching the kids, it's hard for them to dictate to the letter how you provide that service. Otherwise, they're free to not drop their kids off if the care isn't up to their unusual standards and expectations.)
posted by k5.user at 6:49 AM on March 15, 2011

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