Monday started like any other. I hear my eldest sneak out of her room to use the bathroom while her little sister cries for her return only to wake up #3, eliciting the tell-tale "momaaaa!" I roll out of bed to my three hooligans asking me to start my day. But today isn't just an ordinary day. Today I won't only have my 3, which some consider a handful, instead I will have FIVE!
At one point in history - around the 1900s - it was completely normal for a household to have a family of 10+ people. Today, the average family only has between 1 and 3 children. Why this shift happened over the course of recent history is for the anthropologists and historians to debate but the fact of the matter is that people just aren't as used to having so many children corralled in one place anymore - outside of schools. The idea of it freaks many people out. Visions of chaotic tornado-esque trauma tearing through the house with a fearful parent figure hiding - probably crying - in a closet somewhere strikes hard in many an adults’ hearts.
“A lot of kids… a lot of mess… you are brave!”
So, naturally - being the glutton for punishment that I am - I just had to take on a few extra littles into my already busy tribe of 3 for a week this past summer. Now, I often have four little rascals running about my house because I babysit a charming little boy throughout the week but summertime means no school so for this particular week, I get to romp around with big brother too! My three, plus those two, equals I need a game plan!
I’ve gotta say, having the five of them all week was enlightening. I like to believe that we all learned from one another throughout the week but I definitely know that I learned from my little munchkins the most. Although I had my sweet, teenager sister-in-law to help me out for the first half of the week, the last half was all me. For five days I kept these littles busy and smiling (sometimes even with added kidlets!) and I am so happy with the resulting memories made. This week was a playtime to remember and I hope for more in the future.
Let me give you a rundown of our game plan and a break down of how to do some of the activities we did. All are budget-friendly and safe play for all ages (with supervision, of course). Here's a peek into the insights I learned with so many children surrounding me with love, laughter, and energy…. So, so much energy (*them, not me*).
My initial plan went something like this:
Day 1: Outside play!
Day 2: Superheroes and crafts!
Day 3: Paint Day!
Day 4: Market storytime & book forts!
Day 5: Get Messy!
And we kept to it as much as possible.
Below you will find a breakdown of our week and some insights into some of the things I learned along the way. I have also included some basic ‘How-tos’ and DIYs for some of the projects that we did so that you can replicate them at home.
5 kids, Day 1: Chalk at the park + bubble party in the back yard = memories made!
Day One was supposed to focus on games and being outside. Well, we were definitely outside!
We started the day with a trip to the park and decided to bring along some chalk and bubbles. Once the kids grew tired of the thrills that the park offered, we moved our posse over to the paved trail behind the park and drew some nice pictures to our hearts’ content, all while eating PB & honey sammiches with cut veggies for lunch. While we encouraged and modelled drawings and writings of inspiration and hope on the walkway, the kids made houses and dens to inhabit with various pieces of crudely drawn furniture to boot! It’s neat to see where their minds go when they have different types of resources to express themselves.
During the three babies’ naptime, the two big kids played out in the backyard independently and built some pretty amazing structures out of anything and everything they could get their hands on. They used sticks, toys, plastic slides, towels, and all manner of things. It was fun watching them explore together and work as a team to construct forts, robots, and who knows what else their imagination concocted.
After naptime, we all joined the big kids outside with snacks, bubbles, and a heap energy for creative outdoor play. I had wanted to bring out our bean bag toss and Yardzee game (Giant Yahtzee meant to be played in the ‘yard’) but they were just so engrossed in their own discoveries that I left them to it, guiding and playing along when necessary. At one point someone dumped their bubbles into the water table that I had set out and when I went to refill the water, suds spewed everywhere! What an unexpected, fun, and exciting end to our outside play!
What did I learn?
Switch the fixed mindset for a growth mindset instead
Use things in new and innovative ways
Go with the flow and make a party of every moment!
Day two went generally as planned and I was pleasantly surprised. I had put together some craft ideas for all of us to do in the morning, some of which were themed to our plans for the afternoon and some that were just fun. We made Box Cars for our personal drive-in movie theatre, egg carton caterpillars, and superhero costumes.
The night before (I’m a procrastinator, what can I say), my sister-in-law called around to our local Tim Horton’s and asked if they had any spare boxes that would be big enough to fit a five-year-old… after an awkward pause - who knows what they were thinking on the other end, haha! - I reminded her to add that they were for sitting in, a craft we had planned! We all had a laugh and (after a few failed attempts) one of the stores set some aside for us to pick up.
We cut out or folded down one side of the box to allow the kids to hop in when the time came. We also cut out bumpers from the top of egg cartons, wheels out of black cardstock, and compiled a bag of various stickers and colourful papers for them to decorate their own cars. The stickers were most popular with the little ones and the older kids loved cutting and pasting.
Egg carton caterpillars
Since I don’t like to create more waste than necessary, We cut the bottom of the previously mentioned egg cartons in half to prepare for our caterpillar craft. While making these, the kids were helped to poke pipe cleaner through the head for antennae and wrapped some around the body as well. They used googly eyes, stickers, and markers to gleefully decorate the rest of the little creature.
During the babies’ naptime, I used some old T-shirts to cut out capes for the kids to wear while they horsed around in the afternoon. We used scraps from the t-shirts to make masks and cut toilet paper rolls in half to make wristbands. The kids really enjoyed decorating their costumes with markers and wore them for the rest of the afternoon.
When all was said and done, I popped a mountain of popcorn, mixed with some tasty treats - smarties - and we all journeyed into the basement for an afternoon at the drive-in! We watch The Incredibles 2 until they could sit still no longer (It lasted longer than I expected, actually) and then we proceeded to go into the backyard to play at saving the world ourselves.
What did I learn?
Planning ahead is responsible but just winging it can be fun too
Personal style is subjective and beautiful; accept and encourage others’ creative expressions
Stand tall and be your own hero; have faith in yourself
This day is pretty straightforward and proceeded relatively easily despite my sister-in-law needing to leave for other engagements. I was solo and ready to take on all that life gave me.
In the morning we painted pictures on paper. I covered my table with an old Christmas tablecloth and let the kids go nuts. We painted with brushes, fingers, and all manner of nature-found objects (sticks, leaves, rocks, grass, small leafy branches, etc.). I was surprised, as always, at the level of innovation these children showed while using seemingly crazy items to create their masterpieces. They dipped and mixed, and slapped and twirled until their pictures were just right. Then they did it again and again!
By the time the babies needed their nap, the big kids were ready for a bit of outside play then some quiet time of their own, during which they watched The Emoji Movie. This quiet time was strategic because I knew the afternoon was going to be an absolute party. After tackling the 5 kids for the past couple days I hadn’t had enough chaos so I invited my neighbour and her three kids to come out to our Paintapalooza. Eight kids! Now, I’m not completely crazy and we did call in great-grandma to supply some additional reinforcements but that’s only because my plan was a little bit crazy.
Once the babies awoke, all of the kids changed into their skivvies - or bathing suits, whatever - and prepared for one of the messiest days of their summer vacation. I proceeded to roll out a tarp and a long roll of craft paper and then I filled up some old Chinese food containers with primary paint colours and let them have at it! As they painted the paper, their bodies and the world around them, we talked about primary colours and how to use them. We mixed them strategically and talked about secondary colours too. In the end, though, everyone was some shade of purple.
When it was time to call it quits to our mess-making mischief, we got out the trusty water hose, a couple buckets, towels, and some gentle soap and made a scene of washing as much purple off the kids as possible. All of their hard work and creative hooliganisms was deserving of a sweet treat so we all went inside to cool off with a popsicle and a TV show.
What did I learn?
Take pride in the things you create; someone, somewhere believes it to be a masterpiece
Put your whole body into everything you do
It takes teamwork and togetherness to clean up big messes
5 kids, day 4: Market storytime + splash pad + building forts + backyard play = #makingmemories
Let me just say that I am so grateful to our community library, Idea Exchange, for putting on so many FREE children’s activities throughout the year. They really function as community hubs for people to connect, learn, and have a good time. This summer, like many before, the children’s department of the Preston branch hosted “Marketplace Story time” where they read, dance, and have crafts/activities at the Preston Market in Central Park. It was on this day that I brought my five.
They loved it! Not only did they participate in all of the fun but they also helped the teachers clean up afterwards. I was so proud!
After having fun at the library programming we spent the rest of the morning splashing in the small fountain - perfect for little ones, no big kids there to knock them over - and had a picnic on the grass. By the time we got home, it was time for nap and, after all that play, they were ready.
While the babies slept, the big kids worked together and made a blanket fort to read and play in. Then, as the babies began to wake, there was a request to watch The Emoji Movie again and I, loving the idea of more quiet time, obliged. It didn't take long for the kids to be drawn to the sunlight pouring in through the windows and we soon found ourselves playing in the backyard once more. Here, we picked garden vegetables and romped about in the uncut grass until the day was done.
What did I learn?
Having a sense of community encourages empathy and togetherness
Doing anything in a fort is 100x more fun than without a fort
Enjoy the fruits of nature, straight from the vine
5 kids, day 5: Let's Get Messy!!!
Taking a page out of the beloved Mrs. Frizzle’s handbook, I decided that the last day was a perfect day to “Take chances, make mistakes, [and] get messy!” Play-Doh, Slime, Goo, Mud, and... water to clean up at the end of the day… I'm not completely nuts!
We spent the morning primarily playing with Play-Doh. They played with that stuff for so long that I was wondering if I’d even get to bring out the next mess. We have a big bin of accumulated Doh from over the last few years and all of the accessories that come with big packages like that so the kids made ice creams, cookies, candies, snakes, kitties, balls, etc, etc, etc. I’d say the most fabulous moment was when my littlest decided to try tasting Play-Doh for the first time. Here’s a strip of how that went for him:
Once the Play-Doh party had run its course, it was time to bring out the trusty Christmas tablecloth once again. It was time for SLIME! I have to admit, after all the hype on the internet, I was surprised at how disenchanted my littles were with the stuff. They either didn’t like it at all or only played with it briefly before wanting to wash clean and play with other toys. They did warm up to it a little more the longer it remained on the table, especially my 2yo. She despised it at first but began experimenting with it over time and cried when I had to put it away. The tears dried pretty quickly when I brought lunch out to my little hungry monkey - literally all day: “I’m hungry, need foooooood! Can I have a sammich, pleeeaaaassseee?” I can't EVEN some days.
Naptime brought more messy fun for the big kids because we made Ooze! Or Goop.. basically just cornstarch, water and a touch of food colouring. This was a combo learning and playing science experiment for the kids because we talked about how to recognize something as liquid or solid and manipulated the Ooze accordingly. It made one heck of a mess but it was probably some of the most fun we had had all morning.
The afternoon was simple. We filled a bin with earth, poured water over it and got muddy! It was really cool to remember how neat mud feels as it's squishing through your fingers and toes, even as an adult. I also hooked up the sprinkler and the slip and slide so they could clean off and have fun with water as well. Watermelon and pretzels for snacks made for a very happy ending to our busy week.
What did I learn?
Sometimes things take time to warm up to; they may turn out to be your favourite things
Learning is always easier when you’re having fun
Simple pleasures are the best
All-in-all we had an amazing week and I found out that having 5 kids isn't all that much different from having my 3, just a higher headcount. This, combined with innumerable other historical reasons, is probably why large families were the norm back in the day. Keeping them busy and accountable was essential to the success of the week because the balance of structured versus independent play allowed for just the right amount of freedom and guidance to learn, explore, and have fun!
“Omg they look like they were having so much fun!”