Craft an Activity Finder for Happier Playtimes

With a roll of the die, this mom helps her kids play together peacefully.

Illustration of hands on cube Illustration by Jordan Sondler

Recently, my three boys had seemed to be on different planets during their free time. Aidan, age 4, complained that no one would play trains with him, while Dylan, 6, just begged to turn on a video game. Michael, 9, got easily annoyed by his younger brothers' antics. Then my husband, Edward, said something that gave me pause. "It seems as if they just can't play together these days."

It started me thinking, what if this was more than average kid boredom? I worried about the boys' bonds as brothers. I wanted each of them to pursue his individual passions but also to join in on activities that his siblings enjoyed. Was there a way to help them see that they could share each other's interests and have a good time doing it?

Then, in a burst of inspiration, I came up with a promising idea: "We need a What to Do cube!" The boys were intrigued.

I emptied a small box of tissues and sent the boys off to gather tape, scissors, a pencil, and sheets of paper in their favorite colors. They traced the sides of the tissue box onto their paper and cut out two traced squares each. Then I asked each of them to think of two activities he likes to do. "After we write them on the squares, we'll tape the squares to the cube and take turns rolling it," I explained. "Whatever activity comes up, you'll all do that together."

Michael chose Charades and Legos. Sensing that broad categories would work best, I suggested, "What if we call your second choice Build It? That can mean Legos, or a fort, or a racetrack."

"I want to build a fort with Michael!" Dylan said. Michael smiled and wrote down his two activities.

Dylan came up with Superheroes and Jokes.

"Can Superheroes be Story Time?" I asked. "Then you could act out a story about superheroes. You could even write a story and read it to Aidan."

"Write about me!" Aidan said.

"OK," Dylan agreed. He loves dreaming up tales, and I loved this chance to boost his reading and writing skills.

"And since jokes are word puzzles," I added, "why don't we call it Solve a Puzzle and include jigsaws and mazes?"

"I could make a Lego maze for you, Dylan," said Michael, getting into the spirit of the endeavor.

"And I could be a superhero who solves it to save someone," Dylan said. They were getting excited.

"My turn," said Aidan. "I want to dance."

"'Dance Party is fun," I said. "And what about your other idea?"

"Snacks," he said.

"Yes!" his big brothers cheered. I wrote Cooking Fun. We taped the paper squares to the cube.

"What's our first activity?" Dylan asked. "Roll it, Mom."

    Family photo

    I shook the cube, blew on it for luck, and rolled.

    The cube was a hit. They played together all day and talked about making other cubes for deciding which TV shows to watch and what desserts to have. (Sorry to say, they weren't too taken with my idea of a Do This Chore cube.) I was pleased with the cube, too. Even more, I was happy to see my three boys having fun together -- and building strong, lasting bonds.

    The Hogans of Pittsburgh, PA

    Originally published in the June/July 2014 issue of FamilyFun magazine.