Do you love a bargain? Are you a fan of buy-one, get-one-free? Then we here at FOCUS have a two-for-one deal for you. Below are seven activities that serve a dual purpose: they are low-cost indoor activities to get you through the snow and rain of the upcoming months, AND they also can be used to stay connected with a deployed parent or faraway loved one.

  1. Making homemade playdough. This is a great activity that can be enjoyed by children of all ages and used over and over again. It is a great rainy day distraction. Psssst! Parents—don’t tell your kids, but here is a little secret: not only is making playdough loads of fun, but it is also a great way to practice following directions and basic math/measurement skills.Here is a simple playdough recipe:3 cups flour1.5 cups salt6 tsp cream of tartar3 tbsp oil3 cups water

    1. Dissolve salt in the water.

    2. Pour all ingredients into a large pot.

    3. Stir constantly over medium heat until a ball forms by pulling away from the sides.

    4. Knead the dough mixture until the texture matches playdough (1-2 minutes).

     Store finished product in a plastic container; it should last for around 3 months.To add color or scent to the playdough, you can add a few drops of food coloring, vanilla, an extract like peppermint or almond, or a packet of unsweetened Kool-Aid.Note: Keep an eye on young toddlers to make sure they don’t eat the playdough. The recipe provided is non-toxic in small amounts, but could result in an upset stomach if too much is eaten.Deployment twist: Children can let their playdough creations dry in a sunny window and mail them to their deployed parent. Reminder: It will be easier to mail them if they are flat. For example, children might create a heart with their initials carved into it.

  2. Baking. This classic rainy day activity can be customized to suit the taste and dietary preferences of your family. Like making playdough, baking is a fun way to practice following instructions and develop basic measurement skills. It is also a great way to practice taking turns and teach basic sequencing (i.e. first we add all the ingredients, then we put the dough on the cookie tray, etc).Deployment twist: You can bake the deployed parent’s favorite flavor of cookie or use cookie cutters to bake cookies in the shape of their favorite things. Then you can mail a tin of them to your service member. You can also sit down and eat the cookies together and talk to your kids about the deployment and your loved one.

  3. Puzzles. If your kids have mastered all the puzzles in your house, help them create their own! All it takes are scissors and construction paper. Have your kids draw or paste a picture on a sheet of construction paper or poster board. Use a puzzle you already have as a template, or draw the pieces freehand before cutting them out into puzzle pieces. Once the puzzle is created, they can have fun putting it back together. This is a great activity to use during get-togethers with other kids. They can also trade puzzles and try to piece together their friends’ creations.Deployment twist: Before the kids start cutting out the puzzle pieces, they can write a letter to their deployed parent and paste it on the back of the construction paper or poster. The puzzle can be sent to the service member, so they can participate in the puzzle solving fun AND receive a message from their kids at the same time.

  4. Board games. Create a new version of your favorite board game that is unique to your family. For example you could change the pictures in Candyland to match the places you stopped on your trip to Grandma’s last summer. You can also create your own version of Memory using pictures of your family’s favorite things. You might also create a brand new card game and name it after your family pet or favorite food. Be sure to write down the rules to any new games so there is no confusion about how to play.Deployment twist: If it’s compact enough, like a deck of cards or Memory, send it to the deployed parent along with a care package so they can enjoy the fun new family game with their buddies.

  5. Scrapbook. This is a great project because scrapbooks can be created in all shapes and sizes and can include images specific to the interests and ages of your children. Scrapbooks are an excellent way to encourage creativity and can be done with any art supplies you have on hand. The following supplies may help your kids to create your family scrap book: small journal or album, scissors, construction paper, crayons or markers, photos, magazine images, and stickers.Deployment twist: Mail the scrapbook out to your service member one page at a time so they can have a visual record of everything that’s been going on in their absence. If you are making a scrapbook that covers a time when they were home, you can ask them to contribute a comment or picture caption that you can then place in the book.

  6. Plant a spring garden. If you have an empty corner in the yard or even just an empty reusable grocery bag you can create your own garden. Take some time this winter to do some research on what types of plants will grow best in your climate and in the space you have. After you have decided what you want to grow, you can draw a diagram of your future garden and make a list of any supplies you need. Once you are prepared and the weather is right for planting, head to your local hardware store or garden center and pick up a few packets of seeds, a shovel, and start planting. In a few months, you will be able to enjoy your garden together as a family. It will also be fun for your kids to see what they have planted grow and bloom.Deployment twist: Make sure to plant some of the service member’s favorite vegetables, herbs or flowers. You can send pictures of the planting and growing process and then when they get home they can enjoy the bounty with you.

  7. Story creation. If your children love stories and have active imaginations, this is the perfect activity for them! There are endless variations that will keep them busy for quite some time. Your child can create a story from scratch and add his or her own illustrations. Together you could write a new ending for your child’s favorite book, or just draw new pictures to go with the original story. Your child might come up with a new comic book character and write a comic strip about them, or create a fill-in-the-blank story that other family members can take turns filling out.Deployment twist: Create a new story, but don’t write the ending. Send it to the deployed parent to complete. If you have regular email communication, you could take turns writing the story one paragraph at a time. You could also mail them the fill-in-the-blank story to complete and send back, or send the comic strip for them to read to their friends.Bonus: Once you have mailed the created story off to the service member, ask them to head over to their nearest United Through Reading® recording center and record the story onto a DVD, which will then be sent back home for your children to watch and read along with. To learn more about United Through Reading®, check out the archived edition of our November newsletter.