Taryn de Vere, a mother of five, shares some top tips for keeping young kids entertained in cheap and easy ways.
Firstly, commiserations for your predicament; being stuck in a house with a small child isn't wile fun for anyone. Small kids (generally speaking) have a big urge to learn about the world in whatever is the most interactive, tactile way possible.
As a mother of five who lives in a rural location, I’m well used to the type of conditions we’re living in now, and over the years I’ve come up with some fun, easy, cheap ways to entertain kids, using stuff you already have in the house. All these ideas are aimed at toddlers and children under six.
Build a spaceship
If you have boxes from grocery shopping or moving house you can use these boxes in lots of fun ways for kids. We built a box tunnel in the hallway first and when the kids tired of that the smallest two turned it into a cardboard spaceship. You can find a template for a spaceship here.
With smaller boxes, you can create a sensory game for your child. This one takes a little planning but it’s a great way to stimulate their imagination and engage kids with their sense of touch.
Gather a few boxes and make holes the size of your child’s fist on the bottom of the box (neatness is not required). Put a small amount of varying things into bowls that will fit in the boxes - some suggestions are rice or lentils, mashed banana, sand or dirt, oil suitable for cooking with, cereal.
Line up the boxes on the kitchen table with all the hand holes facing outward. Put a bowl in each box and cover the boxes with a tea towel. Have your child sit in front of each box and put their hand in and guess the contents. It’s a good idea to start with the dry items and to have some paper towel at hand.
If they’re having trouble guessing you could cover their eyes and have them smell the items, that will engage their sense of smell as well.
Another great sensory game is making goop. If you have cornflour in your house you can make goop. It’s so much fun that you might find you need to make enough for adults to play with too. Instructions on how to make goop here.
Bubbles are a never-ending source of fun. Fairy liquid makes the best bubbles and if you don’t have wands to make the bubble shapes you can make some out of a wire coathanger. The instructions here are a fun activity in itself, but if you don’t have all the bits to make fancy wands you can just make plain ones.
Make your own playdough
You might need to order cream of tartar for this one but it’s available at all supermarkets so it shouldn’t be too hard to get. If you want colours you’ll need food colouring as well. Instructions here.
If you’re anything like me you probably have a box of old broken crayons lurking about somewhere. If so, this rock art activity turns your crayons into art and it’s lots of fun too. Crayons can be melted in a low-setting oven and there are hundreds of different things you can make with them, from coasters to DIY candles.
Build a blanket fort using your couch or even the kitchen table, put cushions inside, and watch a movie together (if your smallie can last through a movie!) or set a sheet up as one wall and use a lamp to create hand shadows together.
Tell a story together.
Ask your child what character they want to be and write a short story starring them. Take photos of your child acting out the scenes and if you have access to a printer print out your story and read it together. You’ll find an example here.
Alternatively, you can tell a story with your child, using their own toys. Hold one of their toys and begin the first line of a story, "One day Teddy was out walking in the park when he met…" leave it to your child to fill in the gaps in your story. See where the story goes!
Aside from art and craft ideas, there are some other ways to keep small kids occupied. If you have a super energetic child, set them challenges, "See how many times you can run around the house in 5 minutes, I’ll time you - Go!"
Some kids thrive on this and it’s great exercise for them and really tires them out too. Other types of challenges are, "Draw/find me 3 things that are the colour yellow/start with the sound "P" etc.
Some kids love to clean so get them helping to tidy up. Wiping down cupboard doors, cleaning windows, sweeping, tidying are all jobs small kids can do.
Move your body
There are lots of yoga and dance tutorials online specifically for children but, in my experience, they only tend to do it if an adult does it with them, so if you’re so inclined to find something that suits you and your child.
Don’t forget to nurture yourself through all this too. If you have a kid who is amenable, you can get them to do nice things for you as well. Just make sure there’s no banana on your toddlers' hands before they give you a "massage" or rub your feet!
Teach them that Mums and Dads get tired and need love and care too and that they can help with that. This will help develop their empathy and also hopefully give you a few minutes to relax.
- Written by Taryn de Vere