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Rainy days are great for splashing in puddles but eventually, you’ll have to come back inside. If you find yourself looking at several hours to fill inside with a toddler, don’t panic. When this happens I have a go-to list of activities that are always a hit. These ideas don’t require a lot of planning and make use of things I already have around the house. Keep this list handy for when a rainy day cancels your plans and keeps you indoors.

Go Swimming: For most parents, the goal is to stay dry on rainy days. Why not do the opposite and go swimming in the bathtub? Throw a swimsuit on your toddler, promise that no one’s hair will be washed, and allow some splashing in the tub.

Air Balloon: Keep a few balloons around for a rainy day. When your toddler starts climbing the walls, help them get their energy out by blowing one up and working with them to keep the balloon in the air for as long as possible. If you want to plan ahead, make things easy on yourself and try a Zuru Bunch O Balloons that are self-sealing and come with a small air pump for under $25.

photo: iStock

Build a Fort: Rain or shine toddlers love forts! Grab a blanket or take the cushions off the couch and build a fort. Crawl inside to read a book or have a secret snack. A Big Blanket that is really big at 10′ by 10′ makes epic forts in seconds but any blanket or sheet can work!

Reuse the Recycling: Dig into the recycling bin and pull out anything usable to create a cardboard box and bubble-wrap masterpiece.

Handy Handprints: Those toddler hands and feet get so big so quickly! Use your rainy day at home to make some hand-and-foot prints. As a bonus, you can save these to give to grandparents the next time they visit. To add more interest, turn the handprints into dinos, birds, or trees.

Make Tracks: Grab a little flour or rice from the pantry and let your toddler drive their Hot Wheels through the “snow” to create some tracks.

Shaving Cream Shenanigans: For an inexpensive activity that will keep your little one busy for a long time, break out the shaving cream. Paint with shaving cream on a cookie sheet or on the shower wall. If you are feeling brave, add a few drops of food coloring.

Colander Capers: Work on fine motor skills while passing the time on a rainy day. Grab your colander and whatever you have on hand that fits through the holes. Toddlers love watching spaghetti fall through. Pipe cleaners are great for weaving in and out if your toddler is up for a challenge.

Lovely Lava: Homemade volcanos never cease to amaze kids. Grab a cup and throw in some baking soda, squirt in a little dish soap, add in some vinegar, and watch the magic unfold! If you have some food coloring on hand, add some red dye to make your volcano even more realistic. Cover your table with newspaper or put your volcano on a baking sheet for easy clean-up.

photo: iStock

Pots and Pans: This one isn’t for the faint of heart, but banging on pots and pans always brings toddlers a special kind of joy. Grab some wooden spoons and start a marching band around the living room

Launch a Raspberry Attack: Surprise your child by sitting quietly then launching into back-to-back raspberries on their cheeks, feet, and belly. Lots of laughter will ensue!

Have a Dance Party: Grab some hairbrushes and queue up the tunes while you and your sidekick sing and dance your hearts out. This is a good one to try just before nap time to tire your little one out.

Box Building: Chances are you have a cardboard box sitting around somewhere. Whether it’s a shoebox or an Amazon box or a refrigerator box, it can be turned into something fabulous. Cut out a couple of flaps and make it into an instant garage for your toddler’s car collection. Or, glue some cut-out triangles on top and make an instant castle.

Resist Drawing: Creating a resist drawing is simple but will take some elbow grease. Take any piece of paper and help your toddler cover it with scribbles using every color in the crayon box except black. Then, take the black crayon and completely cover your colorful scribbles. Finally, supervise your child while they use something like a paper clip or sharpened pencil to go over the piece of paper. Only the black crayon on top will disappear revealing the color underneath.

Give Their Babies a Bath: It’s possible that your toddler’s dolls and action figures have never had a bath. Fill a large Tupperware container or the sink with warm water and a few drops of dish soap. Then, help your toddler bathe their dolls or action figures. This may keep your tot busy for a surprisingly long amount of time and their toys will sparkle at the end!

photo: iStock

Have a Picnic: Rainy days aren’t the obvious time to have a picnic but your children will be delighted to spread out a blanket on the living room floor for a picnic lunch.

Reading Marathon: Does your kiddo always ask for one more book? A rainy day trapped inside is the perfect time to say yes to all the books. Grab all of the favorite books and hunker down on the sofa for as long as it takes to get through them all.

Hide and Seek: Hide and Seek is a toddler classic. When it’s their turn to hide, add to the fun by making a big deal of not being able to find them. Make sure your hider is within earshot and say things like “Oh no! Grandma is going to be so sad she will never see Jane again!” or “I’m going to have to call Daddy to tell him I lost Sam so he can come home and help me look.” Chances are your toddler will start laughing so hard you will then be able to “find” them.

Time to Do the Laundry: Grab the laundry basket and put your toddler inside covered with clothes. Grab a big handful of clothes along with your toddler and pretend to walk to the washing machine to do the laundry. Never put your toddler in the washing machine but you can get close before you realize your mistake in almost washing your toddler with a bunch of dirty socks.

Toddler-on-the-Go: Just because it’s raining doesn’t mean your toddler has any less energy than on a sunny day. Ask them to run down the hallway and back while you time them. Then, challenge them to go faster. This is a good activity to try just before naptime to ensure you get a nice, long rainy day break.

Crayon sorting: Challenge your little buddy to a color sorting race by taking each color crayon and putting them in a corresponding cup. This is a great opportunity to teach colors and matching while getting your crayon collection organized.

Freeze Dance: A spontaneous dance party can be even sillier if you stop the music and make the kids freeze. For even more silliness suggest that your toddler try to stand on one leg or freeze mid-hop.

Scavenger Hunt: Hide one of your toddler’s stuffed animals and go on a search throughout the house together. Give clues along the way. Make it a bear hunt or a quest to find a tiger that went missing from the zoo to add a little more interest.

photo: iStock

Shadow Tracing: Set up a figure like a dinosaur on a white piece of paper and ask your kids to trace its shadow. If there is any sunlight this can easily be done by setting up near a window. If it’s a very gray and dreary rainy day you can create a shadow by placing a flashlight just behind the toy.

Stupendous Socks: A pair of balled-up socks can be used for a surprising number of toddler-friendly games. They are safe to use to play catch in the house. Or, use them to play basketball with a plastic cup or laundry basket hoop. Another fun way to use balled-up socks is to roll them down a hallway and try to knock down superheroes or other small toys. If you find that one pair of socks isn’t working, add another pair or two to the ball.

How High Can You Go?: Grab all of your blocks, Magna-Tiles, and anything else that can be stacked up. Start building a tower. Then grab a chair for your tot to stand on and keep going. Build as tall a tower as you can, trying to make it all the way up to the ceiling.

Write a Book: Ask your toddler to tell you a story. Write no more than one or two sentences on each page then ask your storyteller to illustrate their work. Once you are done, staple the pages together and give the book a place of pride on your bookshelf.

Take a Walk Down Memory Lane: Toddlers usually think they are the center of the universe (and they are probably right)! A rainy day is a perfect time to go through baby pictures and the baby book and tell all the stories about when they were born, relive their first steps, and answer any questions about their first two (or three) years. Once that is over show them other family albums, like a wedding album or family reunions from before they were born, and ask them to try to spot important people like Grandma and their cousins.

Create a New World: Whether your child is into dinosaurs, princesses, or superheroes, their imaginary world could probably use an upgrade. Grab some construction paper and crayons and draw a prehistoric scene, a castle or superhero HQ. Tape it to the wall and you have an instant new storyline ready for your toddler to explore. If you have an empty box laying around go a step farther and make a diorama.



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I have a video of my two-year-old daughter sitting quietly in the middle of a tornado. Not a real tornado, of course. Just the whirling, noisy storm of her two older brothers literally running in circles around her. In that moment, she is sitting on the floor rocking a baby doll while her brothers bounce around the room like pinballs. While they’re shrieking and giggling, jumping from couch to floor and back again, she is singing a lullaby nobody can hear—as if she and her doll are in a quiet place somewhere far, far away.

I watch it now and say a silent thank you. Because—while it may have taken me three kids to get there—it was in that moment that I knew I had a child who is happy just playing by herself.

And that matters. Experts say solo play or “independent play” not only helps children build confidence in themselves; it also helps inspire creativity, build focus, nurture problem-solving skills, and inspire trust—both in themselves and in their relationship with their parents.

Then of course there’s the (very important) fact that alone time for the child gives parents a little time to themselves, too. “It does give parents a break,” said Bryana Kappadakunnel, a Los Angeles-based LMFT, and creator of, an online class for parents of young children. “If a child knows how to play independently and doesn’t require the parent to engage or entertain them, it makes things like preparing dinner much easier.”

So where do you start? How can you turn your wiggly, codependent toddler into a self-sufficient kid who’s happy to play alone? I asked some experts and am sharing my own experiences to give you some suggestions.


photo: iStock

Start by doing solo time with your child.

Sure, we all want to have children who can let us go to the bathroom without knocking incessantly at the door because they need us right now (just saying). But that doesn’t mean we can send our unsuspecting two-year-olds to their rooms and expect the magic to happen.

Start by setting up a space that invites them in: Put some paper and crayons on the kitchen table while you’re cooking dinner; set up a playdough station; put a box of Magna-Tiles on the living room floor. Or, says Amy Carney, author of Parent On Purpose: Raising Thoughtful Children in a Complicated World, set up a “boredom box” with age-appropriate items that spark creative play in your child. For this, Carney recommends small items like art supplies, trinkets, toys from birthday party bags, figurines, slime, or putty.

“Narrate” your child’s play.

Want to make your toddlers feel good about playing by themselves? Sit nearby and “narrate.” This means just acknowledging what your child is doing, i.e. “You are building a really high tower!” or “You’re really being caring to your baby doll.” Doing this builds children’s confidence about what they’re doing.

By the same token, avoid correcting your child or trying to make it a teaching moment—don’t quiz them about colors or ask them to count the blocks in their hands. After all, this is play; not school.

And, replace your instinct to correct with curiosity: for example, if your child is using stacking blocks for all-things-NOT stacking (hey, they make fun hats!), say something like, “Hmm you seem to have found a new way to play with that toy.”

Finally: Don’t ask questions, which Kappadakunnel said can be distracting to the child. Just watch and narrate. Imagine that you’re a nature photographer and just observe the child in her “natural habitat.” (They’re interesting creatures, those kiddos!)

Don’t overload the space.

Apparently, your child doesn’t need a lot of toys. A 2017 study from the University of Toledo in Ohio suggested that an environment with fewer toys is better for toddlers and that too many toys actually decrease the “quality of play.” It becomes overwhelming for the child. For each play session, just a handful of toys is enough.

Start by putting out a few toys and telling your child that you’re going to watch them play and that they can show you how the toys work. Let your kid get busy, and just be there to watch (if they ask you to play, tell them it is their time to show you or to play on their own—but that you’re there to see all they can do!). Then, once they are used to playing without you as a playmate, you can try putting the toys down and walking to another room (or another part of the room where you can do something else independently of your child).

photo: Etsy

The kind of toy matters.

They say “the more a toy does, the less your child does.” So choose simple toys that inspire open-ended play. Some good examples are:

  • Magna-Tiles
  • Blocks
  • Pretend play items (a kitchen, tools, etc.)
  • Baby dolls or a dollhouse
  • Simple instruments
  • Sensory play (playdough, clay, slime, etc.)

And don’t tell your child how to use the toy. Let them explore it for themselves. There is no WRONG way to play with a toy (unless it puts the child is in danger, of course).

Note: Avoid toys with screens or sounds—and don’t use toys that are meant to “teach” (like toys that claim to teach ABCs or colors). Toys that teach have their place, experts say, but when it comes to solo play, open-ended toys are best because they inspire creativity and free thought, and allow the child to lead the way.

“If we can take the pressure off of play to be academic and instead see the learning in play associated with how a child learns to regulate their body, how a child learns to interact with others, how a child learns to occupy themselves—play then becomes this rich, wonderful work that is fascinating,” Kappadakunnel said.

If your child is resistant to solo play, ask, “Have I been available?”

Does your child fight you when you try to get them to “go play”? Kappadakunnel said maybe your child just needs more of you, first.

Ask yourself: Have you been available to your child lately? If the answer is no, then figure out how you can change that. It doesn’t have to be much: Even 10 to 15 minutes of scheduled “special time” a day does wonders for kids. Just set a timer and sit down on the floor with your child. It may seem like a blip to you, but those 10 minutes can really make a difference—for both of you.

Remember that screens don’t count as “alone time.”

While an older child might prefer to spend every moment of her alone time on an iPad or video game console, kids need to make time for more productive time alone. That means, maybe, instead of turning on cartoons first thing in the morning, put down some novel toys and ask your child to make something of them. It may be a hard shift at first, but beginning the day with play is a good way to start!

photo: iStock

Now is as good a time as any.

Whether you’ve got toddlers as clingy as koala bears or older kids who still consider you Playmate No. 1, it’s never too late to start encouraging a little solo time. For toddlers, having “Alone Time” bursts once or twice a week is a good place to start. You can also lead by example, scheduling time for yourself as often as you can and sharing your feelings about it with your kids.

And don’t forget about YOU. We all know you need some of that precious me-time, too. So make yourself a model: If they see how happy you are doing something for yourself, by yourself (arts & crafts, taking a walk, reading quietly), maybe they’ll start to crave those same sorts of experiences, too. Remember: You can lead the way.

Read books that celebrate being alone.

Books are a good way to teach young children—especially when it means they get some quality time with you. Try reading these books to get your kiddos craving solo play:

Leave Me Alone by Vera Brosgol
My Very Own Space, by Pippa Goodhart
Charlotte The Scientist Is Squished, by Camille Andros


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The box was on its last legs. Crumbling at the corners, wilted at the top, sagging at the sides.

But you kept on playing.

It had been a fort, a rocket ship, a puppet theater; and, most recently, an ice cream truck. And I realized, as I watched my 3-year-old serve pretend ice cream scoops to her siblings through a makeshift window, that the droopy cardboard structure I had almost thrown away had done that elusive thing that all parents want all toys to do: it had occupied my children long enough that I could have a moment.

“The type of toy matters when it comes to independent play,” says Bryana Kappadakunnel,  a Los Angeles-based LMFT and creator of, an online class for parents of young children. “There’s a saying: ‘The more a toy does, the less your child does; the less a toy does, the more your child does.’”

What that means is that parents should steer away from toys designed to do or teach something and look for toys that let the child lead the way.

“What is so powerful about independent play at any age is that the child’s imagination is being enhanced,” Kappadakunnel said. “If we can take the pressure off of play to be academic and instead see play as how a child learns to regulate their body, how a child learns to interact with others, how a child learns to occupy themself . . . play then becomes this rich, wonderful work that is fascinating.”

Want to set your child up for play—and get a few minutes to yourself? Here are our picks for the best toys for independent play:

Best for Sensory & Imaginative Play

Play-Doh Kitchen Creations Magical Oven


Play-Doh is great for solo sensory play (you can't beat that squishiness!); it's also great for building creativity, as kids can make and mold whatever they imagine. This simple set gives kids a great prompt: food! Littles will love making little cakes and pies, and putting them in the tiny oven.

Best for Budding Artists

Kids Easel for Two


Your little artist will be inspired if you leave this easel out for them with paint-filled cups, ready to go. If you're not brave enough to let your child loose with paint (we've had our share of painted footprints on the floor), the easel has a chalkboard and dry erase board that is a little less risky. Another bonus: The legs are adjustable, so it will grow with your child.

Best for Future Engineers

Mega Bloks First Builders Big Building Blocks


These big blocks are perfect for tiny fingers and will teach little builders how to connect block pegs so that they can create towers, houses, creatures—or whatever they imagine.

Best for Kids Who Like Trains

On Track USA Wooden Train Set


Playing with train sets not only builds your child's imaginative skills, it also hones fine motor skills and dexterity as they learn to move the tracks around to create all sorts of configurations. This set—which comes with its own storage box—has an assortment of tracks and bridges as well as various houses, buildings, people, trees, bushes and signs.

Best for Warm Summer Days

Step2 Cascading Cove Sand and Water Table


Water play is always a winner—especially when it's warm outside—and sandboxes are an instant imagination-igniter (just think of all those castles to build! Treasures to bury! Mountains for little figurines to climb!). This sand and water table combo is a perfect pairing; it even has an umbrella to keep kids' skin safe from the sun, and a lid to keep the sand clean and dry when not in use.

Best for Active Kids

Eezy Peezy Monkey Bars Climbing Tower

$145 BUY NOW

Not all solo play has to busy the mind; little bodies need to move, too! Active kids will love climbing on, swinging off, and dangling from this geometric climbing dome. Or, throw a blanket over the top and you've got an insta-fort. Win-win. It's not super high off the ground so it's perfect for little climbers.

Best for Little Chefs

Step2 Best Chefs Kitchen Playset


There's something about pretend kitchens that capture every kids' imagination, and this set comes with enough accessories (bowls, pots, pans, silverware) to keep your little chefs busy for hours. There's even a recycling bin to get those eco-conscious habits started.

Best for Portable Pretend Play

Melissa and Doug Scoop and Serve Ice Cream Counter


Who doesn't love ice cream? Your little scooper will have a blast assembling, topping and pretending with this ice cream shop play set. Even sweeter, the "shop" is small enough to tote around the house, which makes it easy for playdates and travel.

Best for Music Makers

LOOIKOOS Toddler Musical Instruments


Your home will be alive with the sounds of music if you let your little Mozart have a go with this 22-piece musical instrument set, which includes a maracas, triangle, castanets, a tambourine and a xylophone. Experts say playing with musical instruments can build hand-eye coordination, motor skills and creativity—but your kids won't care about any of that; they'll just be making music.

Best for Role Playing

11-inch Newborn Baby Doll


At 11-inches, this New York Doll Company doll is sized for toddlers and life-like with different skin tones to choose from. You'll love that there are no noises or battery-operated features. Pair it with a baby doll crib or stroller and your child can practice taking care of baby all day.


And Then, Of Course, The Best Toy Ever: The Cardboard Box

Every kid everywhere agrees: Cardboard boxes—the bigger, the better—are the coolest toys out there. The only problem? The best ones only come with refrigerators. That said, if you want a great “toy” without the new appliance, just go to your local Best Buy and ask if there are any discarded boxes you could haul away (there might even be some out back in the parking lot).

Or, if there’s someone moving into your neighborhood (or a new home being built), ask the property owners to put aside any furniture or appliance boxes for the sake of your kids. Most people are happy to oblige, and your child will be rocketing to the moon in no time.

–Melissa Heckscher

All photos: Courtesy of manufacturers



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Board games are a nostalgic activity that brings families together in a way that technology just can’t compete with. You may have fond childhood memories of playing Chutes and Ladders or Monopoly with your siblings and best friends, and now that you’re a parent, you can’t wait to play them with your child.

Because many of our favorites are a bit too advanced for our littlest players, we’ve come up with a list of introductory board games that will help your toddler build the skills needed for tackling trickier games that the whole family can play together.

(Note: While these board games are geared toward toddlers, we strongly recommend joining in the fun and keeping an eye on pieces your child might try to taste!)

Best Games for Getting the Wiggles Out

Monkey Around


This game is all about getting toddlers moving (balance, hop, march!) while learning about spatial concepts, developing coordination (catch the banana!), and building listening skills.

Ready Set Discover Twister Shapes Game


Your toddler’s little limbs will love this mini version of the original Twister game you grew up playing! Ready Set Discover Twister Shapes Game will help them learn the concept of taking turns, while the bright colors and fun stars, triangles, squares, and circles will help them learn and recognize colors and shapes.

Best Games for Building Fine Motor Skills

Lewo Colored Stacking Game Wooden Building Blocks


The Lewo Colored Stacking Game is just like Jenga but with colorful blocks and cute baby animal faces. Toddlers will put their fine motor skills to the test using the little hammer to try to move the pieces without knocking over the tower—though we think watching the tower tumble to the ground may just be the best part!

Aitey Wooden Magnetic Fishing Game


Toddlers will have a blast stacking, fishing, lacing, and balancing in Aitey’s Fishing Game! And if all the skills your child will be learning and practicing aren’t reason enough to love this game, we know you’ll appreciate its eco-friendly materials. $19.99

Best STEM Games

VATOS Board Magnetic Kids Game


VATOS Board Magnetic Kids Game will help even the littlest tots build their math and engineering skills while stacking magnetic pieces into colorful patterns. $19.99

Play Brainy Shape and Color Matching Puzzle Game


Play Brainy’s Fun Color & Shape Game is a great way to get your toddler’s cognitive thinking skills in gear. Once they understand the concepts, they can play on their own (hooray!).

Best Cooperation & Community Games

Peaceable Kingdom Friends and Neighbors: The Helping Game Emotional Development Cooperative Game for Kids


Friends and Neighbors: The Helping Game takes a simple matching game to a new level with social-emotional concepts that teach toddlers empathy and compassion while helping friends and neighbors they encounter along the way. And there’s no competition or winner in this game—just FUN!

Daniel Tiger's Welcome to Mainstreet


Toddlers will enjoy interacting with their favorite PBS characters as they make their way through town in Daniel Tiger’s Welcome to Mainstreet—all while building essential social, counting, and coordination skills.

Richard Scarry's Busytown, Eye Found It


We couldn’t end our list without a trip down memory lane! Who didn’t grow up loving Richard Scarry's books? The Richard Scarry Busytown Eye Found It board game may have simple, easy-to-follow instructions, but toddlers will be challenged to use their matching and attention skills while they race across town finding hidden objects and solving mysteries.

—Candace Nagy


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When I was pregnant with my second child, I honestly thought I was giving my son the best. gift. ever. It wasn’t until I watched him transform into the gorgon over a Glow Worm that he’d given up years earlier that I realized it might be a few decades before they truly start to appreciate each other. So in the meantime, I’ve found a close substitute to true love and affection: laughter and mischief. Keep reading for my favorite games to play with siblings to foster a united, (mostly) happy front that I’m banking on to pay out in close-knit kids. One day. Maybe.

The Game: Mean Mommy

How to Play: This is a little like Mother May I, but you’re playing the role of Mean Mommy, who says “no” in her grumpiest voice and meanest face to everything the kids ask for. You won’t be able to go two rounds without your kids dissolving into laughter and strategizing together for something to ask that you’ll actually say yes to. The more absurd the things you say no to—like them brushing their teeth or picking up toys from the floor—the better.

Why You’ll Love It: This game doesn’t score you any time off the clock, but it does let you sit still for a few minutes while they’re cracking up with one another. And let’s be honest. Sometimes it feels really good to make a grumpy face and say no to things.

The Game: Rescue

How to Play: Each round, one or more kids play the role of rescuer, and one must be rescued. The fun here is that the rescuer gets to tell the one to be rescued just what kind of a pickle he or she’s in. When my son was in his shark stage, I found my 3-year-old (the victim) in an empty bathtub, covered in paper plates. My son’s scenario? He had to rescue the younger one from a shark-feeding frenzy. The paper plates were the sharks. The rescue was better than any scene from Sharknado.

Why You’ll Love It: This one gets a little risky since the basis of the game is that one child has to tell another one what to do—an obvious red flag. But as long as they take turns, it works out beautifully. The other risk is that the rescue scenarios can get a little treacherous. I played this with my own brother as a child and my mom found me lying in a ditch, pretending to be being attacked by buzzards. Just keep an eye on the game, is all I’m saying.

The Game: Dizzy Simon Says

How to Play: This game to play with siblings will definitely buy you some peace and quiet, but it’s so funny that you may want to stick around to watch. Nothing complicated here. It’s just Simon Says, but the kids who aren’t the leader have to close their eyes and spin around 20 times before trying to follow the leader.

Why You’ll Love It: It will remind you of that friend in college who ended up coming home with one shoe missing.

photo scavenger hunt is a fun game to play with siblings

The Game: Photo Scavenger Hunt

How to Play: If you’re willing to hand over a phone, iPad, or digital camera, this game will pay out in literally hours of time to get things done on your own, while the kids play. You have to set it up, but all you do is number 1-10 on 10 pieces of paper, and place them around the yard or house. Take an up-close picture of each location, then have them flip through the photos to find each clue. When they’ve collected all 10 clues, reward them with a prize. Marshmallows work well at my house.

Why You’ll Love It: When you get good at this game you start to place each clue in the furthest opposite corners of your property to increase the amount of ground they have to cover to pick each clue up. Wear. Them. Out. But head’s up—younger ones can get left behind on this, so be sure to give them the special job of holding the phone so the older ones have to wait on them before moving on to the next clue.

The Game: On Top of Spaghetti

How to Play: Perfect for a rainy day, this classic song can save your afternoon. Teach them to sing “On Top of Spaghetti,” and role-play being the meatball. For real. They love rolling with a sneeze right out the door, landing in the bushes, then turning to mush.

Why You’ll Love It: Piles of pillows make epic piles of spaghetti. They can do it together, and they burn off some energy, to boot.

The Game: Restaurant

How to Play: Isn’t it weird that they like taking orders from “strangers,” but if you were to ask them to get you a cup of water on a random Tuesday they’d all of a sudden have broken legs? But I digress. With this one, your first step is to get them to each make a menu for their restaurant. They can cut pictures out of magazines, or draw them onto construction paper. Let them make play money. Then, they get to take turns being the server while the other is the customer.

Why You’ll Love It: Lay the law down early that the only food product they’ll be working with are bowls of water, and the worst that can happen is you end up mopping the floor.

The Game: Shadow Tracing

How to Play: Outside, have one child strike a funny pose while the other trace their shadow.

Why You’ll Love It: Anytime one child is still and quiet, the other is usually pretty happy, too. You’re welcome.

Two girls enjoying games to play with siblings outside.

The Game: The Great Outdoors

How to Play: Set up a tent, then tell them that they’re going camping. Seriously. They get really into it. If yours need some prompting, suggest they gather sticks and rocks to build a fire pit, give them peanut butter and birdseed and string and have them decorate pine cones to tie into the trees nearby. Let them paint the trunks of the trees around the campsite with non-toxic paint.

Why You’ll Love It: They’ll get messy, yes, but this is the kind of game to play with siblings that knows no end. I’ve seen mine turn a “camping” day into role-playing, fort building, and treasure hunting.

The Game: Favorite Movie Mash-Up

How to Play: Who needs to pick just one movie to act out? In this game to play with siblings, each child picks a favorite character from a movie and they have to come up with a plot for a new movie, using the characters each has picked.

Why You’ll Love It: It gets really weird. Funny weird, not creepy weird, but still. The last time mine played this we had Pocahontas battling Elsa over who had the best “nature powers.” Honestly, some of the scenes they’ve come up with have beaten the last couple of series I’ve tried on Netflix.

The Game: Ye Old Cardboard Box

How to Play: Give them a box. Walk away.

Why You’ll Love It: Nothing holds more potential than a cardboard box. Go crazy and throw some aluminum foil and markers on the ground before you leave, if you want. It’s not like we’ll think your kids are high-maintenance or anything but . . .

I hope you find a few minutes of peace while your children play these games without too many battles.

—Shelley Massey


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As a parent of a baby or toddler, it can be hard to plan. You get busy, naps go long, and yes, tantrums happen, making the morning (or afternoon) go kaplooey. Which is why drop-in spots and activities are a parent’s best friend. Brooklyn is full of places to drop-in and play with your child, and they include music making, arts and crafts, or just general open play. We’ve rounded up our favorite Brooklyn drop-in spots so you don’t have to plan, but can still get out and have some fun with your kid.


Hopalong Andrew

Hopalong Andrew

Brooklyn favorite Hopalong Andrew hops all over the borough for playful western singalongs. His weekday “Cowpoke Roundups” for spuds (kids ages five and under) happen in City Point’s Dekalb Music Hall, at Whole Foods in Gowanus and Williamsburg, and in parks in Fort Greene, Cobble Hill, and Clinton Hill. (He’s at Busy Bodies in Clinton Hill on Thursdays, too.) Check his Facebook and Instagram accounts for the latest info and any schedule changes. Rates are $10 to $20 per child.


Lavender Blues

Lavender Blues

Alex Branson AKA, Lady B or “Miss Alex”, has been bringing the musical fun for babies and toddlers all over Brooklyn for seven years. A former nanny, she knows the “grownup & me” class scene well, and works to make her classes as fun for the grownups as they are for the kids. Expect fun and funky original songs, bubbles, and lots of positive vibes. She holds babies-only classes at Brooklyn Heights’ Treasure Trunk Theater on Tuesdays and Thursdays, ($25 drop-in). The rest of the week, on Wednesdays find her in Bay Ridge or Bed-Stuy/Clinton Hill; Fridays she’s in Lefferts Gardens and Crown Heights, and Saturdays you’ll find her in Kensington. Drop-in costs range from $10 to $25. Click here for class times and locations. Can’t make it to a class? Check out Lady B’s original videos on Lavender Blues TV! 


Toc Toc

Toc Toc Spanish for Kids

This Spanish immersion playtime can be found all over the borough, and currently makes stops in Park Slope, Windsor Terrace, Prospect Heights, Cobble Hill, and Carroll Gardens. Expect storytime, singalong, games, dancing, and puppets. Designed for kids six months to three years old, Toc Toc is $10 in most locations, with a $5 fee for siblings. Get latest days and time here. 



THE PSU Clubhouse

PSU Clubhouse

There's a few options at this Bed-Stuy space, which is a hot spot for soccer for kids and adults alike. (Hence, the astroturf.) Drop in on Fridays for a Rolie Polie Guacamole singalong from 9:30-10 a.m. for $15. Or, come in for open play from 10-noon or noon-2p.m. for $15. (A "full-day", three hours, is $20.) You can even do drop-OFF for kids one year and older, although space is tight—six kids per session. Diversions for kids include ride-on toys, a bounce house, balls, a slide, and more. There's also a cafe and free wifi! Note: This is a CARD ONLY establishment—no cash. Register in advance online or show up and some one can help you. Questions? E-mail Coach Kayla at 

2600 Jefferson Ave. 
2nd Fl.

Cumbe Facebook page


Cumbe offers multiple classes for kids ranging from one to four years old. Travel through the African diaspora with dance and games, learn capoeira, or conga drumming, and more. Drop in to these ongoing classes for $17.

1368 Fulton St.
Bedford Stuyvesant


Treasure Trunk Theatre

Treasure Trunk Studio

Drop in to the lovely new Treasure Trunk Studio on Friday mornings for storytime ($10/child; $5/siblings), or open play later in the day from 3 -6p.m. ($15/child/$10/siblings). Afternoon fun includes a mini ball pit, coloring station, puzzles, stories, and more.

Treasure Trunk Studio
141 Atlantic Ave.
Brooklyn Heights


Gumbo Facebook page


Gumbo in Boerum Hill offers two music classes open for drop-ins. A singalong with Frank Gallo of popular kindie rock band Rolie Polie Guacamole on Thursdays for kids three months to two years, and an all-Spanish class for kids four and younger, CantaEspañol with Ana Campos Stephens. Stephens’ class has kids singing, playing, using puppets, and developing social skills as they also learn the language. Both classes are $25 for drop-in.

495 Atlantic Ave.
Boerum Hill



The Great Room Facebook page

The Great Room

This relatively new space for families hosts several drop-ins throughout the week. There’s a Sunday singalong at 10 a.m., all ages drop-in from 10 a.m. to noon on Monday and Thursday, and a precrawler drop-in from noon to 1:45 on Tuesday and Thursday. It’s $15 at the door, or you can buy a multi-pack to save.

The Great Room
194 Columbia St. 




For $15, Spark offers drop-in play Wednesday through Sunday, and kids can build in the Block Lab, get creative with art activities, or explore in the Discovery Den, where they can also get cozy for storytime. Bonus: Thursdays are free from 1 - 6 p.m.

1 John St.
Brooklyn Bridge Park


Catherine S. via Yelp

Jill Lindsey

Stop by eclectic boutique, cafe, and gathering space Jill Lindsey for Tunes for Tykes (six months to one year) with Brian Stearns every Tuesday at 11 a.m for $15 and $5 for siblings. Miss Cotten holds a spirited singalong hootenanny on Wednesdays at 11 a.m. for the same price. Fridays brings Kid’s Yoga with Little Feet Yoga from 10:30-11:15 a.m. for $25. When the weather’s nice, head out to the backyard for al fresco fun!

370 Myrtle Ave. 
Fort Greene


Monkey Do! Yoga

Most classes at this Gowanus studio are drop-in and take place several times throughout the week. Drop-in open play is $12, "Sing and Move" class is $15, and the Parent and baby yoga class is $25. There's also a new mom meetup group for $18, where the babes are of course welcome. Bulk passes are available as well.

Monkey Do! Yoga
279 Third Ave. 


Lilypad Facebook page

Flying Squirrel

This popular Greenpoint toy store/consignment shop/neighborhood hub hosts three music get-togethers throughout the week. Monday (10:30 a.m.) and Thursday (11:15 a.m.) brings Tunes for Tykes with Brian Stearns and a giant drum. It’s $10 to drop in, and best for kids two and under. Lily Pad Music is on Wednesdays at 10:30 a.m. ($15), and music industry vet Willie Devargas brings his “super giant creatures” fun on Tuesday (10:30 a.m.) and Friday (1:30 p.m.); $15 gets you in.

Flying Squirrel
87 Oak St.



Lucy Kalantari

Lark Cafe

Lark is a hotbed of indie music for kids, with musicians dropping in all week long for singalongs, most of which will run you $10. Check the weekly calendar for the latest info, but acts regularly rocking out in the small event space include Amy Miles, Miss Katie, The Buttons, Debbie Deane, Lloyd Miller, and Lavender Blues. You can also catch the 2019 Best Children's Album Grammy-award winner Lucy Kalantari, (pictured) who hosts a bi-lingual Spanish/English singalong here. 

1007 Church Ave. 


Prospect Gymnastics

Prospect Gymnastics

Got a tot that likes to tumble? Prospect Gymnastics holds drop-in open play for kids four and younger seven days a week! (Slots are about two hours and times vary with sessions in the mornings and afternoon; check registration page for specific time info.) Winter pricing is $15 per drop-in, or $100 for a 10-pack. 

Prospect Gymanstics
1023 Church Ave. 


Brooklyn Arts Exchange Facebook page

BAX, Brooklyn Arts Exchange

Drop in to the Brooklyn Arts Exchange, where for $10 kids four and younger can explore the open studio filled with hoops, tunnels, balls, books and more. Sessions take place on Mondays and Fridays from 9:30-11:30 a.m. 

421 Fifth Ave. 
Park Slope


Edamama Facebook page

Edamama Cute Cuts and More

There is a lot happening at Edamama—and we’re not even including the haircuts! Most drop-ins (cash only) will run you $15. Happenings throughout the week include puppet fun with Puppetsburg (Tuesday, 10:30 a.m. and Noon); Singalong with Willie DeVargas (Thursday, 10:30 a.m. and Noon), Ari Band SIngalong (Wednesdays, 3:45); Thunder and Sunshine Singalong on Fridays,  and Open Play daily at 1 and 3:30 p.m. Plus: Movement and Music for Toddlers (Mondays, 9:30 a.m., 10: 30 a.m., and noon, and Wednesdays 10:30 a.m. and noon). 

568 Union Ave.


Eric W. via Yelp

ELK Cafe
Greg Weiss, "Greg the Egg" has a standing date at Windsor Terrace spot Elk Cafe. Find him there for singalongs on Mondays at 1 p.m. Grab a snack and a drink and head out to the lovely backyard when the weather warms up! $10 per family. 

154 Prospect Park Southwest
Windsor Terrace

—Mimi O’Connor


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Spring cleaning isn’t just for the toy closet! Turns out some of the the city’s parks and playgrounds look a little different this time of year and it isn’t just because the trees are in bloom. With new structures, pathways and a focus on accessibility, the parks department has been busy giving a facelift to some of the city’s outdoor green spaces. Click through to see your tax dollars (and the dollars of some generous donors) at work — then get out and play!

Joseph Devoy Playground, Queens

After a full demolition this winter, there's a new treehouse-themed structure at Joseph Devoy Playground, featuring timber-look climbing frames, walkways, swings and slides. The goal of the renovation was to open up the site and make it more accessible, but the result is much more than that . The playground boasts a clean new look, panel games like giant a Connect Four, color wheels, steel drums, baby slides as well as a spiral one for toddlers and lots of bench seating.

Visit: Forest Park, Union Turnpike and 71st Avenue

photo: NYC Parks


Is there a park near you that needs a facelift? ? Let us know in the comments below!

— Emily Myers


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Screen Shot 2016-04-20 at 9.31.30 PM

While parenthood is amazeballs, adulthood can be taxing (figuratively and literally). A video by Dance On reminds us “adults” that once in a while, we need to let loose like our little ones. Don’t you want to be worry-free for awhile?

So go put on a cape and dance with your little munchkin. It’s okay to stop growing up for a moment, trust us.

Photo and video courtesy of DanceOn via YouTube

What do you miss most about your childhood? Tell us in the comments below!


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Having the perfect picnic is still on your summer bucket list. Letting your wee ones burn off energy is always on the agenda. From east to west, and offering up tons of room to play, we’ve rounded up 15 sweet spots to throw down the basket. From rolling hills, hidden playgrounds, beaches and beyond, we promise your little crew will be so busy working up an appetite, you’ll finally have a chance to finish your own meal.

livingston.park.manchesterPhoto: Lori Belloir via Flickr

Livingston Park – Manchester, Nh
There’s something for everyone at this scenic spot. They’ll fly kites and play frisbee on the large lawn while you spread out, and they’ll enjoy swing time at two playgrounds—one for the littles and one for the bigs—while you polish off your own sandwich. Need to cool off? A brand new outdoor pool just opened in Livingston Park, complete with water features and a slide. Finish your day with a visit to Dorrs Pond right next door; there’s an easy nature trail and several fishing spots.

Picnic Tip:  Don’t forget to be on the lookout for wildlife for an impromptu nature lesson.

Livingston Park
Manchester, NH 03104

brooklyn.bridge.parkPhoto: cisc1970 via Flickr

Brooklyn Bridge Park – Brooklyn, Ny
Choose your own adventure at this waterfront park. Opt for amazing views at Picnic Grove, a blanket-worthy lawn at Empire Fulton Ferry (take a spin on Jane’s carousel, too), or get fancy with hibachi grills at Picnic Peninsula at Pier 5. If it’s playgrounds you seek, Pier 6 has the splashy fun Water Lab, the twists and turns of Slide Mountain, the Tarzan-like thrills of Swing Valley, and the HUGE Sandbox Village. There’s a nautical-themed playground at Main Street and Pier 1 has a playground designed especially for tots. Try to beat the kids at hopscotch and four square at Pier 2 or hit up the beach and explore tide pools at Pier 4.

Picnic Tip: Save room for dessert at Ample Hills Creamery!

Brooklyn Bridge Park
334 Furman St.,
Brooklyn, NY 11201

gravelly.point.parkPhoto: Heather W. via Yelp

Gravelly Point Park – Arlington, Va
Don your aviator glasses. Put your tray tables in the upright position. If you like a little plane-spotting with your picnic, Gravelly Point Park is for you. Next door to Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, planes land and take off every few minutes— and fly super low overhead. Watch huge airliners make sharp turns as they come in (to avoid flying in restricted airspace, like over the White House, there will be pretty cool maneuvers). Located on the banks of the Potomac River, there’s lots of green space to enjoy your picnic and be sure to bring a set of wheels to enjoy the Northern Virginia Bike Path.

Picnic Tip: If you like a little less aviation fuel with your picnic, check out other sweet D.C. spots here.

Gravelly Point Park
George Washington Memorial Pkwy.
Arlington, Va 22202

curtis.hixon.park.tampaPhoto: Barbthebuilder via Wikipedia

Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park – Tampa, Fl
The playgrounds at this park are just right for chilling out on a hot Florida day, with plenty of fountains for splashing and a mister to cool down your littles. Located on the banks of the Hillsborough River and next door to the Glazer Children’s Museum, it’s the perfect spot for picnicking. Relax on the Great Lawn and watch the boats cruise by, then stroll along the Tampa Riverwalk and explore.

Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park
600 N Ashley Dr.
Tampa, Fl 33602

morgan.falls.atlantaPhoto: Addy C. via Yelp 

Morgan Falls Overlook Park – Sandy Springs, Ga
A shady spot is just what you need for a picnic in the Atlanta area. With a super-huge playground, complete with rock-climbing wall and large spider web, all under shade awnings, your picnic partners can play and keep cool! Relax on wooden bench swings overlooking the Chattahoochee River. Enjoy the park’s spectacular scenery by taking the forested trail (just under a mile) that winds along the bluff. It’s just enough for little hikers and offers gorgeous views of the park, river and waterfall. Cool off down on the river, rent paddle boards, kayaks and canoes, or try a spot of fishing.

For more inspiration, check out our round up of Atlanta’s Best Parks and Playgrounds.

Picnic Tip: Be sure to visit The Old Chimney— a historic stacked-stone chimney uncovered when the park was built.

Morgan Falls Overlook Park
200 Morgan Falls Rd.
Sandy Springs, Ga 30350

winnemac.parkPhoto: Wesley S. via Yelp

Winnemac Park – Chicago, Il
You’ll forget you’re in the middle of America’s third largest city when you’re picnicking in Winnemac Park. There’s plenty of room to spread out and enjoy your outdoor feast. Little picnickers can explore the butterfly garden and scenic prairie garden, then take a hike or bike along the many different trails— it’s a blast to see where they all lead. There’s a cool tot play area and a wonderful accessible playground all kids can enjoy.

Picnic Tip: Don’t forget to check out our picks for Chicago Playgrounds with Awesome Picnic Areas

Winnemac Park
5001 N Leavitt St.
Chicago, Il 60625

falls_picnicplay_national_redtricyclePhoto: Jillberg via flickr

Minnehaha Falls Regional Park – Minneapolis, Mn
A waterfall in the middle of a city? Minnehaha Falls is a must-see for folks visiting Minneapolis, and a great place to picnic. Find a spot at a picnic table or relax on the grass. There are walking paths, a bike trail (bike rentals available), and a disc golf course. Below Minnehaha Falls, follow the creek down to the Mississippi River. Take the footbridge across, and you and the kids can wade in the shallow water.

Picinic Tip: Train buffs will get a kick out of the Minnehaha Depot. Built in 1875, on summer Sundays guests can go inside and view exhibits about early railroad history with volunteers from the Minnesota Transportation Museum.

Minnehaha Falls Regional Park
4801 S. Minnehaha Park Dr.
Minneapolis, Mn 55417

children' Gabby Cullen

The Rory Meyers Children’s Adventure Garden – Dallas, Tx
There are plenty of places to picnic inside the Dallas Arboretum but the Children’s Garden takes the cake. It’s eight acres of wild, wonderful fun, and connects kids with nature in amazing ways. Before or after you spread your blanket and basket down, take a stroll through the treetops on the Texas Skywalk, touch and feel plants in the Plant Petting Zoo or paddle in Turtle Creek. Relax under a pergola or arbor with cooling misters overhead.

Picnic Tip: The vast lawns and gorgeous botanics of the Arboretum are only a short walk away from the Children’s Garden entrance.

Rory Meyers Children’s Adventure Garden at the Dallas Arboretum
8525 Garland Rd.
Dallas, Tx 75218

Photo: JeffCo Colorado via Flickr

Lookout Mountain Nature Center and Preserve Park – Golden, Co
Imagine outdoor dining with deer and elk as your companions. The Lookout Mountain Nature Center and Preserve Park is a beautiful setting to enjoy eats and learn about nature. There are interactive kids’ activities inside the Center and easy forest and meadow loop nature trails for little trekkers. Family nature programs  like “Preschool Nature Nuts,” “Backyard Astronomy” and “Night of the Skulls Campfire” abound.

Picnic Tip: You’ll want to take the scenic route before nosh— do it along Lookout Mountain Road.

Lookout Mountain Nature Center and Preserve Park
910 Colorow Rd.
Golden, Co 80401

encanto.park.phoenixPhoto: David L. via Yelp

Encanto Park, Phoenix, Arizona
Another stellar city park, Encanto Park is an oasis in the Sonoran Desert. Take a paddle boat or canoe out on the lagoon, have a splash in the swimming pool, practice for future U.S. Opens on the two golf courses. Hit the rides at Enchanted Island Amusement Park (for kids 2-10), and get really sticky with cotton candy (after your picnic of course).

Picnic Tip: Enchanted Island hours vary depending on the time of year. Check their website for up-to-date info.

Encanto Park
2605 N. 15th Ave.
Phoenix, Az 85007

fletcher.parkPhoto: Solana Beach Chamber of Commerce

Fletcher Cove Park – Solana Beach, Ca
For a seaside picnic with a stunning view, take the kiddos to Fletcher Cove Park. Surrounded by palm trees, this park is beautiful at any time of day, but it’s an especially great spot to watch the sunset. There are picnic tables and a large grassy area, or you can head down to the beach. There’s a cool playground with mini climbing wall, slides and swings, and good spots for grownups to sit.

Want more SoCal beachside picnic-worthy parks? Check out our picks here.

Picnic Tip: If you don’t have time to pack a picnic, grab healthy treats from the Naked Cafe, just across the street.

Fletcher Cove  Park
111 South Sierra Avenue
Solana Beach, Ca 92075
Online: Meghan Rose

Will Rogers State Historic Park – Pacific Palisades, Ca
This beautiful estate was once the home of cowboy star Will “The Cherokee Kid” Rogers. With a large grassy space and great views of downtown, it’s just right for dining al fresco. Take the .3 mile Rustic Canyon trail leading to a stream that’s great for paddling. There are special children’s tours of the ranch house and stables, and you can take a self-guided tour of the park. 

Want more Los Angeles picnic spots? We’ve got the scoop here.  

Picnic Tip: When there are no polo matches on, take your kite to the Will Rogers Polo Field— it’s one of the best kite flying spots in L.A!

Will Rogers State Historic Park
1501 Will Rogers State Park Rd.
Pacific Palisades, Ca 90272

tilden.park.barnPhoto: Wendy F. via Yelp

Tilden Regional Park – Berkeley Hills, Ca
With over 2,000 acres to explore, a picnic by the shores of Lake Anza, followed by a swim, and a ride on a miniature steam train are only a few reasons why Tilden Park is a favorite getaway for Bay Area residents and visitors. Take a stroll through the botanic garden, ride the antique carousel, or visit the Tilden Nature Center and Little Farm. If your family likes to hike, there are many trails around the park— the loop trail around Lake Anza is a family fave.

Picnic Tip: Get the insider deets from our guide to Tilden Park here.

Tilden Regional Park
2501 Grizzly Peak Blvd.
Orinda, Ca 94563
Online: Nikki McLeod via Flickr

Rose Garden Children’s Park – Portland, Or
It’s inside Portland’s huge Washington City Park, which includes Oregon ZooPortland Children’s Museum and Portland Japanese Garden and this playground has all sorts of features to keep the kids busy; from swings and slides to ramps and tunnels. It’s also fully accessible, so everyone can play! After the kiddos have climbed and swung to their hearts’ content, you can enjoy your picnic in one of several spots.

Be sure to explore more of Portland’s Washington Park by checking out our guide here.

Picnic Tip: The Washington Park & Zoo Railway is not currently running to the Rose Garden as repairs are being made to the line. You can still ride the train around the zoo though!

Rose Garden Children’s Park
Washington City Park
1715 S.W. Skyline Blvd.
Portland, Or 97221


alki.beach.parkPhoto: Helen Walker Green

Alki Beach Park – Seattle, Wa
Seattle’s Alki Beach has tons for families to do: beachcombing, building sand castles, exploring very low tides. Bring your picnic basket down to the lawn and tables, sit on the seawall, or find a place to perch on a driftwood log. Work off the treats with a cruise along the bike path. Bring your own wheels or rent (surreys, choppers, fat-tired bikes, in-line skates, longboards and more), or take a kayak, canoe or paddle boards out for a cruise on the water. The super Whale Tail playground is just a block south of the beach; kids love to climb on the whale tail sculpture, slide down twin slides (look for the little one for tots), and pilot a pretend fishing boat. Finish off the day watching ferries criss-cross Puget Sound as the sun sets over the Olympic Mountains.

For more picnic spots in the Emerald City, check out our favorite spots to spread out here.

Picnic Tip: If you don’t have time to pack a picnic, stop at one of the many beachside eateries and get it to go. Spud and Sunfish are favorites for fish n’ chips. There’s also American faire, Mexican, Thai, Vietnamese and more.

Alki Beach Park
1702 Alki Ave. S.W.
Seattle, Wa 98116

What’s your favorite spot to picnic and play? Tell us in the Comments below!

— Helen Walker Green



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