Need to get dinner cooked? Or make a few phone calls? But the kids won’t give you a moment to take breath?!
For many parents it’s easier to just put them in front of the TV - but I know many of you wish there were other ways to keep them occupied that don’t add up to more screen time (and end in even worse behaviour for some kids).
So what if there were other things you can get them to do that are great for their creativity and play skills?
Here are my top 5 ways to keep your kids occupied – the solution to keeping your young kids busy while you get things done at home (and some of these you can even take to a café so you can enjoy your caffe latte in peace while they play!).
In a first for me, I wrote this blog post with my 5 year-old daughter, Lila, who is, after all, a bigger expert than me in fun play projects for kids!
1. BUSY BAGS
(for all ages – make them age-appropriate)
My #1 hot tip is a thing called Busy Bags. Never heard of these? Just go to Pinterest for inspiration – here’s my Pinterest page where I’ve created a board called Busy Bags for you!
A Busy Bag is a plastic Ziploc bag (or similar) which contains one activity kids can do that will keep them occupied for around half an hour.
So one day just spend about an hour creating a number of busy bags and keep them ready to go in the cupboard. It’s important to keep them put away from the kids because each time you bring one out it will be a new and exciting game!
Here are a few ideas for what to put in Busy Bags:
- Play-dough – a pot or two of playdough and a number of utensils for making things (check out the photo below of this one).
- Pipe cleaners and beads – for threading – you can also have thread and beads.
- Drawing - pencils/crayons and small pieces of card or an age-appropriate activity book to draw on.
- Gluing – glue stick and coloured paper (or magazine pictures) and larger paper to stick them on (with scissors if they’re old enough).
- Felt pictures – for example, my fave is the felt Christmas tree with coloured felt decorations to stick on!
- Coloured Chalk - for drawing outside on the concrete.
- Ink Stamps – mini stamps, paper and coloured inkpads.
- Sorting - coloured puff balls or beads to sort into small containers (or give them an ice-cube or muffin tray).
Older kids (age 4+)
- Sewing – plastic needles, thread, buttons, flowers and fabric or a kids sewing frame.
- Water painting – paint brush and pictures that colour up when you paint with water (needs a cup of water).
2. BUSY BOX
A related concept, but instead use a box and fill it with a variety of fun and interesting objects for your toddler to play with. Each time you give them a busy box, change the toys and objects.
3. FROZEN TOYS
(for ages 2.5+)
Freeze some small toys in a container of water (e.g. in an icecream container). Send the kids outside and give them spoons to hack away at the frozen block until they get the toys! (NB Don't freeze it too solid or they won't be able to get the toys out!)
You can use their existing toys or new ones if you think they’ll get more excited by that. Lila recommends to freeze colourful flowers and leaves and seed pods in a “nature-freeze”.
One related idea is to create coloured blocks of ice (using food dye and an ice-cube tray). Lila says she would build patterns and towers out of them.
4. SENSORY BINS
(ideal for toddlers but good for older kids too)
Sensory bins is a technical term for creating a plastic container of sand, dry rice/legumes, mud or water and having ways for your kids to play with it. A big, plastic storage box is perfect because you can put the lid on when it’s not in use, and bring it out at the right moment. Most of these are best done outside, but rice and legumes are clean enough for indoors!
Here are some good sensory bin ideas:
- Sand with colourful gems and small toys (treasure) hidden in it for your kids to find.
- Sand with sieve, spoons, toy car/bull dozer and other sandplay implements.
- Water with small jugs, sieve and other containers to pour with.
- Dry rice or small legumes (beans) with jugs and containers to fill and pour. Try different colours of legumes that they can mix.
- Dirt and water (mud) and plastic farm animals – to create a “farm animal washing station” (make them dirty and then wash them)!
5. INDOOR CUBBY HOUSE
(for kids 3+)
Get out the old sheets, blankets and cushions stored away and let your child move the furniture a bit to create a cubby house. Encourage them to bring their toys into it and create a doll hospital/ farm / dinosaur ranch etc.
6. DRAW A CITY (bonus activity!)
(for kids 4+)
This one is for kids older kids but it’s very cool! Get a huge piece of paper from an art shop and spread it on the floor. Get your child to draw a town or city on the paper – including places for his/her toy cars, houses, dolls, animals etc. I stayed at an Air BnB recently with a family and the 5 year old boy was doing exactly this on the floor of their living room (yes it takes up a bit of space – but can be rolled up easily!).
Some of this may seem like much more effort than just putting them in front of the TV! Yes there is some organizing to do, but once you have these things set up it’s all ready to go.
And there are some huge benefits to this kind of play: you’re encouraging your kids’ creativity and free play - which will tend to result in them being calmer and happier, as compared to screen-time which can rev some kids up and/or result in battles later when they want more of it.
Here’s the link to my Pinterest page again for some more inspiration!!