It’s easy to plop the kids in front of the TV or park them on the couch with a device on their laps when you’ve got stuff to do. Will it keep them busy and distracted and prevent them from getting underfoot? Definitely. But will it turn them into little zombie people? Maybe a touch.
The lure of a screen is tempting for everyone, but if you’re looking for your kids to do something a little less sedentary and a lot more productive, here are some ideas you can both feel good about:
1. Send them outside to run, play, skip and jump–whatever, as long as it’s active! This applies to all kids, whether they’re old enough to play in the park by themselves or just in the backyard where you can see and/or hear them.
2. Do a push-up or sit-up challenge. They’ll be trying to impress you with how many they can knock out.
3. Suggest a bike ride. Getting their helmets on and out of the garage without scratching a car door takes a good five to 10 minutes, but it’s worth it. And since we’re super-parents, in the time it takes for them to make it halfway down the street, we’ve already emptied the dishwasher and loaded it with the stuff in the sink.
4. Make it easy for your kids to feel and actually be independent. Set up an area that’s well-stocked with games and projects and toys for them to do their own thing.
5. That being said, have boxes of activities tucked away and rotate them every so often. It’s like playing with new toys all over again.
6. Play-dough keeps little hands busy for hours. For easy cleanup (which is always the problem afterwards, right?) use an old table and/or get big serving trays from the dollar store to keep the mess contained.
7. Homework. They may not like it, but it keeps them busy and out of your hair.
8. Create an art station and stock up on fun worksheets, colouring books (or better yet, our free downloadable colouring book!) and plain paper, along with pencil crayons, markers, crayons, stencils, felt and glue. For advanced colouring kids, invest in some Doodle Art. But keep in mind if you, the grownup, start in on that, you’ll never get anything done.
9. Cover a table—and the floor underneath—with newspaper, give the kids smocks, set them up with paint and water and let them go to town.
10. Sidewalk chalk: No kid can resist it.
11. Bubbles. See sidewalk chalk. No, really.
12. If you don’t need to be in the kitchen, your kids can be. Shop ahead of time for the ingredients they need and let them loose to work on a kid-friendly baking or cooking project.
13. Play hair salon, but only for styling; scissors should be nowhere near this activity! They can practice their braids or buns (or huns). Or try a little hair chalk or gel for funkier looks.
14. If your kid is crafty, get a cheap, used sewing machine, some patterns and other projects, and see what they can come up with.
15. If your child is too young for machinery, get some burlap, some large plastic needles and a bunch of yarn, and that’s their sewing table.
16. Make Popsicle-stick houses. Just add glue. Or if you’re feeling daring, a glue gun.
17. A house of cards. This could frustrate anyone after five minutes, but once they’re on a mission and get on a roll, they might want to skip dinner.
19. Playing with the pets: They can play fetch with the dog, or fashion an indoor dog sled (wherein the dog drags them in office chairs around the house) which can go on for a while. Or a laser pointer will mean endless fun for the cat or rabbit—and them.
20. If you have the space, create a baby-proofed room and barricade you and your little one in with their favourite toys. That way baby can play while you answer emails or fold laundry.
21. Sink play: For the little ones, fill the kitchen sink halfway with warm, soapy water and let them “wash” their plastic dishes, cups, cars, Lego pieces and the like. (Just not their stuffies.)
23. Send them on a treasure/scavenger hunt by assigning them things to look for: five stones, three pine cones, six leaves, a roll of pennies, that one black sock that always goes missing, etc.
24. If your kid likes playing with baby dolls, get them to switch its outfit a few times like a mini fashion show or change its diaper and use actual baby wipes. Depending on how parental they’re feeling, this could go on for at least an hour. Or half an hour. Whatever. Take what you can get!
25. Puzzles are your saviour. Just finding the edge pieces is a challenge, but once that’s accomplished, they’re going to want to keep on going.
26. Lego always works in a pinch, whether it’s from a boxed set, where they have to follow the instructions to the letter, or creating their own little world with a bunch of random pieces. You know, like Minecraft, but in real life.
27. Dance party! The music might come from a phone, but since they’re not actually playing with it, this totally counts.
28. If you don’t have a chart or wheel that shows chores, get one. You know how they’re always begging to sweep the floor or dust the table? Hand them the broom and Swiffer. It might seem slow going, but in the end, once they’ve learned how to do it, it can be a real time-saver. They will feel like big kids, earning their keep (and their allowance, if you so desire).
29. Get them to clean their room. And hang up their clothes. And throw all the dirty stuff in the hamper. And once that’s done they can move on to the bathroom, where they can pick up their towel. And their pajamas from this morning. And put the toothpaste cap back on. And…well, you get the idea.
30. If they are old enough to mow the lawn, it not only saves you from having to do it, but keeps them out of your hair for a good hour.
31. Suggest watering the indoor and outdoor plants. They might be a little wet—okay, totally soaked—by the time they’re done, but it’s a small price to pay for saved time.
32. While you’re vacuuming, get them to do the dishes. Heck, one can wash, the other can dry (or rinse and load the dishwasher). That means that after dinner, you can do something else, like put your feet up. Or if you’re still in work mode, get their lunches ready.
33. Or, let them help make their own lunches. Kids like to know they’re making some decisions, so if they get to be a part of what they are eating at school the following day, it’ll make them feel important.
34. Set a reading time, either for a book of their own choosing or the library book they were forced to take out from school this week. And for the little ones, get them to practice reading to you while you make dinner.
35. A whiteboard/chalkboard easel with magnetic numbers and letters will keep toddlers busy for hours. Or maybe just 20 minutes. But that’s still 20 minutes you didn’t have before!
36. Despite their whining for the television or the tablet, it doesn’t take expensive toys and gadgets to entertain them. Sometimes they just prefer the box it came in. And if it’s a big one, we have one word: fort.
37. Speaking of, pillows and blankets and couches and tables make for the perfect DIY hideaway for kids of all ages.
38. Oh, and the gift that keeps on giving? Bubble wrap.