Teacher educator and author of many teacher reference books. Amused by random ideas and loves random acts of kindness. Enjoys writing humour...seriously!Please see my Instagram: wilsonjeni
Published December 2nd 2013
Cheap Home Based Activities to Keep Kids Busy
This will reveal my age but here goes. When I was a child my mum used to tell me to go outside because I was obsessed with the novelty of TV. In those days (I sound like my father now) there were no other screens to watch so outside I went.
Now I think the same about the iPad. The children are obsessed. I am not saying they are not learning anything and they are certainly having fun but it drives me absolutely mad when I say it's time to change activity they immediately think of another screen. There's the play station, the Wii, the DS, the tablet, iphone, iPod, laptop, the Imac and if they are desperate the TV.
Enough is enough. With a small amount of effort we can have fun and learn something from simple non-screen activities. Here are some of my quick and easy favourites. They have been sure-fire winners with my four kids and many can be repeated over and over again. I have a few criteria for selecting these so that they are not onerous.
Selection criteria for non-screen activities: 1. Most of the materials/ingredients should be normally at home or easily accessible at supermarkets 2.They should be inexpensive 3. Everyone should enjoy them. 4. It should never take you more time to set up and clean up than it takes to complete the task.
Garden mobiles Collect unwanted objects from around the house. The third drawer in the kitchen offers possibilities, add a few buttons, broken jewellery and old small toys, bells, maybe a few cds and hang on a string from the trees. They look beautiful. Challenge the kids to find the most unusual item for their mobile.
Before throwing out clothes see if you can reuse them or parts to create new wearable 'fashion'. Alternatively, you can buy a few pieces from opportunity shops for refashioning. Add buttons, lace, fur collars, petticoats, ribbons, sleeves etc and create a bag, top or dress from old items. A sewing machine is not necessary. It can take longer but kids are learning lots of valuable skills and developing fine motor coordination skills.
Sock puppets If you are anything like me you have an ever-bulging basket dedicated to old socks. All you need for this activity is one sock, some buttons, wool, needle and cotton and textas. You can be more creative by adding felt, goggle eyes etc but I have found that kids are generally happy with their products if they have eyes and hair.
If they are really interested in sock puppets you can make a simple puppet theatre from a big box with a hole cut into it. Alternatively throw a tablecloth over an up turned chair. This provides a place for the kids to hide behind when they do their performances.
I love making pom poms. They are easy to learn and don't take too long to make so the results are seen quickly. Once kids see their first pom pom they usually want to make more. We have experimented with mixing colours and making really big and really small ones. Recently my 7 year old independently taught several other kids how to make pom poms. It was a bit of a fad for a while and he got lots of attention for his creativity and cleverness.
This is a timeless favourite. There are many simple no baking recipes that given the ingredients and tools kids can mix for themselves. Beware: Supervise the food colouring use. This can turn into a yucky colour and big mess to clean up. Play dough can be kept for a long time in the fridge. It's fun to use with kitchen tools such as garlic crusher, cookie cutters, piping tools etc.
Puzzles and games
It amazes me when kids visit our house and they have never done a puzzle or played a board game. If I ask my kids if they'd like to do either of these they are not always enthusiastic but if I just start to set it up they usually want to join in. They seem to be most enthused if they can find the puzzle piece I am desperately looking for.
Decorate a picture frame
Over time I seem to have collected many picture frames so we often get them out for decorating. Anything can be used. Parts of broken jewellery, beads, fairy stones, ribbons etc can jazz up an old frame. You can use an old cereal box if you don't have the real thing or a garden paver. For outside use you will need to use the right glue, grout and sealer.
Yummy finger painting
This is a great one for toddlers and young children. I suppose you could use lots of things but I just put a big spoonful of Nutella, peanut butter or vegemite on the high chair tray or on a big cutting board and let them make pictures and patterns. A fair bit of sampling is part of the fun.
An adaptation is to use cheap shaving cream. It feels great. Maybe don't do the two on the same day in case they forget the difference.
Hammers and nails
This is going to test your parenting style. Are you a helicopter parent who hovers over their child or cotton balls them so that nothing can happen to them? One of our favourite unstructured activities is just providing a hammer, nails and wood and letting kids create. They can spend hours just banging away and don't care that their production is unrecognisable. We haven't had any major injuries yet.
Pledge to myself: Take time to set up more non-screen activities even though this means sacrificing some time to do household chores while kids are entertained by their screens.
I hope you and your kids enjoy your non- screen activities. The irony of this is that the simplest way to get the particular directions for the activities that appeal to you is to do a quick Google search. Let me know of other favourites.