Thursday, May 22, 2014

15 Simple, Cheap Independent Activities for Little People

I was talking to my friend the other day about some of my favorite easy activities I always have on hand to keep little people busy. There are plenty of fun activities geared toward to the 1-4 year-old crowd, but a lot of those require supervision, and sometimes you don't have 100% of your attention to give, so something like fingerpainting is out. 

I try to keep all of these things within reach in my kitchen, because I usually have to utilize them when I am trying to cook dinner or Josie is very busy with an important project at the table and Genevieve is hell-bent on trying to destroy her project.

Simple toys that have a high success rate in our house and don't require constant supervision include things like blocks, big lacing beads, crayons/coloring books, Little People, stacking anything (cups, nesting blocks, etc.), books, and play food, but sometimes you need to branch out and introduce new things, and why not have it be simple and cheap? 

Here are my (our) favorites:

1. Pots and pans and spoons.

This one is the most obvious, and it is a loud one, but usually one that will keep them busy for quite some time.

2. Tupperware.

Similar to the pots and pans but (usually) more quiet. I keep mine in a low drawer so I can just pull it open and let them rummage around and build or pretend to cook while I am.

3. Ice.

Sure, your kids will get a little wet, and of course it's possible that my kids are just overly obsessed with ice and yours will look at you and be like "What the heck, dude?" but if I give either one a piece of ice, I can count on silence and usually a still child for at least five minutes. Bonus: give them a bowl of ice and the five minutes can extend indefinitely! 

4. Pom pons in a coffee container.

I just cut a hole in the lid and gave them a bunch of pom pons. They put them in, dump them out. Simple and fun. Perhaps the favorite in our house. Genevieve goes and gets this out of the craft cupboard every single day. She's crazy about it.

5. Cotton balls (or pom pons, packing peanuts, or whatever) to put in and out of an empty plastic container with a flip lid.

I use a parmesan cheese container, and our playgroup leader uses those big creamer bottles with a flip lid -- both are a big hit. Similar to pom pons in a coffee container, but easier to manage if your child is trapped secured in his or her highchair at the moment. Again, the putting in and out and figuring out the flip lid are just so fun!


Peel. Stick. Peel. Stick. Repeat, repeat, repeat. Bonus points if you use the free ones in the mail from charities or get them from the dollar store.

7. Pipe cleaners in a colander.

They love poking the pipe cleaners in, making fun patterns, and lacing them in and out of multiple holes. Great for fine motor skills.

8.  Ziploc bag filled with hair gel and doodads. 

Fill a ziploc bag with hair gel and googly eyes, beads, buttons, glitter, or any tiny toy without sharp edges. They love to poke and prod and squish the gel. You can find hair gel, ziplocs, and usually little doodads at the Dollar Store. I recommend taping the zipper side with packing tape or duct tape.

9. Paint in a ziploc bag.

Painting without the mess and need for constant supervision! Again, taping the zipper side is recommended, and you can tape the bag right to a table or tray to keep it still.

10. Cheap vinyl window clings.

I got a big sheet from Dollar Tree and let them have at it, and they were in heaven. Bonus points if you have two big or low windows in nearby rooms. I put half of the clings on the big window in the living room and half on the sliding door in the kitchen to give them options, and they surprised me by carrying them back and forth from room to room for HOURS.

11. Dry erase markers.

Josie LOVES to write and draw, but sometimes if I know my attention is going to be very divided, like when I'm cooking dinner, I'd much rather let her (and especially Genevieve) use dry erase markers since they come off of everything much easier than other markers, pens, or crayons. We have a few dry erase boards from Dollar Tree, but I also really like making my own dry erase sheets. I print off writing practice sheets and put them in clear sheet protectors so she can write the words over and over. There are lots of amazing free printables HERE and you can enter any word HERE and make your own customized printable handwriting practice worksheets. 

12. Peeling tape.

(Stay with me here). Put big long strips of tape on the floor or a table and let them develop some fine motor skills while they try to get it off! Use scotch tape, masking tape, painter's tape, washi tape, or put all different kinds down at once. I happened to have this stripey glittery tape from Dollar Tree, and she was all about it. Then she stuck it to herself, stuck it back on the table, and pulled it back off, over and over and over.

13. Blanket party. 

I know this one sounds a little crazy, but a few months ago I had two cranky little girls on my hands, so I went and collected a bunch of blankets, threw them on the living room floor and shouted "BLANKET PARTY!" They flopped on them, made a mountain with them, and covered themselves and each other up, over and over and over for hours. The next morning the first thing Josie did was ask me for a blanket party (patent pending). Of course, this can lead to tents and forts as well.

14. Playing in the sink.

Now, I know some of you are probably a bit more squeamish about messes involving water, but I tell you, if you can turn a blind eye to puddles for an hour, you will have some busy kids. You can add soap or not, add lots of dishes or a few, ladles, funnels, whatever, just give the kid some water and she's happy as a clam. Sometimes Josie even surprises me and doesn't get a drop of water out of the sink.

15. Bucket of water, dish wand, and windows.

Another slightly wet option has the bonus feature of (possibly) getting your windows clean (somewhat). When Josie was two, I had just bought an extra dishwand and was going to fill it with half Dawn and half vinegar to keep in the tub for cleaning (I adore this method). It was sitting out on the counter and Josie kept asking for it, so I gave her a bowl of water to dip it in and told her to scrub the sliding glass door. She stayed there for AN HOUR. Depending on the age of your kids and how careful they are, you could always add a little vinegar to the water, and when you wipe the windows when they're done, your windows will be sparkling! 

And there you have it! Some of my favorite things to keep the girls busy without fear of paint on the walls or playdough in their tummies. Have fun!

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