Friday, August 20, 2010

10 Ways to Embrace the Evening Hours

(cross-posted at

My kids are night owls. While I console myself that needing less sleep is often a sign of giftedness, it's hard on a parent to have a 3-year-old who really will not go to sleep until 10PM (the baby often doesn't go down until 9PM or later, either).

The net result is that we have some long evenings in our house. While there are some perks to this as a working parent -- even working 50 hour weeks I can usually spend 5-6 hours per workday with my kids -- there are also some downsides. What do we do with that time? Dinner and baths certainly don't take 3-4 hours. In summer we can go to the park, but it gets dark here by 8, and in winter it's dark at 4:45PM. New York has many wonderful activities for children on weekends and during the weekdays, but there are not a whole lot of activities for 3- and 1-year-olds that start at, say, 7PM.

So, over the last 3 years, I have slowly been building a list of evening activities that will distract the kids from whining for Dora for at least a little while. Some of them:

1. Borders!
Last night we camped out in the kids' section for 45 minutes playing with the plastic dinosaurs. While this is not really a free activity (I usually wind up buying sticker books), a library with evening hours would serve the same purpose.

2. The grocery store. But not necessarily with the purpose of buying groceries. I try to order the workhorse staples of my grocery list online, since the kids get cranky after a short while of shopping, and hauling groceries (I don't have a car) while hauling the kids is tough. So if I go with both kids, we cruise the produce aisle and name things and then buy, like, one bunch of bananas.

3. A run with the double stroller. Lock the front wheel, cruise 1.5 miles to a playground, play briefly (or not, depending on how dark it's getting), run home. A bonus way to get more exercise.

4. Visit the play room or pool.
My apartment building has a kids' playroom and an indoor pool, both of which are technically open until 9:45PM on weeknights. Yes, people think you're crazy when they see your small children up at 8PM, but so it goes.

5. Museums with evening hours. I have to plan ahead for this, as often they close by 6PM. But some stay open late one night per week.

6. Evening playdates. This hasn't worked out quite as often as I would have liked (since other people's children seem not to keep my kids' hours) but is a great option if you can pull it off.

7. Invite people who don't have kids over for dinner. This has several benefits. First, you get to see them without the whole babysitter song and dance. Second, the kids enjoy hanging out with other adults who may be a bit less burned out than the parents. Order take-out so no one has to cook.

8. Backyard "camping."
OK, living in the heart of New York City, this one isn't an option for me, but I look forward to someday doing evening campfires and s'mores, even if the fire is inside the grill on the patio.

9. Really easy arts and crafts.
You know the Crate & Barrel and Harry & David catalogs that show up, oh, every other day? Make collages.

10. Random sporting events. Jasper and I have been known to go take in a kickball game in Central Park. Interesting to watch for a bit, but if you don't really care about the team or the sport, than you won't mind leaving in the middle (key with kids).

Of course, many of these things require at least a bit of planning. As I've been pondering how I spend my hours, I realize that I don't plan for the evenings as often as I should. I'm tired after working all day, and I'm tempted to play it safe, staying home rather than risking a subway diaper explosion or a meltdown. But given how long our evenings can be, staying home the whole time without something on the agenda is a recipe for frayed nerves, or for constant begging to play "stegasaurus," which involves crawling around on the floor and hurts my knees. Or for a Dora the Explorer marathon. And while Dora is fine for half an hour, 3-4 hours is a bit much.

I'd really welcome other suggestions on things to do during the evening hours with kids who don't sleep.


gasstationwithoutpumps said...

This may not apply to your situation, but a strategy my wife an I used for the first 18 months was to alternate who got to sleep each night.

For shopping with kids and without a car, I recommend a bike plus large trailer (the biggest Burley model was good for me). I only had one kid to haul, but in a much hillier area tha NYC. I did occasionally have him with one of his friends in the trailer, but I didn't go shopping with 2 kids.

We generally spent an hour or two each night reading to him (no TV in our house). Luckily he enjoyed hearing new stories so we were not stuck on reading the same thing over and over as some parents are.

Taking a walk and playing the "why?" game was also very popular. The rules of the "why?" game are simple: the parent makes some observation, the kid asks "why?", the parent expands the explanation, the kid asks "why?" again. Repeat until parent exhausts honest explanation. The challenge is to keep giving correct, relevant information, without painting oneself into a corner from which the only honest answer is "I don't know". A good round goes for about 8-10 iterations. This game has the advantage over other verbal games in that it can be played at a much younger age, especially for bright kids who have a developmental speech delay.

Lori said...

My daughter turns 7 tomorrow and has never needed as much sleep as other kids, so I know this issue well!

We just got two kittens this summer, and the unintended benefit is that kittens are nocturnal so you have to play with them long and hard before bedtime, which takes some time. Whereas we used to have that same "what are we going to do for the next 4 hours now that dinner is over?" problem, we now have lots of fun kitten-bonding and play time that wears everyone out for the nite. And if we don't wear them out, they climb on our heads all night, so there is definitely incentive.

But really, I had no idea how well this would work out as far as filling our summer evening hours.

Jenn said...

Hi, I am new to this blog. I do not have a night owl, but there is there is the other side of the coin...the early riser. My children are five and eight, and both have always been very early risers. Let’s just say we own a lot of board games and coffee!

Seriously, though, when they were little, my husband and I did a variety of things. One was "cooking" class, which involved putting out lots of different ingredients and them letting them come up with their own creations. Additionally, we would frequently decorate for holidays, including random, little known ones, but cutting out shapes and taping them all over the house. Even toddlers love to tape things all over the house. Of course, one has to be okay with hearts, pumpkins, stars, etc. all over one's house.

Anonymous said...

I wonder if they are getting too much sleep and not enough exercise during the day.
All kids, gifted or not, need a long block of sleep at night. If naptimes are too long, then it's hard for kids to settle down at night.

TwinMom said...

My kids don't sleep either. As an infant, one of my twins was routinely up till midnight. Now, we have everyone (1, 1 and 3) in bed between 9 and 10.

1) Baths can take an hour or more. Especially in winter when you can't go outside, squirt guns, boats and foam letters are your friends.

2) Read several books to your kids or play games.

3) Have a snack (we like milk) before bedtime. It helps avoid people waking up because they're hungry long before breakfast.

4) Wii Fit- yes, I know some people don't like video games, but winter is tough.

5) Paint with water books- these are hard to find, you may have to order them online. They used to be more common.

Summer is easy to do things in (we work in the garden in the evening to avoid the heat of the day) but hard to go to bed in (because sunset isn't till after 9)

lgm said...

Lots of physical and sensory activity is helpful, preferably outdoors in the sunshine during the day...the 3 year old should be triking daily as well as running around.

Indoors, make sofa cushion mountains and tunnels. Get tennis balls and cardboard tubes. Cut the tubes, arrange them against the cushions and show the little ones how to roll the balls down the tubes. Show them how to play toddler/preschool basketball with a lightweight ball and your choice of basket.

Check out Highlights for Kids website for crafts and games that can be made at home. These are good for the evening when one parent is arriving the game or show off the craft, with the child show-and-telling when the parent arrives home.

Games are always good. Blocks and trains and cars to manipulate are helpful. Bowl with a lightweight indoor play ball and 2 liter bottles. Make music & sing.

For evening wind down aside from those activities already mentioned:
If your 3 year old doesn't put everything in the mouth, an absorbing sensory activity is a tray or pot of rice combined with a spoon, measuring cup and dump or pickup trucks.

Painting is good. We used our preschool easel for 7 years. You can get a cup of tea out of this once you train them to paint only on the easel. Also show them how to stamp paper and make wrapping paper and cards.

Use the nature objects found earlier on the nature walk to make cards and collages and critter pics. Tell grandma or the spouse not on the walk a story about it.

Sing. Play patty cake. Bake cookies with the children's help for tomorrow's tea party with their stuffed animals or dolls.