Low-Energy Summer Activities to do With Your Kids

As summer rolls around, it can be challenging to find fun ways to engage with your kids without expending more energy than you have available. If you, like me, live with chronic illness and fatigue, you may enjoy some new ideas to inspire your family time (and check out my spring ideas and winter ideas!).

Here are some simple low-key activities to celebrate the season with your kids (flare-day approved!).

1. Cool off in a foot pool.

Let’s be honest, the idea of rounding everyone up, gathering bathing suits and towels, trekking to the pool or beach, swimming, and then coming home to clean up all the soggy laundry is probably exhausting. Shoot, I feel exhausted just writing about it! But summer is synonymous with swimming. So for an easy solution that allows you to cool down without wearing out, why not try a foot pool?

A kiddie pool is the easiest option: simply fill the pool with cool water, then gather lawn chairs around the perimeter to soak your hot feet. Don’t have a kiddie pool? No problem! Let each person gather a small bin or a bowl for personal foot pools. Or, if you’d rather stay indoors, just fill a bathtub with a few inches of cool water and sit on the edge of the tub to soak your feet.

2. Watch an outdoor movie or visit a drive-in.

I’m definitely old-school, but I love the excitement of the old drive-in movies. Granted, they were in their heyday back before we all had streaming services in our own homes, but there’s still something exciting about an outdoor movie. If there is a drive-in theatre in your area, consider making an evening of watching a movie on the big (outdoor) screen. Be sure to fill the car with plenty of pillows and comfy blankets, and pack some fun snacks.

If you don’t have a drive-in nearby, you could talk to friends or neighbors about borrowing a projector (or see if your local library has one available to borrow). Hang a light-colored sheet for a screen and enjoy the drive-in experience in your own backyard or living room.

When my kids were little, we used to have “car days.” I would play a movie on the television and they would “park” in laundry baskets, pretending they were pulling up in their own cars. If your children are small enough, this is a great way to make an at-home drive-in even more fun. Or, if you’re outdoors, have your kids ride up on bikes and tricycles to watch the movie!

Image of metal fence with painted, "Drive-In Theatre."
A weathered metal fence reads, in faded burgundy block lettering, “Drive-In Theatre.”

3. Visit a drive-In restaurant.

In the same vein as the drive-in theatre (why does summer always make me nostalgic?), why not try a drive-in restaurant? You may be surprised to know these gems are still dotted around the country here and there, and they make for a fun mid-summer outing! Do a little research to see if there are any restaurants in your area, then plan a short road trip (as a bonus, you can see the sights of summer on the way). Other than getting everyone to the car, there is very little effort required on your part: no cooking, no clean-up, and probably no complaints about the food being served!

4. Enjoy homemade ice cream.

I know what you’re thinking, “Make ice cream? Do you know how much time and work that takes!?” I hear you, and I agree with you. Making ice cream can be a little labor intensive. But there are some easy options available that take literally minutes to prepare, with very little effort.

For fruity “ice cream,” try blending a cup of milk or coconut milk, and a handful of your favorite frozen fruits: strawberries, pineapple, mango, blueberries, etc. If you’re really feeling adventurous, you could let each child choose the fruit they’d like to add. Blend to the consistency of a smoothie, and pour into small bowls or jars. Freeze for about half an hour, then enjoy!

For chocolate ice cream, check out my gluten free, dairy free recipe that takes just minutes to prepare! I keep a stash of this in the freezer all summer long (and, if I’m honest, I don’t always eat it with my kids).

Image of orange-colored ice cream.
Three scoops of pale orange-colored ice cream are stacked in a white ceramic bowl, with a metal spoon stuck into uppermost scoop.

5. Take a virtual vacation.

Travel is a tricky thing, isn’t it? It can be so very draining, and so expensive. Sometimes it’s just not in the budget–financial or physical. So, for an alternative way to see the world, consider taking a virtual vacation.

Many museums, zoos, amusement parks, and historic sites offer virtual tours. It’s not the same as the real thing, granted, but it’s fun for an afternoon’s amusement. One afternoon, our family visited Disney World virtually. We dressed in our Disney gear, had a Disney-themed snack like homemade Dole whips, and took virtual rollercoaster rides from our own couch (the kids even put their hands in the air for the big hills). It was a simple, fun memory!

Another time, we toured Mackinac Island. We found a virtual walking tour and explored the many sights. The kids even walked or jogged on the spot, so they felt like they were moving with the camera.

You can get creative with your virtual vacations. For example, if you are touring a foreign place, see if you can prepare or order in food from that country. If you’re going somewhere cold or rainy or rugged, encourage your children to dress for the climate. If you’ll be learning about an animal or exploring a habitat, invite your children’s favorite stuffed animals to join you on the vacation. Make the most of the miles you can cover from the comfort of your couch!

6. Spend an afternoon in a tent or hammock.

Summer is meant for those lazy days with warm breezes (convenient, isn’t it?). Take advantage of the slower pace to relax together outside, or inside. If you own a hammock or can borrow one from a friend, hang a hammock securely and pass the afternoon swinging, snoozing, or reading books.

If you don’t own a hammock, or for a different kind of adventure, consider pitching a tent indoors or outdoors. If you have a traditional tent with a cover, try leaving it off so that you can lie in the tent and look up through the mesh to watch the clouds roll by, or to see the tree branches sway. There’s nothing more relaxing! Or if you don’t own a tent, make a simple blanket fort and enjoy crawling under it to escape the hot summer sun.

Image of a hammock hanging in backyard.
A wide white rope hammock hangs between two trees in a shady backyard. There is a fluffy white blanket draped on the hammock, and other houses and trees are visible in the distance.

7. Have a mini campfire cookout.

Traipsing outdoors, building a campfire, and gathering supplies can sometimes be a lot of work. Or, if you live in an apartment or an area where you aren’t able to have a fire, it may just not be an option. In either case, a fun alternative is an indoor mini cookout. I guarantee your kids will love it!

You’ll only need a few simple supplies: chafing dish fuel or a large candle, toothpicks or skewers, mini marshmallows, chocolate chips, a cereal such as Golden Grahams, and cocktail wieners.

Light the flame, and let each person take turns toasting their food over the “fire” (make sure younger kids are supervised and/or have help toasting their items!). You’ll be surprised at how golden those little marshmallows can get over a tiny flame!

8. Enjoy some fireworks.

Fireworks are the sound of the season, aren’t they? They seem to be everywhere in the summer months. Which is great news, because it means you can probably enjoy them without much effort of your own! If your town or neighborhood has fireworks displays, consider loading everyone into the car with their favorite blankets and pillows to watch the show. You could even pack some special snacks: Gushers (they “explode” in your mouth); strawberries, blueberries, and marshmallows (red, white, and blue); or popcorn (practically like fireworks themselves).

We have a balcony at the back of our house, as well as a patio area. On the fourth of July, the entire panorama of the city behind us is lit up with all the different fireworks displays. It’s become a tradition for our kids to go to bed before it’s dark, and for us to wake them around 11 pm to crawl out onto the balcony together to watch the amazing colors above us. If your neighbors have similar fireworks shows, take advantage and enjoy them from the comfort of your own home!

Image of fireworks against black sky.
A cluster of blue and red fireworks against a black sky.

9. Binge-read comic books.

As our kids have gotten older, it’s been so much fun to introduce them to all the old comic books we loved growing up. Maybe it’s the slower pace, or the need to read something light after the school year, but summertime is just a time for sitting and devouring comic strips.

If you have your own collection of comics, this might be the perfect time to bring them out and introduce your kids. Or check out what’s available from your local library. There are hundreds and hundreds of books to explore, from the classic superheroes, to Archie and the gang, Calvin and Hobbes, Peanuts, Donald Duck and friends, Tintin, Richie Rich, Little Lotta, and so many more.

10. Host a root beer tasting.

Root beer is big business in our family, and we take it very seriously. One of the things we enjoy in the summer is having a root beer tasting. We choose a handful of different root beers and assign them numbers (only the person pouring knows which beer is which), then serve small amounts to each person. In turn, each person evaluates each root beer and scores it on a little card; for example, on a scale from 1-5 we rate the color, the fizz, the sweetness, the overall flavor, etc.

After we’ve tasted all of the root beers, we tally our scores. The root beer with the highest overall score is declared the winner, and its identity is finally revealed! Often we’re surprised by which brand is chosen as the winner–store brands have often beat out nationally recognized brands. And we’ve all enjoyed our fill of delicious root beer in the process!

Image of a row of vintage root beer bottles.
A line of vintage-style glass root beer bottles with colorful labels. Brand names are not readable.

What are your favorite summer activities to enjoy with your kids? I’d love to hear about them in the comments below!

Low-Energy Spring Activities to do With Your Kids

If you are a parent living with chronic illness, disability, or chronic pain, you know all too well how hard it can be to find ways to spend time with your kids. Some days it’s all I can do to sit up, let alone find the energy to play with them! And then, inevitably, I feel consumed by guilt, or feel like I’m missing out on precious family time.

Here are a few ideas for activities that won’t take much out of you, but will mean the world to your children. Like my list of winter activities and summer activities, many of them can be done from the comfort of your couch or bed (so you may even find some options for flare days)!

1. Blow bubbles.

Regardless of your child’s age, there’s something relaxing about blowing bubbles. For an easy, peaceful activity, there’s nothing better. You can blow the bubbles yourself from the comfort of a chair, ask your child to blow them, or pick up an inexpensive battery-powered bubble machine. If you’re really feeling brave (and willing to deal with a little mess), you can even blow them indoors.

2. Enjoy bird watching.

I live for the first sounds of birds calling to one another in the treetops in spring! It feels like the official announcement that winter is finally behind us. The beauty of birds is that they can be found just about anywhere, from rural to urban settings. Spend a little time watching for the birds that are native to your area. If you have a place for it, hang a birdhouse, or a window-mounted bird feeder to enjoy a closer view.

There are some great apps that help you identify the species of bird you’re seeing (or hearing). Merlin Bird ID is a free app my husband loves to use with our kids. It allows you to search by appearance (size, color, and the bird’s activity/location), or by sound (a short audio recording of the sound identifies the bird, or you can listen to pre-recorded audio snippets to compare to what you’re hearing).

If your area has a lot of birds, you could create a “Bird Bingo” card for each family member. The first person to spot all the birds on their card wins a prize!

Bluebird sits perched on a branch.
An orange-breasted bluebird sits perched on a bare branch, with blurred greenery in the background.

3. Plant a garden.

There’s just something about gardening that makes you feel more alive. For kids, there’s the added sense of wonder and discovery as they watch tiny seeds grow into mature plants. It’s just an amazing process!

Full-on gardening with chronic illness can be challenging. I’ve written some tips for making gardening accessible in general. But if a full garden isn’t an option for you because of space or ability, it’s still possible to experience the joy of watching plants grow!

For an incredibly simple way to start growing plants, simply place dry lentils or beans in a shallow cup amid dampened cotton balls, and place them in a sunny spot. Within days, tiny shoots will grow from the “seeds!” This is an especially great option for young kids who lack the patience to wait for seeds to germinate normally. It’s also a great way to grow microgreens that can be eaten in salads or other dishes.

Vegetable plants can be started indoors in early spring, and transplanted as they grow. Many vegetables can be grown in pots or containers, and some will even thrive indoors. So you can grow your own food even if outdoor space is limited. For recommendations for best things to grow, planting schedules, and other information, the Farmer’s Almanac is always a great resource.

If vegetables aren’t your thing, there are many flowers that can be grown easily from starts or from seeds. Tulip bulbs are one of my favorites, and as an added bonus they are a perennial (they come back every year) that multiplies over time! You can grow them in pots indoors, then save the bulbs to plant outside in the fall. By next spring, you’ll have beautiful tulips to enjoy in your garden.

4. Go for a drive to enjoy the blossoms.

Everything comes alive in the spring, and I love watching the trees and gardens leaf out and bloom. Even if you are unable to get out and go for a walk, taking a drive to drink in the signs of life after a long winter can be so refreshing. Load everyone up with some snacks and a drink for the ride, and enjoy the beautiful sights of springtime.

5. Watch a movie.

Movies are always an easy, low-energy option. Why not celebrate the arrival of spring with a spring-like movie? For younger kids (or older kids!), movies like Peter Rabbit, The Secret Garden, Bambi, or Winnie the Pooh are great choices. Older kids might enjoy Miss Potter, Sound of Music, or My Girl.

6. Have a (contained) Easter Egg Hunt.

Easter egg hunts are the classic springtime activity, but let’s be honest: they take considerable energy. For a lower-energy version, here are a couple of ideas:

  • Confine the hunt to just one room of the house. Take a few moments to hide eggs in that space, and then allow your child to search for them while you sit by and watch.
  • Play “Hot or Cold” with Easter eggs. Take turns hiding an egg somewhere in the same room. The person hiding the egg can indicate whether the seeker is “hot” (getting closer to the egg) or “cold” (farther away). The beauty of this is that the person hiding the egg can mostly stay stationary on a couch or in bed.
  • Make “activity eggs:” rather than filling the eggs with candy or trinkets, add a little slip of paper with an activity that the seeker has to do. It could be hopping on one foot, flapping their wings like a bird, singing a song, etc. For older children, the papers could have questions instead, either about themselves or to test their knowledge of other family members. For example, “What is Dad’s favorite color?” or “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Either way, you will need to expend just a little energy to create the activities, but you can simply watch after that. And there will be plenty to keep your children occupied!
Multicolored plastic Easter eggs scattered on green grass.
A collection of plastic Easter eggs in assorted colors are scattered over a patch of green grass.

7. Create an indoor petting zoo.

My children love their stuffed animals, and if your house is anything like mine, it’s likely overflowing with them. For a fun indoor activity, invite your kids to create a small petting zoo. They can arrange their stuffed animals any way they like: by species, by size, etc. Have them set up exhibits with all of their favorite animals, and then give you a tour. Ask them to tell you a little bit about each animal: what they eat, where they can be found, any particular personality quirks… Chances are they have a backstory for every stuffed animal in their collection!

If mobility is an issue, you can have them set up the zoo on the end of your bed or in your room. If that’s not possible, invite them to create a “documentary” and shoot a video tour of their zoo on a phone or camera to share with you.

8. Put together a puzzle.

Rain is an inevitable part of springtime, so why not take advantage of a day indoors to work on a puzzle together? If you don’t have one on hand, they can be purchased inexpensively from many stores. Some libraries also have puzzles (and board games) that can be checked out and returned. Or hold a “puzzle swap” with friends or family members.

If you are limited to your bed, smaller puzzles can be put together on a tray or a piece of wood that can easily be moved when you are finished.

9. Have a paper airplane contest.

For some reason, springtime always makes me think of the sky. It could be the clear blue skies with fluffy clouds, or the birds flying overhead, or the colorful kites that suddenly pop up here and there on a sunny day. Whatever the reason, why not translate this love of skies to a fun family activity?

Paper airplanes come in all shapes and sizes, and can be made by young children up through adults. Spend a little time making your own creations, and then have a contest! Prop a hula hoop up and see who can fly their plane through the center. Line up on the edge of the bed and measure to see whose airplane flies farthest. Mark targets on the wall or floor, and see how close you can come to landing on them. There are countless ways to compete with paper airplanes, and most of them can be done from the couch or bed.

Person holding yellow paper airplane.
A Caucasian person’s forearm is seen holding a bright yellow paper airplane against a clear blue sky.

10. Make a special spring snack.

Whether you’re going for a ride to scout spring blossoms, curling up with a movie, or just enjoying a rainy day indoors, why not make snack time something special? An easy snack that’s sure to please is a spring-themed “Rabbit Trail Mix.”

Let each person create their own custom mix using simple ingredients: fish crackers, jelly beans, pretzels, mini marshmallows, raisins, dried fruit, nuts, etc. Your child will love having the freedom to pick and choose what goes into their snack, and they can easily prepare it themselves by scooping a spoonful of each ingredient from a bowl, or pouring from a package. For added fun, you could serve the snacks in orange paper “carrot cones.”

What are your favorite low-energy spring activities? Feel free to share in the comments below!

PEG Tube and G-Button Accessories with Personality

Sometimes a medical condition or symptom creates the need for a gastrostomy, either long-term, or for a short period. This can be a life-altering procedure, not because it is a complicated one, but because of the impact it has on the lifestyle of the person needing it.

There are many different kinds of gastrostomies, and they all have different names. As a general group, they are often called g-buttons for short. They can be placed in adults, teens, children, or babies. The care and maintenance is similar regardless of the type or age of the person.

I spent many years working in the NICU, or Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. During those years, I worked with countless families as their children had g-buttons placed. Often they were intimidated by the device, and saw it as something foreign and unattractive on their baby’s body. It was far more difficult to adjust emotionally to the button, for most families, than it was to learn the logistics of how to care for it.

If you live with a medical device such as a g-button, you may struggle to feel that the button is anything but clinical. You were likely sent home from the hospital with stacks of white cotton gauze to apply around your site. While functional, it may feel like just a further reminder of the presence of this device.

If you or your child has a g-button, here are some accessories and suggestions that might help the device to feel just a little less medical, and perhaps allow you to express your personality through it.

G-tube Pads

Image of three taco-shaped embroidered g-button pads, with link to Etsy seller.
A set of three embroidered fabric g-button pads are shaped like half-circle tacos arranged in a triangular layout. There is a Mickey g-tube device shown with the pad on top. The taco on the bottom left has oval embroidered black eyes and a bushy mustache. Each pad has a small slit with circular opening at the center of the pad, and a yellow snap fastener. “Adora Belly Design” is written in white font across image.

Oh, my. How can you not smile when you see the mustache on this taco? These adorable g-tube pads are brimming with personality! This seller offers a massive range of pads that are fun and whimsical, from these tacos, to chicken nuggets, to flowers, to whales. Sold in a variety of shapes and sizes, you’re sure to find something that makes you smile! And the beauty of fabric pads like this, other than the fun factor, is that they are re-usable. Simply wash them, and use them again. No waste!

Image of reusable fabric g-button pads with Charlie Brown Peanuts characters. Links to Etsy seller.
A collection of five fabric g-button cover pads shows an assortment of cartoon drawings of Charlie Brown characters. The colors are predominantly the characters’ skin color, bright yellow, dark blue, and light pink. The pads are circular in shape with a triangle-shaped slit and they fasten with plastic snaps in black or yellow.

Oh, Charlie Brown… Old Chuck is a perennial favorite, from adults on down to children. This set of pads has all the old gang together in one place. The design of these pads makes them versatile and easy to use with a variety of devices. A multipack like this could make a great gift, too!

Image of reusable embroidered video game controller g-tube pads, with link to Etsy seller.
A collection of embroidered g-button pads is shown in the shape of PlayStation video game controllers. The controllers are shown in black, white, hot pink, and lime, and each color option is labeled with black font. There are embroidered circles and small cross shape to represent the controller buttons. Each pad has a slit with circular opening, and fastens with coordinating plastic snap. “Adora Belly Design” is seen in white font across bottom of image.

For an older child or an adult, is there anything more fitting than videogame controllers? With the option to choose the color, you could have a different color for each day of the week! Again, these pads are washable and re-usable, for long-lasting wear.

Image of four mermaid reusable g-button pads, with link to Etsy seller.
A collection of iridescent mermaid-themed octagonal g-button pads has metallic gold stitching. Four pads are shown in four different colors: teal, bright purple, bright blue, and pink. Each pad has a scallop design in matching gold to look like scales, and a slit with circle opening and coordinating plastic snap. The blue pad has a Mickey g-button device at its center.

For the mermaid lover, these iridescent pads are simply beautiful, and sure to inspire a smile! There are countless options for fabric button covers. Find some that reflect your personality or draw a smile!

Button Covers and Belts

Image of woodland animal themed fabric belly band for child g-button, with link to Etsy seller.
A wide off-white belt for a child made of soft flannel material has outline images of elk, moose, bears, and teepees in black and gray. The belt is folded on itself and is rounded at one end. There is a small rectangular flap of matching fabric just before the rounded end.

Feeding tube covers, or belts, come in a variety of styles and sizes. They’re not essential, but they do help to protect the tube from catching on clothing, keep the area clean, and add a little additional padding to even out the appearance of the site under clothing. And they’re another place to infuse some personality and fun. This seller offers belts in a variety of fabric choices, and in several lengths, so they can fit from infant up through adult sizes. They’re washable and reusable, and comfortable to wear under clothing. A “hatch” provides easy access to the button site for care and feeding.

Image of pink belly band for adult, with flap to access feeding tubing. Links to Lynn Klein Nutrition site.
A Caucasian women’s lower torso is covered in a wide hot pink band with a flap in matching fabric at the front. There is an inset photo that shows the flap lowered, and we see an assortment of clear feeding tubing coiled and secured with black velcro tabs. The belt appears to be made of a stretchy fabric.

A simple band like this is another option. Similar to the previous belt, this style provides some protection under clothing. The larger flap on this particular belt allows you to store coiled tubing as well.

Image of wide stretchy fabric band covering woman's pants and abdomen, with link to Etsy seller.
A medium-skinned woman’s lower torso and legs are shown against a white background. The woman wears black skinny jeans with right leg slightly bent. She has no shirt, and a wide heathered gray band of stretchy fabric is seen covering the top of her pants and her abdomen.

A simple belly band like this can be a great option, as well, to protect the site and hold tubing in place. Bands like this are also often available in maternity clothing sections, and come in a wide range of colors and styles. They are easy to pull down to access the site. A style like this is probably the most subtle beneath clothing, as the bottom edge would simply look like an undershirt or camisole.

Image of black strap harness for holding adult g-button feeding tube, with link to Etsy seller.
A female mannequin wears a bright blue sweater. There is a narrow black strap visible at her neck, and it loops under her shirt and clips to the neckline, so that her sweater is pulled up and held in place. Under the sweater, we see a black strap that wraps around her waist, with clear plastic feeding tubing and syringe held in place with black straps.

This belt is excellent for continuous infusion, to hold tubing, or for dialysis. The straps are easily concealed beneath clothing and a simple backpack could hold supplies that aren’t in use. The straps are adjustable to ensure a good fit.

Tubing and Bag Accessories

Image of lined fabric cover for gastric feeding bag with llama theme. Links to Etsy seller.
A black fabric cover with colorful llama and tent decorations holds a plastic feeding tube bag. The inside of the fabric appears to be lined with white fleecy material. There are three white snaps at the bottom, with clear tubing between two snaps; as well as snaps along the right side and at the top, where narrow flaps are folded back to show the feeding bag. We see a label on the bag reading, “Lalu and Company.”

If your condition requires continuous infusion, or if you need to be able to administer a feeding on the go, a bag like this may be an option. It provides a padded case for the infusion bag, some insulation factor, and plenty of style. The snaps and openings at the bottom make it possible to pass tubing through the bottom of the bag, or potentially even to hang it if needed.

Image of fabric gastric feeding tube connector cover, with link to Etsy seller.
A gastric feeding tubing connection and port rests on a rectangular white flannel fabric cover. The cover is open and appears to fold over the connector, with black snaps to secure it in place.

Tubing covers and port covers are a convenient and stylish way to protect tubing connection points on the go. Covers like this come in all shapes and sizes to meet the needs of your individual tubing system.

Image of red and white polka dot feeding tube clip, with link to Etsy seller.
A small rectangular fabric strap is shown with red background and white polka dots. At the top of the strap, a white clip secures it to a black shirt. Two lengths of clear plastic tubing are attached to the strap with white plastic snap fasteners.

A clip like this is perfect for keeping tubing corralled and out of the way. Snaps make it easy to loop the tubing, and a clip attaches it to clothing (or bedding). This is a great option for keeping tubing secured and out of reach for infants and young children, too. There are countless fabric options available!

G-Button Toys

Image of three stuffed animals, two lions and a bunny, with medical devices including tracheostomy, port, and g-button. Links to Etsy seller.
Three medium-sized stuffed animals are shown side by side: two brown lions, with a blue bunny rabbit between. All three animals have medical devices shown on them, including gray plastic tracheostomies at their necks, a blue plastic port for chemo or I-V access at the right upper chest, and an orange plastic g-button device at the lower left abdomen.

For children dealing with a g-button, or adjusting to a family member with one, nothing dispels fear and uncertainty quite like a toy. A toy like this allows a way to demonstrate button care and feedings in a way that is friendly and non-threatening. Pretend play also helps normalize and de-stigmatize things like g-button feedings. Children can practice administering feedings on their stuffed friend any time they’d like. And after demonstrations, these little stuffed animals are perfect for snuggling! This seller offers a variety of animals with a variety of devices, including feeding tubes, g-buttons, PICC lines, chemo ports, hearing aids, hydrocephalus shunts, and tracheostomies. I’ve also been told that Build-A-Bear will add a button (or trach) to their stuffed animals if you provide a device. Often doctors have expired buttons or trachs that can be taken into the store and added to a special stuffed animal.

Image of cloth African American doll with stitched g-button. Links to Etsy seller.
An African American fabric doll has a black hair bun, embroidered wide-set black oval eyes, a small embroidered black smile, and rosy circles on her cheeks. She is pictured with a striped white and blue skirt, and shirtless to reveal a stitched gray and white felt feeding tube on her left abdomen.

These sweet little dolls come with multiple options for medical devices. While a child can’t connect a real tubing set to this doll, toys with devices help to normalize the need for devices in real life. This seller offers a variety of dolls, both in terms of medical special needs and appearance. They would make a sweet gift for a child living with a medical device.

Image of American Girl Bitty Baby doll being fitted with Mickey g-button, with link to Feeding Tube Awareness site.
A Caucasian person’s hands are reaching around a Caucasian blonde American Girl Bitty Baby doll. There is a Mickey g-button device on the doll’s lower left abdomen, and the hands appear to be holding thread to secure it in place. Across the top of the image in white font, “… then pull the needle through, but keep a loop in the thread.” At the bottom, we see a website, “www.agirlandhertube.blogspot.com.”

If your child already has a favorite doll or stuffed animal, it’s also possible to add a g-button (or other medical device). Again, I can’t stress enough how important it is to normalize these devices, to give a non-threatening opportunity to demonstrate, and to allow for creative play that incorporates the device. Nothing is more perfect for this than a well-loved toy! Follow the simple steps in this post to adapt your own toy.

Low-Energy Winter Activities to do With Your Kids

Parenting with chronic illness–oof, am I right? Parenting at the best of times requires so much of us. And, to be honest, sometimes I just don’t have much to give. Of all the struggles that have come in my health journey, this probably tops the list. I often feel I’m missing out on family time, and I always feel guilty.

When my kids come to me and ask me to do something with them, I often feel an inward groan (which also makes me feel guilty!). I love my kids and I love spending time with them, but on the days when I’m struggling just to stay upright, it feels overwhelming to consider finding an activity to do with them.

If you fight a similar battle, here are a few low-energy ideas that might help you find ways to connect with your kids on the bad days (and check out my spring and summer activities!).

Image of vintage photo album being held in two hands.
Image shows an antique photo album with brown paper pages, displaying six black and white photographs. Six photos show a Caucasian family in various poses, including on the back of a white horse, posing with an antique automobile, and surrounding a Christmas tree. Two Caucasian hands are holding the album open.

1. Look at photo albums

If your kids are anything like mine, they love to hear stories about the past and to see pictures of themselves. My kids even enjoy seeing pictures from my college days, or from when my husband and I were first married. Family history is important to them, and I think it helps them feel grounded and secure.

They love to pull out the photo albums, wrap up in a blanket, and lose themselves in the pictures of the past. And let’s be honest, this is a low-expenditure activity! You can join them by sitting on the couch, or even lying down in bed while they look at pictures next to you. If your hands are painful or weak, let your child hold the book and turn the pages.

Family movies are a great option, too. Load up the videos, curl up, and enjoy the trip down memory lane with your child!

Image of small Pooh-style bear in red sweater sitting on an armchair before a fire.
Image shows a small yellow teddy bear with knitted red sweater resting with head turned toward a fire in a brick fireplace. He is sitting on the edge of an olive green armchair.

2. Drink hot chocolate or tea by a fire

On a cold winter’s day, is there anything cozier than curling up by a fire? And, let’s be honest, hot chocolate is one of those indulgent treats that just makes everything better. Or, if you are a tea or coffee drinker, that’s fine too!

My kids live for a cozy fire. Unfortunately, we don’t have a fireplace in our house. Instead, we’ve found some work-arounds: we have a small space heater that looks like a fireplace. My husband and I have a wall-mounted electric fireplace in our room. And we also have the ability to load up a “fireplace” on streaming services and have the appearance of a roaring fire flickering on our TV screen. None of these are quite like the real thing, I’ll admit. But on a cold winter’s day, they’re an easy way to spend time with my kids without needing much energy. We can curl up in blankets, watch the flickering flames, and sip warm drinks.

Image of snowman in red hat with smiling face.
Image shows a small snowman in red knitted winter cap. He has eyes, mouth, and buttons made of whole cloves. A red crayon is used as his nose. Two black stick arms protrude from his sides. He is smiling and background is blurred.

3. Window Snowman Contest

Speaking of snowy days, is there anything kids love more than playing in the snow? If you live in an area that gets a good amount of the stuff (and if your kids have as much boundless energy as mine), it might be a good idea to send them out into the great outdoors! Challenge them to make their own snowman–large or small–using any materials they like. They could use the traditional hats, scarves, and carrot noses. Or they could find whole cloves, rocks, crayons, or other materials to bring their snowman to life. Just make sure they build them within sight of a window you can easily access. Then, when the snowmen are built, take a minute to observe them from the window and choose a winner. You could even assign different categories, such as Best Construction, Largest Snowman, Most Creative Use of Props, Most Personality, or Funniest Snowman. Your kids will have expended some of their energy, and you won’t have spent much of your own!

Image of blank piece of paper and pencil crayons.
Image appears on a brown kraft-colored background. There is a white blank piece of paper with an assortment of wooden colored pencils scattered around the paper.

4. Play a simple game

Brain fog is no joke. And board games like Monopoly or Settlers of Catan are not only mentally involved, they last for-e-ver. While my kids typically prefer more conventional board games, some days I just don’t have it in me. If you feel the same, opt for simple games. Tic Tac Toe, Hangman, and Mad Libs are perennial favorites that don’t require much of you. They can even be played while you are lying down, if needed. If you struggle to write or use your hands, ask your child to move the pieces for you. If you have an older child, they can write for you while playing Hangman or Mad Libs.

These games are also great on the go. If you spend a lot of time in waiting rooms or in the hospital, they’re excellent time-passers (and fun for adults, even if you don’t have your kids with you).

Image of boy and girl reading in blanket fort.
Image shows two young Caucasian children, a boy and a girl, huddled in a dark blanket fort. The girl has long blonde hair and rests her head on her left arm as she lies on her stomach. The boy has short blonde hair and holds a flashlight on an open book in front of them. They sit with heads close together.

5. Build a blanket fort

Who doesn’t love curling up in a blanket fort? There’s no better place for laying low, resting, reading a book, or just being together. If you’re up for it, work with your child to create the perfect, cozy blanket fort. Make it as big as you’d like, and fill it with blankets, pillows, flashlights, or fairy lights.

If you just don’t have the steam, challenge your kids to build it for you. Even young children can usually put together a small fort. Talk them through the basics, or show them how to drape blankets over a table top. When they’re finished, join them inside to curl up and snuggle. Who knows, they may fall asleep before you do!

Image of older child reading a book.
Image shows a medium-skinned young person sitting in dappled sunlight with an open book. We see the blurred outline of their head, and see their left hand holding the top of the book, with the right index finger pointing at the page. There is a white wall and wooden floor in the background.

6. Read together

Oh, books. It seems one of my kids always has their nose stuck in a book, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. As energy expenditure goes, reading has one of the lowest energy requirements out there. Even so, it can be difficult on your bad days.

If your child knows how to read, invite them to read aloud to you. It can be a simple book they know well, or a new book you read together for the first time. If you’re feeling up to it, you can take turns alternating reading with them. But if you need to rest and listen, that’s OK too! If your child is not yet reading, you can still invite them to “read” to you. Ask them to tell you what’s happening in the pictures on the page. You’ll no doubt be laughing by the end of their story!

If your child is a little older and has outgrown children’s books, have a throwback day. Ask them to pull out all the books they loved when they were little, and read them to you. For even more fun, have them hold up the pictures and read the stories like a teacher, or like you no doubt did when they were small. You’ll all enjoy the trip down memory lane!

If there is something that especially interests your child, consider a book run to the library to find books on that topic. A library run will require some energy expenditure, but many libraries offer hold programs, where library staff pull all the books you requested and have them ready and waiting to be picked up. This saves you energy traipsing around the library in search of the perfect book. Some libraries even offer to bring the books to your car. As unfortunate as the pandemic has been, it’s put in place some services that are incredibly helpful to those of us living with chronic illnesses. Take advantage of these, and save your energy for the things that matter more!

Two African American girls listen together with headphones.
Image shows two young African American girls sitting side by side in a living room. We see an older girl with long black braided hair in two buns on top of her head wearing headphones, looking off to her right, and appears to be smiling. She wears a light gray blouse and jeans. A younger girl sits to her right. She also has white headphones and braided hair in buns, and wears a white shirt with open laptop in her lap. She has one hand with pointer finger and thumb extended and appears to be talking or singing along with music.

6. Listen to an audiobook

Sometimes reading the book out loud, coaching your child through unfamiliar words, or even holding a book in your hand is just too difficult. On those days, consider listening to an audiobook with your child. There are countless services for borrowing or buying audiobooks, and many of them are free. Check with your local library to see if they offer online services such as Hoopla.

Listening to an audiobook also pairs well with other activities if needed, such as curling up in a blanket fort or sipping hot drinks by the fire.

Image shows a puppet theatre with an assortment of animal puppets.
Image shows a puppet theater made with gold, olive, and maroon vertical stripes. A burgundy velvet curtain is raised over the center of the puppet theater with a black solid backdrop. In the center, a Caucasian arm is visible holding a pig puppet raised high with one arm waving, wearing blue overalls. To either side we two additional pig puppets, one with red overalls and the other with green clothing. Overlaying the image we see faintly in white font, “Getty Images” and the photographer’s name, “Anne Richard/EyeEm.”

7. Have a puppet show

Kids love to put on a good show, don’t they? If you have creative kids and some puppets or stuffed animals around, why not ask them to put on a show for you? They don’t need a fancy puppet theatre, either. A table or ironing board covered in a blanket makes a perfect stage. They can add props if they’d like, or just act out scenes with their characters. If your kids are a little older and like to be creative, they can make their own puppets form socks and bits and pieces from around the house.

Or, if puppets aren’t really their thing, ask your kids to write a short skit that they can act out for you. They’ll no doubt love coming up with a set, characters, and rehearsing their scenes for the “big show.” And the beauty of all of these options is it fills the time for your kids, and you can enjoy it from the comfort of the couch or your bed.

Image shows a person's hand with fingers "walking" across a surface.
Image shows a woman’s hand with index, middle, and thumb fingers extended downward. The index and middle fingers are making a walking motion. The fingernails are painted different colors: orange, pink, and bright blue. The top of the background is bright blue with a semicircle divide, with the bottom half in light pink. Across the image we read “Getty Images,” with illegible photographer’s name.

8. Finger dance party

Have you ever heard of finger dancing? I used to do it all the time when my kids were really little. All you have to do is use two of your fingers as though they were legs, and make them “walk,” “kick,” and “dance” on any surface.

My kids absolutely love dance parties, and on good days, I can enjoy them with them. But dancing takes so much energy! So on days when energy reserves are running low, but dance fever is at a high, why not have a finger dance party? Play your kids’ favorite songs, whether they’re kids’ songs, pop songs, or anything else. Let’s be honest, watching fingers dance is just a little ridiculous, so it pairs well with funny songs. One of our favorites is the Chipmunks’ rendition of “Three Little Birds.” Regardless of the songs you pick, you’ll no doubt all be laughing before long.

Image shows a snowy countryside with icy trees and black road winding up hills.
Image shows a snowy scene. The sky is light gray, and there are rolling hills covered in white snow. A stand of ice-covered trees is at the center of the image with a black winding road running beneath them.

9. Go for a drive

Winter has its own kind of beauty, doesn’t it? A walk may be prohibitive because of symptoms and the cold. But a drive is a great way to get out of the house and enjoy the season.

This is one of our family’s favorite activities leading up to Christmas. We frequently go for drives through our city to spot Christmas lights and vote on our favorites. My kids especially love to make the drive in pajamas with a warm drink. But even after the Christmas season has passed, a leisurely drive to take in the snowy sights can be fun and relaxing. To make it even more fun for your kids, you could play winter bingo and challenge them to spot a series of winter-related things on the drive, such as snowmen, ploughs, or lingering Christmas decorations.

Image of brown cardboard takeout box.
Image shows a small brown kraft-colored takeout box in the center of a light gray background.

10. Try a new take-out food

This idea gets double points, in that it’s low energy but also saves on meal prep! For a new experience, try ordering take-out from a local restaurant you’ve never tried. Be as exotic as possible, and encourage your kids to try the new foods.

If you are ordering from an ethnic restaurant, you could even spend a few minutes talking about that country. Or research it with books from your library run. And who knows, you may find a new family favorite!