12 Ideas to Entertain Young Children (no creativity required)

posted by Andrea | 06/10/2014
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12 ideas to entertain young children

I’m not the most crafty or creative person in the world. I can be creative if I try REALLY hard, but it definitely doesn’t come naturally to me — especially when it comes to planning or thinking-up fun ways to entertain and occupy young children.

All those fabulously creative ideas on Pinterest always seem way too involved or too expensive for me. Plus, I only have so much energy each day and I really don’t want to waste any of that energy planning and preparing for a cute activity that will only entertain Nora for 5 or 10 minutes.

No, I definitely don’t think we need to entertain our toddlers all day long, and I’m also not opposed to letting kids watch a little TV every now and then. However, since Nora has never been a good napper, wakes up really early, and goes to bed really late, we have A LOT of time together! She is pretty good about playing by herself for short periods of time, but she usually needs some help coming up with things to do (she is only 2.5 after all).

So, for those of you who have young children, those of you who aren’t necessarily super creative or crafty, and those of you who have no idea what you’re going to do now that it’s summer break and your kids are home ALL DAY LONG, here are a few things we do to stay busy around here.

You’ll notice that most of these activities require little to no creativity, little to no monetary cost, little to no set-up, and little to no clean-up!  Win, Win, Win, Win!

1. Automatic Bubble Blower:

Nora loves running through bubbles outside — but she can’t blow them herself yet. I’ll gladly blow them for a while, but there comes a point when my hands are a sticky mess, Simon needs to be fed, and I just can’t blow any more bubbles.

We first discovered the amazingness of an automatic bubble blower at a music class we went to during the school year. It blew hundreds of bubbles in a continuous stream — totally amazing!

Nora can easily be entertained for a LONG time with an automatic bubble blower — which means I can pull weeds or do any other yard work while still watching her and talking with her outside.

2. Water Hoses and Watering Cans:

This is obviously another outside activity, but I can literally keep Nora busy for a full hour with a basic garden hose and watering can. I attach a sprayer nozzle on the “mist” setting and she washes her car, washes her bike, washes rocks and leaves, waters plants, fills up buckets, makes puddles to jump in, etc. etc.

Sometimes I help her make big puddles or “wash” something, but other times I can be doing yard work while she joyfully entertains herself. I can only imagine how much fun she’ll have next summer when Simon is old enough to play with her!

3. Dusting:

I realize Nora might be a little odd when it comes to her obsession with cleaning — but this girl LOVES to dust 🙂

I can give her various colored rags or any type of tissue, toilet paper, paper towel, napkin, etc. and she will go room to room “dusting” anything she can reach. Obviously, she really doesn’t do a great job, but she stays busy and she’s thrilled to be doing something she thinks is helpful (and doing it “all by herself”)

Along the same lines, Nora is obsessed with our Swiffer dust mop. Sometimes I actually wait until she’s sleeping to sweep the floors because she loves playing with it so much. I’ll often put a clean dusting cloth on the Swiffer and let her go to town on our wood floors for as long as she plays nicely. She certainly doesn’t do an awesome job, but I figure she’s staying busy and cleaning parts of my floors in the process!

4. Playing “Beauty Salon”:

Again, Nora might be more into this than other kids — but have you ever let your kids do your hair? I’ll warn you ahead of time, it won’t look great and you’ll probably have a huge snarly mass in your hair by the time they are finished, but they will most likely have a lot of fun.

Nora has her own comb and brush, she puts a towel around my neck and sprays my hair with water in a spray bottle. Then she combs it and puts clips in it. For some reason, she also thinks that a stapler is a hair scissors, so after she’s finished combing, she uses the stapler to give me a hair cut!

Sometimes we paint nails… and at one point, I let her start putting lotion on — but then that got out of control so the lotion is now hidden away on a higher shelf 🙂

5. Cooking or Baking:

I don’t know many little kids who are 100% uninterested in either watching or participating in a cooking or baking project — especially if they get to sample the goodies.

Yes, it definitely takes me longer to cook and bake with Nora around, but I figure I need to make some type of food almost every day, I might as well entertain her in the process by letting her help me and feel important. I can have her count chocolate chips or M&M’s while I’m baking, she can help me stir various ingredients, I have her list off the names of different foods as I put them in the pan, or talk about various other topics while preparing a meal.

6. Whistling or Humming Guessing Games:

I have to give my mom credit for this one — she’s an elementary school music/choir/band teacher so she’s ALWAYS coming up with musical games for Nora to play. Most recently, she started a “guessing game” where she would whistle or hum a certain song’s melody, and then Nora has to guess what song she’s humming.

Nora’s gotten really good at this game and can often guess the song with just a few notes.

This is a fabulous game to play with kids while you’re in the car, cooking or baking, folding laundry, feeding another baby, etc. etc. because they are so busy thinking and concentrating that they don’t get loud or act out.

7.  Laundry:

Again, I need to do the laundry anyway, so why not try to get Nora involved so she learns to “help” me instead of bugging and distracting me the entire time. I let her put the clothes in the washer (we have a front-loading machine). She knows that the diamond-shaped button is the way to turn it on, and she actually does a pretty decent job folding washcloths.

Sometimes I just let her play in clothes baskets full of clean towels or sheets — and many times, she gets a special “airplane” ride in the clothes basket after everything is folded and put away.

8. Special Themed Meals:

Pick one day a week (or even one day a month) and have a special “themed” lunch based on leftover foods you already have in the house. It could be as simple as eating all red foods one day, all foods that start with an “s” another day, or even all foods you normally don’t let your kids eat for that particular meal.

For example, one of our lunches was ‘C’ themed — we had chicken, cheese, corn, chips, and a cookie. Another time we did a ‘red’ lunch — complete with strawberries, raspberries, pasta with tomato sauce, and bread with strawberry jam. No, those items don’t necessarily go together, but that’s what makes it fun.

Sometimes we’ll do this for breakfast and Nora will always request something that’s totally NOT a breakfast food (like spaghetti, sunflower seeds, and a sugar cookie for “S”). She thinks it’s hilarious that I let her eat those foods for breakfast once in a great while — but it’s fun for her, she’s learning about letter and colors, and she’s eating a larger variety of foods.  It’s basically no extra work for me and she usually eats fabulously well at these meals.

9. Ripping, Dumping, Stuffing, and Sorting:

I won’t lie, this is basically  just “making a controlled mess” and Nora loves it.

I give her magazines or coupon packets from the mail and let her rip them over the trash can or over a large bag. I’ll give her large buttons or coins or other objects that she can easily hold onto and let her sort them in muffin tins. I’ll give her a couple buckets or baskets and a variety of soft/small toys and just let her dump toys between containers or stuff as many items as she can into bags and boxes.

She thinks she’s making a big mess, but really she’s just occupying herself while I’m dealing with Simon or getting a little work done.

10. Send Them on “Scavenger Hunts”:

I hesitate to call this an actual “Scavenger Hunt” because that sounds like it requires a lot of work and creativity — but I promise my scavenger hunts are really easy and require absolutely no set-up on your part.

Simply ask your kiddos to find ______ around your house or yard and then bring it back to you. Then ask them to find something else. It could be something like, 2 black socks, 1 red ball, 3 pennies, 4 pine cones, 2 green leaves, a flower, an orange crayon, etc. etc.

They have to then walk around your house and/or yard to find these objects (so you’ll need to ask for something you know you already have!) They’ll stay busy finding their treasures and all you have to do at the end is dump the garden findings and put away a few household objects.

Sometimes, at the end, I’ll ask her to get me a cookie or marshmallows, and then she can have that as her snack 🙂

11. Have Them Tell You a Story:

If they are old enough, just have them read you a story. However, if they can’t read yet, ask them to tell you a story — you might be surprised what they come up with and how creative they can be.

Nora loves telling me stories, and they are usually quite imaginative. There will always be dinosaurs in the story, Daniel Tiger and the Bearenstein Bears usually make an appearance, and there is usually some reference to the dentist or doctor.

On a side note, she also LOVES it when I make up a story for her — they are such simple stories, totally unplanned, they usually don’t make any sense, but she requests them all the time.


12. Give Them a Bath:

Nora loves the bath — and as you can see by the picture below, we don’t even have a real bathtub!

She’ll happily sit and play in that blow-up bathtub for at least 30 minutes (or until the water starts to get cold). I can hear her singing and talking while I’m working in the kitchen — or sometimes I’ll just sit on the toilet feeding or holding Simon and let her tell me a story while she plays.

These are just a few of the non-creative, no-energy-needed ways I keep Nora busy on a very regular basis. And since many of them don’t require 100% constant supervision, I  can often get a few things accomplished in the process too!

I’d love to know if you have other ideas to add to my list!

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  1. Dawn


    my 3 yr old grandson loves drawing with sidewalk chalk!! And it is so easy to hose right off.


  2. Christine


    We live in a cold climate as well and this will sound VERY odd, but my kids used to love playing with ice, in summer and winter! In the summer, we’d get ice cubes or containers of ice from the freezer and play with it outside, either in their small kid pool or just on the sidewalk and grass. We would ‘paint’ with the ice and see how long it would talk for the water to evaporate and also watch ice in the sun or the shade and see how long it took to melt. We also would make ice/mud pies.

    In the winter, I would put large margerine or sour cream containers outside to freeze, then my kids loved to play with the ice in the bath. Sometimes I would freeze a little car or small plastic animal (my son loved dinosaurs) in the water and then they’d have a blast in the tub. It never seemed to affect the bath water temp too much, and provided a change from their normal bath toys. My son is 11 and even a year ago, he was asking for ice in his bath!!


  3. Molly


    Do you have a bubble machine you would recommend? Do they run on batteries or plug in? And are they big things, or little handheld machines?


    Andrea Reply:

    all the ones I’ve seen have been pretty small (hand -held) and run on batteries.


  4. Jennifer


    Great post with some simple, practical and fun ideas. Great additions in the comments, too. Love simple activities that are fun, occupying and promote learning and motor skills development.

    And thank goodness we have parent police like JESSICA above to keep us all in line.


  5. Heather


    I do all these things with my daughter all the time. The hair activity can go on for hours but it allows me to play with her and get caught up on e-mails/facebook at the same time. She loves to the do the lotion thing too. The trick I found is to get a dispenser pump. The love to pump the bottle and they have to rub in what they have or their hands will be too slippery and it will slide right off the pump. It also allows me to be able to put the lotion up quickly and segway to the next beauty step like nail buffing. Another activity that is no mess. Just a buffing block from the store.

    Love the photo of Nora in the tub!


  6. Verity


    The bath picture and quote totally made me laugh.

    She says the funniest things!


  7. Trudy


    One of our favorites was dish washing. Get a stool at the sink, a dishpan with a little soapy water and some plastic dishes. I think it truly helps with hand-eye coordination. I also second the milk jug lids for counting…..it really helping my kids for a hands on activity (not to mention the cat loved them too….lol). We also like to wash windows with some water in a squirt bottle (especially the door wall)…..my daughter enjoyed it and now my grand daughter is doing the same.


  8. Heather @ My Overflowing Cup


    I completely agree with you on both the lack of energy and creativity. I have learned that simple is often better. My favorite is #11. I used to have my kids draw pictures and then tell me the story that goes with them. I used to let my kids play with shaving cream on a plastic table outside. That used to keep them occupied for a while. This is a great list!


  9. Mary Johnson


    You have great open ended activities. I am an early childhood educator and strongly believe in simple activities to keep young ones busy. You may want to try keeping plastic jars (old ketchup bottles, shampoo bottles) etc for Nora to fill and pour. Also plastic lids from milk, juice cartons can keep children busy……sorting by color and size, stacking, lining up, counting, scooping out of water and into another larger container with ladles, slotted spoons etc. I also love giving children large paint brushes and buckets to water paint, but also small empty yogurt containers with a small brush enables children to use the smaller muscles in their hands. Also washing socks in a bucket of soapy water (I used doll clothes when my girls were small) and providing a small low clothesline with clothes pins kept my girls busy for many an afternoon!


  10. Mrs. W


    Coloring rocks or making rock animals is always fun way to keep children busy for a little while.


  11. Rhonda High


    Motherhood – your doing it right. 🙂


  12. CJ


    Coloring is always an easy way for my children to entertain themselves – crayons, markers, sidewalk chalk…. My children will create stories/books to go along with their illustrations. Easy way to keep them entertained if I am in the middle of making dinner. My youngest will ask me how to spell words as she is “working” on her “book” (as she likes to put it), so it’s kind of cute how they are learning while being creative and having fun. It just seems like coloring and play dough are two things that never seem to get old in our home.


  13. Jessica


    All awesome ideas! I especially love the scavenger hunt.

    One thing I would mention about #12–baths are lots of fun, but only with an adult in the room until at least early elementary school. Kids can drown (silently) in 3 minutes or less in an inch or less of water.


  14. Karyn


    I love your simple, yet effective ideas! One “game” we have used a lot is “walk to the tree like a chicken, and fly back”. Or “Crawl there and jump like a frog back”. This has worked wonders for while we’re at the park watching older brother’s baseball games, etc. The combinations of walking, crawling, flying, jumping, … are endless, and our little ones would do this for hours! Thanks for your fantastic ideas!!


    Andrea Reply:

    Wow, this is a great idea too. We try really hard to wear Nora out each day so that she goes to bed at a decent hour. We’ll definitely be playing this game sometime later this week!


  15. Siobhan


    Love this! Thank you! I sometimes give my kids my husbands old or unmatched socks and they run around the house dusting with them on their hands. They think it’s hysterical to clean with daddy’s socks. They also love spray bottles and play outside with them. Going to try the lunch with one food color this week. Thanks again for the simple, fun, and realistic ideas 🙂


    Andrea Reply:

    Thanks Siobhan — I love the sock dusting idea. I’m SURE Nora would get a kick out of that and Dave is always getting holes in his socks so we usually have a few “unmatched” socks left over.


  16. Debbie W.


    Great tips! I’ve done some of these, but I hadn’t thought of others (like the scavenger hunt!). Thanks for sharing!


  17. Miranda


    Thank you for being honest and just saying that a lot of those Pinterest inspired crafts and activities are not as grand as they seem. I’ve found that the ones have tried involved about 20 or 30 minutes of planning and prep and mildly entertained my boys for 5 minutes before leaving a big mess! I know this was not the main point of the post but I’m glad you keep it real.


  18. lydia @ five4fivemeals


    That sorting is really great for building math skills. Second thought… I bet you knew that. Doesn’t Dave teach math?


    Andrea Reply:

    yes Lydia, Dave is a math teacher — and my mom is a music teacher so we have lots of “learning games” around our house!


  19. Julie


    My parent’s have a gravel driveway and i can’t tell you how many hours our daughters spend just sorting through the various rocks. Many times the rocks become characters and they’ll create a whole story around them. I love it! (Obviously, we stay close-by and it’s a section of driveway that doesn’t see much use.)

    The other thing that kept them busy in the car one day was playing “who has the stinkier feet?” Trust me, they also came up with this activity all on their own. But hey, it kept ’em laughing and not asking “are we there yet?” over and over again.

    Oh, and i can’t forget making fairy houses! They pick up leaves, rocks and twigs from around the lawn and create little villages.


  20. Leigh


    I second the water painting. My preschoolers love it.
    Another one is a water table or just a plastic storage bin filled with dish soap and water. They can wash outside things, play with the. Bubbles and generally get happily soaked.

    Another mine love is all things playing with blankets. Mine particularly like making nests.


    Andrea Reply:

    Ha! Nora always makes “nests” and “beds” with the livingroom throw blankets! It’s funny because she love to pretend to sleep and take naps but in real life, she’s a horrible sleeper.


  21. Tracey


    These are all great! Love the simplicity of using everyday stuff.

    My son and daughter (now 13 and 11) used to love to do a lot of the same things!

    One more idea to add, that my son REALLY loved, was water painting outside. I’d give him a sand pail with water in it and a paintbrush to “paint” things outside. The water changes the color of things a bit, so they can sase what they “painted”. He painted the back of our house many, many times when he was about Nora’s age!


    Andrea Reply:

    Yes, good idea with the water painting. We do some of this when the hose is running — basically ANYTHING with water is fun for Nora!