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Got Early Risers? Here's How 5 Minutes Tonight Can Save Everyone’s Morning

Set up a few simple activities before you go to bed, and early risers can play while you do you.

Cathleen Drake Nelson


Cathleen Drake Nelson

I once read about a man who left a love note for his wife every morning—just a sweet, short note of affection every day of their decades-long marriage. (Meanwhile, I keep forgetting about my own husband’s birthday next week.) While daily love notes may be well beyond most of our capabilities right now, just think about how absolutely wonderful it would feel to find a love note waiting for you in the morning.

If that sounds nice, let me introduce you to a concept known as “strewing,” which is basically the art of leaving interesting things to do around the house for kids to discover and play with independently. Strewing is more than just a craft: It’s a love note to your kids that they find upon waking, a way for grownups to buy some time on a busy morning, and a creative invitation that can inspire your family for days.

Stewing can be adapted to any age, learning style, or personality. You simply set out something your children might enjoy finding. You may not always nail it, but the thought really does count — and when you do get it right, you all win.

strewing set up

Cathleen Drake Nelson

Back when I had an infant and a two-year-old (who woke up at dawn every day), strewing something for the toddler provided me and the baby a much-needed morning buffer. Our routine could slow down. The toddler anticipated a new discovery every morning, and by the time I finished feeding and dressing the baby, I’d find my toddler engaged and happy, ready to show us everything she’d already accomplished. 

Now that my children are older, I try to strew something once a week or so. Last week, my oldest child and I took a class at the local art museum. That night, I set out the supplies we’d used, with a note — or rather, an invitation.

The following morning, my oldest child got to share what she’d learned by teaching it to her siblings. 

strewing kids teach each other

Here’s almost the best thing about strewing: If you can clear off one surface, you can do this. And there’s something pleasantly shocking about entering a room that was cluttered the night before to find a carefully arranged space, even if it’s just a few pieces of paper and colored pencils. Finding something in a place where nothing usually appears has an effect that’s almost magnetic: You’re pulled toward the scene, ready to dive in and make something great. In fact, paper and drawing or writing materials could be a solid strew. 

Here are a few easy activities to strew artfully on a cleared surface:

  1. 1.

    Scissors and pages from old magazines.

  2. 2.

    Pipe cleaners and beads.

  3. 3.

    Stamps, a stamp pad, and paper.

  4. 4.

    A large piece of paper with circles drawn on it, and something to sort: beans, coins, shells, buttons, leaves, corks, bottle caps.

  5. 5.

    Paper, crayons, and leaves or coins for making rubbings. Leave one finished rubbing as an example.

  6. 6.

    A couple cookbooks and sticky notes for marking pages, with paper and pencils for a shopping list.

  7. 7.

    A couple minifigs and a pile of Lego bricks.

  8. 8.

    Grapes and toothpicks.

  9. 9.

    A puzzle or kit one of your children received as a present, but has forgotten about. (We ended up, for some reason, with three of these electricity kits. My kids hadn’t used them for months, but dove into them after I arranged them on the dining room table one night.) 


Here are even more strewing ideas, with extensions.

Strew Activity 1: Monster Making


What you set out:  Paper and markers. 

What you do: Draw a head on one piece of paper. Add a sign asking your child to add the next body part.

Throughout the day, take turns adding body parts.


If it goes well, here are some possible extensions: 

Start another monster the next day. Ask for monster names.


Next, leave out sheets of paper on which you’ve drawn comic strip panels. Start a comic by drawing your monsters in the first panel, with empty speech balloons. Take turns adding to the comic, or let your child finish it.


Strew Activity 2: City Planning


What you set out:  A big piece of paper, a couple toy cars, and markers

What you do: Draw the beginning of a road, and a building. Perhaps label something.


If it goes well, some possible extensions: 

Add Lego minifigs, dinosaurs, buttons, colored pencils, or air-dry clay. 

Make a sign with a popsicle stick stuck in air-dry clay, a small piece of paper, and tape. Put out materials for more signs.


Strew Activity 3: Sock Puppets



What you set out:  A few old socks (with or without holes), glue and/or tape, googly eyes, paper, markers. 

What you do: Make one sock puppet. Add a name tag with the paper and markers. Tape it on. 



If it goes well, try these possible extensions: 

Buttons, fabric, yarn. 

Make a stage with a cereal box. Cut the center out, leaving just the frame. 

Put out paint or markers to decorate the stage. 

Add instruments or props. 

Add folded paper for a script or Playbill. 

Strewing works because it has that love note quality — not just because it’s a surprise, but because it’s a relationship. You and your kids are in conversation about what’s fun, what’s interesting, and what’s worth doing. It’s a pretty great thing when mornings, in all their banality, effort, and urgency, can occasionally remind us of what we like to do.