Five-year-olds live exciting lives! Most children will begin kindergarten sometime after their fifth birthdays. Parents can help children succeed by teaching them to follow directions and by making sure they get enough sleep. And parents shouldn’t hand all the learning activities off to their kids’ teachers. Children can learn in lots of fun and informal ways, while the worksheets can stay at school. Also, since they will have to spend lots of time seated, parents need to be sure that their children have plenty of chances to move. Here are some activities to try out with your five-year-old. Some will be a good fit for your child, but don’t expect them all to work. At this age, most children enjoy exerting their independence. Parents should see to it that they have lots of chances to make choices, although they still must yield to parents and teachers on important matters.
1. Pitch a Tent
Five-year-olds are just the right age to enjoy play tents. They can set them up in the yard and pretend to camp out or pitch them in the family room. You can buy camping play-sets with pretend lanterns, camp stoves and the like, or you can improvise your own. Remember to pack a picnic lunch for your little camper. And don’t forget that children love flashlights. Buy the kind that are powered by a crank, and you won’t have to keep replacing batteries.
If you’re a bit of an outdoors person, consider buying a real tent. Small tents are amazingly affordable, and some models literally pop up for easy setup. These tents can be used for quick overnight trips, for shelter at the beach, or for backyard play.
2. Water Gun Fun
Inexpensive water guns can provide hours of fun. Put your kid in swimwear and set out a bucket of water for easy refills, and you’re all set. Don’t forget to put on your own suit, because the main thing five-year-olds will do with water guns is soak everyone within sight. If you don’t want to give your child anything that resembles a gun, you can find some water toys on the market that are simply long tubes with plungers.
Once your child gets tired of random soaking, you can institute some games. Set up plastic bottles or cups and let your child knock them down. If you have more than one child on hand, this game can be competitive. You can also blow bubbles and let your child pop them with a stream of water.
3. Catch Minifig Fever
Your child may or may not be interested in building with Legos or similar construction sets, but almost all children love minifigures. Minifigs, as collectors call them, are blocky little figurines about an inch and a half tall. They are made by Lego and several other companies. Typically the arms end in a C-shape, allowing them to hold a variety of accessories, such as swords, axes and wands. Some minifigs represent popular characters, such as superheroes or Harry Potter characters. Many sets are geared toward fantasy, but some feature real-world individuals such as firemen and construction workers.
You won’t have to show your child how to play with minifigs, but he or she will enjoy showing them to you and telling you all about them. They will stimulate your child’s imagination, and talking about them is great for vocabulary development. One word of warning: The minifig accessories are very tiny. It’s a good idea to have a small receptacle somewhere in the house where you can automatically put the ones you find so your child will know where to look. Also, these may not be the best toys to give your child if you have a smaller child in the house.
4. Master Some Yoga Moves
Active children are healthy children, but that doesn’t mean that they have to be running and jumping. Low-key exercise like yoga is great for kids, too. Yoga builds muscles and increases flexibility, and many parents and kids find it relaxing. Children who get anxious before school or who come home all wound up can benefit from some slow breathing and simple yoga poses. Yoga is especially suited for children who have trouble with competitive activities, because there’s little pressure to perform.
If you don’t know yoga, buy a DVD or look online for some moves that are appropriate for children. Yoga classes are also a possibility. If you end up working with your child, stress safety. Teach your child to use a yoga mat and to practice poses in an area free of sharp corners. While doing standing poses, there is always a chance your child could lose balance and fall.
5. Try Dominoes
Dominoes are great for kids because they can be used for a variety of games. They are simpler for children to handle than playing cards, and they won’t get wet or frayed or blow away. What they will do is hone your child’s counting skills. Some games may even introduce a little strategic thinking. And your child can also build with the dominoes, or set up a domino run. What fun!
One beginner domino game is called Block. You and your child each draw seven dominoes. The others are set aside. The person with the highest double plays it. The next player must match it or pass. Play continues until a player uses his or her last domino, calls out “domino,” and wins the round. If neither player can play, both turn over their dominoes, and the player with the lowest count of pips (dots) wins the round. Play continues until one player wins a predetermined number of rounds.
After your child is comfortable with this simple game, you can switch to a different method of keeping score, where the player who wins the round is awarded points equal to the pips on the opponent’s remaining dominoes. Play continues until someone reaches a score of 100. Complete rules for this game, for variations of this game and for other domino games can be found online.
6. Jump into Hopscotch
For a simple game, hopscotch checks a lot of boxes. It emphasizes lots of things parents want to teach their children. First, it’s an active game, building muscle tone, balance and agility. Second, it is played in a logical progression according to certain rules, so it is good for teaching children to follow directions and do things in a prescribed manner. Third, if you have other kids around, it’s a social activity that teaches turn-taking and good sportsmanship.
You can create a hopscotch grid in a number of ways. The classic way is with chalk on concrete, but hard-packed sand or dirt will do, too. Just scratch the grid into the earth with a stick. If the weather is yucky, you can make a grid indoors on carpet or tile by using masking tape. You can also search online for grids that are easier or harder than the traditional pattern and choose one that’s just right for your child.
7. Go Fishing!
Lots of parents can’t wait until their children get big enough to go fishing. If you are one of those parents, you probably have a lot of know-how. Still, you’ll need to remember that fishing is an art that’s not learned in a day. Be sure to pack your patience. Also remember that life jackets are a must for kids around water, even if you are fishing from the bank. You might want to invest in barb-less hooks or those devices that hide the hook inside the bobber for safer casting. Speaking of casting, some experts advocate starting kids out with cane poles, or the modern-day fiberglass equivalents. Others say you should start them out on rod-and-reel combos, so they learn to cast from the very first. Feel free to make that call on your own.
If you don’t know much about fishing, give your local parks and wildlife office a call. They may host learn-to-fish clinics. Sometimes they even have gear you can borrow for free. And they are a good source of information about local hot spots. The thing about kids fishing is that they want to catch something. If they don’t, they will lose interest fairly quickly.
Before you go fishing, have a plan for what you are going to do with your catch, should you have a lucky day. You shouldn’t keep your fish unless you are prepared to clean and cook it, or unless you can give it away to someone who will. Otherwise, you should opt for catch and release. Discuss these options with your child ahead of time. That way you won’t have a child who is disappointed at having to toss a fish back in. You also won’t have a child who is unprepared for the idea of cooking and eating a catch. (Sometimes children don’t connect the food on their plate at a seafood restaurant with actual fish!)
8. Balloon Games
When the weather is bad, your child can get plenty of exercise with balloon games. The simplest and one of the most fun is simply to keep a blown-up balloon up in the air. Your child can count how many hits he can get on a balloon before it hits the ground. If you’re in the mood to play with your child, you can alternate hits. If you miss the balloon on your turn and it hits the ground, you lose. This is, of course, a fun game for your child and a playmate, too.
A game that’s a little more complicated is balloon badminton, where two players stand on opposite sides of a table or an improvised net. You can even dispense with the idea of a net and put a piece of tape on the floor. The point is to make the balloon touch down on your opponent’s side instead of on your own side. You can limit each player to one hit or allow unlimited hits. Players can hit the balloon with their hands or with improvised rackets, such as plastic spatulas or fly swatters.
Remember that balloons can be choking hazards. Parents should keep them away from children under three and should supervise older children all the way up to the age of eight. That’s because children have been known to inhale and choke on balloons while trying to blow them up. Also, children may be tempted to chew on popped balloons, and these are choking hazards as well. If your child wants to blow up the balloons, be on hand to supervise, and always dispose of popped balloons promptly.
9. Try Rubber Band Flight
For around 75 years, kids have been getting a kick out of balsa wood airplanes. The most thrilling ones are the ones that are powered by rubber bands. Typically, these airplanes come in little kits. Your child will need some help putting the plane together, but it should take just a few minutes. Then your aircraft will be ready to fly! You will need an open area that is relatively free of trees, or your plane’s maiden flight may be its last.
Balsa wood airplanes aren’t made to last, but they aren’t expensive. You can buy them online or at a hobby shop or toy store. Go ahead and buy two or three so that you’ll have a backup in case one lands on a roof or gets caught in a tree. Most kids are just going to enjoy seeing how far their plane can fly, but this activity could spark an interest in physics or aeronautics!
10. Read, Read, Read!
When your child starts learning to read, be sure to continue reading to him or her. Keep the fun in reading as much as possible. Your child may turn against reading if it begins to feel like a chore, or if your child feels pressure to perform. One easy way to bring young children into the reading process is to pick out one or two words that they know and let them say them or even shout them when you come to them on a page. When your child can read a sentence or two at a time, try alternating pages. You read a page and your child reads a page. In this way, you can get through a whole book without your child getting tired.
It’s also important to cater to your child’s taste. Some children aren’t fond of narratives but like to read non-fiction books. Some children enjoy anime, which can be a good choice because the pictures usually carry most of the action. If you’ve been taking your child to the library regularly, don’t stop that practice either. Your child may be able to check books out of the school library, but often children have trouble selecting books on their own. They may have limited time to look during class or may be distracted by their schoolmates.
11. Hoop It Up!
Some five-year-olds can learn to hula hoop, and it is an excellent exercise. Hooping requires that children learn to use certain muscles without using the whole body, so it is great for coordination. It requires focus and concentration, which is a good mental exercise. Different moves also strengthen different parts of the body. Hooping around the waist, for example, builds a strong core.
You can buy hoops at the toy store, but higher quality ones are available online. It’s especially important that your child has a hoop that is the right size. Children should have smaller hoops than adults. Later you can treat your child to a lighted hoop or one that glows in the dark.
If your child has trouble with basic moves, simply put the hoop away for a while. There are also classes that could help your child get the hang of hooping.
12. Explore All the Playgrounds
Playgrounds are still great fun for five-year-olds, but why go to the same one over and over? Try exploring every playground in your area. You can do a search online and see if there are any extra spectacular ones within driving distance. Here are some special features to look for:
- Splash Pads: Sometimes called a spray park or a sprayground, these water features are great fun on a hot day.
- Skate Parks: Your child may not be old enough for a skateboard, but it’s great fun to sit and watch the older kids on their boards.
- Dog Parks: Kids who love animals will enjoy going to a dog park to see the different breeds and watch them play. You can go even if you don’t have a dog! Warn your child, however, never to touch someone else’s dog without permission.
- Musical Instruments: Some playgrounds have outdoor xylophones, chimes, drums and other instruments for kids to experiment with.
- Playscapes: Most playgrounds will have fairly standard playground equipment, but occasionally you will stumble upon an amazing playscape.
- Ball Courts: Often playgrounds have courts for ball play. You may have to bring your own ball, though. Look for basketball hoops, foursquare grids and tetherball.
- Accommodations: Some playgrounds have features for children with special needs.
You’re not strictly limited to public playgrounds, either. Many schools have playgrounds that can be used by the public outside of school hours.
13. Play Twenty Questions
Animal, vegetable or mineral? Do you remember this game from your past? It’s a great exercise in logical thinking, and a good way to hone communication skills. It’s also fun to play in the car or any time you and your child are waiting for something. It doesn’t take any materials.
You and your child can take turns being “it.” You should probably let your child go first so you can model some questioning strategies. The person who is it thinks of something and says whether it is animal, vegetable or mineral. The other player tries to narrow down the options by asking yes-or-no questions. The one who is not it can ask exactly 20 questions before having to make a guess.
When children are first introduced to this game, they want to immediately start guessing. For example, if the object is an animal, they will ask, “Is it a horse?” You will need to model better questions, such as “Does it have wings?” or “Can it be kept as a pet?” Soon children will catch on to the narrowing-down technique. You can also play this game using the categories of person, place or thing.
14. Grow a Little Gardener!
If you are a bona fide gardener, you probably had your child digging in the dirt long ago. But if that’s not you, or if you live in an dirt-less apartment or condo, you can still help your child experience the thrill of growing something. Here are some easy-to-grow ideas. You can find further instructions online.
- Herb Garden. Herbs can be grown almost anywhere – in a sunny window, in a container on the patio or in a flower bed. Your child will not only get to see the plants grow but will also enjoy the different smells. Some herbs are easier to grow than others. Mint plants are probably the easiest. If you plant them in a flower bed, they may take over!
- If you want your child to witness seeds sprouting, there’s nothing like beans. Use a clear glass full of wadded paper towels. Fill the glass with water, and push the beans between the paper and the glass where they can be seen. Keep the glass full of water, and you should see sprouting in a few days. You can use a clear glass full of dirt to do the same thing. Just be sure the beans are positioned next to the glass.
- Carrot Tops. Cut off the tops of carrots and put them in a shallow saucer with a little water. (Look for carrots with a little green growth on top.) In a few days, the carrots should start to grow ferny tops.
- Sweet Potato Vine. Suspend a sweet potato in a glass of water with the pointy end down. You can either find a glass that the potato fits snugly into, or you can use toothpicks to suspend the potato. Keep the bottom third of the potato covered with water. It could take a few weeks for you to see growth, but then the vine should grow super fast!
- Avocado Tree. Suspend an avocado pit in water using the toothpick trick. This time, it’s the broad end that should go down. The pit can take a few weeks to sprout, but it will grow a cool tap root and can mature into an actual (medium-sized) tree!
All of these projects require maintaining the water level. If your child is responsible, he or she can help. If not, put your projects in a kitchen window or another spot where you will see them every day. You may need to switch the water every few days to keep bacterial growth down.
15. Count Your Money
By the time your child is an adult, money may be obsolete, but in the meantime, it’s a great tool for building math skills. Because money is concrete and can be manipulated, it catches kids’ interest. They are even more interested when they get to use their money to buy something!
Here’s a fun game that will help your child understand money. Find some dice, and put a pile of coins in the middle of the table, along with a few dollar bills. Players roll the dice and then take the equivalent in coins from the pile. They can trade in their pennies, nickels and dimes for quarters when they get to 25. Play continues until all players have reached one dollar and can change their coins for a dollar. Let your child put his or her dollar in a bank or other special place until it is time to spend it!
16. Navigating the Months Ahead
Both you and your child will have a lot of changes to adjust to between your child’s fifth and sixth birthdays. When your child starts to school, peers immediately become important. If possible, parents should arrange for their children to see their classmates out of school. Kindergarten can be much easier for kids who have friends by their sides. And parents need to talk, talk, talk about peer relationships. Sooner or later your child will have that experience where a classmate says, “You’re not my friend.” The better prepared your child is, the easier it will be. If you have talked a lot about feelings, your child will be less likely to be unkind to other children, too.
While other children are playing an increasingly important role in your child’s life, you are still important. Your child needs cuddling and verbal reassurance. You may want to develop a family saying that lets your child know that you will always be there. “I’m on your team!” “We can do this!” “Let’s figure it out.” Later your child will have to tackle tough challenges alone, but five-year-olds need to know that when they need some help, their parents will be there.