Ten Ways to Keep Your Kids Busy with Everyday Items
As a busy mom of three littles under 3 years old, I very well know the challenges of parenting in quarantine. Parenting in and of itself can be exhausting, and finding creative solutions to keep kids entertained while staying home is a whole new skillset. There are ways to do it, though, and through my 16 years of being a professional nanny and now into parenthood, I’ve found a lot of children often enjoy playing with everyday items more than their toys. Today, I’m excited to share my top 10 favorite activities for everyday play with items you hopefully already have on hand — so you can keep your kids busy all throughout quarantine.
My kids are huge fans of cardboard boxes. We stack the smaller ones to make towers and then have a blast knocking them down. Medium boxes are for painting, decorating with stickers, or balancing on our heads. But large boxes are our favorite. We’ll make them into houses, airplanes, and cars. Sometimes, I’ll throw in a few blankets and a pillow and have the kids take a nap.
Boxes are also a great way to incorporate your kids’ other interests. For example, my oldest is really into tape. I bought her colorful masking tape on Amazon, and she taped an entire box. It turned out great, and it helped her learn patterns, counting, and how to teach her brother all the different colors. Plus, the whole process took over an hour — which is a big win for parents! Boxes are a great toy because they’re a blank canvas that can be turned into anything. The best part is that they can be recycled. I don’t get upset if this toy gets ruined, and each box holds a new surprise.
Bowls, pans, and wooden spoons
This has been our recent go to because my oldest two children — aged 2 and 3 — can play together. We do everything with our bowls from lining them up and jumping over them to putting pretend food in them and eating pretend meals. I’ve also been taking my kids out to our deck and letting them put water in the bowls with a measuring cup. I’ll have them count how many cups of water it takes to fill each bowl, which is fun and teaches them a new skill. And don’t forget the classics: We’ll tap the wooden spoons on the bowls to use them as a drum set.
Rice and beans
Setting up a sensory table with rice and beans is one of my favorite activities. If you don’t have rice or beans, you can use any bulk item you have on hand, like pasta or oats. I usually use colored rice because the kids like how vibrant it is. My children love running their hands through the grains and noticing all the different sensations. I’ll also throw in measuring cups and small bowls so they can dig through the kernels. They often add their Little People figurines or trucks.
If you don’t have a sensory table, you can use a plastic bin with short sides and fill it with the bulk product of your choice. IKEA has a wonderful option that’s half the price of any others on the market. Sensory bins can get messy, so it’s a good idea to put down a tablecloth or shower curtain for easy clean up — but I promise it’s worth the fun.
If you need more ideas on how to use a sensory bin, feel free to reach out. I switch our bins weekly.
Painting in the bathtub
My kids love painting, and I love when they do it in the bathtub — it makes for such an easy clean up. Now that our youngest is 9 months, he wants to do everything his older siblings are doing, so we’ve been using yogurt paint so he can join in. When he’s napping and I just have the older two, we’ll paint murals on the bathtub walls with Crayola’s washable paint. Sometimes we’ll get the shaving cream out for added fun. Ten times out of 10 they end up painting each other and themselves, which isn’t a problem for me because we’re already in the bath!
Water and bubbles
My older two do what we call “car wash” almost weekly. I fill up the kitchen sink with water and a bit of bubble bath or dish soap and let them take their toy cars to the car wash. Sometimes I put the cars in brown washable paint from Crayola and pretend it’s mud for some extra fun.
But the “car wash” doesn’t just have to be for cars! Recently, we’ve been finding rocks outside washing them to get them ready for painting. They also love washing their bikes (outside!) now that we’ve been riding bikes and scootering daily.
Paper towel and toilet paper rolls
My children love a bin full of rolls. Most of the time, I give no direction and let them figure out how to play. They enjoy lining them up like bowling pins and either running full force into them or throwing balls at them. Once, we stood them up and balanced apples on top of them. My oldest prefers tapping them together and putting small items down the tubes, while our 2-year-old likes making shakers. A quick Google or Pinterest search will show you so many ways you can use these paper rolls.
Who doesn’t love a fort? My kids are up for a fort any time of day. Get all the blankets and all the couch cushions and create your own. We love having story time in our fort or pretending we’re in a magical forest. No matter what you do, building a fort will make you and your kids feel like you’ve entered a new space and bring you out of the monotony of staying home.
My children have loved every single scavenger hunt I’ve created, no matter what they were looking for. I get a blank piece of printer paper, draw some items on it, and send them off through the house. Pinterest also has great pre-made options for outdoor hunts. I promise you, this will never get old.
While my kids and I enjoy baking cookies, that’s not what I mean here. I mean setting out ingredients and letting them create their own baked goods. They never care that it doesn’t turn out perfect. They love measuring, mixing, and blending, no matter the final product. This is a great way for your kids to experiment with their creativity in a way they probably don’t get to very often.
This does make a mess — flour gets everywhere — so I only do this on days I feel equipped to take on extra clean up, but it’s always tons of fun when I do.
Obstacle courses are awesome because it doesn’t matter what you use to create them, and they turn out different every time. My kids love it when I put tape on the ground and lead them through an obstacle course across the entire house. If you’ve seen the chalk obstacles floating all over the internet, I do the same thing with tape. I’ve done the chalk version outside and highly recommend it.
For something a little different, Amazon sells road tape, and I would highly recommend purchasing some. We have roads taped all over our home, and my kids play cars daily. You can also use the tape for an obstacle course and have your kids pretend they’re the cars as they move through the course.
It can be difficult to come up with new activities to keep your kids entertained while at home, but hopefully these ideas help you find new ways to play. The greatest part of all of these activities is that they’re customizable and will never be the same. I hope you and your kids find as much joy in them as my family has.