We always enjoy trying new things, but I also depend on my tried-and-true activities a lot. Especially when the whining starts to get out of control or I really need to start dinner or I just need to sit down for 10 minutes with no one talking to me!
Right now, these are the things that are working for us — easy to set-up, easy to clean-up, and easy for my girls to work on independently for at least 20-30 minutes:
- Beads and pipe cleaners — Lacing on yarn or string often requires mommy’s help, at least for my four-year-old. Pipe cleaners are easy to hold, and my girls make bracelets, magic wands, flowers, and other random sculptures. We did this in the car on the way to Disneyland, too!
- Homemade playdough — If you haven’t tried making playdough, you should! The texture is so wonderful and it takes just minutes to make. My girls love working with it when its warm (but not too hot!). Throw out some rolling pins, cookie cutters, shells, rocks, straws, candles, toy cars, kitchen gadgets, etc. and let the fun begin! The recipe I use is here.
- Stickers — My four-year-old has a bit of a sticker obsession. I have to buy them in bulk! We use office labels and colored dots too. Try writing your child’s name on a large piece of paper, and then she can stick stickers all along the letter shapes.
- Small books — I staple up a big pile of tiny blank books. Use colored paper for the cover, if you like. Set those out with some colored pencils or markers, some stickers or magazines for cutting, and let the book-making begin!
- Collages — Such a simple activity, yet my girls never tire of making collages! A big pile of “stuff,” glue or a glue stick, and some paper is all you need. My girls especially love wrapping paper pieces, fabric, ribbon, foam shapes, pictures from greeting cards, and buttons. They also like it when I cut the collage paper into a shape, such as a big heart, house, star, or tree.
- Water play — At the sink, outside with a paintbrush, or even hopping in to the tub for a midday bath — water seems to perk up the grumpiest of kiddos! Add in measuring cups, sponges, bath crayons or paints, chalk, scoops, funnels…you get the idea! Of course, water play still requires some close supervision, but I can do a chore or flip through a magazine if I like!
- Unusual toy combinations — Sometimes forgotten toys can have a new life when combined with something unpredictable. Try legos and play food, little animals and muffin tins, or shovels and magnetic letters. Let those little minds come up with something creative!
- Forts and tents — This is a no-brainer, right? :) Throw some pillows, a couple flashlights, and some new library books inside and hunker down for the afternoon. Maybe make s’mores when you’re done inside!
- Pretend play prop box — I have a large rolling bin from IKEA that I use to rotate various pretend play themes. Right now, we have the Garden/Flower Shop props, which has been going strong all summer. I really thought they would tire of it sooner, but there’s something about those piles of fake flowers that keep them entertained. Anyway, I am going to put the flower shop away for a while, and bring out something new. I’m thinking maybe a play school prop set, since Natalie is heading off to Kindergarten, and Delaney will be missing her!
- Junk box — Similar to making collages, using the junk box never gets old for my girls. Of course, the contents are always changing, so it’s exciting to see what’s inside. Things like cut up cereal boxes, drink holders, cards & envelops, bubble wrap, or frozen juice container lids become art or get incorporated into some sort of play.
I actually keep a little list of easy things like these in my desk drawer. Really helpful for those times when I am drawing a blank! :) I hope you’ll share your favorite easy activities, too!