As a mom with kids of various ages, I used to find it a real challenge to keep my young kids busy, while working with my older ones & their school work. I decided to research simple ways of keeping my little kids entertained & stimulated when I could not give them my full attention. Young children need imaginative play to develop their skills for later, more structured learning. Here are 50 fun, learning ideas to keep your little ones busy when homeschooling, completing homework or when you need time to complete a task. These activities should be happening around you because some ideas entail the use of small objects or water. Please use your ‘mommy instinct’ to decide what is safe & age appropriate for your family. I will warn you that some of these activities are messy, so loosen up a bit & allow your kids to develop their imagination! You can set aside some old clothes for them to use as play clothes. My children work on a large plastic tablecloth at the kitchen table or on towels on the floor in one specified area of the house.
1. Token Fun: Empty coffee tin, yogurt container or Pringle can with the plastic lid & poker chips. Make a slit in the lid and let the kiddos put numerous poker chips through the slit. This can be a way for them to learn counting & if you use different colored chips, they can learn their colors too.
2. Dough Fun: Playdough, a plastic knife, rolling pin & cookie cutters. Use Play-Doh or allow the kiddos to make their own dough by mixing: 1/2 cup salt, 1/2 cup water, 1 cup flour & some drops of food coloring. Form into a dough & allow them to roll it, cut it & shape it.
3. Painting Fun: Cups of water, food coloring, paper plate, coffee filter, cotton earbud, medicine, eye dropper or small paint brush. Color small cups of water with food coloring. Use an earbud, dropper or brush to make designs on a coffee filter. Once this is dry, cut the center out of a paper plate & glue filter to it to make a sun catcher. This can be hung at the window with a punched hole, yarn & a push-pin.
4. Chalk Fun: Colored chalk & dark construction paper. Let the kiddos color & make designs to their heart’s content on dark paper, erase & redo. Another way is to purchase blackboard paper that can be stuck to a wall surface.
5. Lacing Fun: Cardboard or cotton spools, hole punch & yarn. Punch holes in a pattern on a cardboard & let the kiddos lace the yarn through the holes or through the spools. One could also draw a picture of a shoe & punch holes at the center to teach them how to tie a shoelace. Tape the first hole or tie a knot to keep it in place. I use a single hole punch to make this easier.
6. Water Fun: Wide, shallow container on a towel, bath toys, measuring cups, egg beater or baster. Let them use the egg beater and baster in the water to swirl & squirt water around. They can also use their bath toys & measuring cups to have some more water fun, not only when they’re taking a bath.
7. Cutting Fun: Blunt-nose, craft, zig-zag scissors in various sorts, paper plate or cardboard & colored paper. Let the kids cut strips of colored paper & develop their fine motor skills while they learn to hold a pair of scissors. Use the strips to make a collage on a paper plate or cardboard & show daddy!
8. Etching Fun: Rice or cornmeal, cookie sheet, straw or popsicle stick. Put a layer of rice or cornmeal on a cookie sheet & allow the kids to draw patterns with straws, popsicle sticks or just their fingers.
9. Sandbox Fun: Shallow box, plastic or other, sand, toys & measuring cups. Put some clean sand in a box (sand can be purchased at a hardware store). Add trucks, cars & measuring cups or measuring spoons. When using a plastic storage container with a lid, it can be kept for many days of play.
10. Tent Fun: Sheet, table or chairs, clothespins or big office clips & toys. Let the kids throw a sheet over a table or a couple of chairs, fasten with clothespins or office clips & add dolls & figurines for play underneath.
11. Stacking Fun: Measuring cups, different-sized plastic cups or containers with lids & small objects. Allow your kids to stack the cups or seal their items in the containers with lids. Taking the lids on & off is another thing they love to do. Leave the ideas to them.
12. Dressing Fun: Old clothes of mommy or daddy or purchase some costumes. My kids love this so much! They use old bags, hats, scarfs & jewelry of mine & I buy Halloween costumes (fireman, ninja, princess etc.) when they go on sale. The more outfits, the longer they play!
13. Bubble Fun: Small container of water with non-toxic soap & straws. Dip the straws in the soapy water & allow them to blow bubbles to one another or let the kids go outside to blow bubbles to see how many bubbles they can catch.
14. Measure Fun: Plastic measuring tape or ruler & an assortment of different toys. Allow the kids to measure the height & width of different toys & lay them in a line from largest to smallest. If able, they can jot down the results on paper by drawing the picture with the number next to it.
15. Chain Fun: Yarn or string & snacks with holes. Allow the kids to make bracelets or long necklaces by linking snacks or cereal with holes (eg. Cheerios) to the yarn. Let them enjoy their edible jewelry.
16. String Fun: String, paint & paper. Dip string pieces of different lengths & widths in the thinned paint of different colors & drop on a big sheet of paper in different places to make swirly designs.
17. Pebble Fun: Shallow cardboard box, pebbles, paper & paint. Add paper to a box, dip a pebble in paint & put on the paper. Move the box back & forth to roll the pebble across the paper to make awesome designs in different colors.
18. Tube Fun: Empty paper towel tubes, tissue paper tubes or food wrap rolls & small cars or mini balls. Let the kids join tubes together with tape or lay tubes at a slant on areas & allow them to put their cars or balls through.
19. Street Fun: Cardboard, marker & cars. Draw roads, houses, etc. on large, flat cardboard & let the kids play with their cars and trucks on their homemade street on the floor.
20. Tossing Fun: Beanbags (can be made easier if not bought), sock balls, crumbled paper or small stuffed animals (we use Beanie Babies), a bucket, tub or clean wastebasket. Have a competition to see how many of these can be tossed into a bin. Use a good amount. Great way to learn to count in a fun way!
21. Magnet Fun: Construction paper, paper clips, straw or stick, string or yarn & magnets. Let the kids make a homemade fishing game by cutting some fish out of construction paper. Put paperclips through the fish & put it in a box. Make a fishing pole with a straw, string & a magnet attached & let the kids ‘fish’ for the paperclips. Alternatively let the kids pick up washers, coins or paperclips out of a box with a magnet. One can also let them stick magnets (I found a packet of magnets at an office supply store) on a metal cookie sheet.
22. Toothpick Fun: Washcloth, black construction paper, a sheet of paper & toothpick. Layer the cloth, black paper & sheet of paper together & fasten with office clips. Then draw with a marker a simple pattern (heart, star, circle, square, etc.) on the top page. Let your child poke holes along the edges of the pattern with a toothpick on the top page. Remove the black paper underneath, which has the patterned punched holes & tape it to a sliding door or window. Let them see the sunshine through the holes of their pretty patterns!
23. Tracing Fun: Picture, clipboard, tracing paper, marker or pencil. Layer a picture (from a coloring book or other) & then a sheet of tracing paper onto the clip of the clipboard. Let your child trace the picture underneath, then color if desired.
24. Fridge Fun: Different fridge magnets in a bucket. Give the kids a bucket of different magnets or make it more educational & use alphabet magnets. Let the kids enjoy putting them up on the fridge & taking them down or making words. A favorite of ours!
25. Magazine Fun: Bluntnose scissors, magazines, paper & glue stick. Let the kiddos choose four colors they love and cut out any items they see in the magazine in those colors, then sort & paste it on construction paper or cardboard according to color. One can use any other theme such as food items, clothing or shapes.
26. Reading fun: Read-along books with CDs. Purchase or borrow from the library a supply of read-along books with CDs. Change the book/CD often to keep them entertained for a longer time. Play it out loud or on a portable player with earphones if the older kids do not want to be disturbed. I love the Amelia Bedelia Treasury & the Muslim Stories for Children set by Khurram Murad.
27. Washing Fun: Get some step stools drawn up to the sink, fill the sink with some warm, soapy water and let the kids wash a few plastic or metal dishes & spoons. This keeps them busy for quite a while. Be careful as the floor will get wet, so lots of towels!
28. Doll Fun: Small doll, old baby clothes & baby items & a box. Fill a box with a doll & your child’s old baby items such as clothes, a bottle, pacifiers, bibs or any other baby item that you are not using anymore. Put a lid on it & watch them play with it for a long time.
29. Stamp Fun: Construction paper, stampers, washable ink pad. Let the kids stamp pictures onto paper to their heart’s content. They can color the pictures made by the stamps. Alternatively use bingo dotters for loads of fun too.
30. Hanging Fun: Two chairs, string & clothespins (pegs). Allow the kids to tie string across two chairs and give them an assortment of small clothing items (socks) or use their doll clothes & let them hang washing on the line with pegs.
31. Sandpaper Fun: Crayons, sandpaper (little ones seem to like the texture) & yarn. Color on the sandpaper alone or cut yarn in different lengths & see how yarn sticks to the sandpaper to make different designs, super fun!
32. Measurement Fun: Rice or lentils in a tote, bowl or cookie sheet & different scoops, a ladle & funnel. Let the kids transfer rice or lentils from the tote to the bowl or dump on a cookie sheet using the scoops, ladle & funnel. Fun for a long span of time.
33. Sticker Fun: Stickers & paper plates. One can use free stickers or address labels that come in the mail. Let the kids draw a large shape & fill it in with stickers. Using little stickers takes MUCH longer to fill up!
34. Puzzle Fun: Different, age appropriate & quality puzzles that will keep them entertained for long periods of time. Wooden ones are durable & easier for the little ones & stick to educational themes. Another favorite past-time for my kids.
35. Wagon Fun: Empty cardboard shoe box or other box & string. Punch a hole in a box and thread string through the hole & knot it. Kids love to use it as a wagon to pull a stuffed animal all around the house.
36. Velcro Fun: Velcro, an area to stick the velcro (preferable Horizontal) & small toys or stuffed animals. Add a large piece of velcro pad to an area in your house. Put the other part of the velcro on the bottoms of several small toys (Beanie Babies work really well too) and let the kiddos stick and unstick their toys to the area. They think this is super cool!
37. Picking Fun: Pair of tongs, two bowls, and anything you can pick up with tongs. Allow the kids to pick up items in one bowl filled with the items & transfer it to the empty bowl. They’re only allowed to do this with the tongs to make it more challenging!
38. Sorting Fun: Ice cube tray, empty egg carton, divided party tray and an assortment of dried beans or small plastic items to sort. A simple idea, but the little ones enjoy sorting the items into different holes.
39. Window Fun 1: Washable markers or paint, area with a sliding door or big window & soap & water for later. Allow your kids to use markers or paint to make designs on the windows (while you look the other way). Then take a picture & let them wash it off or show daddy & wash it off the next day yourself.
40. Window Fun 2. Squirt bottle with water and a dish towel. If #39 is just too much or you are not in the mood for a big cleanup, give them only a squirt bottle and cloth to do a window ‘clean’. This is not pretty for your windows, but it keeps them busy for a long time & the cleanup is much less than the markers or paint.
41. Mailbox Fun: Any cardboard box or tissue box & your junk mail. Make a slit big enough for letters to fit through.Write your kids names on the junk mail envelopes & put it into the mail for your kids to go through. Kids love opening mail!
42. I-Spy Fun: A 2-liter soda bottle, jar or clear container, several small items (Barbie shoe, key, dime, marble, Lego brick, paper clip, etc.) Make a mini ‘I-Spy’ list, and tape it to the container. Fill the container half to three-fourths full with bird seed or sand & seal. The kids have to turn the bottle & shake it around to find the items inside. Great for any age!
43. Scale Fun: A balance scale, toys or anything else that can be weighed. Allow them put items on the balance scale to learn what weighs more. Get a scale that has deep containers on either side so they can fill it with more stuff.
44. Carabiner Fun: Carabiners are those clips that one uses for hiking or on key chains. Hand a bag of those to the kids and tell them to link it together or hook it to their dolls or labels of stuffed animals. They have a ball with this one!
45. Treasure Fun: Bags or buckets. Tell each child to choose a color or shape & scout around the house for items in a specific color or shape to put in their bags or buckets. You can always make it a specific hunt, such as toys or bedroom items only if you want to keep it more contained.
46. Obstacle Fun: Pillows, books, toys, chairs etc. Allow the kids to set these items in an obstacle course around a spacious room (move the furniture if you have to). Let them go under the chairs, step on books, balance on some string on the floor. The winner is the one who does everything without any mistakes. My kids looove this and the older ones play it to this day!
47. Cardboard Fun: Big cardboard boxes. They’re still the best toys on earth. On the box, let your kids draw on car doors or rocket ship panels, make a puppet show stage, cut out a door and windows for houses, you name it. If you have several, you can make a whole town. You can haul out dolls and stuffed animals to get in on the fun too. When you’re done you can flatten them and recycle them or stow them under the bed.
48. Messing Fun: Baking soda, flour shaker & essential oil (optional). Mix a few drops of essential oils in baking powder & fill a shaker. Let the kids shake it all over the carpets for fun. When they’re done, vacuum it up. Your carpet just got a deodorizer & the kids had fun making a ‘mess’! Do this on days you are going to vacuum anyway. They can also shake the powder over their hands, leaving nice ‘shadows’ of their hand-prints on the carpet because the baking soda is so safe.
49. Train Fun: Wooden train tracks & trains are a must for little ones. My kids love to build the tracks in different patterns & ride their many trains along the path, they play this literally for an hour or more!
50. Building Fun: Lego & wooden blocks are another must-have kid item. They love to make new shapes or just stack the Lego or wooden blocks into high towers so that they can watch it topple to the ground!
Many of these ideas can be stored in plastic containers for use over & over again. Remember that some of these ideas cause a temporary mess & can be easily cleaned with soap & water, but you will get so much accomplished when your kids are busy. If children are bored, they will be a bother, so don’t be uptight about your home & decor. Our material things are just ‘stuff’ & mean naught to our children’s development & character. I always tell moms with young kids, that they should leave their fancy home decorating for when their children become older, to give themselves less pressure. You will find it much easier to be a fun mom of smart, creative children if you are more easygoing about the little things.