I feel Mickey-Mouse-ears-envy whenever spring break rolls around. Yet, with three kids under 5, I’m not ready to embark on a family trip where “dreams come true.” It’s for self-preservation, really, and to protect myself from switching off with my husband on who rides with the oldest while the other parent calms down a 2-year old because he’s “not tall enough yet.”
When I was in school, I counted down the days until spring break. As a parent with young kids, I keep forgetting it’s coming. Year after year, I fail to have a concrete plan for my family. Part of this is my husband’s schedule often doesn’t allow him to take off a week. That means, I’m the one alone with all three boys, trying not to watch too much Disney Plus. If I’m being honest, staying at home for a week isn’t what’s best for us — we get stir crazy.
This year I’m organizing the calendar a bit differently. We are having a staycation that incorporates at-home activities and outings in surrounding towns. These ideas can work for families at most duty stations, who have children 1 to 6-years-old. My goal with children at home is to plan at least three spring break adventures outside the house.
To avoid spring break dread, plan ahead with ideas like these:
Nature-walk scavenger hunt
This idea takes some planning and creative drawing skills or cut and paste images from old magazines or online. Draw a grid of eight or 10 squares. In each square draw or paste images for your child to locate outside. For instance, have them find a brown rock, a leaf with three points, five blades of grass, and a feather.
For children who can read, write the items they should find and have them sketch the images. This activity should take 15-30 minutes. To extend this activity, use descriptions of the discoveries to learn names and uses for them in nature. For instance, what animal eats the berries you found?
Donuts and sunrise
The night before, pack up a picnic (don’t forget the blanket) and drive to a park or the beach to watch the sunrise. Make a pit stop to grab donuts or pack a breakfast to enjoy while you watch the sunrise. If you have children who sleep in, skip the sunrise aspect, but still do a morning picnic. You can also set this up in your yard or on your porch.
Zoo or aquarium day
Our current location is missing this option, but at our former duty station there was an excellent zoo that had several camp-like activities or animal shows. I would plan a zoo trip around lunch time, so we could eat a packed lunch or shared pizza there. My kids love learning about the different animals and seeing them beyond books or television.
Indoor pool day
Spring break is a good time to start swim lessons if your children don’t know how to swim. Most bases with pools offer swim programs or you find an infant swim rescue program in your area. The former is the swim program I used with my children. Check the rates for swim lessons at your base.
The cost for family swim at a base pool ranges from $0 to 10 during family swim times. It’s a great outing for everyone, minus the changing wet kids in the locker room part. I still cringe when I remember the time my toddler locked us in a changing room.
Local museums/children’s museums
If you have a children’s museum nearby, run don’t walk there. These places are designed to spark imaginations. It’s a bit chaotic for adults at times, so don’t stay longer than two hours. At children’s museums your child can pretend to be a veterinarian, grocery cashier or even gardener. There are many rooms filled with activities designed for specific age groups.
Local library activities
My family enjoys attending “story time” at our local library. It’s not just a sit in a circle and listen to someone read to your child. It’s an interactive time for children. Librarians often sing songs, use puppets and find ways to get your children moving.
On non-story time visits, we pick a theme like “snow” and find books to take home that fit that theme. This helps eliminate that rushed feeling of picking random books or always borrowing the same types of books.
Open gym at a studio
Rainy week? Search for a local gymnastics studio and find out when they host open gym for your child’s age group. My kids love tumbling and jumping on the trampoline at our local gym. As the adult, you walk with them and safely guide them through the “events.” It’s a great way to get out some of that stir crazy energy out.
Picnics in the park
Eat a meal outside. Lately, my family has enjoyed eating homemade charcuterie boards together. Don’t jump on me thinking “that’s too fancy” for my family. These boards are basically inexpensive Lunchables. All you need are cheese slices or cubes, meat (like turkey, ham or salami), fruit (think: apples and strawberries), and chips or bread. It’s the perfect finger foods for the park. Don’t forget some chocolates or cookies for dessert.
Stay at home
Get inspired by an artist
My children love arts and crafts. Anything involving paint or markers is a win. Elevate these activities by incorporating some artist education. Tape paper under the dining room table and let the kids color like Michelangelo. Recreate your own Van Gogh picture using plastic forks or sponges to paint. Make a Renoir lookalike with magazine clippings.
Learn about another country through their food
Write down the names of counties on pieces of paper. Put the paper pieces in a bowl and have your child pick. Learn facts about the selected country. Find a recipe of a popular dish from there. Then while you cook together, listen to music from that country. If cooking isn’t your thing, order take out and eat to the music.
Pirate treasure hunt
Draw a treasure map around your house and have the kids find “x.” At “x” there could be a special snack or activity. Let the kids dress up as a pirate using whatever they find around the house or with pirate themed costumes you own.
Build blanket forts or castles out of cardboard boxes
Forts are beloved at my home. Grab a fitted sheet and drape it over your kitchen table to create a secret lair. Or use pillows, chairs and sheets to turn your living room into a circus tent. Grab your pile of online shopping boxes, tape them together to create a cardboard village or castle. Then let your child use markers or paint to decorate their carboard creations.
Living room movie night
Picnics are a big favorite in my family, in case you couldn’t tell. I lay out a blanket in my living room, plant down a homemade charcutier board or delivery pizza, and lay out pillows. We pick a movie ahead of time (this reduces arguments on what to watch in the moment). Then we come together to watch and eat. Don’t forget lights out! Also, no phones. This is like begin at the movies, remember?
Backyard camp out
If you have a back yard and a tent you don’t need to plan an extensive camping trip. Use your backyard to create the experience. Plus, you will have access to your bathroom, that’s a win for me. This is also a chance if you have a partner who loves the outdoors, and you don’t to let them take the reins on this. You can stay inside to catch up on your favorite shows or a book. This is what I do because I’m too old to enjoy sleeping outside.
Driveway movie night with popcorn
Put a laptop or iPad in the car and serve popcorn for a “like drive-in experience” if you have a truck bed and projector even better. Use your garage as the screen. Typical activities are always more fun for my children when they’re in a “not normal” place.
If you choose to stay home during spring break, it does not have to be boring. Sure, it won’t be perfect, but you lower your expectations. You might still countdown the days left until “regularly scheduled programming” returns, but these ideas should help. The goal for me is to do activities that encourage closeness and memory making because our kids are only little for a short time.