The last few years have been hard for most parents. More time working from home with kids has changed most of our lives forever. While many parents have given up on their effort to keep kids off screens, there are still a lot of fun ways to keep your kids engaged and away from that digital babysitter.
1. Activity Jar
Create an activity jar for your kids. From simple games to activities that get them up and moving, you can find lots of ideas on the internet to fill up their jar. Just write them on colorful popsicle sticks and rotate them frequently to keep things fresh. Let them take turns picking out an activity, give them a time limit, and allow them to be the boss of that game.
2. Indoor Dirt or Sandpit
While this may make some families cringe, kids love to play in dirt and sand. If it’s still too cold or rainy to let them get in the dirt outside, bring the outside in. Set up a sandbox or even a small wading pool in the garage, kitchen, or even the bathroom to keep it all contained. Give them kitchen utensils or beach toys, and let the fun begin! They’ll go from restaurants to city planning and everything in between while you get a break to answer some emails or just relax.
3. Baby Wash
Let your kids start their own toy wash. Put down some towels outside the bathtub and set them free, or put a tub of water in the backyard. They can scrub each toy or give their dolls a bath. Maybe they would like to set up a mini car wash – with kids, toys, and water, there’s no limit. As an added bonus, your kids will probably get clean too!
4. Loom Bracelets
Rubber band looms are a fun project for kids, and they get a sense of accomplishment once they see the finished product. Create matching bracelets or necklaces using looms and rubber bands. Let them choose their colors and get to work. Simple written instructions, some looms, and rubber bands are all it takes to engage them for hours. Your kids can even make presents for friends and family they haven’t been able to see lately.
Older kids easily get sucked into the world of origami. Its beautiful color, shapes, and detail make every piece a new treasure. Kids can make things from cranes to rings and mobiles for their bedrooms. The best luck with crafts is often when it’s something that they can take and enjoy or show off. The internet is a treasure trove of beginner’s origami information.
6. Create Keepsakes
You can always get a jump on holiday keepsake presents for next year. Salt dough handprints are easy to craft, you can let your kids go crazy, and it’s relatively easy to clean up. Create ornaments for grandparents or a pencil holder for dad. Maybe a new toothbrush cup for the bathroom? Put together the quick dough, and let the kids play.
7. Photo/Magazine/Coloring Page Collage
Lots of our kids are missing their friends these days. Why not let them go crazy with magazines and (kid-safe) scissors. Let them create a collage for a friend, a parent, or for their bedroom wall. They can clip pictures that remind them of someone, words that inspire them, or inspirational items. If you’d rather skip the scissors, print out a variety of new coloring pages to change it up.
8. Open-Ended Block Play
Blocks really are fun for almost every age. If your kids are reluctant to pick up a set of blocks, challenge them to a tower-building contest, or help them set up a long line of blocks to knock over. They can spell words with the blocks, create a mosaic, or build their own town. Half the battle is simply getting older kids to engage.
9. Decorate Rocks to Hide or Babysit
Finding rocks while on a walk can make any kid’s day. Painted rocks feel so personal and fun, that it feels like a real treasure to find one. Grab some paints or paint markers and spend an afternoon decorating rocks. Once you’ve got a bag full, head to the park or a nearby trail. Look for rocks hidden by others, and hide your own rocks. Just a few hidden rocks in your area can spur on a whole new movement. If you’re stuck at home for a bit, let the little ones create animals, friends, or objects with the rocks to play with.
10. Plan a Party / Special Event
If your kids need something to look forward to, tempt them with a special celebration. Plan a decadent tea party or a dance party, make fancy treats, wear amazing outfits, and create special decorations to increase the anticipation for kids during that celebratory event.
11. Would You Rather
A favorite game for most kids on a walk or in the car is ‘would you rather’. Simply make up silly questions such as, “would you rather have one foot or one arm” or “would you rather have duck feet or a duckbill”. No question is too crazy, and it’s fun to see what kinds of things your kids come up with. They spur on conversation, imagination, and fun.
12. Podcasts / Audiobooks
Kids love to hear stories. If you’re working from home, it can be tricky to read to them as often as you’d like. During quiet time or even lunch, turn on an audiobook or a kids’ podcast to help engage their minds and keep the peace.
13. Penny Hunt
Kids love to hunt for things. Have the kids wait in the bathroom (or a place without a window) while you hide a small object in the house or in the yard. Hide it really well. Let them find it. Most often they will get sidetracked into other imaginative play, even if they don’t find what they’re looking for. Either way, they’re engaged and away from screens.
14. Garage Rollerskating / Hoverboard
When the weather is nasty but those kids have too much energy, let them go in the garage, patio, or kitchen. Give them some space to try out their roller skates or hoverboard. Have them develop routines or practice tricks to perform for the whole family. With a contest or mission and some energy to burn, your kids will be engaged and your goal achieved.
15. School / Office
Feeling like a grownup is top on most kids’ list of fun. Let them make their own office by decorating the walls with their art and create their own computer and phone (use boxes, markers, tape, and rolls of paper). Have them use their own bedrooms, the home office, or even the living room. Give them some space, an idea, and let the creativity flow.
Kids often don’t need much motivation to get playing. They need an idea, a location, and sometimes some materials. By keeping them away from screens and engaging them in play, their minds grow and develop, while, let’s be honest, parents can get some work done or get a break. These unprecedented times take teamwork and sharing ideas to help keep our kids engaged and ourselves sane.
About the Author
Katie Tejada is a writer, editor, and former HR professional. She enjoys writing about events, travel, decorating trends, and innovations for the home, but also covers developments in HR, business communication, recruiting, real estate, finance, law, and investing.