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Game day diversions for kids

The first time I watched the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl was 10 years ago. I was pregnant with our first child, and we were living in downtown Boston. Adam Vinatieri pulled off that improbable 48 yard field goal kick and just like that, the Pats claimed the team’s first Super Bowl title EVER. Eli and I took our dogs for a walk down Newbury Street all the way to the Public Garden. It was late and cold, but Boston was jubilant: the sidewalks were teeming with people and the street was an improvised parade route, as screaming fans opened their car windows and whipped the cheering crowds into a frenzy. The dogs were not pleased.

Even though we were still recent transplants from New York at the time, we lost our hearts to the Patriots that night, and we’ve never looked back.

Over the years, watching the Super Bowl has become a tradition in our home, although we’re not usually die-hard sports fans. I used to watch for the commercials, but I’ve acquired the taste for football since then. Unfortunately, our kids are still not sold on the idea of sitting down for three hours and watching a bunch of men chase a ball and knock each other down. So it’s important to find ways to keep them engaged (and supervised) so everyone can have fun.

Here are some ideas:

1. Do what you can to get them into the game.
Even if your kids have never wanted to watch football before, this might be the game that turns them into fans. Your passion and excitement will go a long way, particularly if you involve them and give them attention. Remember that football is a complicated sport, and if kids don’t understand what they’re seeing, they’re sure to lose interest. Find a book to read to them that helps to explain it, or take some time to explain how football works using YouTube videos (this one is really good) before the actual game begins.

Give them some things to look for, like whether a team got a first down or not. Help them make predictions, like, will they punt or try for a field goal? Get them to count how many times the announcer says the word “yard” or “tackle.” When things go well, give the kids high-fives. If they’re focusing on the game and asking questions, tear yourself away from the screen to praise their interest and provide answers.

2. Get some good solitary games.
The old classic Rush Hour is great for older kids, as is a newer favorite, Logic Links. Smart Car is nice for younger kids, who love the blocks just as much as they love the puzzles. Perplexus is another challenging game that will keep kids occupied for hours. Trying to move the marble through the spherical obstacle course is harder than it looks. My kids are currently obsessed with Bop It! We don’t sell it at Magic Beans, but it is addictive AND it has a headphone jack. Whatever you give them, they’ll keep at it for longer if you take some time to acknowledge their accomplishments as they move through the levels.

3. Get crafty.
Some basic art supplies are a good bet – crayons and paper or a coloring book will be fine. If you’re feeling ambitious, cut out some football-themed shapes (balls, helmets, goalposts, fields) in advance and then let the kids go to town. Or pick up a craft kit that takes some time, like Loop n’ Loom or Sticky Mosaics, both of which are great for both girls and boys. If you don’t mind a little mess and sugar, make the kids some chocolate clay. They can sculpt it into footballs!

4. Plan a movie night for the kids.
My kids are already campaigning for a little screen time of their own on Sunday night. If you have a second TV in the house, select a couple of age-appropriate films and queue them up. It’s not quality play time, but if you’re spending the night glued to the game, you’re hardly in a position to do much about that. My kids all enjoy watching animated hits like Tangled, Shrek, Toy Story, and Up. An iPod or iPad is also a good silver bullet, if you have one to lend the kids.

5. Get a (young) babysitter.
If you’re going to be home for the evening anyway, consider asking a local high school student to come and hang out with your kids. It shouldn’t cost you too much (the going rate is $8-$12/hour, depending on where you live), and the kids will have someone fun to hang out with them and supervise activities. And put them to bed on time.

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