Sue Bowman Rural Ramblings

With the public schools in many states, including Pennsylvania, closed for at least two weeks in response to the coronavirus, parents may be faced with a new kind of crisis — what can they do to keep their kids from going crazy (or driving their parents crazy) during this lengthy break?

While the occasional snow day might be fun, because it brings the chance for sledding or building snowmen, being off unexpectedly at this time of year doesn’t come with those built-in opportunities. Children with electronic devices might be able to keep themselves entertained for hours, but is that much screen time a good thing? There’s also a good chance that even playing video games on a personal device might eventually become tiresome. Then what?

I don’t have young children at home, but listening to others discussing the perils of bored youngsters got me thinking about the type of activities that amused my family and friends when I was kid stranded on a farm. Computers hadn’t been invented and there were only three or four channels available on our television set (depending on which way we turned the outdoor antenna). There was no such thing as watching a movie video at home and, living out in the country, there weren’t other children living nearby to play with. What did we do?

As I thought back on my youth, several things came to mind. First of all, boredom was not a condition that inspired any sympathy. It didn’t take many times of complaining to my parents, “I’m bored,” to discover they could always find something for me to do, and it usually wasn’t anything fun or entertaining. Cleaning my room, pulling weeds, sweeping the porches and sidewalk, or practicing my piano lessons were only some of the “tortures” assigned to me if I made the mistake of telling my folks I was bored.

I soon discovered that it was best to find my own activities. Sometimes I just retreated to my bedroom and read a book, or listened to records or played with my dolls, thinking up fun adventures for them that required multiple costume changes. Other times I played dress-up with old clothes that were cast-offs from other family members.

And, I’m almost embarrassed to think about how much enjoyment I got out of playing with our trusty wooden “marble roller.” It was sort of a “roller coaster” for marbles which was four levels high with a curving chute to the bottom. Rolling marbles one at a time was too tame; I liked blocking the bottom of the chute, filling it to the top with marbles, then opening the bottom to let the waiting marbles burst forth noisily into the old salt water taffy box at the end of the run.

Perhaps the most fun I had that the present generation of kids with cabin fever might enjoy, too, was playing board games or doing puzzles. While putting together a jigsaw puzzle on top of a card table set up in the living room was something I could do alone, it was always more fun when my parents helped, too. Do today’s families still own jigsaw puzzles? If not, check with older relatives and you’ll likely be able to borrow some neat ones to assemble. If kids want a real challenge, have them put together a puzzle without being able to look at the picture on the top of the puzzle box while they’re piecing it together.

Older relatives might also be a good resource for board games. Many of these games are still available in stores, but if your household doesn’t already own them, avoid the shopping trip and borrow them from someone else. The Uncle Wiggly board game was always a favorite of mine. It featured characters popularized in a series of books by the same name. I still remember Nurse Jane Fuzzy-Wuzzy and the scary Skeezieks. The winding paths of numbered steps on various trails lead players past places like the Wibble-Wobble Duck Pond and the Bushytail Squirrel Tree. The first player to make it from Uncle Wiggly’s Bungalow to Dr. Possum’s house wins.

It was always special fun if my parents joined in playing this and other board games such as Parcheesi, checkers and Chinese checkers — especially if I beat them. The latter two games were not only fun, but also helped teach us strategies to win the game. Chess, which I learned to play at school in sixth grade, is also a great teaching tool for older youngsters.

Other pastimes I enjoyed once upon a time were making creative faces with “Mr. Potato Head” — back in the days when we actually used a potato instead of a plastic head, like nowadays. I also had great fun playing “Cootie,” a game in which the players roll a pair of dice and try to be the first to assemble a three-dimensional plastic insect, piece by piece.

Hopefully, if the coronavirus has a silver lining, it may be that families get to spend more quality time together personally interacting in old-fashioned, non-electronic ways.

Sue Bowman is a freelance writer in southeastern Pennsylvania.