Snakes on a Train

Snakes on a TrainLast month, my family– including my brother’s two daughters, ages 4 and 8– got stuck on an Amtrak train. While the tracks ahead of us got fixed, our five hour pleasure journey turned into ten hours of… waiting.

“Being a parent is often about heading things off at the pass,” my brother said later, when I commented on his Survivor-style kid engagement. When it became clear that a train car would be home for the foreseeable future, my brother improvised an activity kit: drinking straws, coffee stirrers, pens, pocket knife. Seat trays were deployed. Within a few minutes, the girls were joining straws and stirrers to build snakes and bridges. When the luster of construction wore off, my brother taught the girls to twist rope from straw wrappers. When rope braids crumbled, he challenged the 8-year-old to write the Pledge of Allegiance on a coffee stirrer. When games and patience wore thin, he got them into their pajamas, made up “beds” in empty seats, and we sang them to sleep. No tantrums today.

This was a master class in parent improv. Granted, my brother is a mechanical engineer; straw constructions are a natural, go-to activity. But if you’re a parent, you too have tricks up your sleeve for engaging your kids during those inevitable times waiting: stuck in bed with a cold, waiting an hour in the doctor’s office, or even rained-on outdoor parties. However, as you bring out “I Spy” for the umpteenth time, you may wish you had a parenting fairy godmother: somebody to suggest a little magic to stave off kid boredom.

For those times, I give to you the 1983 Boston Children’s Museum book Activities: For Anyone, Anytime, Anywhere. Written by Jeri Robinson, the Museum’s Vice President of Education and Family Learning and the originator of the exhibit Playspace, this book is a treasure trove of stuff to do in situations people “wish they had planned for after it’s already too late.”

The book is out of print, but never fear: this winter, we’ll post some of what Jeri calls “quickies”– impromptu activities– and “longies”– activities that take a bit more prep.

We’ll start with handkerchief/napkin tricks. These are great for when you’re waiting at a restaurant (or, perhaps, on a train!). Enjoy!

Hankie BabyHankie Baby

  1. Lay a handkerchief or napkin out flat (if you’re using paper napkins, double them up)
  2. Roll both sides down the middle.
  3. Fold the top half (A) down about two-thirds of the way over the bottom half (B).
  4. Pull the B half up between the lower two rolled edges.
  5. Unroll the ends of the rolls slightly and pull them gently to either side. Bring the B edges back to tie off C as a head, and to form the arms of the doll.

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