Written by: Cally Worden
Keeping the little people occupied is a constant drain on parental creativity. And sanity. Here are some tried and tested ideas to engage kids of all ages. Your presence and attention may still be in demand, but these ideas will help to keep your activities varied, and the kids interested for longer. In theory, anyway!
Up to Age 2
Very tiny children are fascinated by the world in general. Things we find mundane and dull are often the most interesting for kids of this age:
- Stuff in a box – the container itself will be of interest, and you can place all manner of weird and wonderful objects inside to keep your child interested – measuring spoons, balls, and bangles are all great ideas
- Painting in the High Chair – not with real paints of course. Shaving foam, or flour and water make a brilliant mess that’s not too tricky to clean up for Mum or Dad when they’re done
- Magic rice – expanded rice puffs in a bowl, with a spoon, can keep a youngster entertained for ages. To spice it up you can also hide a few treasures among the puffs for them to ‘discover’
- Mini Car Wash – use a baking tray with a little water and soap and give your child a small sponge so they can wash their toy cars
- Post-It art – self-adhesive Post-It notes are a quick, clean, and easy to tidy invention that provide an instant art project that is safe and engaging for even the littlest children.
3-4 Years Old
By this age your child has more highly developed motor skills. But they still have very little sense. It’s an age of experimentation without responsibility:
- Sponge towers – cut several large sponges into squares or rectangles and you have a cheap set of completely safe building bricks to share with your toddler. They can also be used in the bath
- Create a spider’s web – on paper, or in an aperture such as a doorway. Masking tape is great for this – show your child how to pull out strips and stick them down, then let their imagination run riot
- Rainbow treasure hunt – kids of this age love to show off their knowledge. Task your child with finding objects from every colour of the rainbow and arranging their treasure in the right order
- Sorting – this can be a simple game, or can actually be useful, depending how much patience you have. Task your child with sorting and categorising items, such as socks into pairs, cars into colours, coins into different shapes and sizes
5 Years old and Over
- Make scrapbooks – these can be themed – nature, holidays, vehicles, and so on. Give your kids some magazines, scissors and glue and see if they can find 10 images to scrapbook under your chosen theme
- Paper aeroplanes – show them the basics and then let them loose on the recycle pile to create a range of aircraft. Then show them how to run test flights, and give each plane a rating our of 10 based on its distance travelled, whether it veered off course, or how dramatically it crashed
- Spying – okay, so we don’t to encourage snoopiness in our kids, but a pair of binoculars can provide loads of fun for children of this age. See how many cars they can spot in the neighbourhood, or if they are able to zone in on wildlife
- Pasta art – a pile of pasta on a tray offers opportunities to create shapes, pictures and words. Take it in turns to build a shape and see who can guess it first
Failing all of that, with kids aged 3-8 you could always try hiding. If I dip below the radar for even a minute the Mummy-Has-Left-The-Building! alert seems to blare like a foghorn in my kids’ ears and the hunt begins. Usually I’ve just nipped to the loo, or outside to the garage. But finding me keeps them occupied for a short while, like an impromptu game of Hide-and-Seek. Hey, you take your successes where you can, right?!