Chalk It Up

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With families spending more time at home these days, sidewalk chalk and imaginative play are great ways for kids to have fun and stay safe. They’re also terrific tools to foster game play, kick-start imaginations, and help kids let their inner artists out.

And the best thing about chalk play? There’s no fancy equipment or big backyard required—you can easily turn your driveway, patio or sidewalk into a colorful game board or canvas.

Try these ideas for chalk and other play:

  • Shadow Trace: Lie down and trace each other’s shadows, then come back later and see how much the shadows moved.
  • Dress Up: Trace each other’s body outlines and then fill them in with faces, hair, clothes, and accessories. If you’re stuck, pick a theme like Beach Day, Superheroes, 50s, Western, Crazy Hair, or another favorite.
  • Artist Swap: Draw large rectangles or squares on the ground, one for each player. Set a timer and have each player draw in their square for five minutes or so. When the timer goes off, each artist rotates to the next “painting” and continues drawing where the original artist left off.
  • Bug Parade: Draw a line of your favorite bugs—ladybugs, beetles, caterpillars, spiders, bees—marching or slithering down your sidewalk. Or draw a line of butterflies or birds in flight.
  • Eraser: Color in a large rectangle (4 x 6 feet or more) with different colors of chalk. Fill small squirt bottles with water and spray the art with water to create a new picture.
  • Lily Pad Hop: Draw different sizes of lily pads various distances apart. Players take turns jumping across the “pond” by hopping from pad to pad.
  • Twister: Draw circles in four different colors and make cards or have another child or parent call out right/ left hand or right/ left foot, and a color. The player(s) on the circles have to place their correct hands and feet on the color called. See if they can do it without tying themselves in knots.
  • Grand Prix: Draw a racetrack or roadway for toy cars or ride-on toys, and then race or drive on your track.
  • Ring Toss: Draw three or more circles in a column or row and take turns trying to toss a rock or other object into the center of each. Create a point system and reward more points for rings that are further away from the others.

No chalk? No problem. Many of the above games and activities can be played using sticks, rocks or rope to mark off areas. Here’s a recipe to make your own sidewalk chalk.

Other ways to fire up kids’ imaginations and have fun

Chalk play is a great way to get kids’ imaginations going. Try these other activities:

Kids love to role play, either with other kids, or with dolls and toys. Any indoor setting can be recreated outdoors, with just a couple of props or by drawing with your chalk. Create a play store, restaurant, kitchen, classroom, or doctor’s or veterinarian’s office. Make mud pies or other concoctions to eat in your kitchen or sell in your store.

All the outdoors is a stage. Bring costumes or puppets outside and put on a show. Or show off some of your new dance moves from your hopscotch dance party (above). Draw and cut out paper tickets or make programs. Play outdoor charades. Or make your own musical instruments and rock out in your driveway or yard.

What would summer be without water? Go fishing in your backyard or driveway by filling a kiddie pool or other large receptacle with water. Add some fish (cut fish shapes out of plastic or sturdy cardboard­, and punch or cut a hole in each fish head) and then go fishing with a stick tied with string and an opened paper clip on the end. Or float rubber ducks and have fun catching them with a net. Make a cork raft or sailboat or fold and sail a paper boat.

Put an outdoor twist on a traditional game. Mark off a tic tac toe board with sticks, then collect rocks and paint them in two distinct designs or colors (for Xs and Os) to play your game. Play pickup sticks with real sticks: Drop sticks in a pile. Players take turns trying to remove one stick without disturbing the others. When a stick from the pile is disturbed, the next player takes a turn. When all the sticks are gone, players total their number of sticks to tally points.

With a little imagination, chalk or no, your sidewalk or other outdoor space can provide hours of fun.

Some of the above activities were adapted from Fed Up with Frenzy: Slow Parenting in a Fast-Moving World, which contains these and 300+ fun family activities.